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updated 12/5/2011 10:01:48 AM ET 2011-12-05T15:01:48

Guests: Steve Kornacki, Joe Williams, Craig Shirley

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Cain and Romney, worst week ever.

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in tonight for Chris Matthews,
who`s in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, talking to a crowd about his book,
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive hero."

Leading off tonight: Cain to make a major announcement tomorrow, or
maybe not. When a sinking candidate says, I`m going to make a major
announcement, it usually means one thing, he`s getting out. But with
Herman Cain, who knows. He could be announcing a new Iowa field office.
For Cain and Mitt Romney, who fumbled an interview with the home team at
Fox and then saw his poll numbers plummet, three words -- worst week ever.

Meanwhile, the guy who benefits from all the dead and dying flies
around him is Newt Gingrich. He`s confidently predicting he`ll be the
Republican nominee. But he`s also taking heat for saying that poor kids
don`t know the meaning of hard work. That`s a dog whistle that isn`t too
hard to hear.

What`s next in this crazy Republican race, Donald Trump hosting a
debate? Oh, wait a minute, that just happened. It`s scheduled For
December 27th. Seriously, this is not the HARDBALL "Sideshow" yet, it`s
really happening.

Plus, at least he showed up at the right studio. Rick Perry went on
Leno last night to make fun of his own campaign missteps. He had lots of
material with which to work.

And finally, "Let Me Finish" with the traveling circus that this GOP
race has become.

We start with Herman Cain and his big announcement tomorrow. Howard
Fineman is the Huffington Post Media Group editorial director and Chris
Cillizza is managing editor of Postpolitics.com. Both are MSNBC political
analysts.

Gentlemen, earlier this afternoon, Herman Cain said he was going to
make this big announcement tomorrow. Let`s all listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R-GA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am reassessing because
of all of this media firestorm stuff. Why? Because my wife and family
comes first. I got to take that into consideration. Tomorrow in Atlanta,
I will be making an announcement, but nobody`s going to get me to make that
prematurely. That`s all there is to that.

So tomorrow, we`re going to be opening our headquarters in northwest
Georgia, where we will also clarify -- there`s that word again, clarify --
exactly what the next steps are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Chris Cillizza, do you schedule a big announcement to
say, Hey, guess what, I`m staying in this race?

(LAUGHTER)

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POSTPOLITICS.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no,
Michael, not usually. But you know, I`ll hearken back to earlier this
week, where his campaign, Herman Cain`s campaign, said he was going to
"clarify" in Dayton, Ohio. In a speech in Dayton, Ohio, he was going to
clarify what "reassessing" his candidacy meant.

I tuned in. I listened to the whole speech. He gave his totally
standard stump speech. He never mentioned reassessing the campaign. He
sounded like he was just another candidate. So you never know.

It seems hard for me to believe this isn`t a, I`m staying in or
getting out, at this point. But can I just quickly -- because it bugs me.
Herman Cain said in that clip you just played, "this media firestorm" is
why he`s reassessing his campaign. No, that`s not why he`s reassessing his
campaign! It`s the allegations of sexual harassment and the allegations of
an affair. The media reported on those things. We did not...

SMERCONISH: Well, let me...

CILLIZZA: We did not do those things.

SMERCONISH: Let me make a comment and follow-up to that because,
Howard Fineman, I find it remarkable that it`s infidelity, alleged, that
may drive him from the race, when alleged sexual harassment didn`t. I
would have reversed the importance of the two. Not to downplay infidelity,
but you know, infidelity is matter among spouses. It seems to me that
sexual harassment, which is a civil wrong, if it`s true, is the public`s
business. Do I have it mixed up?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, you have -- you may have the dynamics of the Herman Cain family mixed
up because I think Herman Cain`s big audience right now is not the voters
in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, it`s his wife and his family. And
I think that`s what he`s talking about.

The way I read it, Lin Wood, who is the Atlanta-based high-powered
attorney who has been advising Herman Cain for the last several weeks, made
it very clear earlier in the week, I thought, that if he had his druthers,
he`d just as soon Herman Cain would get out of the race -- for whatever
reason, for whatever it is that Lin Wood knows.

Herman Cain said otherwise. Mark Block, his campaign chairman, said
otherwise. Who knows what Herman Cain is going to do. But if he`s going
to be opening a new campaign office in northwest -- in northwest Georgia on
the same day that he`s announcing that he`s getting out of the race, then
that`s going to be a very short opening of an office in northwest Georgia.

SMERCONISH: Well, mine is just an editorial statement about how
individuals on the right pooh-poohed claims of sexual harassment. That was
not perceived as any kind of a big deal, alleged fanny pinching at the
office, or whatever it might have been. But the minute that it`s
infidelity, it`s, like, Uh-oh, we better abandon ship and go where, Newt?

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Michael, I would...

FINEMAN: I think this is about Mrs. Herman Cain.

CILLIZZA: I would just add -- I would -- I would add to that, though,
I think it`s the totality of it, you know? I think when it first came out,
Herman Cain denied it. He said there`s nothing to it. It was a "he said"
versus a "she said." Then as the weight of -- it wasn`t one woman, it
wasn`t two women, it wasn`t three women, it was four women, and then on top
of that, the allegations of the extramarital affair.

I think it`s the totality, the context of it is why you`re seeing it
kind of impact him more now...

SMERCONISH: Well, I think it -- I think it...

CILLIZZA: ... than it might have before.

SMERCONISH: Chris, I think it`s that. I also think that this latest
female passes the smell test. I mean, that`s just my opinion. She -- you
look at her, and to me, at least, she`s got an air of credibility about
her.

Let me show you something else. Yesterday at a meeting with "The New
Hampshire Union Leader," Herman Cain admitted his wife did not know about
his most recent accuser, Ginger White. But later in an interviewer with
Lawrence O`Donnell, White couldn`t believe Mrs. Cain didn`t know. Let`s
listen to both.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: My wife did not know about it, and that was the revelation and
the surprise, that my wife found out about it when she went public with it.
If she had been just another man that I had helped, it probably wouldn`t
have raised as much suspicion. But my wife is comfortable with the
explanation that I told her regarding, you know, having to help her.

GINGER WHITE, SAYS SHE HAD AFFAIR WITH HERMAN CAIN: I would be
surprised if she is surprised by this, honestly speaking. I would be
surprised.

I am deeply, deeply sorry if I have caused any hurt to her, to his
kids, to his family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Howard, he`s certainly been consistent. I mean, he`s
denied, denied, denied, even to the point of saying that he helped this
woman because of a charitable instinct, but yet didn`t tell his wife about
his good deeds.

FINEMAN: Yes, well, I just think that -- as Chris said, that the
totality of the circumstances of the life of Herman Cain is what`s the
problem here. Beyond -- beyond that, he`s just handled everything so
clumsily, that even Republicans who might have been drawn to his campaign
because they thought he was an effective businessman can`t think of him as
an effective politician.

Just to take one example, he blew off the "Union Leader" editorial
board three weeks ago, refused to meet with them. Then they end up last
week endorsing Newt Gingrich, which means they`re in hook, line, and sinker
with Newt Gingrich. And then Herman Cain, after this latest story comes
out, decides to go meet with the editorial board of "The Union Leader,"
which had already decided whom they were going to support. So it`s just
another example of how poorly he`s run the campaign.

The other thing is, when you`re a mystery man, when you`re known as --
you come out of nowhere, really -- and that`s what Herman Cain did, he`s
been on the fringes of politics for years -- and suddenly, you`re
introduced to the American people, everything is a case of first
impression. And the first impression that people have of Herman Cain, 9-9-
9 notwithstanding, is a guy who sort of gets around town in ways that are
hard to explain. And that`s killing his campaign.

SMERCONISH: Chris Cillizza, allow me to show you this new ad. The
group Americans for Herman Cain released an ad in support of the candidate
this week. Take a look at this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s time for the truth. The media won`t tell
you what one of the foremost lie detector experts in America said about
Herman Cain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my exam, he is being truthful. But the
allegations of saying that she`s been sexually assaulted by him did not
occur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now that you know the truth, let`s focus on what
matters. Herman Cain is a Reagan conservative who can beat Obama. His 9-
9-9 plan is easy to understand, will create jobs and will get America
working again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: That doesn`t sound like a commercial from somebody
getting out of the race. As I put it together, it looks like a guy who`s
able to look at his laptop and see different color codes and determine if
somebody`s lying.

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: Well, and -- yes. And the other thing, too, Michael, is
that the Cain campaign themselves, not just this super-PAC (INAUDIBLE) the
Cain campaign themselves went on with a new ad in Iowa yesterday.

Here`s what I think is happening, though it`s hard to know. I just
think Herman Cain at this point is almost a totally independent operator,
that his campaign is trying to carry on as though nothing else is
different, but you have Herman Cain kind of out there saying, Yes, we`re
reassessing, yes, this has taken a toll on my wife, yes, I have to go talk
to her face to face. I`m not sure that Herman Cain and the Herman Cain
campaign are in that close of quarters.

I don`t know how else to explain -- Howard pointed this out. I don`t
know how else to explain the incredibly fumbled messaging. One minute,
he`s in it to win it. The next minute, he`s reassessing. Then he`s back
in it to win it. Then he`s reassessing again.

SMERCONISH: Well, we`re going to find out tomorrow. Howard Fineman,
Mark Halperin -- let`s shift gears to Mitt Romney.

FINEMAN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Mark Halperin had a great list of difficulties that Mitt
Romney has sustained over the last couple of weeks. I`ll show you just a
couple of what he...

FINEMAN: OK.

SMERCONISH: ... came up with. His TV ad that distorted the old quote
from President Obama, the testy interview with Bret Baier of Fox News and
the following day`s news that Romney complained to Baier about that
questioning. There was "Union Leader" endorsement of Newt Gingrich over
Romney in New Hampshire, a mediocre showing at a Republican debate. And
then there`s this new "Time" magazine cover with an imagine of Romney and
the headline, "Why don`t they like me?"

Howard Fineman, what`s going on with regard to the Romney campaign?

FINEMAN: Well, on the last point, that was Mark Halperin and the
editors of "Time" magazine`s decision to ask that question on the cover of
"Time" magazine. So I wouldn`t necessarily count that one.

And the other ones individually might not have been seen as
catastrophic, it`s just that there`s no juice in the Romney campaign and
everything that might have been considered a minor matter all taken
together provide a damning portrait at exactly the wrong time.

This is the time where you need to be focusing, when you need, as the
late Lee Atwater said, to have "churn" in your campaign. You need to be
out there. You need to be locking people up. You need to be getting
people excited about going out to organize in Iowa and New Hampshire.

None of that is happening with Romney because -- because he has no
momentum and really hasn`t had any for months and months and months.

SMERCONISH: Well, and...

FINEMAN: And now -- and now it seems there is a -- there is a chief
opponent to him who`s sitting there almost smirking and saying -- Newt
Gingrich said the other day, I`m going to be the nominee, daring people to
attack him. And that`s the position that Mitt Romney finds himself in
right now.

SMERCONISH: I think something else that`s changed, Howard, and that
is that despite the vast number of debates that we`ve had so far, they
generally played nice with one another.

FINEMAN: Right.

SMERCONISH: Now the gloves seem to be coming off. And let me show
you what I consider to be a pretty devastating commercial that was launched
by the Huntsman campaign. It`s a Web video that they just put out...

FINEMAN: Yes, I saw it.

SMERCONISH: ... about that interview, with two minutes worth of flip-
flops. Here`s just a portion of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST, FOX "SPECIAL REPORT": You have been on both sides
of some issues. And there`s videotape of you, going back years, speaking
about different issues -- climate change, abortion, immigration, gay
rights. How can voters trust what they hear from you today is what you
will believe if you win the White House?

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Bret,
your list just not accurate. So one, we`re going to have to be better
informed about my views on issues.

BAIER: Different issues, climate change...

ROMNEY: But I believe based on what I read that the world is getting
warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.

-- that we don`t know what`s causing climate change on this planet.

BAIER: ... abortion...

ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this
country.

-- that I have consistently been pro-life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Chris, even if it doesn`t take its toll in the primary,
you wonder if it`s going to sere an image for the general election. Is
that the real risk here?

CILLIZZA: I do think it is. And remember, Michael, the Democratic
National Committee went up with ads earlier this week, Mitt versus Mitt,
exact same narrative, exact same story line.

I would say Huntsman, at this point, is Newt Gingrich`s best friend.
You know, Huntsman -- people dismiss him, but Huntsman is personally
wealthy and has a super-PAC that`s already spent $1.5 million for him in
New Hampshire.

If Huntsman can slow or bring Romney -- Romney is still a very strong
front-runner in New Hampshire. If Huntsman goes on the attack against
Romney in New Hampshire, brings Romney down, Gingrich wins Iowa, gets the
momentum coming out of there, then we`re talking about a whole different
ball game.

So Huntsman I still think can be a factor. And we know for a fact --
never overlook this -- there is personal enmity between the Huntsmans and
the Romneys, so...

SMERCONISH: He`s the only one...

CILLIZZA: ... I don`t think Jon Huntsman will be unwilling to do --
to do the...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Huntsman is the only one who hasn`t caught a wave in all
of this, and I still don`t rule out that it could settle on him. Real
quick, Howard, final thought.

FINEMAN: I totally agree with you guys. I saw that ad and I said,
Geez, Huntsman`s going to get his 15 minutes. It`s about to happen. Maybe
next week.

SMERCONISH: His may -- his may be sustaining. It could be 30.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Howard Fineman and Chris Cillizza.

Up next: The latest from Newt Gingrich -- poor kids have no work
habits because no one around them works, or so he said. There`s a dog
whistle for the right.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: I`m hosting HARDBALL today because Chris is on his book
tour this weekend for his new biography of the 35th president. The book,
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero," now high up on "The New York Times" best-
sellers list. If you`re in the area, Chris is in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, today, then in Rhode Island at Barrington books on Saturday.
He`ll be back here on Monday.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The new front-runner in the
polls for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich, has some interesting
positions on child labor laws. He`s called them, quote, "truly stupid,"
and he suggested that students could replace janitors in schools.

Yesterday he was asked about those comments, and he doubled down,
saying poor kids have no work habits because nobody around them works.
It`s not the first time that he`s demonized the poor for political gain.
We`re going to get into that in just a moment.

Also, Gingrich is leading in the polls, but does that mean he`s the
definitive nominee? He seems to think so and that`s what he said to ABC
News. It`s not the first example of his ego that has been out on the
campaign trail. Is he just too confident?

Michelle Bernard is the president of the Bernard Center for Women,
Politics and Public Policy and an MSNBC political analyst. Steve Kornacki
covers politics for Salon.com.

Here`s what Newt Gingrich said last night in Iowa about poor children.
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working
and have nobody around them who works. So they literally -- they have no
habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day.
They have no habit of, I do this and you give me cash, unless it`s illegal.

What if you paid them part-time in the afternoon to sit at the
clerical office and greet people when they came in? What if you paid them
to work as the assistant librarian? What if -- and I`d pay them as early
as is reasonable and practical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, this is a big subject of conversation in my
lily-white suburban household, OK...

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: ... because I am forever telling our three sons about the
jobs, everything from McDonald`s to delivering flowers to painting street
address numbers on curbs -- I mean, I did it all. I did magic acts when I
was 12 years old.

Why wasn`t the message for all children? Because I think we`ve all
gotten off track in this regard.

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I don`t
understand the reason why Newt made the statement the way he did. It`s a
very, very important and powerful message for all parents, for all
children.

I think Newt being Newt, though, I think that he made -- he -- what he
was trying to say I don`t -- I think he made a very inarticulate statement
about what he was trying to say. Maybe this was an opportunity for him, or
he saw it as an opportunity, to try to reach out to the poor, reach out to
a different demographic, and talk about helping communities rise up and
helping children achieve.

And he said it in a very inarticulate way that looked a lot more
negative than I think his intent probably was.

SMERCONISH: I`m going to -- I`m going to ask you both, but I will
start, Michelle, with you. Was it a dog whistle? Was -- was this coded?
Was it intended to appeal to his base?

BERNARD: You know what? I`m going to give him the benefit of the
doubt, Michael. I think he made a very inarticulate statement.

I know that there are people who are going to say that he was trying
to go after the most racist, horrible motives of the far right, but I don`t
think so. This is somebody who, I think, was trying to make a statement
about pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, having good role models.

I mean, if you actually take an honest look at poverty and look at
some of the toughest, most impoverished neighborhoods in the country, there
are children that are sorely lacking in role models, whether it`s
education, whether it`s working, whether it`s families staying together.
But he could have found a much more positive way to make that statement.

SMERCONISH: Steve, Steve Kornacki, a dog whistle? What did you hear
when you heard that?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Yes, I heard -- I heard a bit of two
things.

I heard a dog whistle, but I also heard a very sort of ill-conceived,
intemperate attempt at blowing a dog whistle. There`s sort of an artful
way of doing that if you`re a skilled politician. And I think it gets to
two issues about Romney. The dog whistle aspect -- about Gingrich --
excuse me.

The dog whistle aspect is pretty simple. You know, part of the sort
of the core of the conservative message these days is telling a lot of
suburbanites, is telling people who perceive themselves as sort of
taxpayers who are under siege that their taxes are so high because the
government is taking their money and it`s wasting it on sort of poor, lazy,
undeserving people.

So I think the message was sort of designed to reach those people and
say, hey, I get it. I get that your tax dollars are being wasted and this
is what it`s being wasted on, people who understand what work is.

But I think it`s ill-conceived and it gets to a real problem with
Gingrich, which is his tendency to just sort of -- sort of fly off the
handle and make inflammatory, intemperate comments that cause him a lot of
trouble and that don`t necessarily have their intended effect.

I mean, if you think back to sort of the last time Newt Gingrich was
really as big as a national player as he has become at this moment, it`s
when he was House speaker. And this is the sort of thing that defined his
three-and-a-half, four years as House speaker. He would make statements
that would totally blow his party off-message for days, for weeks, even for
months.

I remember when the Republicans won in 1994, within about a week of
that election, the entire conversation was about orphanages, because
Gingrich had said one of his...

SMERCONISH: I`m actually -- I wanted to show that to you, because...

KORNACKI: Sure.

SMERCONISH: ... I wanted to point out he has got a history when it
comes to controversial comments about the poor. It was 1994. He proposed
that states stop giving aid to poor single mothers, and instead use the
saved money to send their children to orphanages.

And you might remember that Hillary Clinton, who was the first lady at
the time, called the proposal unbelievable and absurd. Gingrich was then
asked about Hillary`s comment when he appeared on "Meet the Press."

This was December of `94. And he responded by referencing the 1938
movie that romanticized orphanages. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")

GINGRICH: I would ask her to go to Blockbuster and rent -- rent the
Mickey Rooney movie about Boys Town.

My answer to her in part is, you know, the little 4-year-old who was
thrown off the balcony in Chicago would have been a heck of a lot better
off at Boys Town, that the 11-year-old who was killed after he killed a 14-
year-old might have had a chance to live in a supervised boarding school,
that the children you see in D.C. killed every weekend might be better off
in a group home or a foster home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, when you put it now in the context of what he
said back in the mid-`90s, does it make this most recent remark more
palatable or less?

BERNARD: You know, quite honestly, I feel completely numb about it,
because I understand it`s inflammatory, it`s crazy.

I was actually looking at it, thinking, what on earth could he be
thinking about? But here`s the thing, Michael. If you dig deeper, think
about all of the candidates who are running for president. Think about
everyone who`s running for office, whether they are Democrats or
Republicans.

We constantly hear about the problems of the job creators. We
constantly hear about how important it is to have a middle class. There
are no politicians who are willing to talk about what we do to help the
least among us. And I`m not saying that Newt Gingrich is doing that, but
he`s the only candidate that we hear at least trying to touch on the topic
of poverty.

And maybe, maybe all of the candidates will look at this as a way to
reach out to a different demographic and honestly talk about some of the
biggest problems facing the country, rather than the people -- only
focusing on the economic woes of people who are actually getting by.

SMERCONISH: With being the front-runner, you know, the gloves now
come off. Mitt Romney appeared on "FOX & Friends" this morning and took a
couple of swings at Newt, beginning with a response to Newt`s assertion
that the odds were high he would be the nominee, given his current lead in
the polls. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Self-aggrandizing statements
about polls are not going to win elections.

I think if America feels that we need somebody who`s lived in
Washington for the last 40 years to run the country, he`s a good choice.
This is not a matter of -- that America needs better lobbyists or better
deal-makers, better insiders. I think America needs a leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So, Steve, the pitch in part is, he`s the insider, he`s
the guy who`s been there for 40 years. I`m a businessman.

But the big picture takeaway is these two are duking it out.

KORNACKI: Right, absolutely. The businessman who`s really been in
politics for at least 17 years now.

But I think the strategy for Romney here really is pretty simple. And
it`s wait for Newt Gingrich to do what every other flavor of the month on
the Republican side has done this year. And that is peak and melt down.
And he`s got about a month to make it happen, or to have Newt Gingrich
himself make it happen.

And if you look at Newt`s history, like I`m saying, with all of the
intemperate statements -- and he has lots of self-destructive tendencies.
So there`s sort of good reason to think that he eventually will. And the
silver lining for Mitt in all of this terrible polling news this week is
this is the first time I have seen, if you look closely at these polls,
it`s the first time this year when you look at Gingrich`s voters and you
ask them who their second choice is, if they`re not going to back Gingrich,
it`s Romney.

When you look at these other guys who have risen up in the course of
the year, whether it`s Herman Cain or Rick Perry for a while, when you
asked the second choice question then, it was not Romney. So it seems to
me that the Republican voters have cycled through all of the other options,
they have kind of given up on them, and they`re now coming to the
realization that, if it`s not Newt, all right, fine, then...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: ... we will go with Mitt.

SMERCONISH: You might be right. But I`ll tell you something -- 30
days in this context is an eternity. We could have never had predicted
this. If we had written this script, we would have said, it`s too
preposterous and we wouldn`t even sell it as a novel.

Thank you, Michelle Bernard.

Thank you, Steve Kornacki.

BERNARD: Thank you.

KORNACKI: Sure.

SMERCONISH: All right.

Up next: Rick Perry is wasting no time making sure we know he can
laugh at his campaign blunders. The latest example of that is coming up in
the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow."

First up, if you can`t beat them, join them, right? Well, that seems
to be the game plan for GOP candidate and consistent fact-flubber Rick
Perry. We can`t forget Perry`s epic brain freeze in an October debate, but
in the event that you do need a reminder, you can count on none other than
Rick Perry to come through for you.

Take a look at this new ad from the Perry campaign, and you will see
what I`m talking about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RICK PERRY CAMPAIGN AD)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Commerce, Education,
and the -- what`s the third one there?

Department of Energy. You know, we have all lost our train of thought
before, but not many have done it on national TV. Now, if you want a slick
debater, I`m obviously not your guy. But if you want a clean house in
Washington with a balanced budget amendment, a flat tax, and a part-time
Congress, I`m your man.

I`m Rick Perry and -- what`s that line again? I`m Rick Perry, and I
approve of this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: I like it. I think it`s a good strategy.

And if you`re still not convinced that Perry can poke fun at his own
gaffe, there`s always the late-night comedians to help him out, right?

Let`s watch Rick Perry making light of it all on "The Tonight Show"
last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Thanks for coming.
You have provided us with a lot of material, so I appreciate you being
here.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: It`s -- it`s what I do.

LENO: What happened with the brain freeze that night with the -- you
had the three things to remember.

PERRY: Well, you know, one, two, and...

LENO: Yes?

PERRY: ... then...

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: Every now and then, I call my dogs by the wrong name.

LENO: What happened in New Hampshire here?

PERRY: Those of you that are -- will be 21 by November the 12th, I
ask for your support and your vote.

I was thinking drinking age, maybe.

LENO: Drinking age, drinking age.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: Yes.

LENO: OK, all right. That makes sense. But how about...

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: You got to have -- you got to -- you got to have an excuse,
right? So that`s mine, and I`m sticking to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And, of course, if that doesn`t work, he can always give
it a go Michele Bachmann-style. Remember how she confronted the campaign
blunders a couple of weeks ago?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven`t had a
gaffe or something that I have done that has caused me to fall in the
polls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: There it is. Just deny everything, although I think the
poll numbers speak for themselves. Neither strategy seems to be working.

Up next: vacation veto. Today, President Obama teamed with former
President Bill Clinton to promote job creation through energy-efficient
building projects. And don`t think that the president missed an
opportunity to nudge Congress to pass at least parts of his jobs bill.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to keep
pushing Congress to make this happen. Now`s not the time to slam the
brakes on the recovery. Right now, it`s time to step on the gas. We need
to get this done. And I expect that it`s going to get done before Congress
leaves. Otherwise, Congress may not be leaving, and we can all spend
Christmas here together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Somehow, I don`t think that was an invitation to
Christmas at the White House.

Up next: Just call it the GOP reality TV debate. None other than
Donald Trump will moderate a presidential debate in Des Moines on December
27. Will he tell each candidate at the end of the evening, "You`re fired"?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Jane Wells with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The bulls started out in full charge, but fizzled -- fizzled at the
finish, she said. Fractional moves lower for the Dow and the S&P, a
slightish gain for the Nasdaq, flat for the day, maybe, but we`re wrapping
up the markets` best week in more than two years with gains of at least 7
percent on the big three.

But today`s jobs report, in one word, uninspiring. Job creation
remained weak in November with only 120,000 jobs created. But a drop in
the number of people out looking for work brought the unemployment rate
down to 8.6 percent. Earlier, stocks got a boost on word that the European
Central Bank could end up lending more than a quarter of a trillion dollars
to the IMF to help ease the global credit crunch.

And a couple of stocks to tell you about. Tax preparer H&R Block
slumped on a surge in claims against its now-closed subprime mortgage unit.
And discounter retailer Big Lots skidded after its lost lots because new
acquisitions in Canada dragged profits lower. Oh, Canada.

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

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

One week before the Iowa caucus, Donald Trump will moderate a
Republican debate. Newsmax sent an invitation to candidates that begins:
"We are pleased to cordially invite you to the Newsmax ION Television 2012
presidential debate moderated by a truly great American, Mr. Donald J.
Trump.

What is going on here? Let`s tick through the candidates who have
already come to visit Donald Trump in New York to get his blessing on their
campaigns. First was Rick Perry, who met with Trump on September 14. Next
to have an audience with Trump was Herman Cain, who met with him on October
the 3rd. Michele Bachmann made her pilgrimage to Trump Tower October 13.

And we would show you a picture of Mitt Romney`s visit to the Donald
last week, but he snuck in and out of Trump Tower without being in sight of
any cameras.

On Monday, Newt Gingrich will meet with Donald Trump.

Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC contributor. And Joe Williams is the White
House correspondent for Politico.

Richard, I get the sense that the candidates weren`t in the loop on
this, but rather that Trump, in cahoots with Newsmax, decided they will
send this out, notify the media, and then they will see what happens.

What`s your interpretation?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess Newsmax
couldn`t find Ryan Seacrest`s schedule then.

You know, this is a joke. The word -- the idea that the word
moderator should be in the same sentence as Donald Trump is ridiculous. If
these candidates have any backbone, if they want to project any serious
presidential ambition, they will say no. But as you said, they have
already made their pilgrimage, kissed the ring to the birther in chief.

And it just emphasizes how much the brand is diluted and downgraded by
this kind of freak show.

SMERCONISH: Next time I ask you a question, please don`t hold back.
Tell us what you really -- what you really think about this.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE: No, I think it`s a great idea for democracy. I do. I just,
you know...

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Joe -- Joe, Richard questions, you know, are they going
to show up?

Well, let me tell you, Jon Huntsman will not be attending. His
spokesman sent this e-mail: "Huntsman declined the Trump debate and we look
forward to watching Governor Romney suck up to Trump with a big bowl of
popcorn."

Joe Williams, will they or won`t they?

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Well, you have got one who is already in the
no category.

It`s hard to determine whether or not the rest will follow, mostly
because, as -- as Richard and you, Michael, have mentioned, they have
already gone to visit. So what is another step?

But, quite honestly, it seems like it`s -- there`s no upside here. I
can imagine Mitt Romney turning it down. Herman Cain, well, we don`t even
know if he`s going to be around in the next couple of days. Certainly, any
serious candidate would want to turn this down, because it would be a freak
show, a reality show. You never know what you might expect. So, I
think...

SMERCONISH: Joe, do these -- do these candidates know something that
we don`t know? I mean, is there a Trump constituency? Are there people
seriously waiting for a sign from the Donald before they cast their lot
with one of these candidates?

WILLIAMS: Well, I sure hope not, because even if we`re talking about
political experience, there`s virtually no portfolio there with Donald
Trump.

If we`re talking business experience, we have got a man who`s been
through several bankruptcies, whose business dealings have never been fully
vetted. So, we just don`t know. But, obviously, there`s something that
they see that the rest of us who perhaps live in the fact-based community
don`t really catch on to.

SMERCONISH: Richard, in a phone interview with Tamron Hall right here on
MSNBC earlier today, Trump described the kind of questions he will ask as
moderator. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN (via telephone): I think we`re going to
find out about how they feel about outside forces. I think you know very
well, because you`ve reported it very well, how I feel about the outside
world and taking advantage of this country, whether it`s OPEC or China or
so many other countries. And we`re also going to get into other things,
the environment. We`re going to get into education. We`ll be discussing
pretty much a large gamut of things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: You know, I`m sure people are going to watch. My hunch
is that this will out-perform -- I don`t know what ION Television is, I
guess we`re all going to find out, but people will say, well, look at that.
I mean, this was really for the public`s benefit. No?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They would also watch
performing chimpanzees. I mean, that`s what you test of this. He says
that he`s going to ask about the outside world, if that if he ventures into
outside world at any point.

I think David Gregory is fine, his job is safe. The gamut of topics
from "A" to "B" will be exhaustive, I`m sure. And Newsmax is part of this
whole scene as well. Let`s face it, you`re not talking about "The
Washington Post" doing this with Donald Trump.

If the candidates want to do this, they say there`s a 10, 15, 20-
point block in the Republican Party they think is gettable through this
kind of audience. That`s just sad.

SMERCONISH: Donald Trump -- Joe, let me play one more clip for you
to react to, if I may. Donald Trump says she`s not looking to make an
independent run, but doesn`t shut the door entirely either.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I`m going to give an endorsement to somebody. And if that
somebody gets -- obviously, gets the nomination, I`d be satisfied to see
how that somebody does. But if not, if it`s somebody that I don`t think is
going to win or if the economy`s in particularly -- if the economy is very
bad, which it has a very good chance to be, frankly, then we`ll see what
happens as to the independent.

I`m not looking to do the independent thing. As most people know, I
love what I`m doing. I really love what I`m doing. And I think I do it
really well. But I will be probably endorsing somebody right after the
debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: I mean, he does this every four years. It`s remarkable.
Somebody went back and did the research on it. And I think for the last
four cycles, Donald Trump threatens to run, and of course, never does --
Joe.

WILLIAMS: Well, it`s sort of like the swells coming back to
Capistrano or something. Or the phrase that sticks in my mind is the
"eagle has landed." Once Donald Trump makes his grand entrance, we know
it`s a portion of the campaign season.

But seriously, I mean, ION Television is a basic cable network.
Nobody knows exactly how -- I mean, the subscribers they have is probably
on the low end. Trump has virtually no expertise.

And last I remember of seeing him publicly is being eviscerated by
the president at the correspondents` dinner when he basically ripped him
and Trump was sitting there very stone-faced. He would have to contend
with that kind of scrutiny which I don`t think he would hold up to very
well. Expectation (ph) of we`re going nowhere.

SMERCONISH: Richard -- Richard, on what Joe said, that has always
been my belief. I mean, for example, I happen to think that the reason he
would never get in is he doesn`t want to produce financial records in the
format prescribed by the presidential process. I suspect he couldn`t
withstand that scrutiny and I remember he sued a guy who wrote a book about
his financial state in question, what it was really about.

WOLFFE: Right. And, yes, right, the scrutiny is not something he
wants, although he obviously wants the attention. Self-awareness is
obviously not his strong point.

When you consider, he`s the moderator, but he`s also talking about
endorsing and maybe running. Does he not think there`s a conflict of
interest there? Maybe we could send him an e-mail or something.

SMERCONISH: He said that, by the way, he told Tamron Hall that he`d
have preferred to stay in the race, I guess implying that he once was in,
but that he couldn`t because of his commitment to "The Apprentice." Listen
to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I hope it does so well as "The Apprentice" does, as you know.
"The Apprentice" has been an amazing thing. And, you know, we have equal
time provisions. And unfortunately, that sort of makes it impossible for
me to do what I would have like to have had done, because I was doing
really well and leading in the polls when I left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Joe, you know, the three of us have kind of dismissive
of this whole thing. I happen to think it`s a very sad commentary on the
spectacle that this process has become. I have to imagine that in campaign
headquarters tonight, they truly are not sure what they`re going to do with
his invitation.

WILLIAMS: Well, as you mentioned, it`s a bit of a conundrum, because
there probably is a constituency, a very narrow one, that would tune in and
get some information about the candidates.

And for all his hubris, Donald Trump does attract attention. You`re
absolutely right. This probably would get some ratings. How broadly it
would expand, no one knows.

SMERCONISH: All right. I`m going --

WILLIAMS: It`s a bit of a ticking time bomb.

SMERCONISH: I`ve got something to say about this at the end of
tonight`s program. Thank you, Richard Wolffe. Thank you, Joe Williams.

WOLFFE: Thanks, Mike.

SMERCONISH: Up next, we`re going to hear from a Washington insider
about how the establishment really views the 2012 GOP candidates.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: A good day for President Obama. The November jobs
report shows the unemployment rate dropped from 8.6 percent, down from 9
percent last month. And President Obama had fun with former Bill Clinton
at that event to push for more energy-efficient buildings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I never got to open for
"The Rolling Stones." So, I`ll try to do my best for the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am thrilled that
President Clinton has been willing to take this on. As he pointed out,
partly thanks to me, he`s home alone too often.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SMERCONISH: We`ll be right back to HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, we`re back.

While we spent thee first half of the show talking about the top tier
of Republican presidential candidates, we thought it might be interesting
to hear from a Washington insider about how the establishment really views
the Republican field and whether or not there`s really a lack of enthusiasm
for all of these individuals.

Craig Shirley is a historian and the author of "December 1941: 31
Days that Changed America and Saved the World." We`ll talk more about the
upcoming 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and your new book
in just a moment.

But first, let`s get into the politics. Is there an establishment
favorite among this field?

CRAIG SHIRLEY, AUTHORE, "DECEMBER 1941": Yes, actually, I`d say
there are two. There`s Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The Ursa Major is Mitt
Romney and Ursa Minor is Jon Huntsman, Michael. Those would be what you
tag as the two establishment candidates.

And what it represents is what the Republican Party is going through
right now. It`s going through an identity crisis. It`s bipolar in a way
that it was, with Goldwater and Rockefeller, and then later with Reagan and
Ford, and then after that, with Reagan and Bush.

So, the party right now is going through a process of trying to
figure out what it stands for, what its identity is.

SMERCONISH: How about the establishment perception of Newt,
particularly given his surge?

SHIRLEY: You know, I know he`s lived here. And I`ve lived here,
too. You can be in Washington without ever being of Washington. And
Gingrich -- Reagan lived here for eight years and he was never considered
to be of Washington, even though he was head of the national government.

Gingrich never joined the culture here, per se. Ronald Reagan,
obviously, never joined the culture here, per se. So, the insiders have
always held him at arm`s length because he really wasn`t one of them,
because he never joined the establishment.

SMERCONISH: Craig, what`s the state of the establishment relative to
incivility? There`s so much incivility among lawmakers. And one of my
arguments is they ought to spend more time in town, lift a cocktail with
one another from time to time, instead of running home on Thursday night
and not coming back until Tuesday morning. What`s your assessment?

SHIRLEY: Well, Michael, I think that`s a good point, is that they do
not interact with each other as much they used to. But also the function
of what has happened to the parties, is that, you know, there really aren`t
any conservative Democrats anymore, per se, and there are very view liberal
Republicans anymore.

So, in the old days, you had conservative Republicans who can reach
out to -- or conservative Democrats who could reach out to conservative
Republicans and that they could work together in a bipartisan fashion. It
makes it more difficult now because, frankly, the parties are more
polarized. In one way, it`s a bad thing. But another way, you could look
at it and says, it gives the voters an honest choice. This is one party
that has one set of principles, and this is another party that has another
set of principles. They both have legitimacy and hopefully it should come
down to a contest of ideas.

SMERCONISH: You`ve been so identified with Republican causes over
the years. Does the incivility extend to the periphery of the system
itself, gentleman like yourself?

SHIRLEY: Well, you know, we`ve had incivility going back to the
election of 1800s and that`s when it really started. What is going on now
is pretty tame compared to what`s going on -- went on in the past, in the
election of 1860 or 1800 or even more recently.

Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1980 and said that Ronald Reagan
would divide America north through south, black from white, Christian from
Jew. If that`s not incivility, I don`t know what is.

SMERCONISH: Next Wednesday is the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor
Day, also my wife`s birthday. I just --

SHIRLEY: Happy birthday.

SMERCONISH: I could never forget that date.

I was very interested to read your book where you break down day by
day what was going on in the United States and around the globe. I have
the question, I guess the Howard Baker question of what did FDR know and
when did he know it?

For example, you point out that on the 4th of December, this
explosive 26-page memo marked "confidential" arrives. And when you piece
together some of the elements, there were signs that something was
imminent, no?

SHIRLEY: Yes, absolutely, Michael. There were straws in the wind.

The Japanese had become more militaristic. They`d invaded east
China. They`d invaded Manchuria. They`d invaded Indochina. They were
taken on a far more militaristic cast. They`re resigned from the League of
Nations in 1933.

We knew that straws were in the wind and that there were pieces of
the puzzle there and this memo does advise the president that the Japanese
espionage were stepping up its surveillance of the Panama Canal and the
West Coast of the United States, and the Hawaiian territory for possible
military action.

But in Roosevelt`s defense and in his government`s defense and
military`s defense, they did not believe and they did not know that
Japanese would travel thousands of miles, stop in the middle of the Pacific
to refuel and then travel to Hawaii to undertake an audacious attack.

And you would have to be a really vile person and Roosevelt was not.
Roosevelt was a magnificent, in my opinion as a historian, a magnificent
war time president and you would have to be a pretty vile person --

SMERCONISH: It`s a great read. Hey, Craig, thank you so much --

SHIRLEY: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: -- for being here to share it, next Wednesday, the 70th
anniversary. Thank you, Craig Shirley.

SHIRLEY: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with why the process of
selecting the GOP nominee is now a sad but true reality TV show.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I interviewed Jim Lehrer on my radio program recently. He just
released a book called "Tension City," highlighting his having moderated 11
presidential and vice presidential debates. Lehrer is a quality
journalist. It`s no wonder that he`d be asked to repeat that role so
often.

Today, however, it was announced that Donald Trump will moderate an
upcoming GOP debate. The juxtaposition of Lehrer and Trump is illustrative
of what this process has become. It`s a reality show.

The stakes for the country could not be higher. We`re still at war
in two countries. The debt is at $14 trillion and rising. The divide
between rich and poor has never been so large, and unemployment may just
have dropped but it remains too high at 8.6 percent.

Against this backdrop, the GOP race has been very fluid while Romney
and Paul`s numbers have been steady, the others have seen great shifts in
their popularity.

Is that because of a public evaluation of policy differences on
issues like war and taxes? Heck, no.

Frankly, the race thus far has not been defined by substance. It`s
been notable for sound bites. And there have been plenty of those, praying
away the gay, Tiffany bills, a hunting camp named for a slur, an economic
proposal dumbed down to sound like the price of a pizza.

There have been a number record number of debates. But with answers
to complex problems limited to 60 seconds, no substance has made the news.

The debate headlines have been generated by crowd reaction, like when
a soldier got booed or someone suggested an E.R. patient with no insurance
be left to die. So maybe it`s fitting that the type of job once reserved
for the likes of Jim Lehrer has now been offered to Donald Trump.

By the way, no word yet as to whether he`ll entertain questions for
the candidate from Meat Loaf or Gary Busey.

And let`s not forget, he`s the guy who perpetuated the birther
controversy. It`s a sad commentary on how sophomoric this process has
become -- a guy who plays the media every four years with his own alleged
ambition of running for office is handed the power to shape the debate that
will pick the next leader of the free world. The only thing more demeaning
would be to let them all compete with each other on "Dancing with the
Stars."

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you, Chris, for this privilege.
He`ll be back on Monday.

"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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