1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 12/19/2011 11:33:18 AM ET 2011-12-19T16:33:18

Guest Host: Chuck Todd
Guests: John Heilemann, Michael Steele, Sue Herera, Martin Fletcher, Susan Page, Willie Brown, John Feehery, David Corn

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST: Mitt rising.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews. Leading
off tonight: Is Newt still the front-runner? The roller-coaster ride
that`s been the Republican nomination fight has been even wilder this week.
On Monday, the question was, How strong was Newt Gingrich going to get?
After the final Iowa debate last night, the question has to be asked, is it
really fair to even refer to Gingrich as, quote, "the front-runner"?

Mitt Romney, at least for this 24-hour period, seems to be embracing
that inevitability campaign again. Gingrich, who was probably disappointed
Romney chose not to attack him last night, instead had to fend off those
behind him in the polls. The race has been so unpredictable that one poll
has had five leaders in its last five surveys. The final stretch at the
top of the show.

Plus, Newt is certainly what military strategists call a target-rich
environment. We`ll take a look at some of the nastier things Republican
establishment types have been saying about Newt, hoping to knock him off
before President Obama gets a chance to do it.

Also, a very important story that has been under the radar, a third
party run. Our pollsters believe it now looks increasingly likely that no
matter who is nominated, someone will make a serious independent bid. You
think you know which party benefits? You may be surprised.

And which Republican candidate earned a 12th -- count them, 12th --
"Pants on Fire" for yet another whopper during last night`s debate?

And at the end, we`re going to remember one of the gifted, most
erudite, talented, just entertaining writers of our time, a man who was
among -- one of Chris Matthews`s most favorite guests right here on
HARDBALL, Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens lost his battle with cancer
yesterday at the age of 62.

Well, we`re going to start with the Republican field. John Heilemann
is a national affairs editor for "New York" magazine, and of course, an
MSNBC analyst, and Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for "USA
Today." Welcome, both of you.

John, let me start with you. Mitt Romney got a big old plane today,
his first press charter...

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

TODD: ... loaded up members of the press, flew that nonstop flight
that doesn`t exist from Sioux City to Greenville (ph), South Carolina, got
the most important rising star governor to endorse his campaign. Mitt
Romney acting like a front-runner again.

HEILEMANN: He is, Chuck. I saw him this morning in Sioux City in the
one event that he did at a steel company just before he took off for South
Carolina. He had a very confident, very assured mien to him out there, as
he did in the debate last night.

And I think, you know, part of the reason for that is that he had the
Nikki Haley endorsement in his pocket. He`s also, I think, starting to see
some movement internally in their polling. There`s some that`s reflected
in the public polling also, that seems like Gingrich is softening. And
he`s also been in Iowa a little bit, and he`s had a chance to look at the
television in Iowa, where he see his...

TODD: Right.

HEILEMANN: ... pro-Romney super-PAC pounding Gingrich mercilessly
over the air, alongside Ron Paul, who`s doing the same thing. And I think
those are all reasons why they are starting to think he might just -- might
just -- win the Iowa caucuses.

TODD: You know, $3 million in attack ads are airing right now against
Newt Gingrich. He`s fighting back with $275,000 of air. There is no money
in the Gingrich bank account right now, or I think we would be seeing it on
the air. But right now, we were just showing pictures. Mitt Romney is
campaigning in South Carolina today.

But Gingrich did come under fire. Michele Bachmann is the one who was
the aggressor last night. And I want to show this fight that she picked
with Gingrich over an issue that can go to the concerns of some Iowa
caucus-goers. Here`s what she hit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He had an
opportunity to de-fund Planned Parenthood and he chose not to take it.
That`s a big issue.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
Sometimes Congresswoman Bachmann doesn`t get her facts very accurate. I
had a 98.5 percent right-to-life voting record in 20 years.

BACHMANN: ... because this isn`t just once. I think it`s outrageous
to continue to say over and over through the debates that I don`t have my
facts right, when as a matter of fact, I do. I`m a serious candidate for
president of the United States, and my facts are accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: It got testier. Today Bachmann was asked if there was a sexist
element to how Gingrich treated her last night. Listen to how she
responded to that question earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN: I think that`d be an observation that people -- people
looking at that would have to make that observation. I`m a serious
candidate for the presidency, and I think it`s important that I be treated
as an equal on that stage. They said this is a two-man race, and I would
agree. It`s Newt Romney versus Michele Bachmann.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: What did you -- it was interesting she would not rule that --
she wasn`t shutting that door, which, of course, means she`s doing this.
Yes, if somebody wants to call it sexist, then yes, I...

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": I think it`s pretty clear she thinks it was
sexist.

TODD: Right.

PAGE: And you know, Michele Bachmann did not back down last night.
You know, she didn`t just make her initial planned attack on Gingrich, but
she came back at him again and again, and on a couple issues.

TODD: Right.

PAGE: And this is great for Mitt Romney because Michele Bachmann --
you should definitely treat her seriously, but we don`t see her as the
likely nominee. But every vote she peels away comes from -- more likely to
come from Gingrich than from Romney. The better she does, the worse
Gingrich does, and that`s all good for Romney.

TODD: You know what`s interesting here is that in an informal survey
of colleagues, this is splitting along gender lines. And some of my
colleagues today who are women thought it was sexist. And some of the men
thought, well, maybe just it gets under Gingrich`s -- she just gets under
his skin.

PAGE: Well, Gingrich can be condescending to men and women.

TODD: Equal opportunity.

PAGE: Yes, equal opportunity condescension. But when there`s only
one woman on stage and you`re condescending to her...

TODD: Yes.

PAGE: ... then I think it comes across as sexist.

TODD: John Heilemann, this is one of those cases -- you know, I think
your partner in crime tweeted this last night, Mark Halperin, saying that
somehow Perry -- maybe it was you tweeted it -- you know, you guys have
become one entity, like Newt Romney, right?

But the way Rick Perry gets under Mitt Romney`s skin, where he just
does -- he almost gets rattled with anger when he gets attacked -- we`re
sensing that a little bit between Bachmann and Gingrich, with Gingrich, no?

HEILEMANN: Yes, I think so. And look, I think the point you guys
made about him being an equal opportunity offender when it comes to
arrogance and condescension is a fair one. But she does seem to have his
number a little bit. And they are aware of that in the Bachmann campaign,
and they are going to try to exploit it.

I think that all three of the second tier candidates last night had
reasonably decent nights. I mean, I think Bachmann had the best night at
the debate. Perry had not as good a night, but still a decent night for
him. And Rick Santorum did OK.

And as Susan was saying, it`s the case for all three of those
candidates that if they start to inch up in the polls -- and there`s some
signs out here in Iowa that that might be happening -- that`s all good news
for Mitt Romney because everything that they take, every vote they take
either out of Newt Gingrich current -- his current level of support...

TODD: Right.

HEILEMANN: ... or out of his potential level of support -- it`s all
Gingrich suffering in those situations. And a Ron Paul victory or a Mitt
Romney victory, obviously -- those are both good outcomes for Mitt Romney.
As long as he can stop Newt Gingrich, he`s the winner in Iowa.

TODD: You know, Susan, timing`s everything in -- sometimes in a
debate, and Gingrich got hit early on Freddie Mac, then seemed to get his
footing. And in fact, he was enjoying talking about his own issue --
temperament issues. Here`s how he handled one question, and he literally
decided, Well, I`ve got to get this temperament issue out of the way and
I`ve got a funny way to do it. Here`s how he handled it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I sometimes get accused of using language that`s too
strong. So I`ve been standing here, editing.

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: I`m very concerned about not appearing to be zany and...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Of course, "zany" being in reference to the question about --
that Jeff Zeleny of "The New York Times" asked Mitt Romney, whether zany
ideas will come out of the White House, and of course, Mitt Romney picked
up that word "zany" with relish.

Did Gingrich -- how is Gingrich holding up? I mean, he seemed to be
OK at the debate, but boy, he`s getting pummeled on the air.

PAGE: You know, I think it`s -- I think it`s hard when everybody is
attacking you and you are on the defensive, not on one issue that you can
address, but you have to address the Freddie Mac issue, and then you have
to address the abortion issue, and then you have to address the temperament
issue. There`s a cumulative effect.

I thought it was an hour into the debate before he really seemed to
find his sea legs and be the kind of confident figure that we saw just
there. That was pretty far into the debate. I had already filed two
stories...

TODD: Right.

PAGE: ... for two editions of "USA Today" by the time that happened.

TODD: Well, there you go. Timing a lot. John Heilemann, you know,
what was -- what I feel like is a story that we can`t fully report out yet
until the fund-raising reports go in -- but it seems clear to me that
Gingrich, while surging in the polls, doesn`t -- didn`t get this on-line
surge of money that we have seen other candidates get when they`ve surged.
Particularly look at a Herman Cain, right? Much less sort of presidential
credibility when he surged, and he was getting all these donations.

Is the Gingrich campaign just not good at this?

HEILEMANN: Well, that certainly seems to be part of the case, Chuck.
Although, you know, yesterday that Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas
billionaire, pledged $20 million to Gingrich in -- obviously not in direct
contributions...

TODD: Well, for what it`s worth, they deny the...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: They do deny the $20 million figure, but then that`s all they
deny.

HEILEMANN: OK.

TODD: Clearly, some money`s coming from Mr. Adelson.

HEILEMANN: Yes. Yes.

TODD: Go ahead.

HEILEMANN: And I know that the Gingrich campaign -- the Gingrich
campaign thinks that that`s the case. You know, but they -- they do not --
they have not exploited that in terms of fund-raising, you`re absolutely
right, Chuck.

And I find the whole thing curious even on a bigger level than that.
Put aside the fact that Gingrich is getting attacked. He`s not really --
he doesn`t seem like he`s really running for president still. I mean, he
is not in Iowa today. Everyone did at least one event here in Iowa today.
Iowa is key to his success. He`s not here today.

Nobody really knows where he is. He`s gone back to Washington to go
to church. There`s an event for Callista in Virginia. Why is there an
event in Virginia when the Virginia primary`s a long way off? He`s not
really planning to come back to the state in significant way until after
Christmas, and that seems just extraordinarily strange.

He seems to have bought the notion that he can win this thing in a
totally unconventional way...

TODD: Yes.

HEILEMANN: ... that when people wrote him off back in June, they were
all foolish. He can do this his way. And I got to say, it looks very --
it`s very curious because he has enough support out here, even among some -
- Iowa establishment figures...

TODD: Right.

HEILEMANN: ... he could run a pretty strong public schedule out here,
but he`s not really trying. And everyone`s sort of scratching their head.

TODD: Susan Page, let`s look at this trend line, RealClearPolitics.
First you see Gingrich`s rise since the first of November, but then there`s
a hook in that rise that occurred just over the past few days signalling a
slight drop in the polls.

Now, of course, they average all these polls -- whereas Mitt Romney`s
line has been hovering between 20 to 25 percent mark, of course, the entire
time, what (ph) you see there, which, of course, has been Romney`s problem.

So -- which brings me back to the Nikki Haley endorsement. It is, on
one hand, payback, Mitt Romney one of the first presidentials to endorse
her before she was the clear front-runner. He did it before it was cool to
get behind Nikki Haley, before Sarah Palin did it and all of those things
back during those primaries in 2010.

But it now does raise expectations in a state that he did not do well
in four years ago and nobody thinks he`s going to do well in this time.

PAGE: Well, I don`t think we quite know how he`s going to do in South
Carolina.

TODD: Well, that`s true. Hey, you never know.

PAGE: But let`s see. Does somebody get a head of steam out of Iowa,
or do you have such a mixed result, or a Romney victory or a Ron Paul
victory that doesn`t catapult anybody who we would see as a serious
contender for the nomination?

I mean, you know, it certainly provides with him some important
endorsement in South Carolina, and it makes it more of a game there for
him. And of course, their real prize, Florida, the next state down the
line. That`s where the Romney people really hope to be able to go head on
head with whoever the other finalist is and make it clear that Romney`s the
nominee.

TODD: Hey, John Heilemann, very quickly, very short, and then to you,
Susan Page.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

TODD: If Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses, I have a few sort of elite
type of sources around Washington, D.C., who secretly have been trying to
kill the Iowa caucuses for years. They make the claim if Ron Paul wins
Iowa, this is the beginning of the end of Iowa.

HEILEMANN: There are people, serious people in the Republican Party,
and probably some in the Democratic Party out here, who have been saying
exactly the same thing to me this week.

TODD: Susan, you agree with that?

HEILEMANN: You wanted short.

PAGE: So Bachmann...

HEILEMANN: I gave you short.

PAGE: Bachmann wins the Ames straw poll...

TODD: Straw poll.

PAGE: ... and then Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses...

TODD: And the one-two punch.

PAGE: Yes.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

TODD: That is devastating to our friends in the Iowa Republican and
Democratic parties. Hey, I like Des Moines. I like eastern Iowa. I like
Sioux City. And you guys found out out there, right, John, they have
pretty good Mexican food in Sioux City, don`t they.

HEILEMANN: (INAUDIBLE) Juanita. It`s the best -- best non-regional -
- non-border state taco in America.

TODD: It`s a -- there`s a lot of good Mexican food. It`s a hidden
gem of Iowa. Anyway, Susan Page, John Heilemann, thank you both.

Coming up: Is 2012 a year that we`re going to see a serious
independent run for the presidency, like `68, like `92? It could happen.
And it could tilt the balance to one of the major party candidates. That`s
ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Well, here`s a potentially huge political story that no doubt
has the Obama reelection team in a potential rage. Democratic senator Ron
Wyden of Oregon has signed on to Paul Ryan`s new Medicare plan. The plan
would give seniors a choice between Medicare, as you know it now, or a
privatized system. And that happens to be the same plan that Mitt Romney
is pushing, a tweak of the original Ryan plan.

So a Democrat from a blue state like Oregon gives the bipartisan stamp
of approval to the Romney/Ryan plan, a plan the White House and Democrats
were hoping to run against up and down the ballot in 2012.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS "HANNITY": Will you promise, if -- if
you don`t win this nomination -- and you`re doing very well here in Iowa --
that you will support the Republican nominee and not run third party?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I`ll give the
same answer I`ve given about 39 times now, that I have no intention of
doing that. I plan to do my very best and see what happens in the next two
months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Ron Paul on Fox last night,
leaving that door wide open on the possibility that he could run as a third
party candidate. It`s an idea that seems to be gaining some momentum as
millions of Americans expect to be distressed by their choice in November,
no matter who the two nominees are.

The latest "USA Today" Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans
believe a third party is needed. In fact, 54 percent of Americans
nationwide believe the two major parties have done such a poor job that a
third party is needed. If someone does run as an independent for
president, which party gets helped and which one gets hurt?

Willie Brown is the former mayor of San Francisco and Michael Steele
is a former RNC chairman, who is also an MSNBC political analyst.

Mr. Mayor, I`m going to start with you because I distinctly remember
1992, a very, very weak -- perceived to be weak Democratic nominee limping
out of the primaries, barely beating Jerry Brown in primaries, a guy named
Bill Clinton.

And you were among some who were going, Well, look, if this Clinton
guy`s going to be this weak, let`s just nominate Perot, because you feared
Perot would hurt Clinton. It turned out Perot helped Clinton. But do you
sense that same feeling in `92 that you saw today in 2012?

WILLIE BROWN (D), FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: I do think that there`s
the distinct possibility of a third party candidacy in the year of 2012. I
also think that the Obama people would not really want that to happen.

There are, obviously, some real difficulties with any third party
candidacy and with the predictability of which party benefits from it. My
guess is almost all of the candidates would prefer for politics to be
played between Republicans and Democrats and no independent involvement.

TODD: Well, it does mess up the math. You know, Michael Steele, it`s
interesting that Mayor Brown says that, only -- only because I can`t -- you
do the numbers and you crunch this, and I go seven out of ten times, and I
think a third party candidacy makes an Obama landslide more likely than we
realize. What do you say?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Actually, I
kind of agree with the mayor there. And it`s good to see the mayor again.
And I think that he`s on to something. I think it really boils down to who
that third party candidate is.

I think, in the case of the GOP, if you`re looking at a Ron Paul
jumping into the third-party ring, yes, he`s going to have an impact,
because he`s going to have a lot of libertarian conservatives and
conservatives generally who are not, you know, enamored with Mitt Romney,
if Romney is the eventual nominee, saying, look, I`m going to go this way,
which opens up a real avenue with independents for Obama.

If it`s Huntsman, on the other hand, Huntsman could very well eat into
that very strong independent base that the president`s going to rely on for
his reelection, which would probably more likely benefit the Republican
nominee.

TODD: You know, Mayor Brown, the other thing that I hear, one of the
theories of the case is, we should stop assuming it`s going to be one, that
we have such a volatile nature in the electorate, Occupy on the left, which
seems to be upset, about a quarter of the American public, Tea Party on the
right, another quarter of the American public, put them together, that`s
half.

You can`t imagine one guy or gal being able to appeal to both of those
populist entities, so maybe we end up with two semi-serious independent
candidacies that get 5 or more percent on the ballot. You in California,
you guys do this a lot.

BROWN: Well, I think it would be a mistake, frankly, to limit the
potential to just Huntsman or Paul.

I genuinely believe that our friend Newt Gingrich is a more distinct
possible third-party candidacy coming out of the Republican operations than
almost anybody else on the ballot. After all...

TODD: What gives you that?

BROWN: Well, he`s the guy that has no real structure for running for
president. He`s the guy that appeared to have abandoned the race some time
ago.

He`s the guy that has a considerable amount of baggage. He`s the guy
that a number of Republicans are already speaking about in a negative
fashion. And Newt is a real fighter. He doesn`t take that easily. And he
will view himself as being a viable candidate for Democrats, for
Republicans, and for everybody else, and that he`s without the need to have
any of the usual party structure.

And if he thinks that way, his ego, I think, is massive enough to
propel him into the race, and for the first time, a real, serious,
mainstream party politician running as a third-party candidate. That,
persons should fear more than anything else.

TODD: You know, Michael Steele, actually, Mayor Brown brings up an
interesting issue. The Republican Party establishment not treating Newt
Gingrich very nicely. If you do perceive to alienate him, it could push
him -- and I have noticed that, for instance, with Ron Paul, in fact, there
seems to be almost be a concerted effort, particularly on that stage with
those candidates, where they`re like, no, no, no, we love you, Ron Paul,
stay here.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: You`re my boy.

TODD: Right. We`re seeing a little bit more of that, because they
have seen those polls. Paul would be just a real problem for a Republican
nominee.

STEELE: Well, I think you`re dead-on there, Chuck.

I think the way they`re going after Newt right now -- and it`s
visceral. I mean, people are reacting. The establishment`s reacting in
every quarter against him. I mean, you know, yes, I`m sure it`s stinging
Newt very strongly. I don`t know if it stings him strong enough to want to
buck the party and go third party.

I just don`t see that element in place. I do give credence, though,
to what the mayor just said about how it could potentially play out with
certainly the two that we have already mentioned and having Newt Gingrich
kind of lingering in the wings, thinking about this thing, particularly if
this savage beating he`s getting continues.

TODD: You know, these wildfires in politics always start out West,
Mayor Brown.

I know that Americans Elect, which is this entity that is trying to
get on the ballot in all 50 states, they claim they`re not a third party,
just a third way to get on the ballot, and that whoever`s the nominee then
has to find somebody of their opposite party.

Getting -- what -- are they getting buzz in California or is this idea
of somebody else getting buzz in California? It just strikes me that we
would hear it there first because of the volatility you guys have been
experiencing in politics, frankly, more than we have.

BROWN: Well, at the moment the Democrats dominate California.

There`s a huge independent base, but the independent base is to the
left of the Democratic Party in California. There virtually is no real
significant Tea Party movement in California or real conservative movement
in California. So, no, there does not appear to be the kind of volatility
surrounding a potential oddball third-party independent challenge that you
are seeing in some of the other states. California is pretty much in the
box as it relates to Democrats.

TODD: And, Michael Steele, any CEOs out there that you think of,
business world folks? Who is that you think could be viable?

STEELE: For a third party?

TODD: Yes.

STEELE: Oh, man, that`s hard to say.

I mean, you know, you got -- you have got some folks in the business
community who may look at something like this, but I will tell you, the
politics right now, Chuck, as you know, in this town is so poisoned. A lot
of the business community -- you can see this with the money. They`re
sitting back. And I can`t see someone actually jumping into this thing and
saying, I`m going to put my name into the ring that way.

TODD: Yes.

STEELE: And having said everything that I have said so far about
this, at the end of the day, I still think that it`s not that likely that a
third-party candidate`s going to emerge, because it`s just not practical
from the standpoint of jumping in this thing at the time they`d have to
jump in to do it, to get on those ballots and to be successful in the fall
without helping or hurting one candidate or the other.

TODD: Well, I didn`t mean to try to stump you there, but I wanted to
make that point. There`s the issue here. There is no obvious person.
There is no Ross Perot.

STEELE: That`s right.

TODD: There is no George Wallace. There is no obvious, obvious
third-party candidate.

Willie Brown, Michael Steele, always a pleasure to talk to you both.

STEELE: You got it.

BROWN: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: All right.

Up next, which Republican presidential candidate earned a 12th pants
on fire rating from our friends over at PolitiFact for not telling truth at
last night`s debate again? That`s next on the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Back to HARDBALL. Now time for the "Sideshow."

First up, busted. During last night`s Republican debate, candidate
Michele Bachmann found herself in need of some backup. Where did she turn
during that tiff with Newt Gingrich over the money he brought in from
Freddie Mac after leaving Congress? Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The speaker had
his hand out and he was taking $1. 6 million to influence senior
Republicans to keep the scam going in Washington, D.C.

We can`t have as our nominee for the Republican Party someone who
continues to stand for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What she just said is
factually not true. I never lobbied under any circumstance.

BACHMANN: Well, after the debates that we had last week, PolitiFact
came out and said that everything that I said was true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Or maybe not.

He`s what the team at PolitiFact did back up among Bachmann`s claim,
that, until recently, Newt Gingrich has been advocating for the individual
mandate. But there was also this statement from Bachmann at the last
debate: "If you look at Mitt Romney as the governor of Massachusetts, he`s
the only governor that put into place socialized medicine."

Well, that line actually earned Bachmann her 11th pants on fire rating
from PolitiFact. And now that she`s claimed that the group endorsed
everything she said at the debate, PolitiFact has awarded Bachmann pants on
fire number 12.

I have a feeling the Gingrich campaign may pass that around after last
night`s little back-and-forth with Bachmann.

Also, Rick Perry may have gotten the least amount of speaking time at
last night`s debate. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. But he did manage to
give us one of the more standout quotes of the evening.

The topic, would Rick Perry`s debating skills really be able to hold
up against President Obama? Here`s Perry`s attempt at reassuring
Republican voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m kind of getting
where I like these debates. As a matter of fact, I hope Obama and I debate
a lot.

There are a lot of folks that said Tim Tebow wasn`t going to be a very
good NFL quarterback. There are people that stood up and said, well, he
doesn`t have the right throwing mechanisms, or he doesn`t -- you know, he
is not playing the game right.

And, you know, he won two national championships. And that looked
pretty good. We`re the national champions in job creation back in Texas.
And so -- but am I ready for the next level? Let me tell you, I hope I am
the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: I have to say, it was pretty clever. I love throwing mechanics
-- throwing mechanics. Anyway, the trouble is Tebow is known for the
terrible starts and fantastic finishes. So, obviously, Perry is hoping
that he did the terrible start and he gets the fantastic finish. We shall
see.

By the way, the Tim Tebow shout-out wasn`t also just a throwaway,
being an evangelical, lots of evangelicals in Iowa, which is the true focus
right now of the Perry campaign.

And finally: playing the Nazi card. When will politicians learn?
Republican Representative Allen West from Florida is known for slamming his
opponents with incendiary comments. But this one ramps it up a notch.
Yesterday, West was asked to comment on a recent Pew poll that found that a
plurality of Americans, 40 percent, blamed Republicans alone for the
constant gridlock in Congress.

His response -- quote -- "If Joseph Goebbels was around, he would be
very proud of the Democratic Party because they have an incredible
propaganda machine."

All right, let`s think about that for a moment. West is comparing
Democrats to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, an anti-
Semite so fanatical that when it became clear that Germany had lost the
war, he murdered his six children and then committed suicide with his wife.

West`s office released a statement saying that his comments were not
anti-Semitic and attempts to call them that are an example of the
propaganda machine he mentioned originally.

OK. That defense isn`t holding up with many of West`s colleagues, who
are still calling for an immediate apology.

And, Congressman West, a lot of Floridians were Jewish that you
represent.

All right, up next, a lot of conservatives don`t want to see Newt
Gingrich win the Republican nomination. And we have got a list of some of
their most scathing attacks. This is a pile-on like we haven`t seen in a
long time inside the Republican Party.

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 ends down about two points. The S&P
500 finished up four. And the Nasdaq gained about 14.33.

While the markets were little changed today, it`s a different story
for the shares of Research In Motion. Late Thursday, the maker of the
BlackBerry reported a sharp drop in quarterly profits. It also said its
highly anticipated new smartphones would be delayed until late next year.
That sent the stock down 11 percent.

Shares of Zynga debuted today on the Nasdaq, but the maker of the
popular games like "FarmVille" and "Words With Friends" ended the day 5
percent lower.

Inflation was under wraps last month. That`s according to the latest
read on prices. The Consumer Price Index was unchanged in November as
energy prices slumped. And six former executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac are facing fraud charges. Securities regulators say they misled the
government and taxpayers about how many subprime mortgages were on their
books.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Let me tell you something. The Republican
establishment will never make peace with Newt Gingrich. They just won`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if they spoke out...

SCARBOROUGH: No, no. But I`m saying is they won`t -- this is an
important point -- because the Republicans I talk to say he cannot win the
nomination at any cost. He will destroy our party. He will reelect Barack
Obama and we will be ruined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Well, an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" certainly set that message
this week.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Conservative opinion-writers seem to also agree with Joe Scarborough.

"The New Yorker"`s Ryan Lizza pulled together some of the best lines
from the deluge of Gingrich takedowns that Acela corridor folks,
conservative columnists have written from New York to Washington.

We took that list, along with some of its bonus phrases, as the basis
for a look at the conservative reaction to Gingrich -- the conservative
elite. We should really put it in that box there.

David Corn is an MSNBC political analyst and Washington bureau chief
for "Mother Jones" magazine. John Feehery, a Republican strategist who
worked on the Hill during the Gingrich era, has seen up close how he
operates.

All right. Let`s go right to some of these columns.

Conservative columnist George Will gives perhaps the most literary of
the Gingrich takedowns, not surprising, writing: "Gingrich embodies the
vanity and rapacity that makes modern Washington repulsive. There is
almost artistic vulgarity in Gingrich`s unrepresented role as a hired
larynx for interests profiting from such government follies as ethanol and
cheap mortgages."

Wow.

John Feehery, now, George Will in that column does take note that his
wife works for Rick Perry. I don`t think that had anything to do with Rick
Perry.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: That`s a pretty tough column.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: So I guess we will put Will down
as an undecided?

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Undeclared delegate, yes.

FEEHERY: You know, to know -- to know Newt is to love him, I guess.

I would say, though, this whole concept that the Republican
establishment is against Newt Gingrich is a little bit of overkill. I
mean, there are certain people who worked with Newt Gingrich who have some
scores to settle with Newt Gingrich, and are looking to kind of stab him
back in the back. And those are the ones who are very, very anti-Newt.

And then there are other folks like the guys from the class of 1994
who just didn`t think Newt was a very effective speaker, who don`t like
him, and want him not to get the nomination.

And then, you know, there`s, like, the other folks like George Will,
who have close ties to other campaigns.

Now, Newt is a very interesting character. He`s got some really good
ideas and a lot of really bad ideas.

And I`ve always thought that Newt was an interesting speaker. At
times, I think he`s needlessly polarizing, which really kind of detracts
from his bigger message as progressive conservatism.

TODD: Right.

FEEHERY: Like old conservative opportunity society, Jack Kemp and
some other folks. You know, people like Newt, but they don`t want him to
be president.

TODD: It`s funny you should bring up Jack Kemp. But Newt tries to
claim he`s a right wing conservative and he wants to be the Reagan mantle.
And Newt was one of the Kemp guys, and the Kemp guys were sort of a
different breed -- David Corn, you know this. But, boy, some of this
stuff, it`s not just George Will. I mean, it`s gone on and on and on.

And even, I mean, Quinn Hillyer, he writes, "As personally
trustworthy as Joe Isuzu."

In case you forgot who Joe Isuzu was, here`s who he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE ISUZU: Hi, you want to save $2 million? It`s easy. Just buy
1,000 Isuzu Troopers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: And then he continues, "A history of extravagant and self-
defeating utterances, no debate can help Newt after his lizardry."

He`s a senior editor of "American Spectator" but he was also a Hill
guy. I mean, Quinn, originally, before he went back to writing columns, he
had a lot of experience on the Hill.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: When you hire somebody for a job, what`s
the most important thing to do? Check their references.

And what -- you just heard John say this. The class of `94, the
people who brought Newt to power, who he led -- remember he talks about his
leadership abilities, even teaches at military academies about this -- the
people who he led believes that he is not a good leader. That he`s
undisciplined, he`s unfocused.

And I think John has a great slogan. He has a lot of good ideas and
a lot of bad ideas. I think when it comes to a president, eventually --
now, the Republican primary voters may go off the cliff nor guy, but he`s
going to be a very hard sell to anybody who looks to a president to be a
stable force, to someone who is sober, who doesn`t throw bombs.

I mean, the essence of Newt is bomb-throwing. I think in a lot of
ways, he`s been the Charlie Sheen of Washington.

TODD: That`s a rough statement.

You know, John Feehery, one guy that actually should be for him in an
odd way is "New York Times" columnist David Brooks, who "The Times" might
say is a conservative, conservatives say he`s not, but he`s clearly a
center-right columnist. He writes, "He has every negative character trait
that conservatives associate with the `60s excess: narcissism, self-
righteousness, self-indulgence, intemperance."

And now, in Brooks` defense, it was a column going, "I should be for
Newt." He`s a guy that sort of likes government, but he couldn`t do it,
and it seemed to be personal.

FEEHERY: I`ve always thought that Newt is more of a Henry Clay type
of leader -- for the speaker who really wanted to transform the role of
speaker, and also believed in an activist government.

He`s a big concrete guy. He believes that government has a role in
health care. He`s not one of your 1920s, Joe Cannon type speakers, who
wants government to do absolutely nothing.

So, in a sense, you`re right. David Brooks should be with him. But
Brooks also doesn`t like the fact that Newt can kind of flame out and say
something crazy, and you know, he says a lot of crazy things. And it`s
hard to be president if you say a lot of crazy things.

TODD: But, David Corn, let me present an alternative theory here.
We`re all judging Newt Gingrich in the box that he`s in today. If he shows
the discipline to somehow beat Mitt Romney in a long fight and in June has
the 1,000 -- I think it`s going to be 1,215 delegates that he needs to be
the nominee, doesn`t that prove some of the skeptics wrong? And he`s
actually viewed a little bit differently.

CORN: There are a lot of people that will bet you $10,000 --

TODD: All right, that`s funny. I hear you.

CORN: No, Chuck, you`re right. If he can sort of take this moment -
-

TODD: If.

CORN: But people have been watching him for 30 years. He had this
moment before. It was called being speaker of the House of
Representatives, you know, maybe the second most powerful job in
Washington, and he blew that opportunity.

TODD: All right.

CORN: And we`ve seen him again and again not know when to stop or
when to be someone other than his true Newt.

TODD: David, I --

FEEHERY: Real quick?

TODD: John, I can`t. They just yelled at me in my ear.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I talk too much. John Feehery, I`ll see you on the basketball
court. David Corn, thank you both.

Up next, to hear Republicans tell it, President Obama is selling out
our ally, Israel. But what do Israelis actually think? We`re going to go
to Tel Aviv for the answer, next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Baseball`s official all-time home run king, Barry Bonds, has
been sentenced to 30 days house arrest for giving misleading testimony to a
grand jury. Prosecutors wanted him to spend 15 months in prison, saying
house arrest for a guy who lives in a 15,000 square foot house in Beverly
Hills isn`t much of a punishment. I think not being in the Hall of Fame is
pretty big punishment for Barry Bonds these days.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to say that
no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel`s security than
ours. None.

On my watch, the United States of America has led the way, from
Durban to the United Nations against attempts to use international forms to
de-legitimatize Israel. And we will continue to do so. That`s what
friends and allies do for each other.

So don`t let anybody else tell a different story. We have been
there. And we will continue to be there. Those are the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: We are back.

That was President Obama this afternoon, defending his record on
Israel to a Jewish group in Washington.

It`s a topic that Republican presidential candidates have used to
attack him. They say his policies in the region have hurt the Jewish state
and emboldened hardliners on the other side.

But did one Republican go too far last week? Newt Gingrich made
inflammatory statements about the Palestinians calling them, quote, "an
invented people."

How is the race being viewed in Israel and the region? Who better to
bring in -- Martin Fletcher, special correspondent, of course, for NBC
News. More importantly the author of a new novel about post-World War II
England called "The List". Good stocking stuffer, also on the menorah.

He joins us now from Tel Aviv.

Martin, one of I think the misconceptions for folks that are only
following Mideast politics through the presidential race right now is
they`re going to somehow get the picture that President Obama is unpopular
in Israel. That`s not the case, is it, right now?

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s
changing. When Obama was first elected, his approval rating here in Israel
was in single figures, less than 10 percent. Now, the latest polls show
that around 53 percent of Israelis believe Obama is doing a good job.
There`s been quite a dramatic change, obviously, in that period.

And, yes, you know, this -- first of all, the statement we just heard
from President Obama, that really sounded heartfelt, didn`t it? There`s
clearly a serious sense among his people that you need to impress upon
Jews, upon Israelis, especially Jewish voters in America that Obama is with
Israel.

And I think here in Israel, as I say, the sense is changing, and
there is a feeling that, whereas in the beginning of his administration, he
was too openly pushing for reform in the Arab world to the detriment of
Israel, that`s now changed, they feel.

TODD: Obviously that U.N. speech and the decision to do everything
they could to hold off that referendum inside the United Nations that the
Palestinians were circulating was a big help. But what about how the
Republican race is being viewed in Israel? For instance, the Newt Gingrich
comments about calling the Palestinians an invented people. Would -- how
many members of the Likud Party would say something like that?

FLETCHER: It`s good question. Actually, quite a few. I`m not sure
how many would really mean it.

And that the -- the thing is that, by saying that, Gingrich became --
I think he was seen as a little bit more Catholic than the pope, more
Jewish than the rabbi, maybe. He went too far.

After all, Israeli leaders have won the Nobel Peace Prize, Begin, and
Rabin, and Peres, for the Oslo agreement with the Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat. You know, the Palestinians are a people. The Israeli government`s
official position is that there should be a two-state solution, they should
make peace eventually with the Palestinians.

So, to say that Palestinians are invented people, that didn`t go down
that well. The editorialists in the newspapers, a lot of the conversation
among the people on TV was, it isn`t true, it simply isn`t true. Having
said that, by the way, historians will say the Palestinians, as a people,
were a fairly recent concoction of Arabs. But you know --

TODD: That`s pretty much the entire Middle East map.

FLETCHER: Exactly. I mean, the whole map --

TODD: Yes.

FLETCHER: That`s right. I mean, the whole map was drawn by the
colonialists. It`s almost all artificial, and the Palestinians are no more
artificial than anybody else.

But the key point is the Israeli government has decided openly and
publicly and officially that a two-state solution is the way forward. So,
it didn`t go very well. It didn`t sound very smart, frankly.

TODD: Yes. I`ve got to leave it there. Your new book is called
"The List." It`s a novel for holidays, folks. Check it out.

Thank you, Martin Fletcher.

Coming up, we`re going to remember the brilliant Christopher
Hitchens, and if I`m going to find a bottle of scotch, I`m going to find it
real quickly.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIA BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last night, Christopher Hitchens lost his battle with cancer.
Hitchens was one of the most talented writers for our time. He was
merciless, erudite, brilliant, outrageous, always, always entertaining. No
one was safe from Hitchens` most devastating weapon, his wit, not Princess
Diana, not Mother Teresa, not even God.

And we loved having him here on HARDBALL. Chris Matthews just loves
him. Here are just a few of the most memorable moments of Chris Hitchens
from this show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

CHRIS HITCHENS: I`m not that big on Obama. But I think it`s become
morally and intellectually impossible to vote for the Republicans, and if
you`d like, I`ll say why.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Go, sir.

HITCHENS: Well, it seems to me, I hate to say it in a way, but it
has to be said, and I think a lot of people are noticing, John McCain is a
lot older than he was in January, a lot older, and it shows. And he sounds
querulous. He looks weird. He automatically raises the question, with all
the collapsing scenery speeches that he`s making, you never know what he`s
going to say next. So, you got a feeling he doesn`t know either.

He therefore makes very majors to consider the question, well, who
has his picked for his caretaker? Which makes it doubly, triply, quadruply
more disgraceful, he`s picked someone who is not by any stretch of the
imagination qualified. Maybe not to be governor of Alaska.

MATTHEWS: Let`s just talk about George W. Bush. My sense is that
even eight days out, he`s failed to close the people with the American
people, with all this opportunity.

HITCHENS: Oh, sure.

MATTHEWS: Of desire of the American people, a change, a turning over
the pillow, a change in the guard, whatever they want to call it, a
cleaning of the barn, as Ross Perot used to say, there is still this
hesitancy to say, yes, Bush, yes. What`s that about?

HITCHENS: Well, because he`s managed lucky to be governor of Texas.

MATTHEWS: Because?

HITCHENS: Well, because he`s unusually incurious, abnormally
unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured,
extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of these things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our human rights don`t come from government.
They come from our creator.

HITCHENS: Sir, you are being very stubborn. This does not say
Christian. At any point, it doesn`t even imply it. The person who put in
the word self-evident on that committee was Ben Franklin, who was
undoubtedly an atheist.

The main draft of the Thomas Jefferson was by no means a Christian.
George Washington wouldn`t take communion. It`s all true.

MATTHEWS: You called Mother Teresa a thieving fanatically Albanian
dwarf.

HITCHENS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, anything you say about Barack Obama is puny compared
to that.

HITCHENS: That`s nothing to what she said when she took up her Nobel
Prize award and made a speech and said the main threat to world peace is
abortion and contraception. They`re moral equivalence of murder. I mean,
come on.

MATTHEWS: And Princess Diana is a simpering Bambi narcissist.

HITCHENS: That`s also true.

MATTHEWS: OK. So, what do you think of Barack Obama?

HITCHENS: At least no one tried to give Princess Diana the Nobel
Peace Prize. Though, they did give it to another person involved in the
landmine --

MATTHEWS: What is wrong with him taking it?

HITCHENS: Well, it would be like giving someone an Oscar in the hope
he would one day make a good motion picture.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

TODD: There he is, Christopher Hitchens unplugged. Christopher
Hitchens was 62 years old.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>


More on TODAY.com

  1. Ann and Steve Toon/Solent News

    Two abandoned baby hedgehogs get some TLC after a prickly start

    7/30/2014 6:42:41 PM +00:00 2014-07-30T18:42:41
  1. Michael Dwyer / AP

    Five cases when buyer's remorse will cost you big

    7/30/2014 9:03:12 PM +00:00 2014-07-30T21:03:12
  1. Courtesy Graves family

    Death-defying: Mom battled cancer while ‘feisty’ baby waited for a new heart

    7/30/2014 2:52:11 PM +00:00 2014-07-30T14:52:11
  1. Strike on Gaza shopping area kills at least a dozen, wounds 150

    An Israeli airstrike hit a crowded Gaza shopping area on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 150, just hours after Israeli tank shells slammed into a U.N. school, Gaza health officials said.

    7/30/2014 5:38:37 PM +00:00 2014-07-30T17:38:37