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updated 1/5/2012 1:28:58 PM ET 2012-01-05T18:28:58

Guests: Howard Fineman, Steve Schmidt, Courtney Reagan, Jennifer Donahue, James Pindell, Joseph McQuaid, Judd Gregg, Joan Walsh, David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Anybody but Romney?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews at the Armory in Manchester, New
Hampshire, where in just six days, this commonwealth will hold its first-
in-the-country primary.

Leading off tonight: Is he the great contender? Who is Rick Santorum?
Is he the guy movement conservatives can finally rally around to defeat
Mitt Romney, who again last night was rejected by three quarters of Iowa
Republicans? Or is he a one-hit wonder, this year`s Mike Huckabee? Romney
has the money, the organization and the patience to outrun Santorum, but
does his side have the passion?

Also, the right-wing empire is about to strike back. Michele Bachmann
dropped out today. Her voters are a lot more likely to stick a Santorum
sign on their yards than a Romney one. Jon Huntsman`s all about knocking
off Romney personally. And for Newt Gingrich, it`s not business, it`s
strictly personal. Get ready, Mitt. The right`s coming at you.

Plus, will the Republicans sign an "ABM" treaty -- anybody but Mitt?
Can a coalition of Santorum, Gingrich and Perry voters be formed to stop
Romney?

And is Team Obama happy right now? Not as happy as you`d think. They
love that Romney didn`t win big out there in Iowa, but they worry that
Santorum will be just the latest anti-Romney whose bubble is going to
burst.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the importance, and the big
importance, of New Hampshire.

We start with Rick Santorum. Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political
analyst and the Huffington Post Media Group editorial director. And Steve
Schmidt worked on the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and ran the 2008 McCain
campaign. Steve`s also an MSNBC political analyst.

Gentlemen, last night was interesting. Tonight begins the more
interesting test. Last night, Romney came out on top, though only by 8
votes. And that`s not 8 percentage points, that`s 8 individual voters`
votes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Rick Santorum, for all intents and purposes, tied Romney
last night. Ron Paul came in third, and Newt Gingrich was a distant but
important fourth.

Howard, I think it was important that Gingrich grabbed that fourth.
He`s still in the running. He`s in the top four. He`s not in the money,
as you`d say.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Yes.

MATTHEWS: But let me ask you about this. Let`s talk really big now.
If you`re the president in the White House, you`re David Plouffe, if you`re
Axelrod, if you`re all the big thinkers, Valerie Jarrett and the rest of
them, and you`re Mitt Romney, are you worried that you might be seeing the
beginning of the unity on the right, that they`re beginning to realize that
one of the two guys will probably be the counter to Romney -- that`s either
Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich? One of the two will probably have to carry
the banner.

Are they beginning to coalesce, that 75 percent that just doesn`t like
Romney?

FINEMAN: The short answer is no. They`re not coalescing just yet.
And Rick Santorum has to prove here in New Hampshire that he`s a guy to
coalesce around. If he hits a trough here and does poorly here, that will
reinforce the notion that he was only the seventh and last temporary front-
runner in Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: And so no, I don`t think so. And I think the fact that Rick
Perry decided to stay in the race, at least until South Carolina, is not
meant as a pro-Rick Santorum move. If anything, that might benefit Mitt
Romney. Mitt Romney`s whole plan here...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... is to keep the rest as divided as long as possible, and
Rick Perry`s still appealing to Protestant evangelicals in the South.
Don`t forget you have...

MATTHEWS: He`s the only one.

FINEMAN: You have the odd situation here -- not to get too
theological about it, but you`ve got a Mormon and two Catholics in Romney,
Santorum and Gingrich. The Southern Protestant vote in the Republican
Party is still out there. That`s Perry`s theory.

But I think what Perry`s really doing is doing Mitt Romney a favor by
trying to keep things divided...

MATTHEWS: Why is he working for Romney?

FINEMAN: Well, I don`t know that he is, but I think he wants...

MATTHEWS: That`s the first thing I thought of this morning...

FINEMAN: I can`t -- I can`t...

MATTHEWS: ... when I heard he`s staying in this thing.

FINEMAN: I can`t prove that it`s a deal...

MATTHEWS: OK.

FINEMAN: ... but that`s clearly what the intent is.

MATTHEWS: OK, Steve Schmidt, now, take your Romney hat off
completely. And I know you`re rooting for the guy, maybe because you think
he`s the only guy that can beat Obama. But take the hat off. I know it`s
a big hat. It`s a heavy one for you. Take off the burden of thinking he`s
your guy and think intellectually. You`re Romney right now. You`re the
brains around him. Do you think there`s a good or a bad chance the enemy
will unite?

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
I think that you have to be encouraged if you`re on the Romney campaign,
which I`m not a member of, Chris, despite that. That Rick Perry staying in
the race in South Carolina -- I mean, four years ago, in 2008, the most
important thing that happened to John McCain in terms of being able to win
the South Carolina primary, which set up the Florida victory, which set up
his ability to be the nominee, was Fred Thompson staying in the race...

MATTHEWS: Right.

SCHMIDT: It siphoned just enough votes away from Mike Huckabee...

MATTHEWS: So what`s the motive...

SCHMIDT: ... to put John McCain...

MATTHEWS: ... of Perry?

SCHMIDT: ... over the top. I think that politicians act in their own
self-interest. It`s not a team sport. I think Rick Perry is saying that
he wants to go out there, he wants to end this on his own terms, he wants
to see if he can have a couple good debate performances.

Hope springs eternal in this business, so I don`t think that Rick
Perry`s calculations are about, how does it affect Rick Santorum or how
does it affect Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: OK...

SCHMIDT: I think it`s about, how does it affect Rick Perry.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take this whole thing -- I want you to pick up
here and then go back to Howard on this, Steve. You know the Republican
Party. You were very effective up here in New Hampshire with McCain
winning up here. Let me ask you about -- last time around.

Let me ask you about this thing with what I call this sort of the
Catholic angry vote that came up here, the people that moved out of
Massachusetts, moved up here -- not the old Yankees that have been here for
generations, back to the Mayflower people, Irish, Italian, French Canadian,
different kinds of people that moved up here.

They liked Pat Buchanan. They`re pro-life. They`re gritty, gritty
Catholics. Do you think that`s a vote that Santorum can nab in just five
or six days?

SCHMIDT: Well, I`m not sure that Rick Santorum is going to be able to
win the New Hampshire primary. I think that Romney has built his firewall
there. I think the question is, can Rick Santorum move into double digits?
Can he finish second in New Hampshire? Can he finish close to Ron Paul?
Does he have momentum coming out of New Hampshire, which sets up a must-win
state for him, which I think is South Carolina?

I think that if Rick Santorum is going to take...

MATTHEWS: Well said.

SCHMIDT: ... this primary deep, he`s going to have to win somewhere,
and he`s going to have to win in South Carolina, and he`s going to have to
win in Florida, or be close in Florida to go the distance.

MATTHEWS: Whoa! Be close in Florida. Yes. But he -- in other
words, he has to -- that`s a good point. I think I think his logic there
makes sense. Santorum has to do well enough up here in New Hampshire this
Tuesday, next Tuesday, to be strong enough in South Carolina to win.

FINEMAN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Can he win if -- if Mitt -- if Gingrich is still floating
around and Perry`s still floating around?

FINEMAN: Well, that makes it difficult. But Rick -- as I said, if
Rick Santorum is going to be the guy they`re going to rally around, he`s
got to do well here. Just getting into double digits, by the way, is not
enough. I think if he finishes behind Ron Paul, for example, that`s a
disaster...

MATTHEWS: Well, right now...

FINEMAN: ... for Santorum.

MATTHEWS: ... he`s starting at 43 for Romney, and he`s 5.

FINEMAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So how high does he have to climb between 5 and 43?

FINEMAN: Well, I think he -- listen, politics is not fair. The
expectations are raised for him now.

MATTHEWS: Is 35-25 good enough for him? Is that a win?

FINEMAN: That would be a dream come true for Rick Santorum, are you
kidding, if he could get 25 percent here?

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s set the bar right now, tonight. Let`s --
everybody tries to set the bar. Let`s do it here on HARDBALL. Steve
Schmidt, if it`s a 35-25 result up here for Romney in first, Santorum in
second, is that a win for Rick?

SCHMIDT: Yes. I think that gives him the momentum he needs to come
into South Carolina pretty strong. But he`s going to need to have a pretty
strong second place showing in New Hampshire, maybe third place, but he`s
got to be real close to where Ron Paul is if he`s going to be in that third
place position.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FINEMAN: That`s going to be tough.

MATTHEWS: Well, now we`re the experts. I love having you guys on
because I think you know your stuff. Back to you, Steve. What number does
Santorum have to get up here to get Newt to recognize that he`s really a
supporting team right now, he`s an assister, he has to give the ball for
the other guy to win the shot down in South Carolina? Does he have to get
up that close, a 10-point spread for Newt to say basically, This ain`t my
year. It may be Rick Santorum`s year, and I hate Romney so much, I don`t
care who beats him, as long as he loses?

SCHMIDT: Boy, it`s tough to get inside Newt Gingrich`s head. You saw
that speech last night. I thought it was the most remarkable concession
speech I`ve ever seen in politics, where he essentially declared, I`m going
to be the blocking fullback for Rick Santorum in the race.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: Yes.

SCHMIDT: He`s clearly very angry. His face was dripping with anger
last night in that concession speech.

I don`t know what makes him tick. He`s called himself a world
historical figure. Does a world historical figure get out of the race,
throw the reins to -- you know, to another candidate? I just don`t know.
But certainly, I think that Newt Gingrich is going to play a big factor in
this race in the days ahead and he`s going to play a big role in these
debates, which are going to be very important this week.

MATTHEWS: Is this going to be right out of Dickens, It`s a far better
thing that I`ve ever done...

FINEMAN: Oh, I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to give it to Santorum?

FINEMAN: No. The word "give" and Newt Gingrich...

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: ... don`t quite go together. Listen, I think Steve is right
in what he said earlier, which is politics is not a team sport. And I
think for now, Newt`s rationale is that he is going to stay away from Rick
Santorum and go after...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, but not push him.

FINEMAN: Yes, not -- but I don`t think...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: ... down the road that that`s necessarily going to be true.

MATTHEWS: Let`s (INAUDIBLE) what we saw -- those of us who stayed up
late at night, and we were all here, watch what happened last night.
Here`s Rick Santorum attacking the notion that Mitt Romney is more
electable than he is. Let`s watch. This is the beginning of what he hopes
is the end for Mitt Romney. This is Newt Gingrich. (SIC)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People asked
me, Well, why do you think you can win? Because we`ve been told by so many
people that there`s another candidate in this race who is running a rather
close race with me tonight...

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: ... that is a better person to choose because he can win.
Let me tell you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Romney care"!

SANTORUM: What wins -- what did you say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Romney care."

SANTORUM: Oh, "Romney care." OK. I just didn`t hear you.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: What wins -- what wins in America are bold ideas, sharp
contrasts and a plan that includes everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Steve, let`s talk about how the knife comes out. We saw --
we`ve seen the dagger of Gingrich. He`s pulled it out. He said the dagger
is abortion rights. It`s paying for abortion in the Massachusetts health
care plan. It`s putting Planned Parenthood people on the board up here,
all these assaults he`s been trying to make already at -- at -- at Romney.

And now the question is, can he join with the ultimate pro-lifer,
Santorum, and bring all those conservative Catholics aboard for Santorum up
here next Tuesday and surprise Romney by getting up around 25 percent or
more?

SCHMIDT: I -- I do think that he`s going to come up in New Hampshire.
How high he goes, I don`t know. New Hampshire is not a state that`s going
to be driven by the social conservative message. It`s the economic
populist message that I think is going to be much more impactful for Rick
Santorum.

MATTHEWS: Right.

SCHMIDT: And I think you saw that message previewed to great effect
last night. I thought that his first speech to the national audience
really looking at him through the prism of a potential nominee was a major
league performance. And we`ll see how he acquits himself up there over
next week.

MATTHEWS: Didn`t he sound like Pat Buchanan in the sense that
Buchanan won up here in `96, almost won in `92 against the senior Bush,
beat Dole up here with that message, a combination of pro-life underpinning
-- everybody knows you`re pro-life -- and then make the economic argument?
That`s what Santorum did last night.

FINEMAN: Yes, I know, but I agree with Steve. If he goes the
Buchanan route, that`s a dead end. Rick Santorum thinks of himself as a
guy who can marry cultural conservatism with -- with economics, and he`s
got...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: He`s got to stress the economic message up here, and he`s
got to do it in a way that gets a new generation of voters here. And by
the way, on the Catholic thing, Chris, I think it`s true as far as you take
it, but that`s not what the main aim of Rick Santorum is going to be here.
He`s going to go after secular people who want some kind of new leadership
that doesn`t seem manufactured and pre-made and phony.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: A big part of what Rick Santorum is going to do here is
appeal to the New Hampshirites` love of authenticity and say, you know, We
don`t want some manufactured guy. We want some guy who seems like a real
character. And that`s something that`s different from religion, a
different appeal from religion.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And that`s what Santorum is going to try to do and that`s
what he`s going to have to do here.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what it sounded like last night. I thought
that speech last night, as you said...

SCHMIDT: It was very real.

MATTHEWS: ... as you said last night, Steve...

SCHMIDT: It was very real.

MATTHEWS: ... was a wonderful story of a family coming to America...

SCHMIDT: Very real.

MATTHEWS: ... two generations ago, the big hands of the father -- the
grandfather, rather, talking about that in the coffin. That`s pretty
graphic stuff, but it`s very American for many of the people up here who
come from immigrant pasts just a couple of generations ago.

Thank you very much, Steve Schmidt. You`re a great guy. Thank you,
Howard Fineman.

Coming up: Get ready for the fireworks. Newt Gingrich is coming after
Mitt Romney. This is personal, like in "The Godfather," only the opposite.
It is a business. This is personal. And Huntsman has built his whole
career, it seems now, on beating -- on beating Romney, and Santorum now has
to. This is three-on-one, ladies and gentlemen, three-on-one going after
Mitt. Let`s see how he holds up, up here in his home turf.

You`re watching HARDBALL, from the Armory, or the Armory, in
Manchester, New Hampshire, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Newt Gingrich, starting with my
exchange with him in Iowa this past Sunday, has made it clear he`s changing
strategy and now intends to go after Romney in the coming days in hopes he
can recover some of the damage inflicted upon him by that barrage of
negative anti-Gingrich advertising which was done by the pro-Romney super-
PAC out in Iowa. Is this smart strategy, or a desperate last measure? Is
this personal or business?

James Pindell is the political director for WMUR, the big TV station
up here in Manchester, and Jennifer Donahue is our pro, our fellow at the
Eisenhower Institute. Thank you, Jennifer.

And let me -- let me start with you because you`ve had the hot hand
for this personal stuff. I want to go after the -- it seems to me if you
are Mitt Romney coming home to New England -- he has a place up in Lake
Winnepesaukee in the summer. He`s part of this New England thing, and
there`s a lot of regionalism up here, parochialism, if you will. He`s got
Huntsman, who`s built his entire notion of who he is on the guy that can
beat him up here, beat Romney up here. You`ve got Santorum, who`s just
coming off a virtual tie with Romney out in Iowa who`s got to prove himself
up here. You`ve got Gingrich, who`s in kind of a vendetta. He`s got his
knife out for Romney.

Do these three people coming up here -- can they bring Romney down
from the 43 percent he`s at, starting this fight, down to somewhere where
they can whittle him down, and then one of them can beat him up here? Is
that doable?

JENNIFER DONAHUE, EISENHOWER INSTITUTE: You know, it`s a tall order
to beat Romney, but I will say they will whittle him down. And that`s the
intent of every one of them, including Ron Paul, who has a solid base of
supporters in the state and is eroding part of Romney`s appeal to
independents.

I think you`re going to see Romney`s numbers fall to earth. He is
capped at 25 percent. Seventy-five percent of conservatives do not like
Mitt Romney. I talked to a number of conservative activists in New
Hampshire today, where I`m heading tonight to join you up there.

And I do think that the Catholic vote means something, Chris. Sixty
percent of New Hampshire is Catholic. Rick Santorum is Catholic. Rick
Santorum has a great story. He has a personal narrative. If Newt Gingrich
goes negative, Rick Santorum stays positive, you`ve got a one-two punch.
You`ve got people pressing the indies on the side of Ron Paul and Huntsman.
And you could see Romney fall to earth.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the people up here. My old boss, Tip
O`Neill, when I worked for him as (INAUDIBLE) used to say that New
Hampshire`s so conservative and so anti-government, they don`t like taxes,
obviously, "Taxachusetts," they don`t even like the parks. They don`t even
like the basic stuff that government does.

The fact that Romney is associated with "Romney care," the fact that
he was a moderate governor in nearby Massachusetts, how come that hasn`t
hurt him yet?

JAMES PINDELL, WMUR: Look, number one, Chris, this state is a lot
different than it was in the back in the Tip O`Neill days.

MATTHEWS: OK, how so?

PINDELL: Well, number one, we voted for a Democratic president, you
know, three out of the last four times, had a Democrat -- a Democratic
governor, who`s the most popular governor in recent history, or heck, in
state history in terms of polling. And Democrats recently had their most
successful elections since Reconstruction, OK? So this is a swing state.
But here`s the point about...

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. The Obama people are scared to death
they`re going to lose it this time.

PINDELL: Well, they should be scared to death if the person is Mitt
Romney. I think it`s done.

If it`s not, this is one of a dozen, the 13 swing states it always has
been, but obviously Barack Obama won it last time.

MATTHEWS: OK. Where`s Romney vulnerable this Tuesday? When you have
all these people going or him, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and all of them
going after him, and Huntsman?

PINDELL: Right. This is a referendum not only on the answer of if
not Romney who, or why not Romney, it`s also going to be also a test for
Rick Santorum?

But here`s the thing. You have got to understand this, Chris. Polls
here are very unreliable. We saw this last time. We have seen it in the
past. Let`s go back to 1980. 1980, Jimmy Carter had a 47-point lead -- I
mean, Ronald Reagan had a 47-point lead, supposed to beat George H.W. Bush.
He ends up beating him by 27 points. Right?

Jimmy Carter was supposed to beat him by 29 heading into the last week
of the primary, wins by 10. When voters in New Hampshire make up their
mind in the last couple of days, the 15 percent will always make it up in
the last couple of days, this place is totally unpredictable.

MATTHEWS: Jennifer, let me ask you about that question,
unpredictability. Look at these numbers coming in here, 43 percent, for
example, for Romney, the former governor up here in Massachusetts, and only
5 percent for his latest challenger, Santorum.

I mean, I`m just wondering looking at all these numbers we have got
here, who can beat this guy up here? Look at this, Paul is at 16, Huntsman
at 10 and Gingrich at 9 and Santorum at 5. Who can catch 43?

DONAHUE: Well, you know, I just want to think back to 2008, when we
thought that Barack Obama was going to walk right past Hillary Clinton, and
that`s not what happened.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DONAHUE: I`m looking back to 2000, when we thought that George W.
Bush would beat John McCain, and McCain won in a landslide by 19 points.

This is an unpredictable state. There are two debates over the
weekend, one that you will be part of. That`s going to be huge. That`s
going to be something that people will be watching. I remember, in 2008,
when both sides were open and independents were standing in those ballot
boxes shifting on their feet, trying to decide, who am I going to vote for?

This time, you`re going to see a lot of people who are Democrats, who
are registered independents pick up ballots for the Republican ticket and
vote for Huntsman and vote for Paul.

MATTHEWS: OK.

DONAHUE: They are going to send a message. New Hampshire always
sends a message. You know that.

MATTHEWS: What`s that poll up here, the American Research Group, or
whatever it`s called, ARG? What is that group up here, that poll?

(CROSSTALK)

DONAHUE: ... leaning right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. That poll was used up here in `96 saying Dole was
going to win. I`m sorry, totally wrong because they were polling as if the
state was made up of old Yankees.

(CROSSTALK)

DONAHUE: Right.

MATTHEWS: They didn`t register all the new -- they didn`t have all
the new Irish-Italian, all the new gritty Massachusetts emigres up here,
and they all voted for Pat Buchanan.

(CROSSTALK)

DONAHUE: And a lot of those people are people who moved out of
Massachusetts because of Romneycare and because they are Tea Party voters
and they don`t like the way Massachusetts was being governed under Mitt
Romney. So there`s a real protest vote that could develop.

MATTHEWS: See, that`s why, if I were doing the campaign for Santorum
coming in here, I would say I`m going to go pick up all those disgruntled
Massachusetts emigres. I`m going to go after the Catholic vote.

PINDELL: Yes, but who is we? Right now, right now, right now, Newt
Gingrich is kicking the crap out of Santorum as we begin this. He has all
the buzz.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

PINDELL: He`s got to consolidate this, and Jon Huntsman has got to
consolidate...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re wrong, you`re wrong, you`re wrong, you`re wrong,
James, unless I have not heard something in the last 20 minutes. When has
Gingrich, as you put it, kicked the crap out of Santorum?

PINDELL: Right now, he has double the...

MATTHEWS: Oh, in numbers.

PINDELL: Right. Of course.

MATTHEWS: But he won`t attack him.

(CROSSTALK)

PINDELL: They are best friends right now.

MATTHEWS: Right. OK. So, kick the crap out of is a term I use for
people that kick the crap out of people. Just a thought.

(CROSSTALK)

PINDELL: But, Chris, you have got to reject the premise.

(CROSSTALK)

DONAHUE: Chris, can I throw one thing in?

PINDELL: No, you can`t.

MATTHEWS: Just a minute. James first.

PINDELL: Reject the premise of the 43 percent. That`s not the
standard. The standard is going to be how close is someone going to be,
who is in second and who is in third and who is in fourth.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back to my question for both of you`s
belief.

If it`s a final vote next Tuesday where the home team, Romney is 35
and Santorum is 25, is that a win, Jennifer, for Santorum?

DONAHUE: Yes, it`s a win for Santorum.

I also just want to point out that Gingrich is going negative. He
said he wouldn`t do it, and I think he will look like the old Newt Gingrich
and when he said that Romney was lying, he sounded like Bob Dole saying,
tell them to stop lying about my record.

MATTHEWS: I know, but sometimes when people say the other guy is
lying, they are telling the truth.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: What do you think, 35/25, a win for Santorum?

PINDELL: If he knocks other people out, that`s a good day for Rick
Santorum.

MATTHEWS: OK. We have built the bar. We have built the bar -- 35/25
is a win, 10-point spread.

Anyway, thank you, guys. Thanks you, James Pindell. Thank you,
Jennifer. We will see you again soon.

Up next: Jon Stewart`s take on the Republican race is a candy lover`s
dream. You know those Whitman`s Samplers? That`s what it like trying to
find a really good chocolate candy in this Republican crowd. It`s a get
metaphor. The "Sideshow" is coming up.

You`re watching HARDBALL, from Manchester, as they say in England,
Manchester up here, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, if you know what it`s like -- think about what it`s like
going through a box of assorted chocolates, you know, the Whitman`s
Samplers type. You keep looking for the good one, the simple good-tasting
unadulterated chocolate candy.

Well, Jon Stewart compared that process to Republicans trying to get
through the presidential candidates this year, same thing, looking for a
good one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Republicans are
going to try every chocolate in the box. You have got them all in there.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: You`re going to end up with the plain chocolate. You`re
going to. That`s where you`re going to end up,. You just are. You tried
the Bachmann over here. Too many nuts.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: All right. No good.

Perry, oh, the Perry looks great. Almond nougat. Who puts almond
nougat in chocolate?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: This one, that`s Santorum, the one you try and pawn off on
one of your cousins. Look at that. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. My chocolate
was alive, and now it`s bleeding.

So that`s it. You end up with Romney, the least bad chocolate. And
by the way, when you do ultimately end up with Romney, don`t try to pretend
this is the chocolate you wanted the whole time.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Brilliant. They keep looking, the Republicans, for the
perfect chocolate.

So is Romney the one, the one they are looking for? Really?

And as the Republican candidates wrap up their time in Iowa, they are
all heading here to New Hampshire for that final push for support before
next Tuesday`s primary. But Jon Huntsman has been here all the while
opting to bypass campaigning elsewhere.

But don`t think he didn`t keep an eye on last night`s caucus results.
Far from it. How does Huntsman think the shockingly tight finish between
Romney and Santorum tees things up for next week? Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Forgive me if I have a bit
of a New Hampshire accent. I have spent a little bit too much time here,
but I have got to tell you, coming out of Iowa, it was unbelievably
ambiguous.

I mean, to think that Governor Romney with his team on the ground for,
what, six years now, basically did no better than he did last time, you
have got three people basically sharing a tie, and a whole lot of people
who were looking for an alternative. And now the marketplace, Joe, is
going to turn to New Hampshire, and nobody here really cares about what
happened in Iowa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, of all the strange things in this strange
Republican race for president this year, Jon Huntsman trying to knock off
Mitt Romney in New Hampshire is the strangest of it all, and I still don`t
get what Huntsman is doing in this race.

And, finally, even though he only won by that narrow margin of eight
votes, actually eight people`s votes, in yesterday`s Iowa caucuses, Mitt
Romney`s first-place finish seems like an improvement from his second-place
finish in 2008, but let`s get to the numbers on this. Last night, Romney
came out with about 30,000 votes, about 25 percent of the total.

Four years ago, Romney scored about 30,000 votes, again about 25
percent of the total. Got it? Not exactly a big result for this season,
hardly a home run for the team of Romney. This could be a long road to the
nomination for him.

Up next: Last night`s results from Iowa exposed the fault line in the
Republican Party between those who want their nominee to look and act like
them and those who just want to beat President Obama. When`s the anybody-
but-Mitt-Romney going to get behind a single candidate? They don`t want
Romney, but who are they going to agree on?

And that`s ahead. You`re watching HARDBALL from Manchester, New
Hampshire, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COURTNEY REAGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Courtney Reagan with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow gains 21. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq finish virtually flat.
It was a painful day for Eastman Kodak shares, ending down 28 percent after
a published report that the company was preparing for a Chapter 11
bankruptcy filing. This week, the New York Stock Exchange warned Kodak it
would be delisted if shares stayed below $1 for more than six months.

Well, a different story for General Motors. The automaker saying
sales rose 13 percent last year. Popular models like the Chevy Cruze and
the Silverado helped GM sell more than 2.5 million vehicles in 2011.

Ford also reporting big sales gains for the past year. Its sales rose
11 percent thanks to strong demand for its Explorer SUV and the Fiesta
compact. And Yahoo! finished the day down 3 percent after the Internet
giant named Scott Thompson as its CEO. Thompson is best known for his
success at eBay`s PayPal division. Yahoo! hasn`t had a permanent CEO since
September.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we have someone who can
go out to Western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and
Wisconsin and Iowa and Missouri and appeal to the voters that have been
left behind by a Democratic Party that`s wants to make them dependent,
instead of valuing their work, we will win this election.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: Those are the same people that President Obama talked about
who cling to their guns and their Bibles. Thank God they do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Rick Santorum`s success in Iowa last night has further splintered an
already fractured Republican group. There`s a strong ABM movement, anybody
but Mitt, in the party, you will those stop-Romney candidates ever coalesce
to form a united front. And if so, when does this all shake out?

Joe McQuaid is the longtime very esteemed publisher of "The New
Hampshire Union Leader" and has endorsed Newt Gingrich and it did so again
today with a big ad, I guess, and former Senator Judd Gregg is a Romney
surrogate.

So, I want you two guys to discuss this matter.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Are you the establishment, Senator? Are you the old Yankee
establishment that these McQuaid, Irish Italian and French Canadians are
out to beat? Is that what this is about?

FMR. SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: No.

MATTHEWS: Is this a grudge match?

GREGG: This is about Barack Obama and the fact that he`s taken this
country on a path...

MATTHEWS: Oh. But you all agree on that. That`s not the fight.

GREGG: No, it`s not. Of course it is. It`s who can best take on
Barack Obama...

JOSEPH MCQUAID, PUBLISHER, "NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER": Exactly.

GREGG: ... and make a definitional event here, because the American
people understand that this country is on the wrong course.

And what they want is somebody who can bring us back on to the right
course. And in my opinion, Mitt Romney represents the type of person who
can run against Barack Obama, and Barack Obama can`t make him issue the way
he might other candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Senator, you have made my point. The very fact that you
can`t call him a conservative is because he isn`t one.

Joe McQuaid, isn`t that it?

GREGG: Well, I didn`t think I said that.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGG: I`m a conservative. And I think he`s a conservative.

MCQUAID: Name one conservative thing that Mitt Romney has ever done
in his political career.

GREGG: Created jobs, I mean...

MCQUAID: No, conservative thing.

GREGG: ... been out there in the private sector and done the job
creation type of thing.

MATTHEWS: That`s a pretty good question. Where`s his conservative
credential from in terms of policy? Health care, tax policy, abortion
policy?

GREGG: My view...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGG: .... conservative credentials comes from running a state which
is extremely liberal and running it in a way which made it financially
solvent. When he left Massachusetts, it had a surplus.

(CROSSTALK)

MCQUAID: He projected nothing with any conservative credentials in
Massachusetts. On the other hand, Gingrich, who paid five grand for that
ad that wasn`t another endorsement...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGG: Gone on vacation again, Joe.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MCQUAID: Five grand.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about the kinds of people, because Pat
Buchanan ran up here. And I watched that fight with Dole. It seems like
things never change. There`s always the gritty sort of Catholic pro-lifer
against the establishment Yankee.

MCQUAID: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It does look like that from afar. And it looks like that
from looking at you two guys, too.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGG: Let`s be honest about it. It`s pretty hard to call Mitt
Romney an established Yankee. He is...

MCQUAID: He is an establishment -- he`s an establishment Mormon
Yankee.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGG: That`s a new phrase.

MATTHEWS: OK. Look at these numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGG: .... is our party obviously always has these intramural
fights. It`s like the Democratic Party.

And as you go into a primary season, you expect that, but we will come
out of this primary season and we understand as a party that our person...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I do study your party, Senator, and I do respect those
traditions. It`s, whose turn is it?

And that has been the rule for 50-some years since I started watching
your party. It`s Nixon`s turn again and again and it`s the Bush`s turn
again and again and it`s Bob Dole`s turn. This clearly is Romney`s turn.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGG: No, no, this is the first election -- I have said this
numerous times. This is the first election I been involved in -- and I
have been involved almost as long as -- Joey is a lot older than I am --
but since `76, when I supported Reagan.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MCQUAID: In `80, when you supported Bush, and not Reagan.

GREGG: Yes, that`s correct. And then I supported Bush, and then I
supported Bush. And we had...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But isn`t it Romney`s turn? And why is the party rejecting
him?

GREGG: No. No. This -- this -- it`s a very interesting situation.
We don`t have an heir apparent in our party.

MATTHEWS: Romney.

GREGG: Oh, he`s not. He did not start out as an heir apparent.

MCQUAID: Sure he did. He`s been running since --

GREGG: Running.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s perfect for you guys, old and a legacy.

GREGG: He`s person with the right message which is fiscal
conservatism.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s watch Newt Gingrich. He`s got his knife. Here
he is on Laura Ingraham, a perfect launching pad for an assassination
attempt, floating an anti-Romney alliance, I meant metaphorically, with
Rick Santorum. Let`s watch Newt go at it here.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO HOST: Can you see a scenario under which the
two of you would align together to try to defeat the establishment
candidate Mitt Romney?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely, of course.
Rick and I -- you know, we have a 20-year friendship. We were both rebels.
We both came into this business as reformers. And the thing that`s
interesting is if you take the votes that you add from Perry and Bachmann,
you begin to see the size of the conservative vote compared to Romney. But
if you take, you know, Santorum and Perry and Bachmann and Gingrich, you
get some sense of what a small minority Romney really represents.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A small minority. Here he is in "Politico," by the way,
this morning. "Politico" reports on a planned meeting of conservatives to
find a consensus conservative candidate, "A group of movement conservatives
has called an emergency meeting in Texas for next weekend to find a
consensus Republican presidential hopeful. Conservatives are concerned
that a vote split between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum among base voters
could enable Mitt Romney to win."

Senator Gregg, they are worried about your crowd. They are worried
about moderate Republicans.

GREGG: Well, to describe myself or Mitt Romney as moderate --

MATTHEWS: By their terms. Gary Bauer thinks you`re a moderate?

GREGG: You know, obviously within our party, people who --

MATTHEWS: James Dobson thinks you`re a moderate?

GREGG: I don`t know what James Dobson thinks. I haven`t read him
recently.

But the simple fact is our party`s differences are not dramatic.
They are -- there`s not chasm between these candidates. All these
candidates believe in very fundamental fiscal conservative issues, fiscal
conservative policy, and they also believe in socially conservative policy.

Some wear their social conservative policy more on their sleeve, some
don`t. And I happen to think that when you get into a general election,
it`s good to have a candidate who can speak to the general electorate as
well as conservatives.

MATTHEWS: But Romney has had a health care plan that provides
funding for abortion. That hardly subscribes to the beliefs of Gary Bauer
and James Dobson and others.

MCQUAID: And his Planned Parenthood getting one of the seats.

MATTHEWS: How is that consistent with conservative thinking? Romney
is a conservative?

GREGG: Yes, Romney is definitely a conservative. And he --

MATTHEWS: How did he get elected in Massachusetts then?

GREGG: Because he believed in fiscal responsibility, and you`ve got
a blue collar electorate in Massachusetts which often turns to
conservatives who believe in fiscal responsibility. Reagan ran fairly well
in Massachusetts, if you`ll recall.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he did.

GREGG: Because he believed in blue collar ideas which are basically
fiscal conservatism.

MCQUAID: Chris, we have a chat running in Sunday`s paper with the
positions of all the candidates on -- on an awful lot of these issues, and
I was struck by the fact that on paper there`s no difference between and
among candidates. They all say the same things.

But I think you`ve got to go to the record, again, what has Romney
done that`s really conservative versus what Gingrich has done that is
really conservative.

MATTHEWS: Would you recommend that your candidate Gingrich go after
Governor Romney hammer and tongue this Saturday night on the ABC debate and
NBC`s debate, go after him with everything he`s got?

MCQUAID: Indeed. Except --

GREGG: How could he sell papers if he doesn`t?

MCQUAID: The problem is the spin on that from a lot of media is
going to be the hateful, vengeful Gingrich, the bitter --

MATTHEWS: Yes, because that`s true.

MCQUAID: No, I don`t think it`s true at all.

MATTHEWS: Is it possible that Gingrich can help Santorum win up here
by going at Romney and giving -- and bleeding him while the votes don`t
come back to Gingrich`s advantage but go over to Santorum? It happens a
lot.

MCQUAID: This piece with Laura Ingraham, if she asked the same
question of Santorum, he`d be saying the same thing. Oh, yes, I can get
together with Newt, and Newt saying, I can get together with Rick.

I don`t think they will get together. One wants the other to get out
of way and I think New Hampshire will shake that out.

GREGG: I think New Hampshire will shake it out, too, as it
traditionally has. But you have to remember, at the end of the day, all
the Republicans are going to get together because all the Republicans are
concerned about the path of where we`re headed to which is a path towards
European welfare social type of governance -- and basically we don`t want
that.

MATTHEWS: European social welfare type government.

GREGG: Social welfare state.

MATTHEWS: Social welfare state. OK.

GREGG: A very accurate phrase, by the way.

MATTHEWS: I heard the line. I hear now, as opposed to the Austrian
theory of what`s his name -- anyway, thank you -- of Ron Paul. The
Austrian method. Love you guys with these references.

Senator Judd, a good guy, retired from politics, as can you tell.

Joe McQuaid, a man who knows his enemies.

Up next, what does the White House and team Obama think about this
Republican fight? This is going to be fascinating with the inside guys
fighting -- they are not actually socialists.

GREGG: I didn`t say socialists. Social welfare state.

MATTHEWS: I know, I know what they think you think.

Anyway, HARDBALL from the armory in Manchester, New Hampshire -- back
in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIR: For Mitt Romney,
it`s a really tough situation for him because when is a, quote-unquote,
"win a loss"? When you spent six years and more than $4 million running
for the second time trying to win the state of Iowa and you spent the most
and only beat the person who spent the least by eight votes, that -- that
demonstrates just how little support there is on the Republican side and
little enthusiasm there is for Mitt Romney`s candidacy. And he`s limping
into New Hampshire, and I think he`s really damaged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back. That was, of course, the Democratic National
Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the congresswoman from Florida,
earlier this morning, by the way, on FOX News, giving the Democratic spin,
if you will, on Mitt Romney`s showing last night.

But behind the scenes, team Obama may have preferred someone with
money like Rick Perry a more established candidate like Newt Gingrich, to
have emerged as the anti-Romney.

Joan Walsh is the editor at large at Salon.com, and David Corn is an
MSNBC political analyst and the D.C. bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

Let me get to the real heart of what I think is going on, and our
producers have thought this ahead of me. I got to tell you -- this is
fantastic thinking on their part.

Suppose Romney really is endangered right now, he`s scared. He sees
that 25 percent not getting any bigger than maybe 26, even nationwide.
It`s not growing. He`s not catching on among Republicans.

In order to catch on and beat the people who are leading the forces
against him, Santorum and Gingrich and the rest of them, and Perry, too, he
will have to sort of become one of them, move to the right, say I`m one of
you, me-too those guys, and if he does that, he puts himself into a boxed
canyon where the Democrats can close the trap on him, say, oh, yes, you
right-wing SOB, we`ve shown who you really are, we`re going to nail you in
November.

Joan, is it that thinking? Is it that sophisticated as our producers
are?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: No one is as sophisticated as your producers
are, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.

WALSH: But having said that, the White House is pretty smart. I`m
sure that`s what they were thinking. I`m sure they were eating popcorn and
drinking beer last night, and thinking this is going to be fun, because,
OK, Santorum is not the guy with the most money, but you still have guys
with money in the race aiming at Mitt Romney and want to bloody Mitt
Romney. I mean, that angry Newt Gingrich we saw last night -- man, that
was kind of scary. I`m glad he`s not coming after me.

So, he`s still in it.

MATTHEWS: Come on. You`re glad he`s on your side. You`re glad he`s
going at the other guy, are you?

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: It`s nice. Yes. Certainly.

You know, so he`s still in there. Perry apparently is still in
there. That was kind of a surprise, and Santorum is a guy who`s going to
do better in New Hampshire than people think, and Obama still has these
people throwing punches at one another, and not at him. This was a great
night for the White House.

Will this drive -- over at you, David -- will this drive Romney over
to the right, where you guys, I think, the people are supporting the
president -- and I certainly like him -- are going to get him in the corner
of the right and say, yes, we always knew you were a right winger because
you`re joined in that crowd when you had to, you`re not to be trusted?

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Listen, last night, it looked like Mitt
Romney is a prisoner in Groundhog Day. You know, four years after the last
election, he has the same number of votes. He`s not getting any steam.
He`s stalled at the same point we`ve been talking about, Chris, for six
months, between 20 percent and 25 percent. He`s not looking like a strong
candidate.

It doesn`t really matter that much who the non-Romney candidate who`s
ascending at any given time. Now, it`s Rick Santorum. Maybe they`ll give
him a run for his money in New Hampshire, maybe not. But with Rick Perry
staying in, you know, he still has four or five people in his debates that
are going to come up this weekend. They`re going to be taking lots of pot
shots at him.

And it seems to be Newt Gingrich`s mission in life now to prove, to
prove beyond doubt that Mitt Romney is not a conservative Republican.

How does Mitt Romney respond to that? Exactly the way you just
described, that your producers described. He`s going to have to come out
there and act more right than he ever was and ever will be or ever was.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think there`s a couple ways they could pull
him to the right, Joan and David. He`s resisted saying a couple of the far
right battle cries. He`s refused so far, I believe -- I may be wrong on
this -- to call President Obama a socialist. He won`t play that game. He
won`t say, "I am a Tea Party guy." He will say certainly subtle things
around it, but won`t go completely whack job.

Do you think they can get him to do that, to get him -- as they pose
a greater threat to him in South Carolina and across the country?

WALSH: Yes, I think he`ll get nastier toward the president. I think
you`re seeing that. He started out his speech last night saying he`s a
nice guy and Rick Santorum is a nice guy, and then it changed over time. I
think the more he`s cornered, the more he`ll say that.

He`s going -- you know, despite what they`re trying to say about
Planned Parenthood, he has sold out Planned Parenthood. He has said that
he wants to defund them as badly as anybody else.

MATTHEWS: Yes, proving my point.

WALSH: He`s not quite for personhood, but he`s close. So, he`s
going to keep sliding that way. And that is going to make him very ugly in
the general election.

CORN: I mean, the problem, Chris, is that nobody believes what Mitt
Romney has to say when it comes to his ideological credentials, which puts
more of a burden on him to perhaps go further than he would otherwise if he
indeed feels threat end, which seems to be the case.

MATTHEWS: Yes, thank you.

Thank you, Joan and David. I think he always has his fingered
crossed for the moderates, hoping they`ll see him with his fingers crossed
and not listening to what he`s actually saying.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the importance of
this commonwealth of New Hampshire and how it has a storied sense and
common sense about picking presidential candidates. It is to be paid
attention to.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

We`re back in New England. For me, it`s a great place to pick a
president. It`s cold this time of year, really cold up here in New
Hampshire. It`s a place where you have to be practical simply to live. If
you don`t prepare for winter, you don`t survive long. And if you don`t
have money coming in the door, you don`t keep the cold out.

Shelter has meaning up here. And that`s a good character to look for
in voters. Do they have their feet on the ground? Do they have a firm
grip on what it takes it make a living -- a good enough one to keep your
family warm when December turns to January, and the long gray winter checks
in, when heating oil makes the difference between warmth and survival and
freezing to death?

Again, it concentrates the minds. It makes for a common sense voting
habit. It makes for picking a presidential candidate who will be good for
your own economic wellbeing, not just a comfort, but the economic survival
for your family.

New Englanders have something else that concentrates their minds,
history. You can`t call yourself a New Englander and now about Bunker Hill
and Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere, and one if by land, and two if
by sea. You can`t live here and not know about the sons of liberty and the
battle for freedom that started this country.

So look to New England, and to New Hampshire voters to make a sound
decision. By next Tuesday, they`ll have met Romney more than once.
They`ll have a firm grip on Santorum and the Irish, Italians, French,
Canadians and Yankees at this part of the country will do their duty.

What they`ll do will make sense to them. It will seem like good
sense to the rest of the company. It very often does.

It`s why New Hampshire has won this job of holding the first primary.
It`s done it in the old-fashioned way. It`s earned it.

This is where Ike won, or Jack Kennedy won, where Ronald Reagan won,
it`s where Eugene McCarthy upset Lyndon Johnson and warned the country
about Vietnam. It`s where good things happen.

I`m really happen to be here and hope you share the experience
between now and next Tuesday night.

I really think things are going to happen up here. Santorum and
Gingrich and Romney are going to go at it. And what comes out will be
something far bigger than what arrived here today -- just watch.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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