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updated 12/14/2011 12:26:27 PM ET 2011-12-14T17:26:27

Guests: Sue Herera, Richard Engel, Pete Boyer, Cynthia Tucker, Nia-Malika Henderson, Dana Milbank, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Bob Garon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The devil you know.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
It`s Newt to boot. The big news from our NBC News/"Wall Street Journal"
poll out today is that while Newt Gingrich could win the Republican
nomination, he can`t win the election. Those angry Republican voters just
want to stick it to President Obama with a gladiator like Gingrich.
However -- the big however -- they`re giving the president a gift, a
candidate who lacks the confidence of the American people.

But the big reason Newt Gingrich is the Republican front-runner right
now, he`s a bomb thrower. He`s willing to call President Obama "Kenyan
anti-colonialist." He`s explained his marital infidelity by saying it was
because he was so patriotic. He`ll say the zaniest things because the
angriest Republicans love to hear them. We`ve collected Newt`s five worst
stinkbombs, if you will, and we`re going to bring them to you tonight to
you for memory`s sake.

And watch what happens when Mitt Romney meets a gay Vietnam veteran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GARAN, VIETNAM VETERAN: I want to know how you feel, that you
do not believe that everyone`s entitled to their constitutional rights.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, actually,
I think...

GARAN: I think your...

ROMNEY: I think at the time the Constitution was written, it was
pretty clear that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don`t
believe the Supreme Court has changed that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What is he, Antonin Scalia, original intent? Anyway, that
veteran is with us tonight and he says his exchange has convinced him that
Romney won`t get his vote.

Plus, leaving Iraq. After nearly nine years, U.S. troops will now be
pulling out of the country in a matter of days. Republicans talk about how
we "cut and run," but the truth is very different. Our reality check
tonight on the huge American watch we`re keeping on Iraq.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the joys of traveling this country.
I`ve just gotten home after six weeks of traveling and sharing an heroic
story.

We begin with the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, and
resident brain trust. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize winner. She`s a
syndicated columnist and now a visiting professor at the University of
Georgia. And now to the visiting team. Peter Boyer`s a special
correspondent with "Newsweek" and the DailyBeast. He wrote this big cover
story in this week`s issue -- there`s Newt -- "The Audacity of Newt." What
a pomposity that picture is!

Anyway, the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll right now -- I want you
both to look at this -- shows that among Republican primary voters, which
is who Newt`s working on, Gingrich beats Romney overwhelmingly. Look at
these numbers, 40 to 23, almost 2 to 1.

But Gingrich doesn`t do so well in the presidential character
category. Among all voters, which is important eventually, 39 percent said
President Obama has the right set of personal characteristics to be
president, 34 percent say he doesn`t. For Mitt Romney, the numbers were
(ph) much worse, 20 percent say he has the right characteristics, 31 no.
He`s in the minority there.

But look at Newt (INAUDIBLE) numbers here right now. Only 17 percent,
1 in -- what, 1 in 7, are confident he has the right personal
characteristics to be seven (ph) -- to be president of the United States.
By the way, the public is pretty aware of this guy. And a whopping 42
percent say, No, he doesn`t. And that lack of confidence in Gingrich on
the part of the American people shows in the general election matchup,
where it`s Obama 51, Gingrich 40, an 11-point spread.

Peter, you wrote this piece. Maybe I have an advantage or a
disadvantage, having worked in Washington on Capitol Hill and watched the
rise of Newt Gingrich the worst possible way, calling his opponents
corrupt, attacking Democrats as a party, as a party of treason -- terrible,
terrible politics. He did get there. The ends did justify his means, I
suppose, in his heart. But the American people remember his means.

PETER BOYER, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I`m not so sure that the Republican
base remember -- remembers his means as vividly as you do, Chris. I think
the last part of what you said is the most important thing to them right
now which is he did get there.

I mean, there`s a lot to be said about Newt, and a lot has been said
and a lot will be said. But I think the most important thing is this. He
won. I mean, he delivered a monumental, historic victory to Republicans.
It was the first time in my lifetime that there had been a Republican
speaker of the House. People remember that.

And people also know, in the immediate, that this is a guy who, in
fact, articulates what they want to hear right now, which is -- you know,
we used to call it red meat, but it`s a very forceful argument for
conservatism.

MATTHEWS: Well, isn`t it mainly, as Rick Hertzberg of The New Yorker
said at a meeting I went to yesterday morning -- isn`t it really what he`s
expressed is not so much an articulate thought, as much as sheer emotional
contempt for Democrats, contempt?

BOYER: Well, there`s something to be said about that. I mean, it`s
instructive to remember -- and Rick, of course, is a great observer of our
political moment. But there`s something -- I think it`s instructive to
note who the first front-runner was among Republicans this very election
was Donald Trump. You know, not a famous Republican, not a famous
Republican thinker, but a guy who was saying hot button stuff.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BOYER: You`ll remember he was engaging that fringe issue of the birth
certificate. And he was leading the polls until, of course, that thing
sort of blew up on him. But I think -- I mean, Newt has obviously --
Gingrich brings way more to the table than that for the Republican base.
And the thing he is doing first and foremost is forcefully going against
liberalism broadly and the president and his programs, specifically. And
that -- you know, that just absolutely hits.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Cynthia. You know, when you go to the hard
right and you show that almost ferocious nastiness -- it`s a thug`s kind of
approach to politics. And I agree it has an appeal on the right. Do you
concede the center, at some point in the general election?

It looks like in our numbers, you do, that the public overall -- while
the right and the conservatives like this guy`s thuggery, if you will, his
nastiness, his diabolic, I would argue, means justifying the ends, that the
person in the middle goes, Wait a minute, do I really want four or eight
years of that, controlling a nuclear button with how many of thousands of
warheads? Do I want to put a person with that kind of temperament as
commander-in-chief?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIV. OF GEORGIA: Well, electability is Newt
Gingrich`s weak point. That`s the Achilles heel. And that is the argument
that Mitt Romney has been trying to make, that he is trying to make more
forcefully to Republican voters. So far, it hasn`t made any difference.
All these Republican voters want to hear is what you and Peter just talked
about, somebody who`s willing to use rhetoric. And Newt has mastered
incendiary rhetoric.

MATTHEWS: Incendiary.

TUCKER: We all remember...

MATTHEWS: It sounds like the stuff you get from the Middle East, this
crazy kind of talk...

TUCKER: Over the top...

MATTHEWS: ... this hyperbolic -- yes...

TUCKER: ... bombastic, incendiary. He -- he -- that`s his specialty.
He has been working on that for years.

MATTHEWS: So how many nuclear weapons would you give him to control?

TUCKER: I wouldn`t give him any.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: And here`s what`s interesting, Chris. Many Republicans who
worked with him in the House don`t want him anywhere near the nuclear
buttons, either.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s Rudy Giuliani...

BOYER: But Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... who -- go ahead. Go ahead, Peter. Your thought.

BOYER: I`m sorry to interpret. I would just say...

MATTHEWS: No, you`re in.

BOYER: I think that`s true. I guess I would -- I would consider
this. I mean, the more Republicans in Washington, the more even
conservatives in Washington -- you know, Dr. Tom Coburn, Senator Coburn, is
about as conservative as you can -- conservative as you can be, the more
they speak out against Newt Gingrich, I think the better off he is in the
Republican primaries.

MATTHEWS: Explain that again for the people watching, who may not get
that. Because you`re...

BOYER: Well, this is...

MATTHEWS: ... enjoying the absurdity of it, but tell them what that
absurdity`s based on. Why would somebody who is considered crazy by a
true, blue conservative like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma be all the more
enjoyable for certain people?

BOYER: Well, I mean, I do believe that this is an -- you`ll remember
the Tea Party impulse first expressed itself as a revolt against sitting
Republicans. I mean, it was first, Ah, oh, so you people come to
Washington and you go native, and the budget goes crazy and spending goes
crazy and the deficit goes crazy. I mean, that -- that`s the first -- that
is the primary impulse of the Tea Party movement.

And extending from that is this sense of "throw them all out." And
you know, being a good conservative with a common sense attitude towards,
for example, the possible governorship of -- the governance of Newt
Gingrich in Washington doesn`t count for much in the base.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I`m just thinking about -- we`re going to get to
this, but I want to get ahead to it. Let`s go to Rudy Giuliani here. He`s
apparently joined right now -- based upon his comment, he`s joined the
Gingrich express here. He says he tried to be the Republican nominee. Of
course, that was Giuliani. He says Gingrich has broader appeal than Mitt
Romney does. Let`s listen to Rudy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R-NY), FMR. MAYOR, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My gut
tells me right now, as I look at it, that Gingrich might actually be the
stronger candidate because I think he can make a broader connection than
Mitt Romney, as I said, to the -- to the -- to the -- to the Reagan -- to
those Reagan Democrats. He won`t have this barrier of possible elitism
that I think Obama could exploit pretty effectively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it. Who`s the weaker of the two, the
nasty boy Newt Gingrich, or the two fine, the preppy Mr. Mitt Romney? He`s
saying that the nasty boy connects with the Reagan Democrat, the tough guy
working on a factory line somewhere.

TUCKER: Oh, well, that forgets the fact that Newt Gingrich has
absolutely no discipline. He`s intemperate.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes? Right now he does.

TUCKER: And he is going -- he`s going to -- he`s...

MATTHEWS: This past week he does.

TUCKER: Yes, that`s just a week.

MATTHEWS: Right.

TUCKER: I mean, we have weeks and weeks to go, and he`s going to lose
it in these primaries, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you...

TUCKER: He`s going to blow up.

MATTHEWS: ... that key question because it`s the one I`m watching,
Peter, and you`re reporting this story well. Here`s the key question.
We`ve all watched Newt in his crazier times, saying that men want to go off
and kill giraffes, an absolutely crazy, loony tunes comment, which only can
expressed by him because it means nothing.

Can he now recognize that he does have a very good chance to win the
nomination, and therefore a very good chance to be the alternative to
President Obama in tough economic times, and therefore a good chance to be
the next president, not to blow it? Does his temperament allow for that,
the comet (ph)?

BOYER: A very good question. I think probably not. I know that he
recognizes this. He said to me -- in one of our conversations, he said --
he spontaneously offered, Do you see how disciplined I`m being? You know,
I`m keeping it positive.

I`m not sure. He came very close yesterday to blowing up, I think,
not for the giraffe or none of the things that most of the establishment --
political Washington thinks are crazy about Newt, but going after Romney as
the plutocrat.

I mean, I think Giuliani was exactly right. That will be one of the
president`s lines of attack, if, indeed, Romney becomes the nominee.

Gingrich needs to be careful about that sort of thing. And I think
you can see that he understands that he needs to be because of the fact
this very day, he issued a statement to his supporters saying, you know,
We`re going to stay positive. We`re going to stay positive about
Republicans. They can`t be bloodied going into the general election. Of
course, that`s pretty self-serving.

MATTHEWS: Yes, because he`s the front-runner. But as you point out,
he went right after Romney, doing the chop shop job...

(CROSSTALK)

BOYER: Romney`s very smart to keep probing for that button that`ll,
you know, cause Newt to go off.

MATTHEWS: Well, he went after him for the three marriages, and that
didn`t do it. Newt does that confessional thing of his. He goes into the
confessional. I don`t want to get into his religious life, but...

BOYER: No, but that worked, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... the fact that he`s able to come out and take that...

BOYER: That works. I mean, he...

MATTHEWS: I know it works because most people are -- we`re all
sinners. I understand completely the Christian culture. I`m part of it.
I know that, and especially, I think, my church, and confession`s part of
it. And I understand that.

Boy, well, he may have everything figured out here. This is going to
be one heck of an election if he`s the nominee.

TUCKER: I don`t think he does. I mean, what -- Newt will explode
over not something we expect. He has had a year to prepare a good answer
over his three marriages. It`ll be something when he`s tired, a moment
caught off guard, not a particularly probing question, where he just loses
it and goes off. And people will remember how ill suited he is for the
Oval Office.

MATTHEWS: Maybe we`ll see that happen and maybe we won`t. You can`t
spend a life rooting for the guy headed for the goalpost to fumble because
most of the time, they don`t fumble.

Anyway, thank you, Cynthia Tucker, being hopeful (ph) for the
Christmas period, and Peter Boyer being a good reporter, great piece on the
cover there. How you got -- the photographer got him to pose in that
arrogant way -- well, maybe that`s part of the thing we`re looking for
here. Look at this guy! Arms akimbo, that`s called!

Coming up: Newt Gingrich has raced out to a big lead, as we just said,
because he`s a bomb thrower. And we`ve got Newt`s five biggest stinkbombs,
his wildest, most incendiary statements. You should remember these for
Friday nights when you`re sitting next to somebody perhaps at a saloon and
you want to remind them about who this guy really is.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Put this in your notebook. The Obama reelection team is
mapping a variety of paths for the president to get to the 2,000 --
actually, 270 electoral votes he needs for reelection. It`s fascinating
stuff. All of them start with the states John Kerry won in 2004 as the
baseline, which are now worth 246 electoral votes. Remember that number,
246.

The western path to victory adds Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and
Iowa, which would give the president 272 electoral votes. The southern
path starts with those Kerry states and adds North Carolina and Virginia,
good for 274 electoral votes. The Midwest path adds Ohio and Iowa, which
gives Obama 270 exactly. The Florida path, just win Florida. That gets
him 275. And the campaign thinks it can expand the map further in a state
like Arizona.

The Obama team also announced that Bill Clinton will campaign for the
president.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The best thing Mitt Romney may
have going for him is the trove of opposition research available on his
number one rival now -- in fact, perhaps the man ahead of him now, Newt
Gingrich. There are decades worth of this outrageous number of statements
he`s made, interviews, appearances all filled with wild accusations.

Here to run through a few of HARDBALL`s top Gingrich moments -- or
bottom Gingrich moments -- are Nia-Malika Henderson of "The Washington
Post," who covers politics for "The Post." Also here is Dana Milbank,
who`s a political columnist for the same organ.

Let me start right now -- let`s go to top 5. Our number 5 moment, in
1994, Susan Smith, of course, was convicted for murdering her two little
boys by buckling them into the car and then driving the car into a lake, a
horrible story. Newt Gingrich`s reaction at the time, "I think that the
mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every
American how sick this society is getting and how much we need to change
things. The only way you get change is to vote Republican."

There you have the most -- well, you say what you think, objectively,
a man who blames one of the country`s two largest political parties, the
Democrats, on a killing by a mother in a horrible case of her two children.
Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, no, I mean, this
obviously was vintage Newt. In 1994, he routinely threw rhetorical bombs
like this, was such a divisive figure in American politics. I do think
that he`s arguing now that he has changed, that he`s gone through some Saul
(ph) to Paul (ph) conversion in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of his
lifestyle. And I think it`s going to depend on whether or not he`s able to
maintain that.

But as you said, the Democrats have a treasure trove of this stuff.
You probably didn`t even have to dig around to get much of this stuff. So
I`m sure, over at DNC headquarters, in Chicago, at the Obama reelect team,
they have notebooks and notebooks of this kind of stuff and videos of him
throwing these sorts of jabs at Democrats...

MATTHEWS: OK...

HENDERSON: ... you know, and that will make it very difficult for him
in a general election.

MATTHEWS: I ask people as they watch this list of horrors, to
remember the phrase, Oh, he`ll change, when they get married to somebody.
Oh, he`ll change, or she`ll change.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Everybody lives in the world where a person they want to --
they like a lot, want to get from 90 percent to 100 percent with -- oh --
this isn`t, by the way, 90 percent here.

Number four, back in March, Gingrich -- March, not a million years
ago, March -- spoke about his grandchildren to an audience at a Texas
church. He said, quote, "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win
the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they`re my age, they
will be in a secular, atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical
Islamists, and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an
American."

This is this year.

DANA MILBANK, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and it sounds alarming (ph),
but of course, if they vote Republican, none of that will occur.

MATTHEWS: Well, how does it get to be an Islamist society? How does
it get to be this horror zone?

MILBANK: Well, that one is the classic slippery slope.

There are various categories of Newt things, and some are just sort of
running off at the mouth, and, you know, he should have some special
Imodium prescription for those. Others are very calculated, like the
previous one where he uses the word sick.

This was a word that Frank Luntz poll-tested and said, you want to
demonize the opposition by using words like sick. So it is very
deliberate. And frequently it`s using the slippery slope argument. You
know what? I don`t think this hurts him one bit in his fight with Mitt
Romney right now.

MATTHEWS: Well, because you go down below the surface of the Earth,
the ground level, you meet people down there, bloggers way down in the sub-
basements, they -- they talk like this. This is the kind of comments you
get on a column when you write it, right, in the comment list?

MILBANK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a number three from Nia here.

"I really believe" -- I`m sorry -- "I really, really love my country."
This past spring, Newt told the Christian Broadcasting Network that his
passion for America is what drove him to cheat on his wife. Let`s listen
to Newt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s no question that
at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this
country, that I worked far too hard, and that things happened in my life
that were not appropriate.

And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I
wasn`t trapped in situation ethics. I was doing things that were wrong,
and yet I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God`s
forgiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Partially driven by how passionately I felt about my
country," Nia.

This is a cover for infidelity.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, this is the patriotism excuse for adultery.

MATTHEWS: I have never heard it before. It`s new.

HENDERSON: Yes, I have never heard it before. It`s essentially, I
loved my country so much that I had to share it with a woman who was not my
wife. That`s essentially what his argument is around that.

I think one of the things why this in some ways works for him, again,
it`s that conversion narrative that he`s floating there that very much
resonates with Christians, this whole idea of redemption, of, you know,
once being a sinner and now being forgiven. So I think in some ways it
works for him. Folks out in Iowa, folks in South Carolina who are in the
Christian tradition, good Catholics who are used to confessions, a good
Catholic like you, Chris, I think, understands this sort of language.

MATTHEWS: No, I don`t understand blaming it on patriotism. I have
never come across that one.

HENDERSON: Well, no, you don`t understand that, but I think -- but
you understand the confession, I think.

MATTHEWS: No, I think it`s absolute B.S. It`s B.S.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go right now to two. This is one that Newt had to
say about the president. By the way, anybody who defends this has a
problem with this country.

Here`s what he said with "The National Review" last year, not a
million years ago. "What is -- what if Obama is so outside our
comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior can
you begin to piece together his actions? That is the most accurate
predictive model for his behavior. This is a person who is fundamentally
out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a
wonderful con, as a result of which he`s now president."

So he throws in the street corner, the ghetto sort of con guy, hustler
on the street. He throws that in.

MILBANK: Right.

MATTHEWS: He`s some kind of street hustler. Then he combines it with
some notion that he`s really an African, a Mau Mau kind of guy, against the
British in East Africa, an experience he never had...

MILBANK: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... was never shared with him by a father he never knew,
complete racist crap.

If there`s -- I don`t know any other way to describe this.

MILBANK: But also clever and devious. Now, think about the context.

MATTHEWS: Clever? I think it`s flagrant.

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Well, they can be both at the same time. But think about
the context here.

This was the height of the birther movement. Was Newt Gingrich going
to come out like the others, like Sarah Palin, and join the birther thing
and say that Obama`s not American?

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.

MILBANK: He didn`t do that. He did this instead.

So he was reaching out to the birther movement with this, but not
going whole hog. So, I think that was very calculated and very clever.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: Of course it falls apart under scrutiny. The previous one
falls apart under scrutiny, if you say, OK, well, now that he`s faithful to
his wife, does that mean he`s not patriotic and doesn`t love his country
anymore? I guess it would follow logically.

MATTHEWS: Well, this thing about the racist stuff -- here we go,
number one, Newt Gingrich.

Back in 1994, again going back to the way-back machine, but, you know,
it`s a golden oldie, Newt Gingrich saw himself as a protector of the United
States. He told "The Atlanta Constitution" -- quote -- "People like me are
what stand between us and Auschwitz. I see evil around me every day."

What do you make of that, Nia?

HENDERSON: Well, I mean, this is Newt Gingrich`s grand vision of
himself, as this transformative figure. He obviously is a man with a huge
ego. You talked about that "Newsweek" cover with his arms akimbo, looking
like he`s the leader of the free world, or it looks like he thinks that he
thinks he should be the leader of the free world.

But, again, I think this is what worked in 1994. It was very much a
part of the culture there. And, in some ways, I think it`s still going to
work. In a lot of ways, I think these Republicans are looking for this
superhuman, larger-than-life figure. And I think, in some ways, Newt
Gingrich gives him -- gives them that. He is the Tom Sawyer of American
politics.

He`s always up to something.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you`re being kind.

HENDERSON: Sometimes, it`s awful.

MATTHEWS: This is frightening.

HENDERSON: Sometimes, it`s awesome. But it`s always interesting and
grand.

And I think that is in many ways what`s resonating with a lot of
Republicans at this time.

MATTHEWS: Let me sum up here. If you accuse one of the major
political parties of America of supporting the murder of a mother -- by a
mother of her children in a cold-blooded murder, if you blame a guy and
call him basically a foreigner, even though he`s born in America, because
of the color of his skin and his name, you are not really American
yourself.

If you make these comments again and again about how you cheat on your
wife, and just, instead of just confessing it, as they do it in our
religion, which is the normal way of doing it, blaming it on your
patriotism, how many nuclear weapons would you put in this guy`s hands?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s not common sense. It`s not even American. It is -- I
don`t know what it is. And you have got to add these up.

And, by the way, those who vote for this guy are responsible for him.
You can`t just say I was angry that day or I didn`t like Obama. Anybody
who puts this guy in the White House has this on their conscience.

Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you, Dana Milbank, for coming on.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next -- I`m much tougher than you guys. He scares me --
David Axelrod makes a not-so-pleasant -- well, it`s kind of funny -- about
the rise of Newt Gingrich. And you won`t forget it once you hear it. It`s
next in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: Deck the halls of the House. When House Democrat Paul
Tonko of New York State took the floor this morning to give a year-ender
address about the state of Congress and the middle class, he opted to
sugarcoat his reality check with a timeless holiday classic.

Let`s hear Tonko`s holiday spin on what should be on tap for Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL TONKO (D), NEW YORK: `Twas the week before Christmas, when
all through the House, a cry echoed much louder than a roaring mouse.

Don`t raise our taxes. On us, please be fair, or our middle class
will be lost in despair. When outside the chamber there arose such a
clatter, the public was disgusted and shouted, we matter. Let`s get to
work and not be Grinches this season. The economy and middle class are
clearly the reason.

Working together with all of our might, happy holidays to all, and for
fairness, let`s fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I get the message: fairness.

Up next: eying the field. President Obama`s campaign staff may have
been banking on a 2012 face-off with Mitt Romney, but the tides have
certainly changed, and it`s make room for Newt, and the Obama camp is not
holding back.

How about this colorful analogy offered by senior strategist David
Axelrod about the former speaker of the House? He gave it during a
briefing yesterday -- quote -- here`s Axelrod -- "I told my colleagues
yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom I got from an alderman in Chicago some
years ago when one of his colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he
was really dubious. He said -- quote -- `Just remember, the higher a
monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt. So, you know, the
speaker of the House is very high on the pole right now, and we`re going to
see how people like the view."

Well, that`s gross. It`s clear they`re thinking -- or taking Newt`s
surge as anything but a laughing matter in the Obama camp.

Up next, as the last American troops leave Iraq, Republicans are
talking about us cutting and running. Well, it`s a ridiculous charge that
has absolutely no basis in fact. Let`s get a reality check, a true reality
check from Iraq next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 66 points, the S&P 500 fell 11,
and the Nasdaq slipped about 33. A late-day sell-off on Wall Street erased
the Dow`s triple-digit gains. Investors not reassured by comments from the
Fed. The Central Bank saying it would leave monetary policy unchanged, but
warned that strains in the global financial markets pose a risk to the
current U.S. outlook.

The Commerce Department said retail sales rose slightly last month.
Sales were up just 0.2 percent, but it was the sixth straight monthly gain.
And while shoppers are spending, profits at electronics giant Best Buy
disappointed. Price cuts on tablets and TVs increased traffic at the
stores, but, overall, the results suffered. The company`s shares lost 15
percent today.

And in Washington, Jon Corzine testified before lawmakers about
missing funds at his former firm MF Global. The former senator told a
Senate panel that he never authorized the misuse of customer funds.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming days, the
last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with honor and
with their heads held high. After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends
this month.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, President Obama yesterday during a press
conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In October, the
president said all troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the year. In
the coming weeks, that promise will be official. After eight-and-a-half
years, 4,500 dead Americans, 32,000 wounded, and nearly $1 trillion in
financial costs, the last troops will leave finally.

(SNEEZING)

MATTHEWS: The troops are finally leaving, of course. The typical
Republican refrain right now is that the president is cutting and running -
- that`s the phrase they`re using -- and that our influence in the region
will be on the wane.

(SNEEZING)

MATTHEWS: Don`t know what that`s about.

Dick Cheney once again leveled the charge last night. Let`s not
forget that it was under George W. Bush that the agreement between the
countries, our country and Iraq, to remove our troops was reached back in
2008. Also, while troops are leaving the country, a strong American
presence will remain, including the world`s biggest American Embassy. The
State Department will keep a staff of 16,000 in the country, including
5,000 security contractors.

Well, Richard Engel is chief correspondent for NBC News. He joins us
now from Baghdad.

Richard, thank you so much.

Give us a sense of our residual strength in that location, the power
that we can project into Iraq if we have to.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Not very much,
frankly.

And I think that, based on the interviews I have been doing today,
this huge presence that is staying behind here could ultimately be a
liability. I spoke to a lot of Iraqis who say that they don`t believe that
U.S. troops are really leaving, that the U.S. Embassy and all of its
security contractors, 15,000, 16,000, 17,000 people, is really just a
military base by another name.

And certain militant groups are certainly going to want to target
them. So if the idea is to project power and to maintain influence, you
could end up antagonizing a lot of people by doing that.

MATTHEWS: But I guess I`m trying to get to the -- in other words, in
real terms, we have a lot of power left in that area. You think it may be
a vulnerability to hang in there in another form through contractors,
rather than through uniformed service people, that it may have been -- may
create a target, rather than a power?

ENGEL: Absolutely. Absolutely.

One soldier that I was speaking to described it this way, that this
huge contractor presence is a self-licking ice cream cone. It is
contractors protecting other contractors. They don`t have a mandate to go
out and provide any kind of security to the people.

Imagine it this way. You have a large staff at several different
locations. So those people need to move from one embassy complex to the
other. So, when they travel, they need protection on the roads. When they
get to that other transportation -- that other site, they need to have more
security there. They will also have to have housing at a secondary
location.

That will need security for the housing. You will need engineers to
help provide services to the security systems there. And it just keeps
building and building and building on top of itself, without really
providing much of an impact on the ground here in Iraq, and certainly
having very little contact with the Iraqi people.

MATTHEWS: OK.

ENGEL: The kind of security that the people need to go outside of
what looks like and feels like a prison makes it very difficult for them to
interact with the people.

MATTHEWS: OK.

ENGEL: Iran, which doesn`t have this enormous presence, has much more
impact on the ground and doesn`t have 15,000 diplomats here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Explain -- my concern all along, geopolitically, was that
we would topple a Sunni government led by Saddam Hussein, and allow,
basically, kind of an Anschluss of Iraq into Iran, under its influence.

Is that what is going to happen? Will this become a country very much
under the influence of Iran the way that, say, Lebanon is under the
influence historically of Syria?

ENGEL: Iran`s influence is already here.

Think of it this way: there are right now zero direct flights between
the United States and Iraq. You have to go through Dubai or several of the
other countries.

There are, on many days, 12, 15, 18 direct flights between Iraq and
Iran. There are over 2 million Iranians who come here every year. They
invest here. When you walk around the country, most of the taxi cabs on
the streets in Baghdad these days come from Iran.

So Iran`s influence, economically, culturally, politically, even,
depending on who you ask, is already very significant in this country.
Some of that is positive. Iraq can use the tourism. And just because
pilgrims from Iran are coming here to visit Shiite religious sites doesn`t
mean they`re taking over the country. But it certainly shows the amount of
influence that they have.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Richard Engel. Take care in
Baghdad.

Now -- let`s go now to "The Washington Post," the associate editor,
Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He`s author of "Imperial Life in the Emerald City,"
about his time as a correspondent in Iraq.

Let`s take a look, now, Rajiv, of what Dick Cheney has been saying
about -- here he is, the former vice president, last night on CNN bashing
this withdrawal of troops by the United States this December. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We`re now in a situation
where we`re pulling all of our troops out of Iraq, period. No stay-behind
force. He`s trying also to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And it generally looks like a U.S. withdrawal from the region. And
you add to that the fact that the Iranians are actively pursuing nuclear
weapons.

And I think it diminishes the U.S. presence, it reduces our leverage,
it, in effect, is going to significantly alter our position in that part of
the world. And I think that`s a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this is the man many people believe rammed us into
Iraq, got us in this war. He used his influence against W. to get us there
-- now saying we should never leave, basically.

That is the implication. Don`t leave. Go into these countries and
stay there in sort of a neocolonial presence, which drives them crazy, and
makes it look like we`re in there to stay.

Your thoughts on this? Is there any reasonable way, listening to
Richard Engel, that presence we`re keeping, the residual force we`re
keeping in terms of contractors, is a target without a purpose. What would
be the purpose of uniformed people still there?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, WASHINGTON POST: Well, just look back at what
the uniformed military presence has been doing there over the past year,
fairly small, largely quartered on bases. They weren`t going out and
patrolling. They weren`t really a presence on Iraqi streets. And they
certainly weren`t holding Iran meaningfully in check.

And so, keeping 3,000, 5,000, even 10,000 U.S. forces there, had the
Iraqis been willing to do it, and provide the necessary immunity, it`s hard
to see how that would fundamentally impact, you know, the course Iraqis are
taking into the future.

And yes, Iran is playing a role there. There`s certainly a close
economic relationship, as Richard mentioned. Lots of pilgrims come to
visit holy sites in Iraq.

But let`s be under no illusions here. Iraq is not turning into a
satellite state of Tehran. The Iraqis are nationalistic people, who will
forge their own identity going forward, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s good to hear.

You know, in terms of American politics, which I cover here, you
know, Rajiv, let`s take a look at this. According to a new CBS poll right
now, 77 percent of the American people agree with this need to take these
troops out. Only 17 percent disagree with it.

And I was just thinking listening to Dick Cheney, and I`m no fan of
his foreign policy -- I`m just thinking, suppose he had said back in 2001,
2002, when he was blowing the bugle for going into Iraq, he said, let`s go
in there and stay a decade or two. If he had been honest, in what he`s
just saying right now, back then, nobody would have gone in.

So, this argument, get them in there, hook us in there, ratchet
effect, and then keep us in there for forever is a totally dishonest
approach to policy making. It`s getting us to do something under false
pretenses, and then coming out and saying, let`s never leave, by the way.

If he had tried that back during this big B.S. buildup of theirs,
nobody would have gone in there.

CHANDRASEKARAN: It would have been a total non-starter. I mean,
remember, not only were they arguing there was WMD, and then when there
wasn`t WMD, that they were going to quickly democratize the nation. They
argued that the reconstruction would be self-funding. You know how many
tens of billions of dollars we paid for Iraqi reconstruction, not to
mention the hundreds of billions of dollars now totaling more than $1
trillion for the overall military presence.

No, I mean, even if this thing were a quarter or a tenth of the cost
in terms of American lives, in terms of American dollars, in terms of
American casualties, I think it would have been a nonstarter way back in
2002.

MATTHEWS: They said it would have been quick and easy, it was
absolutely essential because of WMD, because of nuclear threat. And then
it was going to be quickly over. It was going to be a cakewalk. It was a
wonderful phrase. A cakewalk that`s now ending after practically a decade
and they want it to continue!

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, you`re a great reporter. Thank you so much for
coming on.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Good to talk to you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And tonight on "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW," a big guest. We
call this a big get in our business, Vice President Joe Biden coming on
primarily to talk about Iraq. So I believe the fact that she was table to
get him on the show tells you this administration wants to talk about
getting our troops out of Iraq. They really want to talk about it. So,
they`re very proud of this number of four out of five Americans supporting
them in this policy move.

Up next, rumbling with Romney. We`re going to meet a Vietnam veteran
who locked horns with Romney in New Hampshire over same-sex marriage. The
vet, Bob Garon, said the exchange changed his mind about Romney. He`s
coming here to explain why.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back with a Vietnam vet who is gay, who got
into a heated exchange with Mitt Romney over same-sex marriage. We`ll be
right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney found out just how precarious retail politics
can be when he was confronted by a voter on the issue of gay marriage.
Let`s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that marriage is
a relationship between a man and a woman. The Defense of Marriage Act that
exists in Washington today defines benefits, whether for veterans or for
non-veterans, as between married spouses. And for me, that`s man and a
woman. We apparently disagree on that.

BOB GARON, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: It`s good to know how you feel, that
you do not believe that you do not believe that everyone is entitled to
their constitutional rights.

ROMNEY: No, actually -- I think -- I think at the time the
Constitution was written, it was pretty clear that marriage is between a
man and a woman.

GARON: New Hampshire is right. You have to look a man in the eye to
get a good answer and you know what, Governor, good luck.

ROMNEY: Thank you. Appreciate it. Have a good day to you, sir.

GARON: You`re going to need it.

ROMNEY: Thank you. You are right about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Joining me right now is the man who peppered Romney with those
questions about his views on gay rights and same-sex marriage, Bob Garon.
He`s a Vietnam veteran who is gay and describes himself as an independent
voter.

Well, Bob, you certainly got involved there in what we call retail
politics, talking to a guy who is fairly recently the front-runner. What
was your reaction as a man, a gay man, to his statement he made to you?

GARON: Well, I congratulated him for answering the question the way
I asked it. In the beginning I asked him, I said I`ve got a question for
you, but, please, give me a yes or a no answer without any political hype,
and he did. And -- and it -- it disappointed my feelings about the man.

I was leaning toward Governor Romney as an independent voter.
However, my concerns when I asked him whether he would support or repeal in
the marriage laws in New Hampshire, he made it very clear that he would
repeal it, and that was unacceptable.

MATTHEWS: Bob, what did you make him of going back to the original
intent of the Founding Fathers as his defense? I mean, that sounded like
Scalia talking. Most people recognized that the Constitution has taken
different meanings over the years because times have changed. I mean,
there`s no reference to an air force, for example, in the Constitution.
There are things that we didn`t really have to deal with back then, and one
of them is mores, attitudes about sexuality and things that were prevalent
at the time.

Were you surprised he took that sort of old conservative argument,
oh, that`s not the way Ben Franklin looked at it. And, by the way, we have
no idea how they really looked at that. What did you make of that?

GARON: Well, I was very surprised. First, I`m not a professor of
the Constitution. I didn`t know that he was either. I didn`t know the
Constitution made it clear what a marriage was between a man or a woman. I
-- there`s no one in the Constitution that I can remember that it says
anything about that.

And here`s a man that plans to be in the White House and apparently
he didn`t know about the Constitution either.

I was dumbfounded. I just don`t know where he came up with that kind
of information.

MATTHEWS: Well, are you a -- boy, I`m supportive of your position,
but I`ve got to be tough. Are you a one-issue voter? In other words, if
you find out that one candidate, for example, Barack Obama is for civil
unions but you really think he`s probably more liberal than he`s willing to
say, and then you`ve got this guy Mitt Romney who may be more liberal than
he`s willing to say and he`s more in a conservative party than you care
about, are you the kind of person who will vote on that basis?

GARON: No. I don`t rely on just one particular issue. It --
there`s a lot of factors when I consider a candidate for the office of the
president -- the economy, the jobs, the homeless, the list goes on. But I
am really concerned about a man that`s going to go into the White House
that isn`t open-minded or even willing to entertain an idea that`s a little
different than how he feels. I don`t like to be told how this veteran can
or what this veteran --

MATTHEWS: You know what?

GARON: Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: You did something that neither Governor Romney or I did.
You served in Vietnam. Thank you for your service, sir.

GARON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And I hope that your experience as a soldier over there
was as good as any other soldier. Thank you so much for coming on, Bob
Garon, for serving our country in a way that neither Mitt Romney nor I did.
Thank you.

GARON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to return right now with a finish with the
joys of traveling this country as I`ve gotten to do for six weeks now, have
you notice that, every country -- not country, every city, Boston,
Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philly, everywhere on this book for John
Kennedy and what I`ve learned.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

I spoke at the National Archives here in Washington earlier this
afternoon. It was my last speech in a six-week multi-city tour for my book
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero." The head of the National Archives, David
Ferriero, gave me a copy of a hand scribbled set of notes -- look at them
there -- that Jack Kennedy used in giving the famous speech on the Cold
War. His address in June `63 to the people of West Berlin.

Here`s the notes and here`s the speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Today, in the world of
freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich in ein, Berliner."

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And there you are looking at the notes he was holding in
his hands. Those German pronunciations President Kennedy brought with him
that day. Ben Bradley, by the way, who is working for "Newsweek" at the
time remembers Kennedy practicing those words in German in the car as they
approached the city hall.

You know, the things that have impressed me the past six weeks of
riding around this country, around across the country, is the warmth and
seeing people`s faces when they hear about those days of the Kennedy era.
It`s so powerful. So compelling to hear people, and I guess it`s just
natural for them to ask how can we get it all back.

People who love their country want to see it at its best again. They
want us to going for more civil rights, sending Peace Corps people around
the world, for someway or another again shooting for the moon. They want
to be united again in common national purpose. They want that feeling
again.

And one of the greatest experiences going out to the cities from
Portsmouth, New Hampshire to San Francisco and meeting people who watch
HARDBALL, by the way, and care deeply about this country -- I see it in
their faces.

I`m asking for those looking for a book, by the way, here`s the pitch
for this holiday season to get copies of "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero."
It`s a warm feeling you`ll get about a really good part of our history.
It`s the story of a young man and his rise from World War II hero who saved
his crew in that war, to the president who saved the country and the world
in the Cuban missile crisis. It`s the positive compelling hopeful story I
know America needs now more than ever.

It`s the most personal look yet, I think, of the 35th president.
Again, I`m going to ask you to get out there to a bookstore and get this
gift of American democratic success to someone you love.

That`s it for HARDBALL. 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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