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updated 12/9/2011 9:59:16 AM ET 2011-12-09T14:59:16

Guests: Dana Millbank, Sam Stein, Evan Thomas, Mike Allen, Ron Reagan,
Jennifer Donahue

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Romney goes negative.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in Minneapolis. Leading off
tonight: Mitt`s pitbulls. Mitt Romney has unleashed his attack dogs, and
they`re nipping at Newt Gingrich on two fronts. Today, top Romney
surrogates John Sununu and Jim Talent hit Mitt (SIC) on his record, saying
he has a habit of saying outrageous things and doesn`t really care about
conservative principles.

And last night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie took a not so
subtle dig at the thrice-married former speaker`s personal life, saying
Romney is a father and husband who won`t embarrass America. Mitt sics the
dogs on Newt at the top of the show tonight.

And here`s another potential problem for Newt. Why haven`t we heard
much from that class of `94, you know, those Republicans who rode into
office under Newt Gingrich? They`re awfully silent as their one-time
leader surges in the polls. What do they know that most voters don`t?

Then, President Obama`s fighting off those Republican charges that
he`s an appeaser -- appeaser! Listen to the president talk tough at his
news conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask Osama bin Laden and
the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who`ve been taken off the field
whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever`s left out there. Ask them
about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s pretty somber. Let`s take a look at the Obama
record, by the way, from killing bin Laden to getting health care reform
done, and find out just how strong a case the president does have for
reelection.

And Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann -- which Republican
presidential candidate has been the butt of more jokes on late night TV?
Well, someone actually tracks this stuff. We`ve got the answer tonight in
the "Sideshow."

But "Let Me Finish" tonight with some advice. Be careful,
progressives, what you wish for. I`m talking about those wishing for Newt
Gingrich to be the Republican candidate.

We start with Mitt Romney on the attack. Republican strategist Steve
Schmidt worked on the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. He ran the 2008 McCain
campaign. Steve`s also one of us now, an MSNBC political analyst. And
Jennifer Donahue is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Institute and a
HuffingtonPost contributor. Both of you, thank you much for joining us.
It`s good to have two people on that really know the Republican Party well.

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the numbers. Another day, another set of
now poll numbers showing Newt Gingrich gaining strength among registered
Republicans. Take a look at the new Quinnipiac data. Catch this. In
Florida, a wide lead now for Gingrich over Romney, where he had to win, 35
Gingrich, 22 Romney. In Ohio -- this is fascinating -- Gingrich is 36
percent now, twice Romney`s 18. In Pennsylvania, my home turf, Gingrich is
well ahead. I can`t believe these numbers in Pennsylvania, 31 over the guy
we thought would be strongest up there, Romney.

No other candidate even broke the 10 percent mark in any of these
three states, so it really looks right now, halfway through December, about
a two-person race.

Let me go to Steve Schmidt, first of all. It really looks like Newt
right now.

SCHMIDT: He`s the clear front-runner in the race for president. He
has commanding leads, Chris, nationally. He has them in Iowa, he has them
in South Carolina, he has them in Florida. But this is precipitating now
the beginning of the part of the campaign where all the niceties are
dropped and the actual records and the dissonance between reality and
rhetoric starts to get explored. And you`ve seen that over the last 24
hours.

MATTHEWS: If people like the profile of a really tough gladiator like
Newt, do they care how much scar tissue he has?

SCHMIDT: Well...

JENNIFER DONAHUE, HUFFINGTONPOST: I don`t think they care how much
scar tissue he has...

MATTHEWS: Steve first.

DONAHUE: I think that...

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can Steve finish? I`m sorry. Let Steve finish that
thought. I want to -- then jump in here, Jennifer. Steve, does it matter
-- if you want a pit bull, does it matter whether the guy`s got a few
scratches on him?

SCHMIDT: Well, listen, I think he`s a person of great talent. He`s
also a person of great flaws. I think for Republicans, what`s healthy is
that we have a discussion about these talents and flaws in the context of a
primary, and not be reminded of them or rediscover them in the context of a
general election.

It`s important that Republican voters know what they`re getting with
Gingrich. This is the caveat emptor phase of the campaign. So I think
this is a very healthy discussion that`s beginning now.

MATTHEWS: Listen, Jennifer, fire away here. Newt Gingrich -- does it
matter if he`s been married three times, to most Republican voters? Does
it matter?

By the way, I think Romney made a big mistake in that ad the other
day. I`m going to venture here, don`t criticize somebody for being
converted to another religion.

DONAHUE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Mitt Romney spent two years as a missionary, converting
people to his religion. If Newt had converted to Mormonism, to the LDS
church, would he be criticizing him for this? No. You got to stay out --
watch this. This is dangerous territory.

I`m sorry. I want you to get in here for a minute, Jennifer, and then
we`ll show the ad. Your thoughts?

DONAHUE: I think the bottom line is that every time Romney brings up
religion, he loses votes in Iowa. I think it`s dangerous, and he knows it.
I think that`s why he hasn`t gone all in, in Iowa. And he had an
opportunity to do that about a month ago, but he didn`t do it.

And I think Gingrich has gained traction in Iowa. It`s looking like
it`s his to lose in Iowa. Now he`s creeping up on him in Florida, which is
dangerous. If Gingrich can make this a two-man race through Florida, if
Romney doesn`t do decisively well in New Hampshire with a 10-point lead,
we`re going to see a very prolonged race.

And now we`re seeing Huntsman coming up a bit in New Hampshire, which
has got to be scaring the Romney folks quite a bit.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at that not so subtle swipe. A new
Romney ad running in Iowa right now highlights his long marriage to his
wife and his long-time membership in his church, a clear blow to Newt`s
conversion to Roman Catholicism a couple years ago. Let`s watch this
tricky business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think people
understand that I`m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don`t think
you`re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.
I`ve been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me -- I`ll get in
trouble -- for 42 years.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: I`ve been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one
company, Bain, for 25 years, and I left that to go off and help save the
Olympic games. If I`m the president of the United States, I will true to
my family, to my faith and to our country, and I will never apologize for
the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that, Steve Schmidt? I have to
tell you, I think that is dangerous territory, to criticize somebody for
being converted to another religion. Most of us are the religion of our
parents. Fair enough. But if someone sees the light and wants to go to
another religion, we cherish that right. That is essential to being an
American, the right to choose your religious faith.

Here`s a guy knocking a guy for conversion, again, which is something
that the LDS church is heavily into, which is conversion.

SCHMIDT: Well, I don`t like any religious task (ph) entering into
these primaries. I think it`s antithetical to our American values. I
think it is dangerous territory. And I think there`s a lot stronger
ground.

But I do think that part of the point that the ad raises up -- I`m not
sure, Chris, that the Republican primary voters are looking for the good
guy in the race or the nice guy in the race.

MATTHEWS: Oh!

SCHMIDT: I think they`re looking for the tough guy in the race.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

SCHMIDT: And so I`m not sure that he`s playing the game that, at the
end of the day, is going to be determinative to the outcome of the
election. Now, that being said, you know, the fact that Gingrich was
engaged in an affair with a staffer while he was impeaching the president
is going to be an issue that`s talked about in the context of a general
election, an erratic nature, a nature where he says one thing and does the
other. The new first (ph) message, which you saw John Sununu driving
today...

DONAHUE: But don`t you think that`s old news?

SCHMIDT: ... in New Hampshire...

DONAHUE: Don`t you think, Steve, that that`s old news by now, that if
you ask most Republicans and they take a gut check on who the conservative
in the race is, their gut says it`s Gingrich. They`ve known him since the
`90s. They`ve had decades to absorb the baggage. They want a fighter.
They want a leader. They want someone who wants smaller government. And
Romney doesn`t represent any of those things, those core Republican
values...

SCHMIDT: I`m talking about this...

DONAHUE: ... that get primary voters now.

SCHMIDT: I`m talking about this -- I`m talking about this in the
context of a general election, the middle of the election...

DONAHUE: But I don`t think voters...

SCHMIDT: ... where these issues will matter...

DONAHUE: ... are ready to go there.

SCHMIDT: ... and Republicans should think long and hard about that in
the context of a primary.

MATTHEWS: So what happens...

DONAHUE: I think probably...

MATTHEWS: ... if you look ahead to a general election? Let me just
try this, on your side of this argument, Jennifer. Suppose you do talk
about what might come next fall when the president debates Newt. The
minute he goes and takes a jab at Newt`s past, Newt can come back and say,
Now, Mr. President, I`ve been fair to you, I haven`t brought up Reverend
Wright. I haven`t brought up Bill Ayers. I haven`t brought up your early
sort of activities in politics. I haven`t questioned your statements of
the past. And then the public roots for the challenger, don`t they, at
that point?

Jennifer, jump in here. I think they do -- you bring up somebody`s
past, you better be ready to defend yours, and that`s tricky business...

DONAHUE: I think you`re right.

MATTHEWS: ... for all candidates, I think.

DONAHUE: That`s tricky business. And the other thing -- and I`m just
going to throw it right out on the table -- is the issue of race. I think
that Gingrich can probably play the race card against Obama, just as Obama
could play the Mormon card against Romney. There are going to be
undercurrents to this campaign that are ugly, that are really below the
fray, that are going to come up.

Gingrich has -- if his biggest problem is that he`s got predigested
information about his past, I think voters can live with that. I`m not
saying he`s necessarily a strong candidate. I`m not saying he`s stronger
than Romney. But I think he`s been digested...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree.

DONAHUE: ... and either he will be spit out or he will be
regurgitated. Whatever happens, I think Gingrich is a tested, known
entity. And the surprises that we`re hearing from Romney are ridiculous,
when Romney hasn`t even introduced himself to the voters and he`s been
holding back as though he has no money. He hasn`t even told his own
narrative, if he has one.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look -- having digested that cud, let`s go
right now to New Hampshire governor John Sununu. He had this to say about
Newt Gingrich in an interview on "THE DAILY RUNDOWN" right here. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN SUNUNU (R), FMR. NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: I believe Newt Gingrich
is a Gingrich-ite. All he cares about is Newt Gingrich. I don`t think
Newt Gingrich cares about conservative principles. Newt Gingrich cares
about Newt Gingrich.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What`s the firepower right now of 72-year-old John Sununu,
Steve?

DONAHUE: Well, I think he`s laying the predicate for a broader
argument about the difference between the things that Newt Gingrich says
and the things that Newt Gingrich does. You know, for example, Fannie and
Freddie Mac, an excellent example of this, and how many other issues there
are out there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHMIDT: You know, for example, in the weeks ahead, will Newt
Gingrich be compelled to release his client list? Will he be, you know,
compelled to disclose the amount of money he made in the private sector,
working on issues that were opposite of what he advocated when he was
speaker? And I think that he`s laying the foundation for a pretty robust
look at Newt Gingrich`s character in front of Republican primary voters.

DONAHUE: But Steve...

SCHMIDT: I would say one thing to Jennifer...

DONAHUE: ... don`t you think...

SCHMIDT: ... in Iowa -- I would...

DONAHUE: ... every time...

SCHMIDT: Hold on, Jennifer. I would -- Jennifer, hold on a second.
Let me say one thing. In Iowa, that one of the things that was clear in
the polling is there`s not a lot of awareness yet, for example, of Newt
Gingrich`s Fannie and Freddie issues. Although it`s been talked about at
the national level, it`s not penetrated to the electorate.

DONAHUE: Every time...

SCHMIDT: I think we`re going to have...

DONAHUE: Every time the...

SCHMIDT: ... a robust discussion on this...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHMIDT: ... see what happens.

DONAHUE: Every time they bring up...

MATTHEWS: Jennifer, hold on for a second. You can`t interrupt like
this, Jennifer. You`ve got to let him finish his thought. Go ahead now.
Your turn. Go ahead. Jennifer, go ahead.

DONAHUE: Oh, well, I was just going to say, every time they bring up
-- they bring Gingrich flip-flopping or switching positions on issues or
outsourcing jobs or making bad decisions, it`ll be posted (ph) right back
onto Romney, who`s had more positions than there are positions and who`s
basically worked for Bain, which outsourced jobs, which fired a lot of
employees.

If you ask people in Massachusetts, where I`m sitting, how the health
care law is going over or whether Bain Capital is a positive thing, you
hear the answer no. And I think people who know him best really don`t
trust him. And conservatives are getting to know him a little bit, and
they feel squeamish about it.

And in New Hampshire, the state next door, I wonder for Mitt Romney if
he`s peaked already, and if this is going to become a tighter race, with
Huntsman and Paul becoming factors.

MATTHEWS: Look, I think, Steve, I think you`re right when you say --
Steve, I think you said something really brilliant about two minutes ago,
which is they`re not looking for a good guy, the Republicans right now,
they`re looking for a tough guy. That`s it, isn`t it? Isn`t that what you
both agree on right here?

SCHMIDT: I mean, there is no doubt that Newt Gingrich is saying the
things that the Republican base wants to hear. But I think there`s a lot
of time left in this process. I think that because of the rules change in
the Republican primary, you have a set-up here where you could see a pretty
long nomination fight.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHMIDT: There are some organizational questions that I think are
just starting to come up, you know, for example, ballot access issues, with
regard to Gingrich that in a close race are potentially problematic for
him.

But I think that there are -- look, Chris, there are 31 freshman
members of the Republican conference who are in districts that Barack Obama
won. What are the implications for them with Gingrich as the nominee of
the party in the general election? And I think that a lot of the people,
as you pointed out, who served with Newt Gingrich in that class of `94 have
been conspicuously silent because they were troubled...

MATTHEWS: I know. We`ll get to that.

SCHMIDT: ... by erratic leadership, and he was deposed by them.
So...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Steve, we`re...

SCHMIDT: ... all of this will be talked about.

MATTHEWS: We`re doing a whole segment on that tonight later in the
show. You two guys are great together, especially when you disagree. But
I think you`re more in agreement than you admit tonight. Newt Gingrich is
what they want right now. Six months from now, they may want to want
somebody else, but now`s when they`re starting to vote.

Steve Schmidt, thank you, Jennifer Donahue. Have a nice holiday, both
of you.

SCHMIDT: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: President Obama is on firm ground politically as
he pushes for the payroll tax extension, obviously. People want a tax cut.
Unemployment`s down, his base is still with him, and he`s fighting back
against Republican charges, I think quite effectively, that he`s an
"appeaser." Let`s look at the Obama record as he makes his case for
reelection. That`s coming up right here, the talking points, basically,
the best case for Obama coming up in a minute.

I`m here in Minneapolis, headed towards the finish line of my tour for
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero." I had close to 2,000 people today, by the
way, at a great event here at Westminster Town Hall Forum. What a group,
what a setting.

Monday, it`s on to New York and the 92nd Street Y, then back to D.C.
and the national archives and the end of the tour.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: More numbers now from that new Quinnipiac poll, and it
shows that Newt Gingrich would be a weaker general election candidate than
Mitt Romney, but not by much. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

First to Florida. Mitt Romney has a 3-point lead over President Obama
right now, 45-42. But President Obama leads Newt Gingrich down in the
Sunshine State by 46-44. In Ohio, the state we all watch forever, it`s
Romney with a 1-point edge on the president, 43-42. Gingrich posts the
same numbers, 43-42. That is so important they do as well in Ohio.
Pennsylvania, Obama edges Romney by 3, 46-43. But his lead over Gingrich,
who was born in the Keystone State, accidentally, is much bigger, 48-40.
That`s fascinating, too.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As we showed at the top of the
show today, President Obama confronted yesterday`s Romney criticism that
his foreign policy, Obama`s, is one of "appeasement," with a sharp reminder
of his enormous success in the war on terrorism. But the president`s been
racking up even more successes recently.

First, the president`s push to extend the payroll tax cut holiday
looks like a big winner either way, win or lose, not just for him but for
the Democratic Party. Well, today`s Labor Department numbers show that the
number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the
lowest level in nine months. That`s good news for the country. A new
survey shows that Obama`s support from minorities in the crucial 2012 swing
states remains strong. That`s important.

And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that Obama`s
2009 stimulus bill, which Republicans love to blast him for, saved and
created jobs and spurred the economy. How`s that? How do you like those
apples? Anyway, the health care law, which Republicans also blast him for
and vow to repeal, has also been helping seniors save money on prescription
drugs. That, too, from the nonpartisan CBO.

On top of all that, a new poll out today from Gallup shows that
Republican enthusiasm for this coming election is waning. Their excitement
about voting in 2012 has dropped 9 points since September.

How will all that affect the 2012 race? Lots

Lots to chew on here.

Eugene Robinson, an MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning
columnist for "The Washington Post." And Ron Reagan, he`s a political
commentator and author of "My Father at 11" (sic).

Gene, it`s great to have you on.

Let`s start off with Obama`s devastating reply to yesterday`s
criticism from Romney that his foreign policy is one of appeasement, a
terrible thing to say about any American president. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask Osama bin Laden and
the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who`ve been taken off the field
whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them
about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Gene, I think about what I weighs on a president
of either party is the lives lost in these combat operations, the risks
taken even with drones and all the effort we have on the front to keep a
strong edge to our fighting forces overseas.

And then to have some guy like -- like Mitt Romney, who actually has
no military experience in his family, to come out and just take a shot at
him like that, and call him Neville Chamberlain with his umbrella giving
away Europe to Hitler.

What an -- I don`t know if -- do you think Mitt Romney knew what he
was saying?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t know.

That`s the kind of thing that didn`t used to happen, Chris. There
used to be an understanding that we have one foreign policy. And you may
agree or disagree with what the president`s doing, but you don`t come out
with something like that.

The fact is, though, that as President Obama said, he`s not an
appeaser, just if you look at the record. He`s more of an assassin,
actually, if you want to talk about the way he`s attacked terrorism.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

ROBINSON: He has gone out to kill the al Qaeda leaders. And I don`t
see how you can call that appeasing anybody.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ron on that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Go ahead, Ron. Go ahead.

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Factually, it doesn`t hold water
because of what he did with Osama bin Laden. And, you know, even the drone
flights over Iran, you could argue is, you know, an example of being tough
on rogue states and things like that.

But it`s -- it`s the response of the Republicans to things like that
that become a kind of force multiplier for Obama. You remember when he got
Osama bin Laden, and instead of just congratulating him and saying good for
America, the Republicans start whining about it and trying to take credit
for it and claiming that it`s only because Bush tortured people on his
watch that we were able to do that.

It`s their reaction to his success that multiplies the effect of his
success, Obama`s success.

MATTHEWS: And, also, he surged in Afghanistan, to the dismay of some
of us on the left. He`s kept the troops in Iraq for another four years.
They`re only coming out now. Afghanistan, he`s increased the troop
complement. He doubled it, practically.

He`s pushing -- Gene, talk about -- you know these kinds of things --
talk about the Chinese front. We`re even getting tricky. We`re getting a
little pushy over there in the Far East.

ROBINSON: Yes, we are. We`re getting very pushy. And, actually, I
was -- the last week-and-a-half, I was actually in China, and they have
taken notice of the president`s tough new rhetoric and what seems to be a
kind of different attitude toward China.

You know, politically, I think, at least on the domestic front, that
tends to serve to inoculate the president, I think, against charges from
the Republicans that he`s somehow soft on China, as if soft or hard is
really going to kind of change the nature of what`s going on in China or
the fact that our two economies are so interrelated that, you know, what
can you do?

MATTHEWS: I agree with you so well. This -- even the metaphoric use
of words like tough and soft don`t work anymore.

Here`s the Democratic Priorities USA group with a new ad airing in
Iowa and on national cable that features Ronald Reagan, the president,
making the case for the wealthy paying their fair share in taxes. Let`s
listen to this iconic moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PRIORITIES USA AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far, Republicans support taxing the middle
class, instead of the wealthy. One Republican disagrees.

Your thoughts, sir?

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to close
the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy
to avoid paying their fair share.

They sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while
a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary, and that`s crazy.

Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus
driver?

NARRATOR: Ronald Reagan supported millionaires paying their fair
share. Don`t you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ron Reagan, I just love the way he tossed his head...

REAGAN: Boy.

MATTHEWS: ... like he did characteristically when he made that, bus
drivers, cab drivers...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... and he seemed to put some body English into that.

REAGAN: Yes, it`s true.

Boy, it just shows you how far the Republican Party has come since
then. And, you know, of course, we have got the payroll tax cut extension
here, where the Democrats and President Obama are really tying the
Republicans in knots, and, more than that, revealing their hypocrisy.

I mean, here`s the Republican Party, the modern Republican Party,
which never met a tax cut it didn`t like, and tax cuts don`t have to be
paid for because they magically pay for themselves, yet all of a sudden
when it`s a tax cut that benefits the middle class and that`s being
proposed by President Obama, well, they`re not so enthusiastic about it,
and maybe we better pay for it, perhaps by firing 200,000 federal workers.

That would be good for the economy, too, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Hey, Gene, one -- Gene,one last question about enthusiasm.
Ron just mentioned it. What do you make of the lowered enthusiasm for this
race coming up by Republicans? They don`t seem as -- once they got a look
at the whites of the eyes of the actual candidates, they`re not too
thrilled about this war.

ROBINSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: Yes. I think that may be the most significant figure of
all the figures we have been through, Chris.

This -- the enthusiasm gap was really worrisome to Democrats. It
looked like Republicans were just kind of loaded for bear for this
election.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: That`s no longer true. They have seen the candidates, and,
you know, the numbers are getting better for Obama. Unemployment`s getting
better and things seem to be easing a bit in terms of the crisis. So if
the enthusiasm gap isn`t there, Republicans` chances go way down.

MATTHEWS: I guess the question is how he far can push...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`re out of time. We`re out of time, Ron. I got the last
word here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I had a great line here. Now I have got to use it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s a question, Gene, of how far you can push your finger
in your mouth and still vote.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, they`re really taking a look at these candidates.
God, they`re gagging on them.

Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson.

Thank you, Ron.

More time next time, Ron.

REAGAN: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Up next, there have been a lot of laughable moments in this
presidential campaign so far. Which candidate do you think has been the
butt of more jokes on late night? That`s ahead in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up: all in the family. Candace Gingrich-Jones, the half-sister
of current GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich, appeared last night on "The
Rachel Show." Jones, who is gay, discussed how Newt was not in attendance
when she recently got married. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": He did make a
political point of saying on "Meet the Press" at one point that, if -- if
you ever got married, that he would not go to the marriage, he would not go
to the ceremony.

I understand that that`s the case, that he didn`t go.

CANDACE GINGRICH-JONES, SISTER OF NEWT GINGRICH: He was invited.

MADDOW: Was he invited?

GINGRICH-JONES: Yes, absolutely, we invited he and Callista. They
happened to be in some other continent on the day of the actual ceremony,
so...

MADDOW: Yes. Is that hurtful or...

GINGRICH-JONES: Well, we still got a gift.

MADDOW: Was it from Tiffany`s?

GINGRICH-JONES: I`m not at liberty to say.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: I understand, very discrete. Well done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Newt took heat earlier this year, of course, for
running up that tab at the high-end jewelry store of that name, Tiffany`s.

His half-sister, by the way, also didn`t beat around the bush in
saying that she will be an Obama supporter come 2012, regardless of who`s
topping the ticket on the Republican side.

And that brings us to tonight`s "Big Number."

As the presidential race continues to the heat up, we all know who can
depend on -- we can depend on to make light of it, late-night TV. So just
as -- as many of the Republican candidates have had their day in the sun
when it comes to poll numbers -- Michele Bachmann, she`s been at the top,
Rick Perry, Herman Cain, you know the drill -- have also held the spotlight
when it comes to providing material for the likes of Stewart, Colbert,
"SNL," and more.

And there`s one who`s been leading the pack in that area so far. You
won`t be ready for it, but here it is. Ready for it? Mitt Romney has been
on top, getting over 19 percent of the late-night mentions since the start
of 2011. Newt`s down in fifth on the list, but, also, as his popularity
starts to resonate, I think he should be prepare for a firestorm of late
nights when the jokes are all on Newt.

But just over 19 percent right now of late-night mentions go to
Mittster, Romney.

And that`s tonight`s "Big Number." And I bet it changes very soon.

Up next: Why do so many Republicans who came to power under Newt
Gingrich in `94 have a problem with him now? Why is Newt so disliked by so
many of his former colleagues? That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Another volatile session with steep declines in the final hour of
trading. The Dow Jones industrials plunging 198 points, the S&P 500
shedding 26, the NASDAQ giving up 52 points. Investors still focused
squarely on the European debt crisis and this big economic summit under way
in Brussels.

Today, we had conflicting reports on whether ministers will agree to
have two bailout funds running simultaneously. In fact, a German official
reportedly said flat-out that Germany is not on board. Earlier, the ECB
slashed its primary interest rate and appeared to be moving away from the
idea of aggressive bond-buying to help support countries in crisis.

In stocks, Ford slumped after restating its dividend at 5 cents a
share, its first in five years. And IBM is beefing up its cloud computing
power with the acquisition of retail software firm DemandTec for $440
million.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, Newt Gingrich is basking in his recent surge into front-runner
status, but if you ask the people who know and have worked with him in
Congress, the former speaker of the House is far from a favorite to win the
nomination. The man who masterminded the historic Republican Revolution
back in 1999 -- 1994, rather -- picking up 54 seats in the House of
Representatives, led the Republicans in an erratic and often undisciplined
fashion, according to congressional Republicans interviewed by the
Associated Press and elsewhere.

And so, as the Associated Press reports today, Republicans in Congress
are unnerved by the prospect of a Gingrich nomination. Been there, done
that, they say. Many Republican voters may not love Mitt Romney, but
Republicans with a memory seem to hate Newt Gingrich. Perhaps that`s too
strong a word. We will see.

What would it mean for the party if Newt is the head of the ticket?

Sam Stein is the White House correspondent for The Huffington Post,
and Dana Milbank is a political columnist for "The Washington Post."

Sam, this gradual seepage now of commentary from people who knew Newt
in his earlier incarnation, in the first chapter of his leadership, seems
to be a little edgy and uncertain. It`s like people don`t want to bellow
their anger at the guy, but they sort of want it to be known.

(LAUGHTER)

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes. And I`m not sure how bad that
is for Newt that they are somewhat against his candidacy.

If you`re going to -- Newt, obviously, is a creature of Washington.
He`s been here for three decades. But if you`re going to try to posture as
an anti-Washington politician, what better way than to have members of your
own party who are lawmakers in D.C. bash your candidacy?

And so I think Newt doesn`t exactly -- he`s sort of welcoming this in
some respects. But if you look at any of these books, look at Tom Coburn`s
book, what he writes about Gingrich is hardly flattering. In fact, it`s
exactly the portrayal that everyone else gets, which is that this is
someone who`s really in it for himself and he lacks principles.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the Coburn soundtrack. We have what
he has to say. He was elected to the House as part of Newt`s `94
resolution, but he won`t support Gingrich for president.

This is a very conservative guy, Coburn, from Oklahoma. Let`s listen
to what he told FOX this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: There`s a lot of candidates out there.
I`m not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich`s, having served under
him for four years and experienced, personally, his leadership.

There`s all types of leaders, leaders that instill confidence, leaders
that are somewhat abrupt and brisk, leaders that have one standard for the
people that they`re leading and a different standard for themselves. I
just found his leadership lacking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Pretty interesting stuff.

Coburn`s a smart guy. I mean, a lot of -- my kids like him. One of
my boys does.

Dana, he`s got a great reputation for fiscal responsibility, that guy.
And here he is, weighing in, rather soberly, I would say, against Newt.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He
also, Chris, has a reputation for honesty.

And I don`t think these guys are -- have it in for Newt for some
political reason, because they`re Romney guys, certainly not in Coburn`s
case.

What you have here is sort of the classic case of, Newt Gingrich was
terrific as a revolutionary, the Republican Revolution of `94.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: He`s great in -- on the offensive, when he`s leading the
opposition. He`s a bomb-thrower.

But when he actually gets power, that`s when it falls apart. He`s not
that kind of leader. He`s not a consensus leader. He became vain, he
became capricious, and he quickly lost the support of his ranks. There
were a couple of attempts to oust him, ultimately successful. Most of the
Republicans voted to reprimand him during the ethics problem.

There was really no love lost there. And they were grateful for him
for bringing them to power, but he was just unable to control them when in
power. And that, naturally, alarms people when he might have a whole lot
more power.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s one guy, Steven, former Congressman Steve
LaTourette is another member of the `94 revolution, doesn`t want to see
Newt make it to the White House. He told the "Associated Press," he still
has a hangover from the days of a Gingrich`s leadership. A backer of Mitt
Romney, by the way, he is one, said, "I`d rather have steady." And of
Gingrich`s time in office, he said, "Everything always seemed to be on
fire."

Sam, everything was burning, and was always the sound of gasoline
fire in the air. It never seemed to be, hey, we`re making sense here as
Republican leaders.

STEIN: And if you`re in the surrogate call for the Romney campaign
this morning, where they finally took the gloves off with respect to the
Newt, one of the more compelling lines is they would wake up the next day,
read the papers, and figure out how to put out that fire. They didn`t --
it was just so unpredictable.

With Coburn, though, it was a little bit different. If you read his
book, this was more a matter of principle. His main objections with Newt
were over the 1998 highway bill, which was pork-laden, and over
appropriating more money for committee staffs. These were principled
objectives.

And I think that`s almost as damaging as personality stuff in that
Newt was not a man of principle. He promised one thing and then delivered
quite another.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this on CNN yesterday, Gingrich was
asked why so many of his former colleagues have criticized him. He said it
was because he was an aggressive leader.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think in a legislative
body, there`s sort of a go along to get along collegial attitude. I wasn`t
there in a collegial job.

I was there as the leader, and my job was to drive through change on
a scale that Washington wasn`t comfortable with. And, you know, if you`re
a genuine outsider forcing change, you`re going to leave some bruised
feelings. And I don`t apologize for that. I think I probably learned some
more.

I wish everybody had loved me, but I`d rather be effective
representing the American people than be popular inside Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "I wish everyone had loved me," Dana. That reminds me of
him blaming his marital breakups on his extreme patriotism. This guy can
spin anything.

MILBANK: He loved his country so much, he had the affair during the
Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Yes, Newt`s explanations aren`t going to be terribly persuasive. I
think that what Newt is seeing now a lot is the politics that he created,
this awfully vicious, bitter environment that we`re living in a right now,
was largely created in `94 with a whole new way of talking and dehumanizing
the opposition. I think now he`s finding that some of his old fellow
practitioners are now using this against him.

He can`t be surprised and he certainly knows how to deal with it.
But I think that`s another reason why you`re seeing so many people turn
against him, because they know how insidious this has been to our politics.

STEIN: Let me just disagree with that, though. I think that answer
from Gingrich was actually quite brilliant. And it pits him against the
Congress that has a 9 percent approval rating.

What`s wrong with that from his perspective? He doesn`t want to be
loved by these people, these people aren`t loved to begin with. He wants
to change Washington.

MATTHEWS: Is that true?

STEIN: Is that true?

MATTHEWS: Is he speaking the truth?

STEIN: Is he speaking the truth? No, of course not because Congress
--

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.

STEIN: -- had nothing to do with.

MATTHEWS: I just wanted to make sure. I agree. By the way -- so
this guy Frank Luntz with racing stripes. This guy Luntz (ph) is with
racing stripes. He is brilliant at that twist.

Anyway, thank you, Dana Milbank. Thank you, Sam Stein.

STEIN: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Up next -- I love that. Was he telling the truth? Of
course not.

Where`s this fight between Romney and Gingrich headed? Could it last
all the way to the convention at Tampa? We got two of the top political
reporters in Washington coming here to talk about the new e-book, "The
Right Fights Back."

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: It`s the hottest Senate race in the country. Consumer
advocate Elizabeth Warren versus Republican Senator Scott Brown up in
Massachusetts. And Warren has her biggest lead yet.

Let`s go once more to the HARDBALL scoreboard. Here it is.
Elizabeth Warren`s up seven points now in a new "Boston Herald" poll, and
very close to the 50-point mark. Warren leads Brown 49-42.

And that`s the Democrats` best takeover opportunity next year. It`s
looking good for Warren in a race I`m definitely going to be following.

And a program note: Elizabeth Warren is Lawrence O`Donnell`s guest
tonight at 10:00 Eastern on "THE LAST WORD," a great show to watch tonight.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Did you owe a half a million to a jewelry
company at one point?

GINGRICH: We had a revolving fund.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what does that mean?

GINGRICH: It means that we had a revolving fund. It was a --

SCHIEFFER: I mean, who buys $500,000 worth of jewelry on credit?

GINGRICH: No, it`s a -- go talk to Tiffany`s.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Do you think a mandate -- mandating people to
buy insurance is the right tool?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bret, I don`t know how many
hundred times I`ve said this. too -- this is an unusual interview. All
right, let`s do it again.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Commerce, education,
and --

ROMNEY: EPA?

PERRY: EPA, there you go. No.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: Wow. We`re back.

Those were some of the more memorable moments, embarrassing for the
campaign trail this year. A new e-book has more behind-the-scene stories
which reveal what some of the Republican candidates were thinking in those
moments.

"Politico" White House reporter Mike Allen, and author and
journalist/historian, Evan Thomas, are co-authors of "The Right Fights
Back." That`s the name of this e-book, which is available through online
retailers right now.

Let me go to Evan right now.

Why do you think Perry got in this race? Did he get -- I want to
talk about one of the people who got this in race who seems like he
shouldn`t have gotten in. And then we`ll get to some of the people who
looks like they should have gotten in, but didn`t. It seems like the wrong
field to me and the bench looks better than the field.

Evan, why did Perry wrong? He looks like he`s so ill-prepared.

EVAN THOMAS, NEWSWEEK: I think he got talked into it by consultant,
partly, who told him it was going to be easier than it was.

MATTHEWS: OK. Why -- let me go to Mike. Why did Christie stay out?

MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: He was the smart one in here. He looked
at what happened to Rick Perry. He looked at how ill-prepared Rick Perry
was for the debates, and in the book, we learned that when he should have
been prepared for debates, when he should have been studying, Rick Perry on
his plane, according to a former aide who used to fly with him, he would
tell jokes, fraternity-type jokes. He would play around on his iPad. He
would look at family pictures.

Chris Christie looked at that and realized that that could be him.
Realized that he was not ready to go out and do a national campaign. He
saw the risk of learning policy on the fly and the danger of going out
there without a national record.

MATTHEWS: And why did Palin stay out, Evan?

THOMAS: Well, I think she wanted to get in.

And one of the things that`s interesting in the book is she`s always
asking about it. She`s into it. She`s absorbing playbook by the second.
They`re actually planning to get in.

But by the time she stopped thinking about it, by the time she
finished thinking about it, it was really too late.

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t she do -- I mean, I assume she`s reasonably
intelligent. She`s certainly attractive on the stump. She knows how to
give a speech. Why doesn`t she do some homework?

And I`m not knocking her intellectually. Why doesn`t she prepare and
then run for president? Because if she do the homework, it looks like she
would be a hell of a candidate.

ALLEN: Chris, that`s right. One of the things I could imagine her
was doing what Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, has done with
education. I can imagine her doing that with energy. That`s an issue that
she`s knowledgeable in, interested about.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ALLEN: Instead she more relied on her celebrity. And I think
ultimately, ironically, her celebrity kept her out. She recognized that a
big part of her appeal at the box office for donations, for endorsements is
her mystique. And if she got in in this crowded field, just became another
fourth-place finisher in Iowa, that would have been tarnished.

MATTHEWS: Is she going to try -- Evan, is she going to try to be a
king maker and jump in at the right time and endorse one of the two front-
runners now?

THOMAS: You can be sure she`s going to want to be front and center.
If it`s being a king maker or whatever that`s going to keep her out front,
keep her celebrity up -- I mean, Mike mentioned celebrity may be more of
what this is about than being president.

But she`s going to want to be a force. She`s going to be -- yes.
The answer is yes.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to Gingrich, the most fascinating figure in
this race. Now, there`s two theories about this guy, I mean, like there`s
two of everything in the world. One is he`s just a lucky break guy. All
the other candidates fell down.

He`s the last one standing because he had the most baggage, most
obviously displayed for so many years. Nobody was interested in his
baggage. That`s one theory, my theory.

The other theory is I`m sorry he`ll advance is, that he has, like
Richard Nixon, a deep belief in timing, in contours of races and you have
to pop at the right time. Which is it most credibly? Mike?

ALLEN: Well, Chris, of course, I agree with your theory, but I will
add to it.

MATTHEWS: No, which theory? Which theory? That it`s accident
serendipity or he`s Richard Nixon with brilliant trickster`s plan to peak
at just the right time, December 2011?

ALLEN: It`s more B. In an interview with us, weeks ago, Newt
Gingrich predicted what was going to happen. He said that going back to
the spring, when he lost all of his staff, that he had planned for this,
that he wanted to test a new model for running for president where you
needed less organization, where you needed less money.

And he was so bull about it that as you know, Chris, one of the
reasons that all those aides left was they didn`t like working under the
thumb of his wife, Callista Gingrich. She wouldn`t let him stay overnight
in Iowa.

So, they left largely because of that. And what did he do? He
empowered her.

Callista Gingrich is now much bigger in the campaign. In an
interview, Newt Gingrich told us that she is involved at every key e-mail
chain from a campaign.

Now, Chris, you worked in politics. Can you imagine having the
candidate`s spouse on every e-mail?

MATTHEWS: No, I can`t.

Let me go to the weird case here, a failure. Mitt Romney, Evan, Mitt
has all the cards to be president -- looks, background, style, family,
clean record. Everything is right except something -- something.

THOMAS: It`s that likable factor they talk about. There`s a bit of
-- when you see Romney talked, there`s like a one-second time delay,
there`s something manufactured.

One of the people we talked to, and Mike talked to, said it was like
somebody retrieving the file, to have a conversation with him, like they`re
reaching back and retrieving the file that they have to read before they`re
talking to you. And that`s just -- it`s not authentic, it`s not natural.
It makes people uncomfortable.

MATTHEWS: I think it reminds us of the hall of the presidents down
in the Disney World, with the presidents` statues stand up and talk.

Your book is called, it`s an email book -- not an email book, of
course. It`s an e-book, and they`re very popular right now. The great
title, "The Right Fights Back." Another great production by Evan Thomas,
this time co-authored with Mike Allen.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with why Democrats who want Gingrich
to knock off Romney should be careful of what they wish for. You should
always be careful of that.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this.

There`s intrigue afoot in this race for president. Try these two
undercurrents now running out there -- one on the Democratic side, the
other on the Republican. The biggest mistake you can make in politics is
to assume that the other side thinks like you do. They`re the other side
exactly because they don`t see things the way you do. And that`s why
they`re over there, not over here.

Look at the Republicans lunging for Newt Gingrich. Democrats think
they`re crazy, of course. Why would they dry gulch a solid center right
like Romney who might be able to grab the middle of the roaders and go for
a divider like Gingrich? It makes no sense Democrats figure for the
Republicans to pick a nominee who`s so angry, so spewing of venom that he
can`t possibly win the center.

But look at it from the conservatives` point of view, "Why not pick a
candidate who represents me?" That`s what they`re saying. "Why not have
as our nominee someone who`s as angry as I am, as upset with the economy,
as disgusted with President Obama? Why can we not nominate someone who
feels like I do?" That`s the way the conservatives are thinking.

That hatred of Obama and wanting to have it in the Republican
candidate is a powerful reality today, one that shows more and more in each
new poll. It`s not just about what Republican conservatives are thinking,
it`s what they`re feeling, deep down.

Now to the second undercurrent, the one on the Democratic side.
Democrats who want Obama reelected seem to prefer Newt Gingrich as the
nominee, believing that he`ll be easier to beat. They think Mitt Romney is
too close to the center for safety.

But be careful what you wish for. Those of us working for President
Carter thought Ronald Reagan would be far easier to take down than the
senior George Bush. It turns out that we were wrong.

It could just be -- it could just be that the Republican undercurrent
of deep personal and ideological hatred of this president will set the
course not just for the caucus and primary trail, but for the whole
shebang.

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

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

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