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updated 12/6/2011 11:30:27 AM ET 2011-12-06T16:30:27

Guests: Michael Steele, Ed Rendell, Amanda Drury, John Heilemann, Howard Fineman, David Corn, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Buzz Bissinger

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tower heist.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Boston. Leading off tonight:
Leading the circus. The Republican clown show has found its ringmaster.
Guess who`s now hosting a debate right before the Iowa caucuses? That`s
right, the king of the birthers, the sorcerer`s apprentice himself. And
one by one, they`re climbing the tower to kiss his ring.

First to arrive is the man with the tab at Tiffany`s. Now he`s in
hock to Donald Trump. Newt came to New York today for Trump`s blessing,
calling the tycoon a "true American icon." But Trump is now something
phenomenal indeed. He`s the ringmaster of the Republican clown show.

Also tonight, Mitt versus Newt. With Herman Cain`s exit, the
Republican race comes down to this. On one side, the perfectly presented
if not sufficiently conservative Mitt Romney. On the other, the
gladiatorial former speaker of the House. Newt`s surging in Iowa right now
and closing the gap in New Hampshire, and that`s got Romney sweating -- if
he could sweat.

And that leads to this. Which candidate, Newt or Mitt, does President
Obama and his people want to run against? Would the Obama campaign rather
face a flamethrower like Newt, who has a ton of baggage, or the genteel
Romney, who has trouble with consistency and connection with people?

And later, the Penn State scandal -- the sex scandal has come back.
Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach accused of sex crimes
against young boys, speaks out again. In another incredible interview,
Sandusky says he was a father figure whose actions have been twisted by
prosecutors. But then, amazingly, he says, he was attracted to boys,
adding, "and girls," before his attorney cut him off.

"Let Me Finish" tonight with the news that the Republican clown show
has, yes, indeed, found its ringmaster.

We start with Donald Trump and the Republican field. Howard Fineman
is the Huffington Post media group editorial director and David Corn is
"Mother Jones" Washington bureau chief. Both are MSNBC political analysts.

Let`s start today. Earlier today, Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump
whether his obsession with the president`s birth certificate would take
over the debate he`s about to, quote, "moderate." Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think
there are some campaigns, and I`ve talked to them about this, that are
concerned you`re going to use this to push, for instance, your obsession
about the president`s birth certificate. Are you going to do that at this
debate?

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION (via telephone): No, I`m not. I`m
not. No, no, no. Look...

TODD: You`re going to keep it out of the debate?

TRUMP: ... the most important issue is jobs. Whether or not he was
born here, you know, to me, it means something, but I guess it doesn`t mean
a lot to a lot of people. But to me, it happens to mean something. The
fact that they can`t find any records in the hospital that his mother was
ever in the hospital, you know, that to me means something, but a lot of
people don`t care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, on April 27th, the White House released the
president`s birth certificate -- just to clear up this mess that he has
left behind, Trump, just to clear it up step by step, if we`re going to
mention him -- the long form birth certificate proving his birth in a
Hawaii hospital. And right here is his mother`s birth -- signature right
there, the mother`s signature at the hospital, Stanley Ann Dunham Obama,
proving she was at the hospital for the delivery.

So I don`t know what more information -- the mother -- the name of the
hospital, by the way, was the Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological
Hospital. All the evidence is on paper. This is another case of
misinformation by Trump, who has become the ringmaster of this clown show.

Let me start with Howard Fineman. Why would a Republican guy like
Newt Gingrich, with a brain, who was once speaker of the House and the
leading Republican in this country, climb Trump Tower to kiss the ring of a
non-office holder, non-candidate, a political nonentity? Please explain
the debasement that even this clown show seems to be willing to descend to.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, a couple things, Chris. First of all, don`t forget Newt Gingrich is
the guy who`s been talking about how he wants seven Lincoln-Douglas-style
pure, endless, serious debates with President Obama. But in the meantime,
he wants to engage in this circus, as you rightly call it.

I saw Newt last night, spoke to him at the Kennedy Center honors, of
all places. This is not the guy who`s out campaigning. He`s not shaking
hands in Iowa. He`s looking to surf any publicity or glitz wave he can
find. That`s why he was working the crowd at the Kennedy Center honors.
That`s why he went up to New York today to see Donald Trump.

He -- I talked -- we have a dozen reporters on the ground in Iowa,
Chris, for the HuffingtonPost and our companion company, Patch.com. Our
reporters out there are saying that Nick is very -- that Newt is very
poorly organized for the caucuses.

But that`s not the way he`s thinking. He`s thinking in terms of pure
publicity and media wave, and he`ll go stand next to anybody or do anything
to the system -- and by the way, these are not debates. They`ve never
really been debates. This will be the least debate-like of them all. He
doesn`t care. He just wants to be on TV so he can raise his profile more.

MATTHEWS: You know, to call this Barnum & Bailey, David Corn, is to
raise it in status. This is a low-level -- one of those European circuses
that come by. You see them in the small AA-towns, you know, outside of
town for a couple weeks.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s pathetic. And there is Newt, blasting his way into
it. What a perfect duet of despair, he and Trump.

But Trump is playing this without ever doing a thing. He`s not
risking his reputation. He`s not risking the kind of inquiry you get if
you run for office. He`s not filing for office. And there he is
threatening to run as a third party candidate, threatening to jump into the
Republican debate, meanwhile hosting a debate, and these characters out of
a clown show are willing to participate with him. They have a 50/50 chance
at the presidency, and they`re turning it into this craziness.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know,
asking Donald Trump to moderate a debate is kind of like asking Newt
Gingrich to officiate at a wedding. It`s just not what you want to do. It
doesn`t send a good message. It doesn`t send a good message about your
party.

I mean, Mitt Romney, who hasn`t said yes -- and I`m not sure he will,
but who hasn`t said yes -- I mean, what will it look like if he`s there
being grilled by Donald Trump on any one of a number of different
conspiracy theories? I mean, at one point, Mitt Romney`s going to have to
sort of break away from this pack and show that he`s serious. You know,
that may come at this moment in time.

But you know, we know why Donald Trump -- what he`s into this for.
It`s, you know, like you -- like Howard said about Newt and publicity.
Donald Trump will leverage whatever he can. He leveraged bankruptcy back
into billions of dollars. This guy doesn`t care about what anyone else
thinks, other than whether he gets his name in the headline and it advances
maybe his TV show or the next casino or the next political debate.

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK. Let`s take a look at this. Republican candidates
Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have declined to participate in this joke.
They`re not going to do the Trump event, and Trump took the opportunity to
take a swipe, of course, at Huntsman and his religion. This is what he
does. He goes after tribe. He accuses Obama -- Barack Obama of being from
some other country. He accused of Huntsman of being from some religion he
likes to make fun of. Here he is. This is tribalism at its worst. This
is bringing the values of the Middle East to American politics. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I think most of the important candidates will come. Huntsman
has 1 percent of the vote. I don`t think he`s coming. And by the way, Mr.
Huntsman called my office a number of times trying to set up a meeting. I
didn`t have a meeting with him. And then he went on a debate and he said,
I didn`t meet with Mr. Trump, like everybody else in the room. So you
know, I`m sure he`ll tell the truth about that because he`s a Mormon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Well, after that attack on the guy`s religion, a spokesman
for Huntsman responded, "You`ll be surprised to find that it was Mr. Trump
who`s not telling the truth here. We never requested a meeting. We are
focused on issues that matter, not presidential apprenticeships."

I don`t know where we`re at on this thing, but I guess it is the
Republican campaign. I guess Newt is surging. And Howard, we have to
cover it. But this has become a desperate trail route to the White House
that you have to go through Trump Tower. It is a -- I used it up front.

FINEMAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: It`s a tower heist.

FINEMAN: Chris, this is...

MATTHEWS: It`s a heist of the Republican nominating process.

FINEMAN: OK. This is a parody of the way the Republicans used to run
things. They used to have a process. They used to have a wait-in-line
system. You know, they used to have, You run and then you run again, then
you get the nomination. They had a royalist tradition that really went all
the way back to the 19th century that pretty much ended with George W.
Bush.

Donald Trump is a parody, a nightmare version of a Republican
kingmaker. This is the opposite of the smoke-filled room. This is the
opposite of the way the Republican Party used to operate.

And I`ll tell you what. Donald Trump has another interest here, I
think. He wants to sow as much chaos as possible in the off chance, as
silly as it may sound, that it somehow may redound to his benefit in a
third party candidate -- candidacy or whatever. He benefits from
situations of chaos. He`s the master of chaos.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: I know he is...

FINEMAN: He`s the master of chaos. And people like Newt Gingrich,
desperate for the publicity, are perfectly willing to play into it. And
you know...

MATTHEWS: So Howard, to follow your point there, like you`ve been on
-- remember how he bet on red or black, whichever he (INAUDIBLE) 50/50
betting thought it was, on the papers not showing up for Barack Obama being
a legitimate American-born citizen. The bet went the wrong way. His 50/50
bet ended up on black, rather than red, or the other way around.

But here he is -- it looks to me, guys -- you start with this, David.
I think he`s betting on Newt Gingrich losing finally in the end, you know,
after a long camp (ph) fight, to Romney, and then he jumps in at that
point. That creates this opportunity. He is betting that Romney will win
because if Newt runs, there`s no room for him.

CORN: Well, I think -- I mean, I agree with Howard that I think he`s
probably more into chaos than organized political strategy. He`s like the
joker of the GOP race at this point in time, whatever that throws
everything up in the air. I just can`t believe, at the end of the day,
that he is serious enough, disciplined enough to actually do what has to be
done to run for president. I don`t think this is -- I don`t think he`s
that smart or that clever. I think he sees an opening now. Maybe he can
turn this into his next TV show, but you know...

MATTHEWS: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s done that. He`s done all that.

CORN: But seriously, I just don`t see him truly lining up -- every
four years, he comes along and says, I might run for president. There`s no
one else who does that who`s serious.

FINEMAN: But this is the deliberate debate...

MATTHEWS: I know, we all feel like Charlie Brown if he does that. I
know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Here he is, Howard. Here`s -- Trump still leaves open the
option that he`ll run for president himself. Here he is on the "TODAY"
show. Let`s listen to Trump on "TODAY."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Well, as you know -- and again, the equal time provisions
don`t allow me to run until May, when I`m a free agent. But the fact is
that if the wrong candidate is nominated to run, if I think it`s a
candidate that`s not going to win and not very good -- and that could
happen, I guess -- and if the economy continues to be bad -- and I think it
will because I think we have incompetent leadership -- I would certainly
think about running...

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "TODAY": But you`ve flirted with this a lot...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: You know, Howard, I just love watching Matt Lauer, who`s a
real pro, obviously, watching him just sort of laugh. He`s just laughing
at the guy (INAUDIBLE) he`s all this stern...

FINEMAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: ... you know, sturm und drang, like he`s a serious
candidate.

FINEMAN: I know.

MATTHEWS: And Matt`s just watching him, you know, enjoying it. I
don`t know. Who knows?

FINEMAN: Well, yes. He was watching it, but the fact is, Donald
Trump was on the show.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s true.

FINEMAN: And I think it`s either an intentional or unintentional
debasement of politics. What`s happening is that politics in this country
is becoming, more than, I think, any time in our modern -- in our
lifetimes, in modern history, becoming a joke. I don`t want to give a --
you know, well, I will give a...

MATTHEWS: Howard, I disagree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, no, no. It`s not bipartisan. The fight between
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was heavyweight territory...

FINEMAN: That`s right.

CORN: That was serious. That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... a serious battle of issues. The war was at the center
of it, I believe. It is nothing to laugh at that. That was a dead serious
contest.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This is on the Republican side, and it`s a clown show
against a serious competition we saw...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: But why are they -- my -- I don`t think it`s all accidental.
What -- I`m asking a question, not providing information here. I`m
wondering why. I`m wondering why they want to. It seems like they want to
debase the nature of politics. And I think that`s a very corrosive thing.

CORN: But they`ve also lost control. I mean, they -- their -- their
-- their policy agenda is to debase government, you know, to discredit
government.

MATTHEWS: They don`t want a leader.

CORN: And when you start to do that, you don`t care about who governs
then.

FINEMAN: That`s right.

CORN: If you don`t care about government, why not Michele Bachmann or
Herman Cain?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I don`t think they like government or leadership or
politics, really, politics. They don`t like democratic government.

FINEMAN: Right. Well, David...

MATTHEWS: They don`t like having a leader. They like to bring --
these are guys who tear down statues, they don`t put them up.

FINEMAN: David...

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman.

FINEMAN: David answered my question.

CORN: I`m glad to do that!

MATTHEWS: OK. I`m glad we got to it there. Anyway, thank you,
Howard, buddy. Thank you, David Corn.

FINEMAN: OK.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: As the Republican race boils down to a two-man
fight, it looks like, who would President Obama like to run against. He`s
got -- he doesn`t have the choice, but it`s interesting, he seems like he`s
showing a choice here. Newt or Mitt? Let`s see if we can find out which
one they`re hoping to run against.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I`ve been up here traveling through New England with
overwhelming crowds, by the way, of people coming out to hear about my
book, "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero." You might expect it up here in New
England. The people have been wonderful in Springfield, here in Boston, of
course with New Hampshire, and down in two big events over the weekend in
Rhode Island. Tonight, I`m being honored at the historic Old North Church,
with Mike Barnicle as the master of ceremonies.

Tomorrow, I`m going to be in Chicago as a guest of "The Rosie
O`Donnell Show," and then a big book party at the prestigious Standard
Club. This Thursday, I`m going to be in Minneapolis at the Westminster
Town Hall Forum.

It`s been an honor to encourage people to get out and bring back a
great American hero this Christmas. The true story of Jack Kennedy`s
heroism is a gift I think we all need now.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, Democrats seem poised to
take on Mitt Romney in 2012, but now that Newt Gingrich has emerged as a
front-runner in Iowa, are Democrats ready to face Gingrich, or is Romney
the guy Democrats want?

U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a Democrat from
Florida, of course. She`s also chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Congresswoman, Madame Chairman, I guess that`s the question. Here`s David
Axelrod, by the way, over the weekend, laying out the case against Romney
on "MEET THE PRESS."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SR. CAMPAIGN ADVISER: This is about how you
behave in public. And he seems to think that every day is a new day, that
he can simply change all of his positions, depending on who his audience is
or what the political circumstance is. And that is not what you want in a
president of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: And here`s the same Ax taking on -- giving a shove, by the
way, at Gingrich earlier today on "THE DAILY RUNDOWN."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AXELROD: I was amused by the Newt Gingrich ad, by the way, because he
talked about he`s going to bring the country together to solve problems.
You`re talking about the godfather of gridlock here, the guy who, you know,
two decades ago really invented the kind of tactics that have now become
commonplace in Washington. So this is a whole new Newt.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Well, Congresswoman, let me ask you a more narrow question
than who would you like to see. Let me ask you this. Can you size up a
debate between the president, Barack Obama, and Newt Gingrich? How would
that debate go on, say, over four nights on national television?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIR: Well, I think it
would be pretty clear. If voters in the Republican primary decide that
they want a consistent conservative who`s extreme on the issues that matter
the most to middle class Americans, then, you know, Newt Gingrich will be
their guy.

And you know, a debate between President Obama and candidate Newt
Gingrich would be a very clear contrast between someone who has clearly and
consistently fought to move this economy forward, fought to bring both
sides together, stood for the notion that we can`t have it all our way and
that we need to work together, and a guy who, as David Axelrod said, sort
of was the governor of gridlock.

So that`s really how I would size up a debate between the two of them.
But you know, this is...

MATTHEWS: I think you`re being kind. I think you`re being kind.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHULTZ: Well, I`m a kind person.

MATTHEWS: I think Newt Gingrich was out -- well, Gingrich was out
there campaigning for climate change -- action on climate change in that TV
ad with Speaker Pelosi. He was definitely for an individual mandate at the
Heritage Foundation. Then he came out and trashed the president`s exact
same proposal.

SCHULTZ: Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, he has been all over the place on issues. I don`t
know where his consistency lies.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes, that`s -- no, I mean, that -- that seems to
be the thread running through the entire field of Republican candidates.

They seem -- this is a collection of candidates who are desperate to
do anything, say anything to woo their electorate, their voters to support
them, rather than stick to principles and embrace the notion that when
you`re running for office or when you`re serving in office, you have to
stand up for the courage of your convictions and be measured on those
convictions, not stick your finger in the wind and choose a conviction on
any given day that works for you politically.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Here`s the president, President Obama, today taking on Republicans in
Congress with what he seem -- it seems to be a winning argument that sounds
-- actually, begins to sound like the old Republican argument of cutting
taxes as a way to help the economy.

Here, the president on the side of tax cutting on this issue of the
payroll tax cut extension. Let`s listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: my message to Congress
is this: Keep your word to the American people and don`t raise taxes on
them right now. Now is not the time to slam on the brakes. Now is the
time to step on the gas. Now is the time to keep growing the economy, to
keep creating jobs, to keep giving working Americans the boost that they
need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Congresswoman, I`m with him on this, but that does
sound a bit like the Republican argument, the supply-side argument of
cutting taxes.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, what it sounds like is a president who has led
for his entire presidency on fighting for the middle class and making sure
that we don`t have the government`s tax cutting policy focused exclusively
on the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans.

This morning, Chris, in my congressional district, I stood with two
single parents, a single father and a single mom, both working in Jaxson`s
Ice Cream Parlor in South Florida, who if the payroll tax cut isn`t
extended, would have another thousand dollars that they would lose.

And as single parents, they detailed for, you know, my community how
difficult and challenging that would be. The woman had tears in her eyes
when she learned that she would possibly have another thousand dollars in
costs if that payroll tax cut isn`t extended. She didn`t know what she was
going to do.

That`s what the president`s fighting for. Unfortunately, on the other
side, we have cynical politicians like Mitt Romney who don`t understand
that we need to fight for the middle class, who call a payroll tax cut a
little Band-Aid, who say that we should let the whole foreclosure crisis
hit bottom and allow people to come in and scoop up the properties and sell
them for a profit, and never mind whether we actually let people remain in
their homes.

I mean, this is the dramatic contrast that we will have if it`s a Mitt
Romney vs. Barack Obama presidential campaign. We need to know, Americans
need to know that their president is fighting to improve the quality of
life for the middle class and give everybody the opportunity for prosperity
and the American dream.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s great to see a Democrat standing up so strongly
for President Obama. Your party seems to be getting united here, but I
think you`re the leader of it so far.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, thank you.

MATTHEWS: It`s great to have you on at any time, Congresswoman Debbie
Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you. Thanks, Chris,

MATTHEWS: Joining us right now is John Heilemann, a great observer,
MSNBC political analyst and contributing editor at the "New York" magazine.

Sir, this is really simple. I guess you never get a straight answer.
You can ask for it, you will never get it. Will they ever tell us who they
least want to run against or least want to debate, or are they two separate
questions, Mitt or Newt?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, they would much
rather run against Newt Gingrich than run against Mitt Romney.

Look, let`s start by saying that I think the White House and the
president`s reelection campaign are quite confident in either one of those
rivals. I think they feel like they can beat Mitt Romney and I think they
feel like they can beat Newt Gingrich, even despite a lot of the headwinds
that the president`s facing.

They look at those two candidates and they think they`re both
seriously flawed and that the president is a much better political
performer than any either one of them and they`d take on either one of them
handily.

But, look, Mitt Romney is a much more appealing candidate to a lot of
moderate voters, a lot of swing voters. He`s much more capable of staying
focused on the economy, which is clearly a weak point for President Obama.
I think they think he`s more dangerous, and you can that in terms of who
they spend most of their time attacking. They spend most of their time
attacking Mitt Romney, not, at least so far, Newt Gingrich.

MATTHEWS: But Gingrich is so much smarter in terms of debate platform
performance. I can imagine -- you know this as well as I do -- one guy
goes out with his punch ready to go. That will be Romney. He`s going to
punch him.

President Obama with the help of his staff has figured out what the
counterpunch is. The thing about Newt is, he will think out something in
real time from that counterpunch, how to do a surrebuttal, a slammer right
back at him, whereas Mitt Romney will be like one of those English
fighters, like Chuck Wepner. They have got one punch in their entire
arsenal and they just fall on their face. They`re lead-footed.

Isn`t Romney more lead-footed than -- than Mitt (sic), that Mitt (sic)
can move around that floor a lot faster?

HEILEMANN: Well, Chris, I think -- I think there`s a pretty decent
amount of consensus -- and I think it`s appropriate that there`s been a
consensus -- that Mitt Romney has actually emerged as a pretty good debater
and he`s done a nice job.

I think he`s been the class of the field by far. That may not be
saying much, but the class of the field so far in this Republican field on
every debate stage he`s been on.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: Newt Gingrich is no doubt a more nimble intellect, or at
least a more Gumby-like intellect than Mitt Romney`s, but that can be a
strength and it can be a weakness.

And you never know what you`re going to get with Newt Gingrich. And
there are some challenges that presents to a debater, but I think President
Obama`s self-conception as being a calm, solid, stable, responsible, also
quick on his feet, I think he feels like going up against Newt Gingrich,
you might have to do a little bit more gymnastics to keep up with him in
the ring, but that people don`t want that in a president. They want
constancy and stability.

MATTHEWS: I think Newt`s look those ghosts in "A Christmas Carol."
They`re awful to deal with, but once you have gotten past them, you get to
be president. And it will be more fun and more charming to debate Romney,
but you might lose to him.

Anyway, thank you very much, John Heilemann. That`s my weird
assessment of things. It`s better to debate one guy, but it`s probably
better to campaign against the other.

Up next: out with a bang. Herman Cain`s announcement Saturday that
he`s suspending his campaign was perfect timing for the crew, guess where,
at "Saturday Night Live." Their take on Cain`s exit -- next in the
"Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

By the way, that was Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, I was
referring to, not somebody from over in England. He lost to Ali, Foreman,
and Liston.

Anyway, first up, going out with a bang. That might not be the best
way to describe Herman Cain`s recent exit from the 2012 presidential race,
but at least somebody scored with the timing of the Cain train derailment,
"Saturday Night Live."

Let`s watch the "SNL" take on the pizza CEO`s crash-and-burn campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I am innocent until proven guilty. That`s what
this country is all about. If I can`t have that, I may as well and go on
and move to Labibia.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You mean Libya?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No, I think I mean Labibia.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You know, the Momo Gadofi place.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That`s definitely Libya.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hold on. Hold on, now. Slow down. Slow your...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let me just figure this out in my head a little
bit.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Libby, Libby, Labibia.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You see, this is the example of the media
sabotaging me.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the only people that might miss -- might miss Cain
more than his supporters, who already seem to be flocking to Newt Gingrich,
are definitely the writers at late-night comedy.

Anyway, but, don`t worry, they won`t be scraping the bottom of the
barrel for material. Yesterday, at the Kennedy Centers Honors event in
Washington, Stephen Colbert took to the stage ready to do anything but
spare the Republican clown show. See if you can figure out who he was
jabbing with this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Good evening, Mr.
President, Mrs. Obama, distinguished honorees, unregistered lobbyists.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Newt Gingrich, anyone?

Anyway, Newt`s been taking heat in recent weeks for raking in over a
million dollars from Freddie Mac and framing his role as a -- quote --
"historian." And, yes, he was in attendance for the shout-out from
Colbert.

Well, President Obama also spoke yesterday at a reception for the
star-studded event. And in addition to shining a light on each of the
honorees for their accomplishments, he pointed out one of them who might
have something to offer to the political scene, specifically the gridlock
on Capitol Hill.

Well, let`s take a look at this one. Couldn`t have seen this one
coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Maybe the most amazing thing about Yo-Yo Ma is that everybody
likes him.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You have got to give me some tips.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: It`s -- it`s remarkable.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: He`s been named one of "People" magazine`s sexiest men alive.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: He has appeared on "Sesame Street." I thought about asking
him to go talk to Congress.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That smile`s worth a million bucks.

Anyway, somehow, I think Yo-Yo Ma is just fine with his non-political
presence in D.C.

And, finally, casting call -- some members of the 2012 Republican
presidential race may be ill-equipped to take on the White House, but
Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank, who recently announced that he
will not run for reelection, thinks the pack is perfectly suited for a
remake of a classic 1930 smash hit, "The Wizard of Oz." Let`s see how he
divvies up the role.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: When I look at the Republican
debate, I have been casting "The Wizard of Oz."

I mean, obviously, Mitt Romney is the -- tin woodsman without a heart.
And Rick Perry is clearly the Scarecrow. Let me just say about Rick Perry,
he illustrates the point that what`s scary about some people is not what
they don`t know, but what they know that isn`t true.

Newt`s the Wizard of Oz. You think Newt -- there`s nothing there. I
think he`s ginned up this whole big thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Anyway, now him, we will really miss, although to be fair to "The
Wizard of Oz," all those characters did have something redeeming in them.
That`s the movie characters.

Up next: Newt Gingrich`s rising at just the right time. He`s now
leading in Iowa and closing the gap seriously in New Hampshire. Can Newt
keep up with Mitt Romney and take the fight all the way to the Republican
Convention?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Amanda Drury with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Stocks pulling back from a bigger rally, but still ending in the
green, the Dow Jones industrials climbing 78 points, the S&P 500 adding 12
and the Nasdaq up by 28.

Well, do take a look at the Dow intraday chart, right off a cliff
around 2:00. That was Standard & Poor`s saying they were putting some of
the E.U. nations on negative credit watch. Then, about an hour later,
well, by some, we mean 15 of the 17 E.U. nations now on negative credit
watch.

Well, that could be a problem, because everybody wants the EFSF`s
bailout fund involving all of these countries to get a AAA rating.

Meanwhile, Italy`s data is looking more sustainable after Prime
Minister Mario Monti announced drastic austerity measures under a plan
called Save Italy. And it is M&A Monday, so I do want to tell you about
Germany`s SAP jumping into the cloud commuting scrum with a $3.5 billion
acquisition of U.S. software company SuccessFactors.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been a busy day in Republican presidential politics, as
candidates scrambled to pick up the pieces from the fallout of Herman
Cain`s suspended campaign. Thanks to a new NBC/Marist poll, we`re getting
some indication of where Cain`s supporters will likely go in the early
primary states.

The NBC/Marist poll also shows just how dramatically Newt, Newt
Gingrich, has surged into front-runner status. He now leads the pack in
Iowa and is catching up to Mitt Romney even in New Hampshire.

Newt certainly has a lot of detractors among prominent conservatives,
but right now he also has the momentum in the race, while Mitt Romney`s
support continues to flatline.

Michael Steele`s the former chair of the Republican National
Committee, and Ed Rendell is the former Democratic national chair and of
course the former governor of Pennsylvania.

Both gentleman are MSNBC political analysts.

Let`s look at some of these new numbers from the NBC/Marist poll. In
Iowa, Newt Gingrich, the clear front-runner now, he`s got 26 percent
support among likely Republican caucus-goers. That factors in people who
say they are leaning toward supporting him. Romney is eight points behind
with 18 percent, followed closely by Ron Paul.

In New Hampshire, Mitt Romney still leads with 39 percent, but Newt
Gingrich has 23 percent and is climbing rapidly. If you look at the trend
lines in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich has made major gains,
while Romney has slipped.

In Iowa, Gingrich is up 21 percent. In New Hampshire, he`s up 19
percent. Romney, on the other hand, lost 8 percent and 6 percent in those
two states since October.

Let me go to the home court right now with Michael Steele.

It`s your party. Read the tea leaves. What`s happening?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what`s happening right
now is, you`re seeing that shift that you alluded to certainly in -- in
Gingrich`s favor.

The interesting thing about the polling right now, Chris, is, who is
the backup? Where do these folks go, let`s say, if Gingrich stumbles? And
the interesting thing is Mitt Romney.

And so, Mitt Romney is holding on, barely in the first place spot,
but he is the fallback if, for example, Gingrich has an oops moment and
starts to lose that traction.

So, if I`m Mitt Romney`s team, I`m not all that concerned,
necessarily, because right now, they`re playing for the fumble. They are,
you know, waiting for the conventional wisdom to play itself out, that
Gingrich is going to stumble somewhere soon before January 3rd or shortly
thereafter.

And if I`m Gingrich, I`m going to play for the goalpost here. I`m
going to shoot for the stars and stay on the straight and narrow as long as
and as hard as I can. So, the next dynamic that we`re going to see played
out and going to be leading up to that ballot box on January 3rd.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: What would you rather be, the guy running for
the goalposts, running down the field, breaking away, or would you rather
be the guy hoping that he stumbles?

STEELE: I`d rather be the guy breaking away right now, to be honest
with you, because I don`t want to have to pin my future to someone else`s
failure or success. If I`m Gingrich, I`m going to cut my own pathway. He
knows he can`t afford the screw-ups and the slip-ups, so I think you`re
going to see a steadier but quick campaign by Gingrich. And I think the
Romney folks will have to mix it up a little bit if they really want that
fumble to occur.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at this from the other side of the field.
Governor Rendell, you`re looking at these two guys. They are -- they have
track records. Based upon their track records and the current momentum
swing, who`s winning this thing?

It`s all going to be over, by the way. Look, we`re talking about the
3rd of January now, coming on strong less than a month. We`re talking
about the New Hampshire primary just about a month. This thing is
happening.

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: There`s no question, Chris.
But Mitt Romney has an ally here that Michael did mention, and that`s Rick
Perry. Rick Perry`s sitting at about 9 percent or 10 percent. He`s got a
boat load of money and he`s got to find a way to use it effectively.

He`s not going to get votes from Mitt Romney. The way he`s going to
get votes is if he can tear down Newt Gingrich. So, he has to go hot and
heavy after Newt Gingrich on television. In fact, that tape of Gingrich
and Pelosi talking about global warming, he`s got to put 1,000, 1,500
points on television for the next two weeks, showing people that tape. It
would shock the living daylights out of a lot of Iowa conservatives who are
going -- trending right now towards Newt Gingrich.

So, Mitt Romney`s got to do some of the banging himself, but he`s
going to have a pretty powerful ally in Rick Perry. They`ve got the same
motive right now, and that`s to bring Newt Gingrich down.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask Michael -- how do you see Perry? Do you see
him alive enough to be even an attack dog? Even if he can`t win it, can he
make noise and bring down Newt?

STEELE: Not effectively. And I`m going to say, in response to the
governor`s point, the only way that strategy really works is that if Perry
doesn`t engage directly himself. I mean, I think the fact of the matter is
there`s been so much that`s already been placed in the minds of voters with
respect to Perry, not just on the issues, but how he has come across, you
know, in terms of being presidential, that that may not necessarily be a
helpful spot for Mitt.

But you may be right. If he can just run the ads and not do the
personal appearances or anymore debates, that may have a way to zing him.
But I think in the end, those commercials with Pelosi and Gingrich were
national commercials. The folks in Iowa have already seen them.

Again, the stuff about Newt Gingrich, folks, has already been baked
into this thing. So, it`s going to take a heck of a lot more to unbake it.

RENDELL: I disagree, Chris.

STEELE: And the way that happens is if Newt does it himself.

RENDELL: I disagree with Michael. Politics is my life, and I had
never seen those Pelosi and Gingrich commercials before. I bet you, no
more than one or two out of 100 Iowans --

STEELE: Really?

RENDELL: -- have seen them.

Yes. I have never seen them. I think it`s a shock to the
sensibility of Iowa conservatives to see any of their candidates sitting
next to Nancy Pelosi. And you know I love Nancy.

But I also think, Chris, that sometimes Republican voters have to
think about winnability. And if you`re thinking about winnability, you
almost instinctively got to go back to Mitt Romney, because take a look at
the area you always talk about, Chris, Philadelphia suburbs, which wins
elections in Pennsylvania.

Are the moderate Republicans, are the independents in the
Philadelphia suburbs going to the feel comfortable voting for Newt Gingrich
with all his baggage? I don`t think so. Will they feel comfortable voting
for Mitt Romney, who`s, you know, not as exciting, not as flamboyant, not
as charismatic at Newt? But I think there`s a comfort level, a good
businessman who`s shown his ability to run things.

I think Romney`s got the winnability factor, still, in his favor.

STEELE: And that`s what the governor --

MATTHEWS: Last word from Michael?

STEELE: Yes, I was going to say, Chris, that`s where the governor
has a good point because when you look beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, you
get into open primaries. A lot more open primaries this year for
Republicans than they had certainly in the last two cycles. And so, that
creates an opportunity for Mitt Romney to gain some ground that he may lose
in a state like Iowa, but it also creates an opening for someone like a
Huntsman.

And again, I don`t count Huntsman out. I think you`re going to see a
little bit more juice and firepower from him as you get into those open
primaries. So, it`s going to be a very interesting little race between now
and the end of January, beginning of February.

RENDELL: And, Chris, if I can throw --

MATTHEWS: Well, something`s wrong --

RENDELL: -- one more thing?

MATTHEWS: OK, sure.

RENDELL: If I can throw one more thing into the mix? I think you`ve
got the potential. Romney`s going to stay because he`s got a lot of money.
Newt is obviously going to be a factor. Perry`s got money down the
stretch. Perry`s going to get the Texas votes.

I think you have a real chance, if this goes state by state by state,
now that the Republicans have gone to proportional breakup of the
delegates, like we have in the Democratic Party, you have a chance that you
might have a convention with the opening gone and no one will have 50
percent of the vote. Not very likely, but a real chance.

MATTHEWS: That would be nice.

RENDELL: It would be nice for us.

MATTHEWS: Gentleman, I wish -- I feel good about our country when
you two guys were on the air. I wish you two guys were the ones running
the country, not these clown show on the other side.

Anyway, thank you, Michael. Your party embarrasses me. Anyway,
thank you, Michael Steele, and you delight me.

Thank you, Ed Rendell.

I`m using against them right now, by the way.

Up next, another amazing interview with the man at the center, well,
from the sublime to the ridiculous, the guy on the Penn State scandal has
shown up its ugly head again. Jerry Sandusky can`t shut up. Sandusky
actually has said he has attraction to, catch this phrase, young boys and,
pause, girls, and his attorney then shut him up.

The reaction from Buzz Bissinger, who`s been really tough on this.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama is following in the footsteps of Teddy
Roosevelt.

Tomorrow, the president will give an economics speech in Kansas about
how the middle class in this country is facing a make-or-break moment.
He`s giving this speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, the same town President
Roosevelt visited more than 100 years ago when he laid out his vision of a
new nationalism, a progressive agenda aimed at improving the welfare of all
Americans with more government programs and higher taxes actually --
something today`s Republicans would never allow.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB COSTAS, NBC NEWS: Are you sexually attracted to young boys, to
underage boys?

JERRY SANDUSKY, ALLEGED CHILD ABUSER: Am I sexually attracted to
underage boys?

COSTAS: Yes.

SANDUSKYE: Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I
love to be around them. I -- but, no, I`m not sexually attracted to young
boys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back. That was former Penn State assistant coach
Jerry Sandusky in an interview with Bob Costas of NBC last month --
struggling, obviously, to answer whether he was sexually attracted to young
boys.

Now in a new interview with "The New York Times," Sandusky seems to
go a step further when discussing that Costas question. At which point,
his attorney, Joe Amendola, steps in.

Let`s watch this disturbing new comment by him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDUSKY: What in the world is this question? What is -- am I going
to be -- if I say, no, I`m not attracted to boys, that`s not the truth
because I`m attracted to young people, boys, girls --

JOSEPH AMENDOLA, SANDUSKY`S LAWYER: Yes, but not sexually, you`re
attracted because you enjoy spending time --

SANDUSKY: Right, I enjoy -- that`s what I was trying to say.

AMENDOLA: Answer that.

SANDUSKY: I enjoy spending time with young people. I enjoy spending
time with people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, why does Sandusky keep talking? And is he gaining
any support as he tries to defend himself?

Buzz Bissinger writes with "The Daily Beast" and "Vanity Fair." He`s
the author of "Friday Night Lights" and "A Prayer for the City," another
great work.

Thank you very much, Buzz, for coming on.

I know you didn`t like this interview much. But what are we getting
out of this guy, Sandusky, apart from the journalism, whatever quality
we`re getting? What is this guy`s penchant for talking?

BUZZ BISSINGER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I mean, all he does is mire
himself further and further and further. I know, if you listen to the
audio portion of "The New York Times" interview, the reason Amendola did
this, there was one reason. He was trying to reverse the damage that had
been done in the Costas interview and specifically reverse the damage that
you just played, the sort of pregnant pause when Costas asked him if he was
sexually attracted to young boys.

Amendola called this the equivalent of an open mike for Sandusky,
which does disturb me journalistically. And, I don`t know -- I think he`s
trying to put a human face on the guy. He convinces no one. But I think
he`s maybe thinking, in the state of Pennsylvania, there must be 20 people
out there who feel some sympathy for the guy.

But I think Amendola is sending his client down the creek and that`s
fine with me because I`ve said this before, I know it`s innocent until
proven guilty. I think in this case, you read that grand jury report. It
is guilty until proven innocent. And I think that should be particularly
true of a newspaper interview.

MATTHEWS: Yes, in fact, we`re talking about rape here. But I do
thought it was interesting in the article.

BISSINGER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Wasn`t there a lot of evidence there of premeditation, of
deliberation, of longstanding effort to try to shape these boys up for his
purposes? All the willing and giving them little treats and favors and --
it`s almost like a long-term sort of growing whatever -- a relationship for
the purpose of sexual gratification, it looks like that`s what`s going on
here.

BISSINGER: Well, I think there`s no question. I mean, he was like,
you know, the spider. And he`s attracting these kids into his web -- golf
clubs, computers, $50 to get marijuana. I mean, these are big gifts to
kids who are impoverished -- you know, sneakers.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BISSINGER: Attract them in, attract them in, get them in the web and
then, bingo, doing what he does.

I mean, Chris, it`s 40 counts of serial sexual abuse. But if you
take each individual act he`s accused of, including the civil suit that was
filed last week, there are over 200 individual acts of rape, of oral sex,
of groping, showering -- you name it, this guy is alleged to have done it.

Is everybody lying? Is everybody lying? Are nine victims lying?
Are we supposed to actually believe this?

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. Anyway, it`s so sad. I hope we don`t have
you back. But I think you`re the best writer out there right now.

Buzz, thanks for joining us. Buzz Bissinger, a hell of a writer.

BISSINGER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And I agree with you. I wish I could match your passion.
This is worse than disturbing and this is Penn State.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the grotesque pairing of Donald
Trump and Newt Gingrich, and what it does about today`s -- well, I guess
they still call it the Republican Party. But any comparison to the old
party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, even Ronald Reagan -- no
comparison. This is the Tea Party gone crazy.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with a question: how did the party
of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and General Dwight Eisenhower and
Ronald Reagan descend into a diabolic clown show?

When did P.T. Barnum grab hold of the Tea Party and New York money,
and mixed into a witch`s brew of a TV debate headed by Donald Trump? How
did this clown show of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich find
itself with a saucer`s apprentice as its grand ringmaster? How did the
king of the birthers become the midwife of right wing presidential
politics? And what sin did someone commit to unleash this torrent from
hell on one serious political party?

I don`t claim any deep sympathy, but it takes a deeply cold heart not
to feel for those good-minded Republicans out there who have this
grotesquery leaped before their face.

What happened to the moderates and the reasonable of the center
right? Did they go mute? Did they lose their tongues, their right to
speak out? Are they watching what I`m watching? Are they going to let
this happen?

Are they going to chug along from here to Tampa to the sweltering
convention hall of next September, all the while anticipating this
Hobbesian choice between a candidate who puts them to sleep and one who
gives them nightmares? Has this won all the debates, all the speeches, all
the wonderings about is achieved, a duel of death, a karaoke of the choke-
hold?

Out, out, brief candle! Life`s but a walking shadow, a poor player
that stresses and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, let me say no more.

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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