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updated 12/2/2011 2:16:30 PM ET 2011-12-02T19:16:30

Guests: Mark McKinnon, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Bob Shrum, Ron Reagan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Newton`s latest law: What goes down must come
up.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in Hartford, Connecticut.
Leading off tonight: Brave Newt world. When you`re leading in the polls,
you suddenly find yourself with a big, fat target on your back, and that`s
the position Newt Gingrich is now in. Mitt Romney is now blasting the
former speaker as a Washington insider and -- it takes one to know one -- a
flip-flopper. And Ron Paul has a scathing new video highlighting Newt`s
hypocrisy.

But Newt is reveling in all this, saying the race for the Republican
nomination now boils down to Newt versus anti-Newt, that he`s the true
conservative, and that he, Newt, led the effort, by the way, in Congress to
defeat communism. How could we have forgotten that one?

Then the Dow`s nearly 500-point jump yesterday raises this question.
If the economy does pick up, is Mitt Romney really the best candidate for
the Republicans? A better economy neutralizes the one advantage Romney has
over the rest of the field. You know, if the car`s running, who needs some
guy tinkering under the hood? We`re going to ask the HARDBALL
"Strategists" about that. What happens when the old playbook gets thrown
out the window?

And Herman Cain won`t make a decision about his stumbling campaign, he
says, until he sits down face to face with his wife. And as someone said
today, when you have to have a meeting with your wife, you`re already in
trouble.

And the man who shot President Reagan wants more freedom. Do you
believe it? But when the Secret Service found him, John Hinckley, browsing
books about presidential assassinations, is freedom really the answer for
this guy? Ron Reagan, son of the former president, doesn`t think so, and
he joins us tonight.

Finally, Michele Bachmann says there won`t be an American embassy in
Iran if she`s president. Well, that`s a promise she can keep. There
hasn`t been a functioning American embassy in Iran since 1979, Michele.

We begin tonight with Romney`s campaign against Newt Gingrich. Mark
McKinnon`s a former adviser to George W. Bush and vice president at Hill
and Knowlton, and "Time" magazine`s Mark Halperin is MSNBC`s senior
political analyst. By the way, the cover of "Time" magazine this week is
wild (ph). It`s a picture of Mitt Romney with the question "Why don`t they
like me?"

Mark, this has been a hell on wheels week for this guy. I`ve never
seen a whiplash situation like the one he`s facing. He was zooming along,
and all of a sudden, the economy gets better, Newt`s racing to the top of
the polls. All of a sudden, it looks like Mitt`s not the one.

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that`s what`s fun about
politics, Chris. You can just keep throwing conventional wisdom out the
window. You know, the -- Newt`s taking off here, and Lazarus is now
wearing the Newt suit. And Mitt Romney`s trying to attack him as being a
bigger flip-flopper, but I don`t think this is going to come down who`s the
biggest flip-flopper. I think it`s going to come down to who has the
biggest cojones.

And American voters want strength. Then want somebody bold. And
that`s the problem for Romney. He reminds me of the old Walter Mondale
campaign theme, dare to be cautious. And that`s not what voters are
looking for right now.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mark Halperin. It`s getting confusing now
with two Marks. But Mark Halperin, same analysis to you. What happened
here? And why is Newt sky-high now, and all of a sudden, Mitt doesn`t look
at all inevitable?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Romney`s had a very
bad 10 days. And Gingrich has been a force in the party for a long time.
Mark McKinnon`s right, the party wants someone who`s bold, and Romney`s
colorless.

I think people forget. There`s no one like Newt Gingrich in American
politics today in either party. He was speaker of the House, but he`s got
a 30-year relationship with the grass roots of his party and a public
image. There`s no one else I can think of in either party who`s like that.
He`s got flaws galore, but so does Romney.

And right now, I defy anybody in politics, as Mark McKinnon suggested,
to tell you how this is going to end. Romney`s -- two of his worst states,
Iowa and South Carolina, are good states for Gingrich. And if the rest of
the conservatives fall away and Gingrich can consolidate that vote, it`s a
very tough puzzle for Romney to solve.

MATTHEWS: So let me ask you quickly before we get to the elements on
the show, the facts we`ve got to present -- back to you, Mark Halperin,
again this time. Is the job description of the Republican nominee the
party base wants right now someone to fix the economy, or is it someone to
smash the president in the face during a debate? What`s the job
description?

HALPERIN: Well, I think it`s both, really. And for Romney, the
challenge is to be more like Gingrich, to be someone who can show that
forcefulness against the president. He actually does it on the stump
pretty well. But right now, he`s no match for Gingrich.

I think Newt Gingrich needs to get over that hump on the economy and
to be seen as a plausible president. The endorsement of the "Union Leader"
was one little building block, polls showing him doing better head to head
than he`s been doing against the president. But he needs to convince a
group of voters, particularly in the establishment, that he is going to be
credible on the economy. The voters want both.

MATTHEWS: I think the right wing wants to put an SOB in the ring with
the president. They hate him so much. They want a fellow hater, a guy who
can just gas the president with that kind of hatred in his face, and Mitt
Romney doesn`t have the equipment for that.

Anyway, ,let`s take a look at this. Politico reports today that the
Romney campaign`s new game plan right now is, quote, "They`ll point out
Gingrich`s past policy shifts, which can protect them from attacks against
Romney`s own inconsistencies. They`ll highlight Gingrich`s conservative
apostasies as a hedge against Romney`s own moderate views. And they`ll
highlight his stable family while leaving the unspoken impression about
Gingrich`s two divorces."

Romney isn`t the only one going after Newt Gingrich, by the way. Ron
Paul released a Web ad today with over two minutes of flip-flopping and
criticisms. Here`s just a portion of that ad. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ...
and a real question of seriousness...

-- serious questions...

-- seriousness...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he
was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other
way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re an embarrassment to our party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s flipped and flopped based on who`s paying
him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s demonstrating himself to be the very essence
of the Washington insider.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s about serial hypocrisy.

GINGRICH: It`s wrong to go around and adopt radically different
positions because then people have to ask themselves, What will you tell me
next time?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Mark, Mark McKinnon, how`s that going to hurt Gingrich?
People already don`t like him. This isn`t about Miss Congeniality. It
seems like they`re just saying this the guy`s a nemesis. But don`t they
want to put a nemesis in the ring with the president, someone to beat him
up? Again, my thinking.

MCKINNON: They do, but you know, I think that`s a fairly effective
attack coming from Ron Paul, as opposed to Mitt Romney. I mean, Paul, at
least, is ideologically consistent, so that`s a pretty good attack line.
And you know, actually, Iowa could easily turn into a race between Gingrich
and Ron Paul.

And you know, the timing is everything. And you know, Romney decided
to sort of double down in Iowa about a week ago, just a couple of days
before Gingrich took off.

So you know, I think it`s -- I think it`s -- from what I saw right
there, it`s a pretty effective attack. But again, I think that Gingrich,
as Mark Halperin said -- he`s just bigger than life. And Republicans have
a long relationship with him, so they`re going to forgive.

And this whole notion of Romney playing the family card, I think
that`s problematic because Republican voters and evangelicals, they love a
redemption story, and Gingrich has got that redemption story down pretty
well.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to that question with you, Mark. And I know this
is a tricky business. It has to do with religion. But my question is,
once we get past these early tests -- and you`ve been through this cycle a
number of times, Mark Halperin -- once we get through these early tests of
Iowa and New Hampshire, we get down to the deep South, for example, and you
have to deal with a lot of Baptist voters who are evangelical, will they
have a bigger problem with a guy who`s had a couple of divorces or with a
guy who`s LDS, a Mormon?

HALPERIN: I think if Gingrich can harness that redemption story that
Mark McKinnon mentioned, I think he is a stronger candidate. He is, of
course, a Southerner, and he`s someone who, as Mark also said, the party
knows. And to some extent, that`s baked into the cake of how they think
about Newt Gingrich.

But don`t -- I wouldn`t gloss over those early states. Mitt Romney is
still the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee. He still has
organizational strength and resources, and he`s performing well out on the
stump most days.

The key for Gingrich is to win the early states, to win Iowa, to do
better than expected in New Hampshire, to win South Carolina. Romney has
thought all along, Well, I can lose Iowa and I can lose South Carolina, but
that required a muddy field, lots of different people doing well. If
Gingrich has a good 30 days and consolidates, wins Iowa, wins South
Carolina, I would bet on him to win Florida, where there`s some polls
showing that he`s doing well.

And if Romney loses those three states, it`s going to be hard for him,
I think, to turn things around anytime soon.

MATTHEWS: Well, you say he`s still the favorite. Is he still the
favorite to win two of those first three? Where do you see him winning
besides New Hampshire, Mark Halperin?

HALPERIN: It`s tough. It`s tough to see. Look, I still think he can
win Iowa. Gingrich could easily have a decline. He`s got different skills
than the other Republican conservatives we`ve seen have declines, but he`s
still could decline.

MATTHEWS: I see.

HALPERIN: Ron Paul could do well enough. Rick Perry`s super-PAC
could go on TV. He could still win in Iowa, win in New Hampshire and end
it. And I still think that`s, in some ways, the most likely outcome. If
he doesn`t, after New Hampshire, it is hard to see where he wins
symbolically that`s important.

He`s going to have to grind it out at that point. And they`re
prepared to do that by spending big and winning delegates, which is -- if
you can get through the early states and be standing, is the way you become
the nominee.

MATTHEWS: And you`re talking Romney here, right?

HALPERIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look last night on Fox, on Hannity`s show.
Here`s Gingrich taking a swipe at Mitt Romney while promoting his own rise
in the ranks. Let`s watch him in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: People are saying, you know, I think we need Newt Gingrich
because we need somebody who can debate Obama. We need somebody who`s
actually done it before. We need somebody with very substantial, big
ideas.

And so I think, whereas I would have thought originally it was going
to be Mitt and not Mitt, I think it may turn out to be Newt and not Newt.
And that`s a very different formula than, frankly -- so I`m having to
redesign our campaign strategy because we`re at least 60 days ahead of
where I thought we`d be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow! There`s Mitt -- there`s Newt Gingrich saying how
great he is in front of a Christmas tree. I mean, he`s his own Christmas
present to himself, this guy. This guy`s the happiest egomaniac I`ve ever
seen in my life! But there he is, smiling, being somewhat charming.

By the way, before we go on, let`s take a look at Newt on Fox last
night. He seems to have taken some personal credit for the fall of
communism. Why not, while you`re at it, by the way? During his tenure as
speaker, he had a lot to do with bringing Gorbachev to bear (ph). Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I`m clearly the more conservative candidate by any rational
standard. I mean, I had a 90 percent American Conservative Union standing
for 30 years. I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp develop supply-side
economics. I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of that, Mark McKinnon? Those
history books got to be a little bit adjusted now for the Newt role. It
wasn`t Reagan, it wasn`t Gorby, it was Newt Gingrich.

MCKINNON: Well, he`s bigger than life and he fills the stage, and
he`s confident and he`s brash. But again, voters don`t vote on single
issues in presidential elections, they vote on attributes. And by far the
most important attribute of all is a perception of the candidate being
strong.

MATTHEWS: OK...

MCKINNON: And you stack up Gingrich against Romney on that asset, you
know, he blows it away. So that`s...

MATTHEWS: So you`re betting right now, you`re saying it looks like
the odds go with -- Mark McKinnon, you say the odds still are looking to go
with Gingrich right now, is that right? Is that your view?

MCKINNON: Well, he`s going to sweep the South. And I -- you know, I
was just thinking about what Mark was just saying and what you were talking
about, having to win two of those first three states. Well, I think maybe
New Hampshire, but I remember that he`s in New Hampshire right now exactly
where he was four years ago. And that`s -- you know, he`s just the guy
next door. That support is very thin. So you can see how Gingrich or
Huntsman...

MATTHEWS: OK, guys...

MCKINNON: ... can rise pretty well in New Hampshire. And so now he
sort of has to win Iowa in order to win two of the first three.

MATTHEWS: OK, I think we`re at a tipping point right now...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: ... South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: We have two gospels of Mark. The gospel of Mark Halperin
is it`s still Mitt`s to lose. The gospel of Mark McKinnon is -- this is
the coming argument, not quite there yet -- the Mark McKinnon argument is
that Newt is inevitably moving up and he can`t be stopped. He is the SOB
they`ve been looking for under their Christmas tree.

Anyway, coming up -- that`s my word. Anyway, coming up: Mitt Romney
says his business background means he`s the best Republican to beat Obama
still. But what happens if -- this is an if -- the economy really starts
to perk up, as it`s begun to do the last few days? Is Mitt still the one
to tinker in your hood if the car`s running?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Listen to what President Obama told supporters at a fund-
raiser last night in New York City. According to "The New York Daily
News," the president said, quote, "It`s time for us to refocus and make
sure we understand that change we can believe in was never going to be
change overnight. Rather, it`s going to be a slow, steady progression
during which this aircraft carrier that we call the United States of
America slowly shifts into a direction that promises more opportunity."

Well, the president also told reporters -- or supporters, rather, I`m
going to need another term to finish the job. Well, there he said it, run
for reelection.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. After yesterday`s spectacular
stock market surge, plus huge retail sales numbers over the Thanksgiving
weekend, could there finally be signs Americans can feel that the economy`s
improving?

Well, plus, cable TV seems to have rewritten the rules for retail
politics in a presidential race. Has the power of face-to-face, one-on-one
politicking, especially in early caucus and primary states, been replaced
now by the TV debate and by TV interviews, especially on the Republican
side on Fox?

These are the questions for our "Strategists" today. Number one, with
Mitt Romney selling himself as the businessman candidate who`ll save the
economy, could a better economy be bad for Mitt? Number two, how does this
new political playbook, with TV being so important, change the game for
both Democrats and Republicans?

Steve McMahon, our buddy on the Democratic side, he`s a strategist.
Todd Harris, our buddy on the Republican side. Gentleman, it`s great to
have you.

Let me start with Todd Harris about this game change on your side. If
you`re going to pick the perfect opponent to go against Barack Obama when
the economy is tanking, is that Romney the businessman? If you`re looking
for the perfect candidate to go after him when the economy`s getting a
little better, do you just go after the street fighter who will beat him
up, and on the way to beating him up, beat him, Todd Harris?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that`s going to be
the big question going forward. With the economy in such bad shape, Mitt
Romney`s really been able to ride his business experience, saying what
Washington needs is somehow who has this kind of experience, who can turn
the economy around.

And if come January -- there`s no reason to think things are going to
turn around dramatically between now and then, but if Republicans are
looking for a problem solver, a guy that`s going to roll up his sleeves,
they`re probably going to look to Romney. If, suddenly, they think the
economy might be getting better and what they want is someone with big
ideas, they`re going to probably look to Newt.

But as of right now -- you know, I`m a fan of both, but I think given
the dynamics, I still think Romney`s in the driver`s seat.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Steve McMahon on the Democratic side. You`re
looking at this across the aisle, Steve. I see Newt coming up, and I see
him coming up because he will punch the president in the face. He`ll be
much more aggressive in a debate. He`ll be snarky, obnoxious. He`ll be
offensive. But he will put on a better show if you want a real fighter, a
gladiator, than Romney, who looks like a gentleman compared to Gingrich,
Steve.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, he looks like a Ken doll.
And you`re absolutely right, Chris. Newt Gingrich -- you know, he`s famous
for his hyperbolic rhetoric, bold, radical, transformational change. And
you know, you can see from the polling data and you could see this for a
long time now, that the primary Republican electorate for some reason isn`t
warming to Mitt Romney. He`s been at 23, 24, 25 consistently.

And now the -- the next alternative to Romney, Newt Gingrich, who`s a
true conservative, who has won before, who the Republicans know and like --
and I think he won`t wear well, but he`s wearing well right now and he
might wear well enough so that Mark McKinnon will be proven right. I think
Newt Gingrich could very well be the nominee of the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: You know, Todd, we`re looking at a picture of a very
handsome candidate here. I mean, in many ways, you could say he`s the
archetypical presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Look at this guy.

But even -- there`s something about him that doesn`t quite click.
Even when he -- quote -- "rolls up his sleeves," he keeps the collar right
and the tie perfect and the hair perfect. It`s like he`s been told, roll
up your sleeves, but he doesn`t show that body English of a guy who`s
really out there sweating and fighting like a real club fighter.

I know you`re going to defend him here, but try to see it my way. I`m
trying to figure out what`s going on here. It looks to me like Newt is
moving into the front of this debate, and Romney is fading, and it`s not
just "TIME" magazine with its cover that says "Why don`t they like me?"
that`s fading.

HARRIS: Well, I think there`s no question -- I will readily concede
that Mitt Romney doesn`t always do the best connecting on a personal level
with people.

But neither did Barack Obama in 2008, and neither has President Obama
over the last several years. So I don`t think ultimately that is going to
be the most important criteria in terms of winning. If the economy is in
the tank a year from now, and people don`t feel like it`s getting better,
they don`t feel like President Obama is leading the country in any
discernible direction, they`re going to look to a problem-solver, and that
is what Romney has built his entire campaign around. And, so far, I think
it`s been pretty effective.

MATTHEWS: OK. So we know the distinction here or the argument.

Let`s take a look at Mitt Romney`s latest ad. It touts his business
credentials again, his main selling point in his bid to be president.
Here`s a part of the ad. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I spent my life in the
private sector. I have competed with companies around the world. I have
learned something about how it is that economies grow. The right answer
for America is to stop the growth of the federal government and to start
the growth of the private sector.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think we might have another division on our hands.

Just quickly, show of hands, Steve, do you think the nominee`s going
to be Newt or Mitt?

MCMAHON: Right now, I think it`s going to be Newt, unless Mitt picks
up his game and starts actually engaging.

MATTHEWS: Todd, who`s the candidate -- who is the nominee likely to
be from this day forward?

HARRIS: Well, Newt`s making a hell of a comeback, but if I had to bet
right now, my money would still be on Romney.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the new rule of politics.

I want you to start here again as well, Todd.

The traditional rules of politics are being rewritten in this
presidential cycle, it`s been said today. Jeff Zeleny, a hell of a writer,
puts it this way: "In what is shaping up as a profound change in American
politics, the living room stops and the cafe visits where candidates offer
handshakes and make appeals for support are creeping toward extinction.
It`s been five decades since television began to transform presidential
races, but never before have the effects of cable television been so
apparent in the early stages of a campaign. The latest sign can be found
in the resurgence of Newt Gingrich."

Now, my question to you -- and we talked it over with our producers
today, gentlemen -- if only two or three million watch a debate, or five
million on FOX, the Republican debate, their sort of home court, the viral
nature of the clips, the way they get around, the bad moment, the flubs,
the screwups, let`s talk about it, Todd. It seems to be so exponential, so
explosive.

You could lose a campaign, it seems, in one bad night with a half-a-
million people watching.

HARRIS: Well, as we have seen over the course of the past year, you
can lose your campaign in one night and then find it again the next day and
recover and go on to a second act.

I think there`s no question that the technological advances have made
some significant changes, but I think what is equally important and what is
missing from that conversation is the fact that, for Republican voters,
this election is a referendum about the very direction of the country.
This election is about big things.

And it used to be that you would go to Iowa and you would talk about
ethanol, and you would go to New Hampshire and you would talk about the
Northeast Dairy Compact, and all these things that meant a lot to the local
voters. All of those issues seem really, really small in comparison to the
big questions that we`re talking about right now.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you

Your thoughts, Steve? The same thing, same assumption? It`s the big
issues, as well as the big screen, the big...

MCMAHON: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Well, it`s the big issues, but it is a big screen.

And I was there during the Dean campaign when cable television, after
he gave his Iowa victory speech, played that 700 times in the next week.
And there was a 20-point lead in New Hampshire that evaporated almost
overnight.

MATTHEWS: The scream speech.

MCMAHON: John Kerry saw it over time with the swift boat. So -- the
scream speech. John Kerry saw it with the swift boats in 2004.

And Rick Perry can tell you all about how one moment in a debate on
television repeated 150 or 200 or 500 times can take your campaign down,
because it`s taken his down.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: This is the first time, though, Chris, I think that cable
television has actually brought somebody back from the dead, which is
really what`s happened with Newt Gingrich here. It`s been a remarkable
transformation, and it`s been solely on the power of his debate
performance.

He`s been very, very effective in the debates. I don`t agree with
what he`s saying, but the Republican base sure likes it. And you can see
it in his numbers today.

MATTHEWS: Well, I would have to say that resurrection has never
looked so unappealing.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you very much, Steve McMahon and Todd Harris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Harris, you just love this stuff.

Up next: Michele Bachmann`s latest gaffe is a real head-scratcher.
How does Bachmann, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, not know a
crucial fact about our relationship with Iran? Stick around for the
"Sideshow," where she belongs.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow." We have got a
doozy tonight.

First up: scuffle on the floor. What led to a little Senate floor
spat yesterday between Arizona Senator John McCain and New Yorker Chuck
Schumer? Well, it was a debate over a defense bill that would ultimately
allow terrorism suspects to be detained indefinitely on U.S. soil.

McCain argued that the Supreme Court had already addressed the issue
in a previous case.

But listen here for the dig by McCain at Schumer`s backyard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Isn`t it true that Justice O`Connor
was specifically referring to a case of a person who was captured on Long
Island? Last I checked, Long Island was part -- albeit sometimes
regrettably -- part of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the senator from New York raced then to his battle
station -- quote -- "All of America saw how heroic Long Islanders were on
9/11," Schumer tweeted. "Long Island deserves an apology."

Well, less than an hour later, McCain took the Senate floor again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I`m sorry that there`s at least one of my colleagues that
can`t take a joke. And so I apologize if I offended him and hope that,
some day, he will have a sense of humor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, not quite the apology Schumer was looking for. His
follow-up tweet? "New Yorkers can take a joke, but if Senator John McCain
wants to mock parts of America, stick to Arizona."

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what`s wrong with American politics
right now -- this.

Up next, if you thought Rick Perry would take the cake for campaign
gaffe of the week for not knowing the legal voting age is 18, it might be
time to reconsider. Enter of course Michele Bachmann on the recent raid on
the British Embassy over in Iran. Think this kind of ruckus would occur
under the Bachmann administration?

Let`s hear it from the candidate herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You may have
heard that there was a break-in at the British Embassy, and the British had
to pull their people out. That`s exactly what I would do. We wouldn`t
have an American Embassy in Iran. I wouldn`t -- I wouldn`t allow that to
be there, because they are a state sponsor of terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, she might have a tough time boarding up the American
Embassy in Iran right now, since there hasn`t been one there since the
hostage-taking in 1979.

Time to backpedal? Far from it. Instead, the Bachmann camp released
a statement saying -- quote -- "She was agreeing with the actions taken by
the British to secure their embassy personnel and was speaking in the
hypothetical, that if she was president of the United States, and if we had
an embassy in Iran, she would have taken the same actions as the British."

Hmm. In other words, she`s saying that what I said -- what she said
isn`t relevant to the situation.

And we all know Bachmann has company in the 2012 GOP race when it
comes to not having the facts straight, but Newt Gingrich thinks he`s
gotten to the bottom of the Bachmann`s tendency to get it wrong. Here`s
what Newt had to say in response to Bachmann`s recent attack on his
position on illegal immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people are just
factually challenged. It`s unfortunate. When I was a teacher, I would
occasionally have a student who couldn`t figure out where things were or
what things were or what the right date was. And when that happens, you
feel sorry that they`re so factually challenged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So Newt Gingrich has wasted no time making it clear that he
feels quite the opposite of his -- quote -- "factually challenged" -- close
quote -- opponents.

Wow.

Up next: Herman Cain says he won`t decide whether to stay in the
presidential race until he talks face-to-face with his wife. Will she see
things the way he does, that those allegations of an affair are all part of
a Democratic plot to make Newt Gingrich the nominee? I`m sure she will see
it that way. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

A pretty quiet session ahead of tomorrow`s November jobs report, the
Dow Jones industrials sliding 25 points, the S&P 500 shedding two. The
Nasdaq actually picked up five points. Investors were treading water
today, waiting to see what tomorrow`s report from the Labor Department has
in store.

On Wednesday, we learned that private employers added more jobs than
expected in November, but then today we had weekly claims edging above the
benchmark 400,000 level for the first time in more than a month.

Yahoo! shares jumped on word a consortium is considering making a bid
for the company at around $25 billion. GM, Ford, Chrysler all reporting
increased auto sales in November, but Toyota and Honda continue to
struggle.

And a mixed bag for retailers after Target`s November sales figures
came in lower than expected, while Costco, Limited Brands, Wet Seal and
Limited Brands reported surprisingly robust sales.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It ain`t over until it`s
over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.

CAIN: A few of our warm weather supporters have, you know, gotten off
the Cain train, but the good news is many of our solid supporters are still
on. And once we clear up this most recent accusation, I think a lot of
people are going to see it for what it was worth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: They have got to bottle this guy`s self-confidence.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Herman Cain, of course, last night, saying the Cain train has
not yet come to an end. He said he will make a decision about the future
of his campaign for president in the next few days, after sitting down face
to face with his spouse, for the first time, actually, since the adultery
allegation broke, for a sustained, obviously, conversation. He said he`s
been on the phone.

If you watch Cain in the media these past few days, you have heard him
lay out his defense, which is the allegations are all part of a massive
conspiracy against him cooked up. He said the Democrats see him as their
worst nightmare. He says -- quote -- the establishment wants to bring him
down because he`s too unconventional and the media of course distorts the
facts again and again. It`s the Democrats, it`s the media, it`s the
establishment. Everyone, he says, seems to think his campaign, by the way,
except him, is over.

Many conservatives have said it`s time for him in fact to throw in the
towel. "The Christian Science Monitor" today likened his candidacy to a
zombie -- quote -- "He`s still moving forward, but there`s not much
vitality left in his campaign."

That`s pretty tough. So is he going to call it quits? And, if not,
what does that mean for the rest of the field? Contamination factor here,
I would say.

Michael Steele is a former Republican National Committee chair, an
MSNBC analyst, and a great one, and Bob Shrum is a hardy fellow as well, a
Democratic strategist.

I have to start with you, Michael Steele...

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

MATTHEWS: ... because I know you`re close to these guys. You`re a
Republican.

And I just wonder, from a personal sense, it seems to me there`s
absolutely no gain to this fellow, who I like -- a lot of people sort of
like him who don`t even meet him, haven`t met him.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: If he throws in the towel now, he is basically saying, for
the history books, you got me. I cheated on my wife. I`m not a good guy.
I`m not only a bad candidate. I`m a bad guy, a bad husband.

Doesn`t he have to stick it out, at least for a while, to at least
come up with some other reason to leave the campaign, besides a charge of
infidelity?

STEELE: Well, I think there`s a lot of truth to what you`re saying
there, Chris. No one wants to go out that way. And no one wants to go out
of a campaign like this, a historic one, quite frankly, the first African-
American to pursue the Republican nomination for president the way he has
and with the success he has.

So I think, right now, this reassessment that he`s going through is
taking that into consideration. Certainly, the conversation with Gloria,
his wife, is paramount, very important. Not just the -- the phone
messages, but the face-to-face is going to really be more telling than
anything else coming out of that whether or not he goes forward.

And I think, ultimately, looking at this thing from a political
strategy standpoint, there`s no real incentive for him to get out right
now. As you have already talked about, and as Bob knows, the dynamics on
the Republican side are such that you don`t need to have a lot of cash to
stay in this thing, you don`t need to have a lot of that momentum because
of the ebb and flow.

So I think he can wade through early January and see where he is.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let`s take a look at this.

Herman Cain told "The New Hampshire Union Leader" this afternoon --
news here -- that his wife didn`t know about his friendship with Ginger
White, the woman who accused him of having the affair. And he gave money
to White without telling his wife. Well, this is smart stuff.

He said, quote, "My wife did not know about it and that was the
revelation. My wife found out about it when she went public with it. My
wife and I have talked about it and I have explained it to her. My wife
understands that I`m a soft-hearted, giving person."

By the way, Cain added, quote, "She`s comfortable with the
explanation that I told her." Well, that`s his explanation.

Bob Shrum, let`s go to a couple of things here. I know -- don`t get
into -- let`s not be sadistic here. This guy`s got problems. He`s
probably not going to be a nominee for either party. I guess the question
is: does he hurt the other party candidates by sticking around for -- as
you suggested, Michael Steele -- for a couple of months up on that debate
platform?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, if he sticks around, he`s
going to help Romney some because if you look at the
favorables/unfavorables among his voters, his voters overwhelmingly move
towards Gingrich and it would just amplify the momentum that Gingrich has.
He`s a -- in a new poll today, he`s got a 21-point lead.

I think, however, that in the end, it`s all over but the 9-9-9`ing.
His either going to say nine to this race, or the voters are going to say
nine to him, his support is going to decline, and it`s not just a function
of these scandals. The truth is, and the scandals have tended to obscure
it, that for all of the charisma he has, all of the interest that he brings
to this race, his sort of likability, the fact is that he`s displayed an
astounding degree of incoherence and confusion about issues ranging from
abortion to Libya.

I don`t think he was ever going to be the Republican nominee. He
might help Mitt hold on, but if he gets out and his vote declines, it`s all
going to go to Gingrich.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of his charges? Is he charging -- the
Democrats saying they fear -- they want Newt as the opponent. Now, let me
ask you a question: Is there any logic to that, Michael, as a Republican
strategist? Do you think the Democrats want Newt? And therefore they want
to get rid of any opponent?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Look, I believe the Democrats -
- at least the ones I have talked to in the last few weeks, especially,
really feel very confident that they`re going to have in the president the
ability to take on whoever the Republican nominee is. So from that
standpoint, strategically and politically, it doesn`t make sense from my
perspective for the Democrats to play this ball right now.

Why would you put in play something that could potentially, you know,
damage a potential nominee for the Republican Party next fall, why would
you do it today? It makes no sense.

So I`ve never really bought into this theory that this is all coming
from the left and that the Democrats want Newt Gingrich or they want some
other candidate in play.

I think, as I said before and will re-state again, this is an inside
job. This is something that was bubbled up from the bottom of the GOP well
to damage the momentum and eventually stop Herman Cain in his tracks.

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. You believe it`s another candidate
involved in this?

STEELE: I don`t know if it`s necessarily -- it doesn`t necessarily
mean it`s another candidate. I mean, there are operatives in the GOP
beyond a political campaign who may have other interests and other designs
in place. In fact, I know that footprint very well, because it was placed
on my backside more than once.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: So I`m more than familiar with the handiwork here, and I`ve
expressed that personally to Herman. And I think that, you know, he needs
to be mindful of the fact that there are a lot of things at work here, a
lot of interests that go beyond, you know, the historic nature of his
campaign.

MATTHEWS: Do you think there`s an ethnic aspect to this?

STEELE: No, I don`t think it`s so much that, Chris. You know, I`m
sure you can peel that onion and start to cry at some point, but I think,
you know, just at the surface level, no, I don`t think that that`s the
motivation here. A lot of folks like the idea that, you know, you have an
African-American of his qualifications and caliber running for the
nomination of the party. But then it gets to a point where there are, like
I said, other interests that come into play.

And those tend to take over. It has very little to do with race.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to what looks to be the front running
situation. Shrummy, you and I have watched this game for 50 years -- well,
I think it is getting on 50, you and I.

SHRUM: Almost, yes.

MATTHEWS: Almost, since we were kids, we`ve been watching this. I
have never seen a warp speed politics like this in my life. I get chills.
It`s moving so darned fast, so damned fast right now.

Mitt Romney`s now on the cover of "Time" magazine tonight as a guy
who`s whining, as a guy who says, why don`t they love me? You know, they
took away my blanky, you know, I`m so upset. I mean, the guy had this --
he had the wind at his back, what, hours ago.

And now, Newt Gingrich has come back. Somebody said the word
Lazarus. I don`t want to, you know, dump on the New Testament, but Lazarus
is a pretty good example. He`s come back from the death bed.

You know, this is a new law of physics, what comes down must come
back. I mean, what is this guy doing? Shrummy, what`s wrong? Is this
country, on right at least, so confused, so angry, they can`t think?

SHRUM: No, I don`t think that`s what happened here. I think the
people on the right are thinking. I think they look at Romney, they`re
suspicious of Romney. They don`t think he means what he says. They`re not
sure they don`t want to trust him with the presidency.

And in politics, timing, as you know, Chris, is everything. And the
timing worked out for Newt. Everyone else got their audition. Newt didn`t
get his because he got in trouble months ago for saying the Paul Ryan
Medicare plan was right-wing social engineering. He got put off to the
side.

And he was the last guy standing after a series of very good debate
performances, who was a plausible nominee, and the support is all flowing
to him. And you`re seeing Christian evangelicals move toward him. And
he`s saying to them, look, I did some bad things in the past. I did some
things I regret.

MATTHEWS: OK, great.

SHRUM: I`m sorry for `em. And I think Newt has a real chance in
this, although I still kind of think in the end, the Republican
establishment is going to try to push Romney across the finish line.

MATTHEWS: I`m beginning to think that the Pauline Privilege now
extends to politics. Think about that. You`re both Catholics.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: The Pauline Privilege -- you know, previous marriages
don`t count.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Bob Shrum.

STEELE: All right, guys.

SHRUM: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And Ginger White, the woman who says she had an affair
with Herman Cain will be on "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell.
That`s what we call, in our world, a good get. Tonight at 10:00 for
Lawrence. Good for him. She`ll make some news.

Up next -- should John Hinckley -- the man who shot, he did do it,
and nearly killed President Reagan -- be granted more freedom? Ron Reagan,
the president`s son, says no and he`s coming here next. Boy, he`s going to
have a lot of us agreeing with him.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton`s in Myanmar right now,
that`s the former Burma. And she had dinner today with that country`s most
famous former political prisoner, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi
was released last year after two decades of imprisonment and said she`ll
run in Myanmar`s upcoming elections. President Obama sent Secretary
Clinton to Myanmar after the country took on a series of democratic reforms
after years of military rule.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

It`s been 30 years now since President Reagan was shot outside the
Washington Hilton Hotel. Now the man who pulled the trigger, John Hinckley
Jr., may be about to gain more unsupervised time away from the mental
hospital where he`s been confined.

In 2009, the federal court granted Hinckley 12 10-day visits to his
mother`s home in Virginia each month.

But now, St. Elizabeth Hospital is asking the court to give Hinckley
for extended visits home, two 17-day visits and six 24-day visits before
eventually allowing the mental hospital to decide whether or not he can
live indefinitely with his mother.

Joining me right now to talk more about whether or not Hinckley
should be released is Ronald Reagan Jr., the son of President Reagan, and
author of -- a great book -- "My Father at 100." There it is.

Ron, you`re as close to this as possible, besides your mother and
sisters, and another brother. What do you make of this possibility that
this guy might get sprung?

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I`m the last
person on earth to do any favors for Mr. Hinckley, of course. But I try
and look at it rationally. And when I do, I come back to three things.

Number one -- the crime that he committed, attempting to assassinate
the president is not just any other crime. It`s not just assault with the
deadly weapon. This is the attempted decapitation of the United States
government. It is a direct assault on our democracy. And as such, it
needs to be treated seriously and some deterrent effect is in order here.

Second -- as regards to Mr. Hinckley himself, I`m no psychologist,
but it appears that he has a narcissistic personality disorder on top of
whatever other psychological difficulties he might have. Narcissistic
personality disorder means a grandiose sense of entitlement and an almost
total lack of empathy for other human beings, in other words he`s a
sociopath.

Number three -- this is all aimed at getting him out, as you pointed
out, leaving him free to wander, unsupervised around the country. I don`t
much care if he gets to visit his mother and go to movies and things like
that, but the idea of leaving a guy who did what he did and who has the
psychological profile that he has unsupervised in society strikes me as
monumentally unwise.

MATTHEWS: Well, he also strikes me as a liar, on top of everything
else, which is very important to try to talk about if he`s going to get in
any better shape mentally in his life, because apparently, he just lies
continually.

REAGAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: For example, you mentioned letting him go to the movies.
Well, here he is -- let`s get his lawyer to make his case, so we`ll get
over that. Hinckley`s attorney says Hinckley is not -- his lawyer says
he`s not a threat.

In an opening -- in an opening statement to the court, Attorney Barry
Levine said, quote, "Although he is flawed, he`s fundamentally decent.
This man is not dangerous. The evident shows he`s not dangerous."

Well, the federal prosecutors have made the point. They did let him
go to the movies one time with his mother and he turns he went to sort of
the place where you pay to go in, had a chat for the cameras, and then
scooted over to a Barnes & Noble so he could look up books on assassination
--

REAGAN: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: -- including assassinations of your dad, to sort of glory
in his own name ID.

REAGAN: That`s right. His mother drops him off to the ticket
office, she drives off, he makes a beeline to the bookstore, heads right to
the section on political assassinations to look up his days of infamy. I
don`t know what was on his mind, but that`s not an encouraging sign.

MATTHEWS: And the reason, and it isn`t like he was one of the
political guys like Sirhan Sirhan, who had a Palestinian cause or whatever,
he did to impress a movie actress, whose name I refuse to use here.

REAGAN: That`s right.

MATTHES: And he did it out of, as you say, narcissism. It seems to
me this guy likes to get his name out there, he`d like to do it again.

REAGAN: Yes. What got him the most attention in life, trying to
kill the president of the United States. Now, it may be that while he`s
with his mother she`s a controlling influence on him, but she`s elderly.
What happens if --

MATTHEWS: Eighty-six.

REAGAN: -- you left him go, and she passes away and he`s all out
there on his own. And somehow he gets insulted or aggrieved and his sense
of entitlement kicks in, and he decides to take matters in his own hands.
We know what happens when that occurs, or at least we know what happened in
the past.

So, again, leaving him unsupervised is really unwise. Now, we can
say that the Secret Service keeps an eye on him. That`s how we found out
about his little jaunt to the bookstore. They were watching him undercover
there. But I can tell you from experience, it is not impossible to evade a
Secret Service detail.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, thank you for that information from the
inside. But I got to tell you, I`m sure it was a positive experience for
you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But this guy went to the point of memorizing the
screenplay so he could convince the authorities that he had gone to the
movies. He`s got a criminal mind that`s pretty scary.

Ron Reagan, thank you for coming. I know it`s a deeply emotional
thing with you.

REAGAN: That`s quite all right.

MATTHEWS: As it should be.

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" with how America, Republicans and
Democrats alike, are leading the way on the global AIDS crisis. This is a
good story for once.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Today is World AIDS Day. President Obama used the occasion to set a
new target of helping 6 million Americans get treatment by the end of 2013.

But listen to what Bono wrote today in "The New York Times."

Quote, "Today, here we are, talking seriously about the end of this
global epidemic. There are not 6.6 million people on life-saving AIDS
medicine, but still too many are being infected. New research proves that
early anti-retroviral treatment, especially for pregnant women, in
combination with male circumcision will slash the rate of new HIV cases by
up to 60 percent. This is the tipping point we`ve been campaigning for.
We`re nearly there.

How did we get here? America led. I mean `really` led.

It`s a tale of strange bedfellows; the gay community, evangelicals
and scruffy student activists in a weird sort of harmony; military men
calling AIDS in Africa a national security issue.

A conservative President George W. Bush leading the largest ever
response to the pandemic. Bill Clinton, arm-twisting drug companies to
drop their prices; Hillary Rodham Clinton making a policy to eradicate the
transmission of HIV from mother to child."

On this World AIDS Day, World AIDS Day, I would like you to stop and
consider what America has achieved in this war to defend lives, lived far
away and sacred principles at home. So a sign for hope and hard-needed
evidence of what we can do in this country, and in the world when we work
together, right and left, gay and straight, black and white. It`s simple.
In fact, it`s basic, but oh so powerful.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"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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