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updated 11/28/2011 12:15:27 PM ET 2011-11-28T17:15:27

Guests: Michael Scherer, Joe Williams, Matt Cooper

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Newt goes rogue.

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in tonight for Chris Matthews.
Leading off: Will GOP primary voters give Newt amnesty for his comments
regarding illegal immigration, or will his campaign go the way of Rick
Perry`s? The standard Republican candidate answer to illegal immigration
has been predictable -- secure the borders and send them home, send
everyone home. So it was a bit of a head-turner last night when Newt
Gingrich said it would be wrong for the supposedly pro-family GOP to tear
families apart and ship people who`ve been here for decades back to their
native countries. In other words, amnesty.

In today`s Republican Party, that`s heresy. This is either the
whitecap on Newt`s wave or another twist in his unpredictable rise to the
top of the GOP field.

And here`s the biggest reason Newt is getting so much attention.
After about five years of campaigning, roughly three quarters of
Republicans still want little to do with Mitt Romney. Romney`s lining up
endorsements, but where`s the love? Can Newt or some other dark horse
actually break through and win Republican minds, as well as hearts?

Plus, if it seems as if there`s no room for compromise in Congress
anymore, here`s why. Three decades ago, 60 of 100 senators were considered
to be moderates, people who would compromise with the other side. Today
that number is zero. Who`s to blame, the senators or we the people who
vote them in?

Also, the Penn State investigation, with new alleged victims coming
forward and more indications that there were signs of trouble for a long
time. Why wasn`t something done sooner?

And putting on the Blitz. Wolf Blitzer has one of the best known
names in television news, but don`t tell that to Herman Cain. You can
check out the "Sideshow."

We start with Newt Gingrich. Jonathan Alter is of course, an MSNBC
political analyst. Michael Scherer is the White House correspondent for
"Time" magazine.

Men, here`s the quote from last night`s debate that`s getting the most
attention. It`s Newt Gingrich discussing illegal immigrants who`ve been in
the country for many years. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If
you`ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you`ve
been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I
don`t think we`re going to separate you from your family, uproot you
forcefully and kick you out.

I don`t see how -- the party that says it`s the party of the family is
going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been
here a quarter century? And I`m prepared to take the heat for saying let`s
be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by
finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their
family.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN, MODERATOR: Governor?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michael Scherer, he says he`s prepared to take the heat.
What is the extent of the heat? What`s the net effect?

MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME": Well, there`s going -- there`s national heat
and then there`s state heat. Newt Gingrich`s path to the presidential is
really to do very well in Iowa. In a sate like Iowa is different from the
national Republican Party. Immigration is looked at differently. They`re
much more hawkish on it than they are elsewhere. And I think he will be
hurt in Iowa in the coming weeks, as we see polls.

You know, what`s interesting about this answer is this wasn`t new for
Newt. Newt`s been saying this all year. In May, he was on Univision
giving a very similar answer. What`s new is that now he`s the front-runner
and now people are actually looking closely at his record. And so people
are sort of perking up in a way they didn`t perk up before.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan, I`ve grown accustomed to analyzing the
Republican debates and say, Well, that sound bite is going to bode well in
primary season, but it`ll be a killer in the general election. This is the
complete reverse. What Newt Gingrich said on that stage in Washington,
D.C., last night is the sort of thing I think a Republican needs to say to
win independents in the fall, but we`re unaccustomed to it.

JONATHAN ALTER, "NEWSWEEK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And
in order to save the Republican Party long-term -- because, you know, the
Latino vote is the growing constituency in the United States, and the
Republican Party has been until this moment so hostile to the aspirations
of Latinos that they have really no chance to get any sizable numbers from
the fastest growing segment of the electorate.

But having said that, we have to understand that Gingrich`s position
is still significantly to the right of where President Bush was and Newt
Gingrich and John McCain and the entire Democratic Party when it came to
comprehensive immigration reform. This bill essentially creates second
class citizenship for these immigrants. It`s entirely unworkable, if you
actually think it through a little bit.

SMERCONISH: Well, did you pay close attention to his hypothetical?
I`m doing this from memory, but it was 25 years, you`ve got two kids, three
grandkids, and then here`s what I underscored in some notes that I made,
church -- you know, you`ve got to be a church goer in order for this to
apply.

And I thought that was sort of the tip of the hat to the conservatives
in Iowa to try and keep them in the tent.

ALTER: But this is completely unrealistic. You know, he wants to
create a new selective service board, he said, to determine whether you`ve
gone to church, whether you`ve had a job for 6 of the 12 years you`ve been
here or 5 of the 12 years. Are they allowed to appeal it to court? We`ve
never had second class citizens before in the United States. And this
sounds humane...

SMERCONISH: But equally -- I have to say what`s equally unrealistic
is the notion that we`re going to ship 10 to 15 million people out of the
United States!

ALTER: Oh, that`s...

SMERCONISH: That`s never going to happen!

ALTER: That`s completely ludicrous. That`s the position, the core
position that the Republican Party has right now. So Newt has moved away
from that entirely ridiculous, ludicrous idea of deporting 15 million
people to something that is slightly less crazy but still unworkable.

SMERCONISH: Michael Scherer, watch this. The opponents, no surprise,
quickly jumped on his comments. I`ll show you Michele Bachmann and Mitt
Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the
speaker just said that that would make 11 people -- 11 million people who
are here illegally now legal. That`s really the issue that we`re dealing
with. And also, it would be the Dream Act, the Federal Dream Act, which
would offer taxpayer-subsidized benefits to illegal aliens. We need to
move away from magnets, not offer more.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Amnesty is a
magnet. What -- when we have had in the past programs that have said that
people who come here legally are going to get to stay legally for the rest
their life -- that`s going to only encourage more people to come here
illegally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michael Scherer, go ahead and break down what you just
saw. Who`s the net winner from that exchange last night in the debate?

SCHERER: Well, I think Romney probably will win in the short term.
But what`s interesting is that Romney`s actual position here is not that
far from Newt`s position. It`s just the way he`s packaging that position.
He`s saying he`s against amnesty. He has a bumper sticker line, "Amnesty
is a magnet," we can`t have amnesty.

But in past statements in the current -- in the -- in the last
campaign, in 2008, he wasn`t for deporting 11 or 12 million people. I
mean, he was for allowing them to get back in of the line, touching base in
their home country, getting -- starting a process where these people could
become citizens.

And there was a point in the debate last night where he almost
admitted this. And you saw him sort of pull back from it.

Michele Bachmann`s a different thing. She tends to stick, you know,
with the bumper sticker and not go beyond that. She`s someone who, you
know, remember, just a few months ago was arguing that we should not raise
the debt ceiling and it would be good for the country.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Alter, this was the beginning of the end for
Rick Perry. And I recognize there was a lot more going on relative to his
candidacy, but it was in that debate where he was confronted with the news
that he had provided educational benefits for children of illegals, like he
would for an in-state resident, that it all took a turn. Is this going to
take a turn for Newt Gingrich?

ALTER: I don`t really think it is. Look, if the Freddie Mac
connection, you know, where he wanted Barney Frank to go to jail for his
connections to Freddie Mac, and it turned out Gingrich had taken $1.6
million from Freddie Mac, and it didn`t seem to have hurt him, I don`t
think this will, either.

The reason that Perry got hurt was, A, it was scholarships for
illegals, which is, you know, much more inflammatory than what we`re
talking about here. And B, it came in the context of his just melting down
in these debates, not being ready for primetime. So I wouldn`t be too
quick to say that he`ll go the Perry route.

And I also do think that -- that it`s important to understand, you
know, what Romney is doing here, what his essential position is. I don`t
know how it`s going to play politically, but we should be clear about what
Romney is saying. He thinks that if you`re an engineer and an immigrant,
you should get a green card...

SMERCONISH: Right.

ALTER: ... you know, stapled...

SMERCONISH: Yes. He said that last night.

ALTER: ... to your -- your visa so you can stay.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me -- let me, if I may, just show you another
from my highlight reel because I`ve got to get to Afghanistan. There`s no
love lost between Governors Romney and Huntsman, and here`s an exchange
that they had on U.S. troop levels. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, do you agree with Governor Romney, that
the U.S. has to stay in Afghanistan at these levels?

JON HUNTSMAN (R-UT), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I totally
disagree. I think we need to square with the American people about what
we`ve achieved. We need an honest conversation in this country about the
sacrifices that have been made over nearly 10 years.

We haven`t done a very good job defining and articulating what the end
point is in Afghanistan, and I think the American people are getting very
tired about where we find ourselves today.

ROMNEY: Are you suggesting, governor, that we just take all our
troops out next week, or what`s your proposal?

HUNTSMAN: Did you hear what I just said?

ROMNEY: Yes, I...

HUNTSMAN: I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don`t need
100,000 troops.

ROMNEY: I stand with the commanders in this regard and have no
information that suggests that pulling our troops out faster than that
would do anything but put at great peril the extraordinary sacrifice that`s
been made. This is not time for America to cut and run.

HUNTSMAN: At end of the day, the president of the United States is
commander-in-chief, commander-in-chief. Of course, you`re going to listen
to the generals! But I also remember when people listened to the generals
in 1967, and we heard a certain course of action in Southeast Asia didn`t
serve our interests very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michael Scherer, I thought that was a high point in the
debate for Jon Huntsman...

SCHERER: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: ... on a pretty good night for Jon Huntsman. And maybe
I`m reading too much into this, but it was a conservative crowd. Everybody
from Heritage got to ask a question except some of the interns.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: And if Jon Huntsman was getting applause lines for
talking about a more precipitous troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, that
really talks about where the nation has moved on that issue, does it not?

SCHERER: No, that`s right. And there`s two things that stuck out at
me there. First, the Romney position on Afghanistan is the Obama position.
Romney was out there saying, I support what Obama is doing. I want to
continue what Obama is doing, which is really striking coming from Mitt
Romney, whose entire campaign is based on the notion that Obama is failing
at everything he`s doing, including foreign policy.

Second, that was the first time -- and this is -- and we`ve had 11
debates, they`ve been in them together, probably eight of these debates --
that Huntsman has been able to get under Mitt Romney`s skin. Mitt Romney`s
deep (ph) fat (ph) -- you know, laid back position towards Huntsman is, you
know, when it -- When he says something to me, I`ll just say that`s fine,
and move on because he doesn`t matter.

Huntsman needs to be able to rattle Romney, to get under Romney`s
skin, because his only path to anything right now is through New Hampshire,
and right now, that`s Mitt Romney`s state.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan, I think -- I think Mitt Romney violated an
attorney`s cardinal rule last night. He asked a question that he didn`t
know the answer to. He actually set up Jon Huntsman by asking him, What
exactly is your proposal, and that`s where Huntsman was able to tee off.

ALTER: Well, also, Romney is using old playbook, the old Republican
playbook with these buzz words like "cut and run," you know, trying to make
it seem like somehow, if you don`t, quote, "listen to the commanders in the
field" -- that`s the Bush line.

And I actually disagree with Michael a little bit. I don`t think
that`s really the Obama line (ph). I actually think that Romney is teeing
up a possible attack on Obama for getting out of Afghanistan too quickly,
in the fall, in the general election. I don`t think it`s a smart strategy
for Romney because the country`s moved on.

SMERCONISH: Well, Jonathan...

ALTER: It`s not being the same...

SMERCONISH: ... can I get in on this?

ALTER: ... hawkish move.

SMERCONISH: Can I just make a point? The reason I began this
conversation by saying the Huntsman applause shows me where the country has
moved...

ALTER: Right.

SMERCONISH: ... is exactly what you said a moment ago. I can
remember that to ask on radio whether we should get out of Iraq or
Afghanistan was heresy, and I`d be inundated with callers who would say,
You`re not being supportive of the troops, as if to somehow plan for their
safe return was not to have their best interests at heart. Those days are
over.

ALTER: Yes. Absolutely. So we`re in a new era here. And it`s an
example of what you might call an over-pander by Romney. You know, he is
pandering on an issue that people don`t want to be pandered to anymore,
namely war.

SCHERER: And Romney`s also...

ALTER: We`re sick of it and we want to come home.

SMERCONISH: Go ahead, Michael. Final comment from you.

SCHERER: Romney`s also sort of fighting the last war. Remember, in
2008, he lost on national security to John McCain. He was perceived in
that debate to be more dovish than McCain. He`s not going to make that
mistake again. He wants to be on the more hawkish end of this debate.

SMERCONISH: Thank you both. Thank you, Jonathan Alter. Thank you,
Michael Scherer. Have a great Thanksgiving.

ALTER: It`s my pleasure.

SCHERER: Thank you. You, too.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: After five years of campaigning, Mitt Romney
hasn`t budged much over 25 percent in the polls. He`s winning high-profile
endorsements, but why can`t he win over more Republican voters? That`s
ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Here`s a headline you`ll no doubt hear from President
Obama soon. A report by the Congressional Budget Office finds that 2009`s
stimulus bill added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy. The report
also says the economy would have been much worse without the much-
criticized stimulus.

Republicans in Congress and those running for president often blast
the nearly $800 billion bill as a waste of taxpayer dollars, but the non-
partisan CBO report says unemployment would be much higher and economic
growth much lower without it.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As GOP candidates have risen
and fallen in the polls, Mitt Romney has remained steadily near the top,
but he`s been unable to build his support too high.

Look at the latest polls out this week. A CNN Opinion Research survey
shows Romney at 20 percent, Quinnipiac says 22 percent, "USA Today" and
Gallup say 21 percent. But he remains stuck behind the current front-
runner, Newt Gingrich.

What`s going on? Why is so much of the Republican electorate still
wary of Mitt Romney? Does it have to do with his Mormon faith? And if
they plan on backing him, what are they waiting for?

Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC political analyst. Joe Williams is the
White House correspondent for Politico. Is a better description, Richard,
that he`s doing steadily, or is he static? Because there`s a difference
between the two.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you talk to some
pollsters, actually, his numbers are slightly declining. And the problem
for Romney, apart from not having numbers that really blow it out here, is
that expectations are way higher than his numbers are.

And that sets up this really difficult dynamic, where you have the
conventional wisdom for all the political insiders saying this guy is the
inevitable nominee, and yet you look at those early states, look at his
national numbers, and they`re just not as strong as expectations are. That
leads you to some real problems in those early weeks and months of the
primary.

SMERCONISH: Joe, he`s not winning primary season, but he`s surviving
primary season. In the end, isn`t that enough to capture the nomination?

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO.COM: Well, in most cases, surviving advances
the strategy that you want to go for -- make it to the end, don`t screw up.
And I think he`s kind of in that mode a little bit here.

But what`s going on now reminds me a lot of what happened in -- in
Massachusetts in the early 2000s, if you will, when he was coming out as
the -- as the candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. There
were a lot of people who weren`t quite in love with him, but he tried to
make his nomination seem inevitable.

And he ended up doing that because he had a very weak incumbent, Jane
Swift, and shoving her aside or at least big-footing her caused a lot of
headaches and some consternation. So there wasn`t a whole lot of love with
Mitt Romney among women, at least back then, but he seems to have made
amends for that now.

SMERCONISH: Richard, are we still going to exhaust more dance
partners? It`s like a wave, I`ve been saying, a wave that has gone at
different times from Trump to Palin to Bachmann to Cain to Perry, now to
Newt. Anybody left? Is it going to go to Santorum? Might it settle with
Huntsman?

WOLFFE: Well, it looks like, from Newt`s experience, you can have two
times around, so you know, maybe Rick Perry...

SMERCONISH: I thought you were going to say three times around.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE: You know, there is obviously a lot of volatility. There is
this anti-establishment mood, though. I think that`s part of why the
dynamic is -- is changing so quickly. So you know, Gingrich can hold onto
this as long as he seems somewhat unconventional. As soon as he becomes
the former House speaker, he`s in trouble.

And I think that`s Romney`s problem, too. As long as he is trying to
play the conventional route, go to the general election strategy, talk
about Obama, not anyone else, that`s a problem. People want the fire in
the belly, the volatility, the anti-Washington mood, and Romney`s just
looking too conventional.

SMERCONISH: Joe Williams, listen to this. Former Arkansas governor
Mike Huckabee was interviewed over the weekend on a conservative radio
program. He`s not endorsing any candidate yet, but he urged conservatives
not to turn their backs on Romney if he wins the nomination.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: It would be real tragic
if they stayed out, because Mitt Romney may not be their first choice, but
Mitt Romney every day of the week and twice on Sunday is going to be a much
more effective president for issues that they care about than Barack Obama.

And I think sometimes there is this anxiety within the Republican
Party of who is the perfect candidate. The answer is, there isn`t one.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And then in a similar vain, here`s what Ann Coulter wrote
every week -- quote -- "Everyone knows the nominee is going to be Romney.
That`s not so bad if you think the most important issues in this election
are defeating Obama and repealing Obamacare."

Joe Williams?

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Well, it seems like there -- any time you
have to have Mike Huckabee sort of apologizing for you, saying, really,
come on, guys, get with the program here, and you have an incumbent
president who they are so dying to defeat that they want something to get
excited about, it speaks kind of trouble to the excitability and to the
connectability that Romney is presenting for some Republicans.

So I think that part of what`s happening here is he doesn`t have that
kind of hope/change excitement that President Obama brought to the 2008
campaign. He`s got the workmanlike kind of approach and appeal that is
supposed to make a difference in that he can appeal to moderates, but
really he`s having trouble connecting with the base, and that`s a big, big
problem.

If he makes it to the general election, then he`s fine, but he`s got
all these challengers. They`re coming one right after the other and who is
up next may determine whether or not he`s able to continue on that pace and
make it to the -- to the nomination.

SMERCONISH: Richard, I think he`s run a pretty flawless campaign so
far. In the debates, he`s been strong in each one, although last night
perhaps was just half a step off his game. So far one of Romney`s only
possible missteps was his use of this incredibly untruthful ad about
President Obama. Let`s listen.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MITT ROMNEY AD)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, New
Hampshire. How is everybody doing today?

I am confident that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis.

Who has been in charge of the economy? We need a rescue plan for the
middle class. We need to provide relief for homeowners. It`s going to
take a new direction. If we keep talking about the economy, we`re going to
lose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And then as has been well documented, Obama was quoting
John McCain, and here`s what he actually said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Senator McCain`s campaign actually said -- and I quote -- "If
we keep talking about the economy, we`re going to lose."

And everybody has been Zaprudering that tape this week and some are
offering justifications as to why this was ingenious on the part of the
Romney -- here`s what I keep asking. There`s so much tape out there about
Barack Obama. Surely, you could have found something without splicing it
creatively.

WOLFFE: Yes.

Yes, look, the case against Obama on the economy doesn`t need this
kind of overreach or desperation.

SMERCONISH: Right.

WOLFFE: And that`s what it is. It`s a lie, and the justification
that the Romney folks come up with that, well, it got lots of attention and
the press secretary of the White House is talking about it.

You know, can you take off your clothes and run down the street and
get attention. That`s not the right strategy if you want to project a guy
who can walk into the Oval Office. And the question is why does he have to
do this? Why is he feeling the need to change the subject and move to a
general election strategy?

And that`s because he`s polling 20, 21 points in this race. He needs
to do something dramatic and change the subject. The referendum about
Romney does not work for him. Referendum about Obama might just do it for
him, but honestly, he needs a better ad if he`s going to hold on to those
moderates and independents who don`t like politics as usual.

SMERCONISH: Joe Williams?

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: He`s not a dramatic guy, though. That just seems like it`s
not in his DNA to do something dramatic and swing for the fences. I mean,
that`s not who he is, so he`s got to kind of do these sort of maneuvers to
get that kind of attention and to try to build excitability and
inevitability to get -- to get the attention of the base voters and try to
make it out of the primary.

SMERCONISH: Joe, let me play for all of us, but for you comment on,
what Governor Romney said today explaining he`s not a career politician.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m in this race not because
it`s the next step in my political career. I don`t have a political
career. I was only governor four years. I didn`t inhale, all right? I`m
still a business guy.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Does it work? Can he fashion himself as a businessman
and not as a politician, particularly in light of the fact that he`s been
running for this job now for so many years?

WILLIAMS: Well, and that`s the thing. I think Jane Swift would
disagree, the former governor of Massachusetts, Republican governor of
Massachusetts, who he ended up supplanting.

I think she would disagree that Mitt Romney is not a politician
because during that time in the early 2000s it was very, very clear that
Mitt Romney was trying to set himself up, not only for governor but also to
go beyond that, and as you mentioned he`s been running for president the
last couple of years. That`s a label that`s a little -- that`s a
designation, a self-designation...

SMERCONISH: Tough to shake.

WILLIAMS: ... that`s a little difficult to shake, and I don`t know if
he can do that successfully.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. Thank you, Richard Wolffe. Thank you, Joe
Williams.

Up next, we have seen Herman Cain get tongue-tied before but wait
until you see how he mangled the name of the moderator in last night`s
debate. That`s next in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL, and now for the "Sideshow."

First up, tongue-tied. That`s just what happened to Republican
candidate Herman Cain at one point during last night`s CNN debate. Cain
got so wrapped up in responding to a question on airport security, that he
mistakenly gave a new nickname to moderator Wolf Blitzer. Let`s see how
that unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, Blitz. That`s
oversimplifying it.

(LAUGHTER)

CAIN: I happen to believe that if -- if you allow our intelligence
agencies to do their job, they can come up with an approach -- I`m sorry,
Blitz. I meant Wolf, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

CAIN: Blitz, Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CAIN: Since we`re on a blitz debate, I apologize, Wolf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, MODERATOR: Thank you, Cain.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: At least Wolf Blitzer managed to sneak in a zinger of his
own at the end.

Next up, things may be pretty quiet on Capitol Hill leading into the
holiday weekend, but President Obama set aside some time today for yet
another executive order, sort of. Today, the president took part in the
annual tradition of, wait for it, turkey pardoning. You think the
president chose to mark the occasion without a not-so-subtle jab at
Congress? See for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow is one of the
best days of the year to be an American, but it`s also one of the worst
days of the year to be a turkey.

They don`t have it so good. Some of you may know that, recently, I
have been taking a series of executive actions that don`t require
congressional approval.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Well, here`s another one. We can`t wait to pardon these
turkeys, literally.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You are hereby pardoned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: That might be the easiest thing that he`s done all year.

You want to know which president kicked off this tradition? Well,
there`s some speculation, but we do know that in 1963 President Kennedy
became the first to publicly spare a turkey from ending up under a drizzle
of gravy. The official ceremony, however, started with Bush 41.

And speaking of Thanksgiving, `tis the season for holiday travel, and
that`s just what led to a coincidental encounter at Reagan National Airport
this morning. Guess who was heading out for Thanksgiving? You can ask NBC
correspondent Tom Costello. He dished out some travel tips at the D.C.
airport for "The Today Show." Here`s your hint. It`s usually his face
you`re looking at right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Guess who just walked in who is on
his way to Thanksgiving? Chris Matthews is here.

Where are you going?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: I`m going to Nantucket.

COSTELLO: Nantucket?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COSTELLO: Which is appropriate for you.

MATTHEWS: It is. Well, we have those roots. And I think Joe Biden
is up there all the time this time of year.

COSTELLO: All right. Well, have fun. Good luck...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I will do some reporting while I`m there.

COSTELLO: Thank you very much. All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Not exactly your average man on the street interview
right there.

Happy Thanksgiving to Chris in Nantucket, and I hope it didn`t run --
he didn`t run into any traffic snafus, like that.

Up next, the Penn State investigation -- more alleged victims are
coming forward, and there were signs of trouble for a long time. How did
this go on for so long?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SULLIVAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Brian Sullivan with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

And I`m going to say it because maybe I will make the "Sideshow"
session. It was a turkey of a day on Wall Street. That`s not cranberry
sauce slathered on the boards. That is red, because the Dow was down 236
points. S&P and the Nasdaq both fell.

You name it, we were worried about it today. Global debt concerns and
slower factory activity in China and Germany trumping some decent corporate
earnings. We also had a mildly upbeat reading on U.S. consumer sentiment.
One of the big fears, though, Chinese manufacturing. It slowed down
dramatically in November. New orders fell.

Similar situation in Germany, activity there slowing for the second
month in a row and then a failed bond auction. That put the hurt on steel
companies as well. Look at U.S. Steel, fell more than 7.5 percent. And
all six of the big banks targeted for stress tests finished down, weighed
down by weaker-than-expected demand for, yes, that German bond offering if
you want to know.

But heavy equipment maker Deere posted strong earnings and an upbeat
outlook. And consumer gloom is easing just a bit. More shoppers saying
they are seeing economic light at the end of the tunnel.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody, from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

Now we`re going to throw it back to HARDBALL and all the giblets that
come with it.

SMERCONISH: Welcome to HARDBALL.

"The Patriot-News" newspaper in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, reported
last night that there are two new alleged victims of former Penn State
assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Their cases are under investigation by the
Pennsylvania Children and Youth Services.

These new allegations reinforce the lingering sense that more should
have been done to prevent the alleged attacks and done sooner.

Michael Isikoff is NBC`s national investigative correspondent. Former
Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is now an MSNBC political
analyst.

Michael Isikoff, what`s the latest from Happy Valley?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the latest in the wake of
that report yesterday from "The Patriot-News" is that the Amendola, the
lawyer for Jerry Sandusky, confirms that at least one of those alleged new
cases -- one of those new cases involving alleged child abuse involves a
family member of Sandusky and a minor child.

We cannot -- we`re constrained by NBC News policy about saying too
much more about that because we can`t say anything that identifies a minor
child, but this is coming from Sandusky`s own lawyer, saying that his
understanding is that the -- that at least one of those allegations comes
from a family member of Sandusky.

And he also points -- he also is very emphatic that Sandusky adamantly
denies the allegation of child abuse. There`s also another development
just in the last few minutes. The lawyer for victim number four -- victim
number four is the young boy who was taken to the Alamo Bowl in Texas by
Sandusky and another bowl game in Florida and alleges that he was abused --
has filed a motion with the court to enjoin the Second Mile charity from
selling any of its assets.

That`s clearly a sign. He`s saying he`s trying to protect his
client`s interests -- clearly a sign that there`s going to be lawsuits
ahead and they will involve The Second Mile. Watch The Second Mile.
That`s the charity that Jerry Sandusky filed. They are right in the middle
of this. And all the children that Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have
abused came from Second Mile programs. He met them through the charity
programs.

SMERCONISH: Governor Rendell, I want to ask you a question about your
successor. And, look, the MSNBC audience knows you as a chief executive of
a state. I need to remind everybody you were the district attorney of
Philadelphia. You were a very successful prosecutor.

And that in mind, I want to show you a rudimentary timeline that we
have created which draws attention to the fact that it was in January of
2009 that victim number one, as he`s known in the grand jury report, then
age 15, came forward.

The report went from the Clinton County DA to the Centre County DA and
was then referred to the Pennsylvania attorney general`s office. Tom
Corbett was the attorney general. "The Patriot-News" is reporting that for
those first 15 months of the investigation, there was only one state
trooper assigned to this case, and it was not until November of this year,
this month, that Sandusky was finally arrested.

And so many at home and across the country are now asking, why the
delay and were there sufficient resources committed by the attorney
general`s office to this investigation?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Michael, that`s a hard
question for me to answer.

I will assume for a moment that "The Patriot-News" story is correct,
and you know that we can`t always assume that, but "The Patriot-News" is a
real good newspaper. And I will assume for the moment that the story is
correct.

You don`t know what evidence the grand jury was dealing with, what
evidence the attorney general, now Governor Corbett was dealing with, so
it`s hard to answer without knowing the inner workings. But let me say
this.

The one thing we do know, everyone who has been in law enforcement,
prosecutors, police, is that pedophiles are recidivistic. They do it again
and again until they are stopped, either imprisoned or subjected to serious
treatment.

And that should have put everyone on the system on alert to do something
about this as quickly as possible. Dating back to 1998 when the Centre
County D.A. Ray Gricar, later disappeared, when he declined to prosecute
because it was a weak case -- try the case, out the guy. Just think how
many children would have been saved if Jerry Sandusky had been outed in
1998. And that goes for Joe Paterno, President Spanier, everybody.

If they had blown it to the authorities in 2002 after that revelation
about the alleged rape in the shower, think of all the kids that would have
been saved.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Well, I --

RENDELL: And it`s also true now if the process, if the grand jury
had moved more quickly. Think of these two kids, probably wouldn`t have
been subjected to abuse because Sandusky would have been in jail.

SMERCONISH: Governor, I`m going to say a word that might not
register with the national audience but it will with you, bonus-gate. And
you and I both know and Pennsylvanians know that there was a tremendous
commitment of resources to a probe of corruption in government, very legit
-- but, you know, in hindsight you now say, geez, I wonder how many people
were working the bonusgate case instead of working the Sandusky case.

And as you just said, perhaps with a little more fire lit under this
investigation we would have spared some children from being victimized. I
think that`s a fair question.

RENDELL: Right, and I think in fairness those are questions,
Michael, that should be put to Governor Corbett directly, again, because,
he knows what was going on. He knows the challenges that his office was
facing, but I -- look, there`s no question that everyone in this process,
from Gricar to the Penn State officials, to even my good friend Joe
Paterno, to everyone in this process, didn`t act swiftly enough, didn`t act
courageously enough.

Why this happened, when you look at, it`s just unbelievable how every
step of the way the proper action wasn`t taken quickly enough or
forthrightly enough, and we have children`s lives who may be probably
ruined.

SMERCONISH: Now, Governor Corbett, former Attorney General Corbett,
this week, defended this investigation. Let`s all listen to what he`s
saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOM CORBETT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: In a case I believe with
pedophiles who do it more than once, and I`ve never heard one doing it
once, you don`t want to go with just one case, you want to show the
continued course of action. If you were to lose that one case and then
continue to investigate the other cases, it would be much more difficult to
bring the charges because it would be seen by you, by the public, as
vindictive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michael Isikoff, what occurs to me as an attorney as I
watch that explanation is that if there had been an arrest of Sandusky
sooner as opposed to later, it, too, would have brought victims out of the
woodwork in the same way that we`re seeing now. I think there are going to
be a lot more civil actions filed because people feel the strength to come
forward when they know that finally the law is taking a look at this issue.

RENDELL: No question.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATL. INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Sure,
but it`s also worth pointing out that a prosecutor has an obligation only
to bring a case that he believes he can win a conviction, and if he doesn`t
believe he has enough evidence -- I mean, he`s ethically obligated not to
bring that case.

SMERCONISH: Right. But wait

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: If he believes that victim number one is credible --

ISIKOFF: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- he`s got an obligation to arrest person who
victimized victim number one, so as to spare every victim who would follow
him.

RENDELL: Michael, if I can jump in, if he believes victim number one
is credible but wants to build multiple cases then put more investigators
on it.

SMERCONISH: Michael Isikoff, final thought?

ISIKOFF: Yes. I think piecing together what happened in this
investigation at what point investigators learned about which of the
victims and when they learned about the earlier `98 police investigation is
going to be key to answering this question and they`re going to be very key
to Governor Corbett`s political future because a lot of people are going to
be asking these questions.

SMERCONISH: No doubt. Thank you both. Thank you, Michael Isikoff.
Thank you, Ed Rendell.

Up next, Congress can`t get anything done. They can`t compromise.
And here`s why -- 30 years ago, 60 of 100 senators were considered
moderates. And today, they are all gone.

Whose fault is that -- theirs or the voters who put the partisans in
office? That`s ahead.

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Florida`s loss is California`s gain. And now, federal
dollars that were once earmarked to build high speed rail in the Sunshine
State are headed west. That`s because Florida`s new Republican Governor
Rick Scott turned down the funding, saying the money would be better served
in the hands of taxpayers. But the money was already allocated to the
Department of Transportation, which turned around and invested a chunk of
it in high speed rail for California.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back. The failure of the super committee to come
up with an agreement earlier this week has reinforced the sense that
Congress is broken. If you want to know why, all you have to do is look at
numbers.

CBS News and "National Journal" studied congressional voting records
and found that moderates are a disappearing species.

Take a look at this: the Senate elected in 1982 had 60 moderates --
senators who might vote either way on tough issues. But that number
dropped nearly in half to 36 moderates after the 1994 elections, and then
dropped even more dramatically to just nine after the 2002 vote. Until,
finally, last year, no moderates left in the Senate.

Joining me now to talk more about this is Matt Cooper, the editor of
"The National Journal Daily."

Matt, I remember talking to Ron Brownstein about this survey a year
ago. So that people understand what you do, you`ve been doing this for
three decades. You track votes which are capable of saying this is how a
liberal would vote, this is how a conservative would vote -- and you call
them as you see them.

MATT COOPER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: That`s exactly right, Michael. I
mean, what we do is we track them over time, we look at their votes, and
then you`re able to make generalizations about the Congress itself. And
just as you said in the introduction, the moderates are endangered species,
if not extinct.

SMERCONISH: What causes it?

COOPER: I think it`s a bunch of things. Some of it is
redistricting. They`re just getting elected from districts that are more
and more partisan, where they need not be moderate and can`t generate
moderates. Some of it are the interest groups that really pound on these
guys to tow the party line, even when their districts are moderate.

We found lots of Republicans, for instance, in the last cycle from
pretty moderate districts but they`re voting conservative down the line
because they`re just too afraid of a primary challenge or getting clobbered
in the end.

SMERCONISH: Isn`t it also a polarized media world? Or aren`t many
of them taking queues from behind microphones?

COOPER: Well, definitely. I mean, you got a coarsening of the
culture. I think you`ve got, you know, more partisan media up there that
encourages it so people can just stovepipe their messages to their own
people.

All in all, it`s not a situation like the one that Ronald Reagan
faced when he got to Washington. And there were tons of Republicans who
are more liberal than many Democrats. You had John Hines and Arlen Specter
from Pennsylvania where you are, and then you had Democrats from John
Stennis from Mississippi --

SMERCONISH: You had Jason Javits, a Republican in the Senate.

COOPER: Exactly. I mean, you had lots of conservative Democrats,
lots of liberal Republicans. And, you know, there was at least a morrow
bust chance of getting things done.

Now, you get a thing like the super committee and everybody is pretty
much pre-programmed. And that`s why they spend four months in a room and
get nothing.

SMERCONISH: OK. Here`s the real question. Do they reflect where
the country is headed? Because I maintain, if you look at data, you see
the largest group of voters are independents. That`s the largest growing
group of voters.

So, are they out of sync or are the voters out of sync? What`s going
on here?

COOPER: Well, I think you hit on the key word which is voters. And
it`s all about who shows up to vote. And if the people who show up in
those primaries are pretty partisan, then you`re not going to get the
moderates coming out of the primaries into the general election. And, you
know, unless the, sort of, silent majority of moderates shows up at the
polls, you get more of the same.

SMERCONISH: Matt, here is an example of how undiplomatic things have
become on Capitol Hill. Let`s take a look at this exchange between
Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska and historian Doug Brinkley just
last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DON YOUNG (R), ALASKA: This side has already made up its mind.
And I call it garbage, Dr. Rice --

DOUG BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN: It`s Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university.
You went to Yuba College and you couldn`t graduate

YOUNG: I call you anything I want when you`re sitting that chair.

BRINKLEY: Pardon?

YOUNG: You just be quiet. Just be quiet.

BRINKLEY: You don`t own me. I pay your salary.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman will suspend and I`ll remind --
I`ll remind members and I`ll remind --

BRINKLEY: I work for the private sector. You work for the
taxpayers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Brinkley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Matt that kind of behavior has become commonplace. I
mean, that`s what we`ve unfortunately grown accustomed to seeing.

COOPER: Yes. I think you`ve got more and more of that. And, you
know, there used to be, Michael, social compacts, like you wouldn`t use the
debt ceiling to sort of put a gun to the head of the country. There were
just certain things -- you wouldn`t judicial nominees en masse. Both
parties have kind of crossed the line. I think Republicans have taken a
step further in the past few years by being much more promiscuous in the
use of filibusters in the Senate. And that has really driven this partisan
wedge.

SMERCONISH: You used the word social. I think that`s another part
of the problem. It used to be they`d lift a glass with one other. Now,
they all scurry home on Thursdays, don`t come back until Tuesday, because
they need to go home and raise money and there`s no socialization taking
place with any of them.

In any event, it`s a fascinating survey. I look forward to it every
year even though it depresses me.

Thank you for your time, Matt Cooper.

COOPER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with accountability and
why we need members of Congress to tell us how they would cut the debt.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Permit me a final word tonight about accountability.

But today was to have been the date by which the super committee put
forth a plan to cut the debt. They failed to reach an accord, triggering
an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts, beginning perhaps in 2013.

This was the third attempt at averting a national crisis. Simpson-
Bowles was the first. After about a year of invested time, that bipartisan
commission, which was comprised of 18 members, could not get the requisite
14 votes to force congressional action on their recommendations.

One year ago next month, the commission co-chairs released their
draft recommendations and no stone was left unturned, no special interest
left unscarred. Their recommendations were described as a list of the
third rail issues of American politics. Federal workers were to be cut.
The cost of participating in veterans and military health care increased.
The age of Social Security eligibility raised, the Defense Department
budget slashed.

Simpson-Bowles would also have reformed the tax code in ways often
contemplated by Washington but never accomplished. Many longstanding tax
credits and deductions would have been eliminated.

After the failure of Simpson-Bowles, President Obama and Speaker
Boehner attempted to work out a grand bargain. It was reported at the time
that the two sides forged common ground on a two-stage strategy for raising
the debt limit and cutting more than $4 trillion out of the federal budget
through 2021.

Reportedly that plan would have included unprecedented cuts in agency
spending, including at the pentagon and significant changes to Medicare and
Social Security, the biggest drivers of future borrowing, which is quite a
major concession for Obama and the Democrats to have made.

But those negotiations collapsed last July and quickly degenerated
into finger-pointing. As a result, efforts to increase the debt ceiling
were thrown into chaos. And it was the subsequent debt ceiling
negotiations that gave rise to the super committee, which is how we`ve come
full circle back to where we are now with lots of time having run off the
clock and not much to show for it.

So, what do the three efforts at addressing the national debt have in
common besides failure? And by the way, I could say four efforts if I
include the bipartisan senate "gang of six".

Here is the answer: none has resulted in a definitive congressional
vote. After over 19 months of work on arguably the most important issue of
the day, voters next November currently lack a score card. We cannot
assess our individual members` behavior in office on the most important
issue facing the nation.

Sure, we can paint with broad strokes. We can generalize based on
the parties and we can look at press releases and public comments by
individual members -- but that`s not enough. We`re owed more. We deserve
to know what each member of the House and Senate is prepared to do about
the debt, not just what sound bites they offer.

There`s a reason we call you legislators. Please, start voting so we
voters are informed when we go to the polls next November.

Thank you, Chris Matthews, for this privilege.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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