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updated 1/17/2012 12:11:20 PM ET 2012-01-17T17:11:20

Guests: Ted Koppel, Milissa Rehberger, Howard Fineman, Michael Steele, Tony Perkins, Jim Garlow, Andrew Sullivan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The right`s last stand.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Can anyone stop Mitt? That`s what evangelicals are asking. They`re
desperate that Mitt Romney will sweep to the nomination without a fight.
Their last best hope, Rick Santorum. But does Newt Gingrich or Santorum
have a chance, or could this race be over in South Carolina this Saturday?

Also, Republicans insist they`re looking for a president who will turn
around the country`s job losses, bounce back from depression, cripple al
Qaeda, and keep health care private. In other words, President Obama. The
writer Andrew Sullivan makes a great case for the president`s record so
far. So how come the president and his people never do the same?

And think this is over the top? Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Mitt Romney really believes...

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Corporations
are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... then Mitt Romney is a serial killer. He`s
Mitt the Ripper!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. That is from Stephen Colbert`s new super-PAC, which
in theory has nothing to do with Colbert, and in practice has everything to
do with Steve Colbert. Ted Koppel, by the way, joins us tonight on the
absurd shell game that are these super-PACs.

And if the Jon Huntsman campaign tells us anything -- let`s be honest
about this -- it`s that today`s Republican Party has not much use for a
thoughtful campaign of ideas that tries to positively build bridges, not
burn them down. Huntsman, by the way, who once praised President Obama and
skewered Romney, did the opposite today.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with some words from the man who we honor
today, Martin Luther King.

We begin with the evangelicals helping Rick Santorum get -- well, try
to stop Mitt Romney. Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research
Council and Jim Garlow is the pastor of the Skyline Wesleyan Church down in
San Diego, California. He supports Newt Gingrich for president.

Tony, old pal, thanks for joining us. I hope you don`t get in trouble
for me calling you "old pal," but you do come on this show quite regularly.

Let`s watch Newt Gingrich yesterday on "MEET THE PRESS" responding to
David Gregory`s question as to whether or not he, Gingrich, feels pressure
to drop out of the race now that the evangelicals have consolidated support
behind Rick Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I
think that report was very highly exaggerated. We basically split that
group. I got a very good number of votes. The one consensus was that
virtually no one was for Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was -- Tony, that was Newt Gingrich, of course,
responding to David Gregory`s characterization of the fact that what
happened this weekend is that an evangelical group of about 150 pastors
meeting down in Texas united, basically, behind Rick Santorum. Well, did
they or did they not unite behind Rick Santorum?

TONY PERKINS, PRES. FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL, SANTORUM SUPPORTER:
Well, first, it was not just pastors. It was conservative political
leaders, as well as activists and businessmen. And there were thoughtful
discussions. There was support going into that meeting for Rick Perry,
Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. There was a balloting process. And in
the end, a majority did move to Rick Santorum, about 75 percent of those
who were there.

But there were people who left, like my good friend, Jim, who`s on
with us, that remain committed to Newt Gingrich. And I can tell you this,
that while people there did move toward Rick Santorum because they feel
that he`s best reflective and best positioned to move forward and take the
message and win, that if there was a -- if Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich or
Rick Santorum captured the nomination, they would have enthusiastic support
from the people there at the meeting.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jim Garlow, thanks. And welcome to the church (ph),
sir. What should I call you, Pastor Garlow or just Mr. Garlow? What do
you prefer?

PASTOR JIM GARLOW, SKYLINE WESLEYAN CHURCH, GINGRICH SUPPORTER: Jim
is fine. Jim is fine.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thanks a lot, Jim. Well, the question is, was
it a fair vote? Was it a consensus? Is there a consensus now in the
community that met down in Texas behind Rick Santorum?

GARLOW: It was a fair vote. It was a totally fair vote. Newt
Gingrich was just 9 votes behind Rick Santorum on the first ballot.
Everything was fair about it. I wish we would have won. We did not quite
win it. But there was not a consensus on a candidate. There was a
consensus on values and principles. We left as friends. We are friends.
We stay friends. But we do see it a little differently.

And I differ with your introduction regarding Jon Huntsman as the man
with the ideas. I think the man with the ideas, truly ideas, is Newt
Gingrich. And that`s why I stand with him.

MATTHEWS: Well, of course you do. Anyway, thank you. I said the
other night that I would have voted for Huntsman in the New Hampshire
primary to shake things up a bit.

Well, anyway, today "The Washington Times" reports that some
evangelical activists say the vote on Saturday was rigged. Quote -- this
is from "The Washington Times" -- "Protestant fundamentalist leaders who
attended, most of them backing former House speaker Newt Gingrich to be the
anti-Romney candidate, are accusing Catholic participants of conniving to
rig the vote.

They said they were connived -- or conned, rather, into leaving after the
second ballot on Saturday, and now a prominent evangelical political
organizer is saying to others confidentially he has evidence that in at
least one instance, a participant was seen writing Mr. Santorum`s name on
four separate ballots and putting them in the ballot box."

Is that something, Jim, that you could subscribe to, that assessment
or that witness?

GARLOW: Chris, I can say -- I`m the guy who lost, remember? I`m the
guy who gave the speech for Newt Gingrich. And those of us that came for
Newt Gingrich left still for Newt Gingrich. But there was nothing rigged
or unfair about it. It was all done very fairly. It was done
appropriately.

I was the one that was appointed to watch the ballot-counting process
representing Newt Gingrich. We came very close. We came within 9 votes.
And it was a great day for us. We left still supporting him, but there was
no truth to it being rigged or anything...

MATTHEWS: No irregularities, as we say. No one was encouraged to
leave before the final ballot.

GARLOW: No. No, I can tell you exactly on that. The meeting was to
go to 1:00 o`clock, and a number of us had to catch planes at 10:45. A
group of us left. We all happened to be -- just happened to be -- Newt
Gingrich supporters. I didn`t know all the others were going. We had to
leave. That wasn`t the fault of the meeting, that was the fault of our
schedules.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Because you had to work on Sundays. I understand that.
Ministers...

GARLOW: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

GARLOW: I have a Saturday night service. I had to be home for a
Saturday night service...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, here -- before we -- let me get back to Tony. Here`s
Newt Gingrich yesterday on "MEET THE PRESS" again, conceding that Romney
may be the biggest beneficiary of the evangelical endorsement. This is a
little bit nasty here. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The only way that a Massachusetts moderate can get through
South Carolina is if the vote is split. But we have six days to make our
case to people, and I think as somebody who generally people agree was the
best debater so far, I think I have the best chance to beat Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Tony, here`s the point behind that. A recent PPP
poll taken this past week shows the latest poll in South Carolina shows
Romney leading the pack at 29. But he`s hardly unbeatable, with Gingrich
right behind him at 24 and Santorum a bit further back at 14.

Why would you back a guy who`s 15 points back, rather than the guy who
could easily overtake Romney and stop this train in South Carolina?

PERKINS: You know, that was part of the points that were discussed
there this weekend. And really, what was driving this, Chris, was a desire
not to repeat what happened in 2008, when a number of conservative leaders
kind of stayed on the sidelines or they were fragmented between Fred
Thompson and Mike Huckabee and others instead of rallying around one
candidate. That was the genesis behind this meeting.

Some felt, as Jim did, that Newt Gingrich was the best to go forward
and capture the nomination, and you know, catch Mitt Romney and get the
nomination. Others, you know, committed to the principles that Rick
Santorum stands for and the fact that they felt that what he was lacking,
his liabilities, were by no means in comparison to his assets that he
brought to this and that he would be easy -- easier to rally social
conservatives around and get a broader base of conservative folks.

So it was a -- it was a surprising meeting in that it was very
positive. It wasn`t negative-oriented. It was rather who could cast the
best vision and who could people...

MATTHEWS: OK...

PERKINS: ... rally around reflecting the principles.

MATTHEWS: Here`s your guy on "Fox News Sunday." Here he was
yesterday. Rick Santorum said it`s time for evangelicals to narrow the
field to effectively take on Romney, making your case. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not
just social conservatives. I`m hearing from conservatives across the
board, economic, foreign policy. They`re looking for someone with a
strong, consistent track record. And I`m hopeful -- again, you know, will
it help? Yes. It`d be helpful if everybody dropped out of the race. Then
I`d win. But you know, the idea is we`re going to go through this process.
People are going to have the right to go out and make the case to the
voters, and then we`ll see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jim for a final point. Why are you backing a
guy who is not -- you know, he`s not -- I can see why the evangelicals on
the other side of this argument would back Rick Santorum because even if
you lose, you`ve got clean hands. You`re picking a guy who has basically
never done anything wrong in his life.

If you pick Newt Gingrich, you`ve got to sort of say, Well, the guy`s
had a marital problem here and there, but he`s a good guy. We believe in
him. But you`ve got to defend the baggage, if you will. Isn`t it easier
to take the loss and vote for Santorum, knowing he`ll lose, than to pick a
guy who`s got a troubled past but might just beat Romney? I know it`s
conundrum.

GARLOW: Well, first of all...

MATTHEWS: You`ve chosen the practical road, Jim Garlow. You`re
basically betting on the guy that has a better chance of winning but has a
flawed background.

GARLOW: As flawed as King David in the Old Testament, for example,
but I still use him for an example in a lot of things. And I`m glad you`re
trying to work Tony over...

MATTHEWS: I love you guys!

GARLOW: ... to get him to support my guy...

MATTHEWS: I love you guys!

GARLOW: Thank you for that.

MATTHEWS: I love you guys! I love you guys!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Old Testament! Go ahead.

GARLOW: No, you asked the question. You asked the question.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

GARLOW: Let me answer it.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

GARLOW: Intellectual bandwidth, a sense of history, an understanding
of bona fide American exceptionalism. He has a Winston Churchillian
fortahood -- forthood -- fortitude. And I`m also glad for a guy who`s an
insider who will not be all parliamentized by the secularists on the left.
I want a guy who`s strong, can go in there. I love the ideas he has.

I`m not supporting him by default. I`m supporting him with
intentionality. And I want my guy to win because I think he can take
Romney out and I think he can ultimately take Obama out and restore this
nation to some of its fundamental values.

MATTHEWS: I believe there is a Gingrichism. I`ve just heard it. Let
me go to Tony Perkins. Why go with Newt -- why go with Rick Santorum, who
has a harder climb? As I said, he`s got to climb 15 points to catch -- to
catch Romney in South Carolina, a harder climb than the other guy.

PERKINS: Because he did it -- I believe, as we saw in Iowa, that Rick
Santorum has a much better chance to emerge and maintain a lead because of
the fact that he does have that stability. He has that clear record. He
has a vision for the future.

And I will tell you, Jim is a dear friend, and I don`t think we`ve
ever disagreed on anything. This is the only thing. But I will tell you
what. This is just a part of the political process. He sees it from one
way. I see it from another.

I stand proudly to support candidates who subscribe to the values that
FRC promotes, and Rick Santorum is one of those candidates. But I will
tell you this. I think conservatives, whoever -- whether it be Rick Perry,
Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, were to capture the nomination, the
unifying element here is that people think it`s time to replace Barack
Obama as president...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PERKINS: ... and that can and must be done in the eyes of
conservatives.

MATTHEWS: Will that be the unifying element if Mitt Romney`s the
nominee, Tony?

PERKINS: Well, I think he has a harder time of rallying conservatives
to that call, but I think the three strong, true conservatives that are in
the race could do that. Mitt Romney`s going to have to work at it to make
that happen.

MATTHEWS: I believe you`ve been very consistent on that point for
months, sir. In fact, years. Thank you, Tony Perkins. Thank you, Pastor
Jim Garlow, for joining the program.

GARLOW: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: We will want to have you back. I can`t wait to get down to
that hot building down in Tampa come the end of August when it`s about 100
degrees, the humidity about 105, and you guys have to start being very
prayerful for Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Just kidding. That`s sadistic of me to bring that up!

Anyway, coming up, we go inside the absurd shell game that is the
super-PAC system, what the big moneymen hope to gain by pouring millions of
dollars into the campaigns. What`s their deal?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got a new poll in the potential Obama versus Romney
matchup for the general election, if that occurs. Let`s go to the HARDBALL
"Scoreboard." Here it is from Fox. It`s President Obama at 46, Mitt
Romney at 45. Boy, that`s tight, a 1-point difference, within the margin
of error, obviously.

Take a look at this. The poll finds that if Mitt Romney were to put
New Jersey governor Chris Christie on the ticket -- I think a smart move --
Obama and Vice President Biden would win 47 to 44. Romney does better with
Rick Santorum as his running mate. It`s only a 1-point margin with the
former Pennsylvania governor aboard -- Pennsylvania senator aboard, Obama-
Biden 46, Romney-Santorum 45.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": The difference between a PAC
and a super-PAC is like apples and oranges -- you know, if the orange could
take unlimited corporate and union donations and then spend them in an
unlimited fashion in political speech to affect the outcome of the 2012
election.

TED KOPPEL, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, "ROCK CENTER": And the apple?

COLBERT: Who cares? It`s not a super-PAC.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was part of an interview,
if you will, with Stephen Colbert that will air tonight on NBC`s "ROCK
CENTER," of course. For months, Colbert has satirized the new political
reality created by super-PACs and the unlimited contributions they can
collect. The PACs are supposed to be independent from the candidates they
are backing, but critics say the distinction isn`t always easy to
determine.

NBC News special correspondent Ted Koppel has been looking into the
super-PACs and what they mean for the 2012 campaign. His report will air
tonight on "ROCK CENTER." He joins us now.

Ted, Thank you so much for coming on tonight. You know, I have to ask
you a point of curiosity. Was Colbert acting like the guy Colbert or the
actor Colbert when you interviewed him for the show tonight?

KOPPEL: No, no, no.

MATTHEWS: Because he can play the part or not.

KOPPEL: He is never out of character, Chris. He -- in fact, I mean,
he was just wearing, I don`t know, jeans and a sweatshirt or something when
I got there, and I was in jeans and I had a jacket on, and he was razzing
me about not wearing a tie because he went back inside and changed because
when he talks on this subject, he is always in character.

MATTHEWS: Right. He plays this sort of zany right-wing character,
over the top.

Let`s look at the ad that he`s running to make the point -- and you
explain why this is an important. Here`s an ad that the so-called Stephen
Colbert for president campaign is airing in South Carolina. Basically,
it`s done by his super-PAC. It`s going after Mitt Romney here in an
obviously over-the-top fashion. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney says he`s for corporations.

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Mitt Romney has a secret. As head of Bain
Capital, he bought companies, carved them up, and got rid of what he
couldn`t use. If Mitt Romney really believes...

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... then Mitt Romney is a serial killer. He`s
Mitt the Ripper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Ted, that smacks of a Jesuit education!

(LAUGHTER)

KOPPEL: It is...

MATTHEWS: Because that`s syllogism. If corporations are people...

KOPPEL: Of course.

MATTHEWS: ... and you kill corporations, then you are a murderer.

KOPPEL: Look, it is an outrageous ad. And the fact of the matter is
that Stephen Colbert -- we`re all somewhat indebted to him -- although I
think he takes it pretty much to the line here. We`re somewhat indebted to
him because where those of us who are actually in the business of
journalism have not paid, I think, proper attention to what these super-
PACs are and what they`re doing, Stephen, by virtue of his satire, is doing
it.

And he`s pushing it to the absolute limit here because if you were to
get him on the program now and say, How do you justify that ad, he would
say, as, indeed, the real candidates are saying about what their super-PACs
are doing, Hey, I have nothing to do with that. I don`t run the super-PAC.
I can`t communicate with the super-PAC.

He, in fact, just the other evening handed his super-PAC over to the
control of Jon Stewart. Now, clearly, they are two men who have a great
deal in common, just as the people running, for example, Mitt Romney`s
super-PAC are people who`ve known him for years, who, in fact, ran his
presidential campaign four years ago. But legally, they`re not in touch
with one another.

MATTHEWS: And all this has unraveled us all the way back to pre-
Watergate law, in effect, before remember, before Watergate, you could have
Clement Stone -- I remember these big names for Nixon, for example, just an
example. It happened in both parties. A very wealthy person could give a
huge amount of money and really create a debt situation with a candidate.

This here is -- by the way, here`s a good illustration of what`s going
on. According to NBC News, pro-candidate super-PACs are spending more than
the campaigns on ads in South Carolina.

For example, the pro-Romney super PAC is spending $2.2 million on airtime,
while the campaign itself is only spending $1.3 million.

So, the predominance of the money that`s unaccounted for is dominating
the actual on-the-record spending by legitimate donors.

KOPPEL: It`s not only what`s not unaccounted for.

What one of the radio station managers down in South Carolina told me
the other day was the super PACs are capable of reacting much more quickly,
because they get huge chunks of money. Sometimes, they actually get
million-dollar and multimillion-dollar donations.

They get that all in one chunk. It goes into the bank. The campaigns
get money the old-fashioned way, $2,500 at a time. And they can`t use it
until the checks clear, which means that almost...

MATTHEWS: Interesting.

KOPPEL: ... the best times on television on radio have been bought up
by the super PACs and not the campaigns.

MATTHEWS: So if you have a big daddy, a sugar daddy, Daddy Warbucks,
whatever, you can call him up and her up and say I need something to react
tonight. Can you give me the money? They can whip off the check.

Here`s Newt Gingrich responding to the question of the -- well, the
reason people give this money. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would like to see a very
simple election reform that allows people to give unlimited after-tax money
directly to the candidate, have the candidate put the ad up. You take 80
percent of the poison out of the system overnight, because no candidate
would put their name to some of these ads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I was thinking that you were nailing him, Newt, about why
these people give this.

Sheldon Adelson is very pro-Israeli. No surprise. He has a cause.
He`s one to double-down with one candidate, because he believes Israel, the
state of Israel, is in danger. The other fellow openly said on your
program, I`m previewing it, the other guy said I want to get rid of all
regulations. It`s pretty blunt stuff.

KOPPEL: No, that`s exactly right.

Look, the fact of the matter is, Newt Gingrich, for that all that he
says, and indeed all the candidates, Chris, are saying, they hate the super
PACs. They would like to get rid of the super PACs. Romney has said it.
Gingrich has said it. Santorum has said it. They all say they want to get
rid of the super PACs.

Then as you point out, Mr. Adelson gives Newt Gingrich $5 million --
gives his super PAC $5 million. What does the super PAC do? It buys this
really vicious 27-minute documentary that was created by someone solely for
the purpose of selling it to a super PAC.

And he was -- I guess the Gingrich super PAC Red White and Blue outbid
the others. Now they are running it in South Carolina. Newt Gingrich has
the advantage of whatever it is that the documentary does to disillusion
people about Mitt Romney, works to his advantage. But he can say, I really
hate that documentary. I think the inaccuracies in it need to be corrected
or it should be taken off the air altogether.

Meanwhile, the folks over at the super PAC say, sorry, we can`t
communicate. They are still running it.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And they are still checking out the facts. I love
the fact you just pointed something out I hadn`t thought of, that you can
now create a package, like a 27-minute negative documentary, so-called --
it`s not actually a documentary -- it`s a propaganda piece -- and then
advertise it on spec. Like there must be somebody out there that wants to
destroy this candidate`s reputation.

Here`s Joe Scarborough asking Mitt Romney whether he could tell his
pro-Romney super PAC to quit airing anti-Gingrich ads. Here`s Mitt
Romney`s response. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As you probably know, super
PACs have to be entirely separate from a campaign and a candidate. I`m not
allowed to communicate with a super PAC in way, shape, or form.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: So you`re not coordinating in any way
whatsoever?

ROMNEY: My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to
the big house.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We go to the big house. My goodness, the lingo.

KOPPEL: Chris, that is total nonsense, too, as the governor knows.

First of all, the Federal Election Committee doesn`t send anybody to
the big house. At worst, they slap a fine on you. And when you`re talking
about the worst kind of fines that have been slapped on people in the last
four or five years, it`s $100,000, $150,000 $200,000. That`s the price of
poker these days.

When you have got super PACs taking in $10 million, $20 million,
what`s a $200,000 fine?

MATTHEWS: Yes. Great work.

Ted Koppel, watch him tonight on "Rock Center." It`s at 10:00 p.m.
Eastern on NBC.

Up next, Michael Moore gives Newt Gingrich a big thumbs up or two
thumbs up, I should say. Stick around for the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: comedy or drama? What`s the category? Stephen Colbert`s
sudden entry into the 2012 race to the White House may be a smart way to
point out the poor game of campaign financing.

We talked about it earlier. But Colbert faced pretentious questions
on other parts of his campaign yesterday. One question seriously asked him
who he might pick for V.P., does he have a short list, and, oh, yes, how he
thinks he will fare without his name appearing on the South Carolina
ballot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": This is an exploratory.
When you exploring, you don`t know what you`re going to find.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: The voting is in six days in South
Carolina.

COLBERT: Well, George, just because something is difficult doesn`t
mean that shouldn`t be worth doing. I`m exploring right now. I`m a one-
man Lewis and Clark. And I`m just looking for my Sacagawea.

But they say I can`t get on the ballot in South Carolina? Is that
what he`s saying?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, no write-in.

COLBERT: They said you can`t go to the moon. They said you can`t put
cheese inside a pizza crust. But NASA did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t that funny.

Anyway, next up, big time backfire. When the pro-Gingrich super PAC
shelled out to air parts of a documentary bashing Bain Capital, who is the
last person you would think that they would want giving the piece a thumbs
up?

Well, get this. It`s left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore. He loves
this documentary. According to an interview with "The New York Times,"
Michael Moore had this to say about the film -- quote -- "I wondered who
they stole from my crew. It was fun to hear what I have been saying for 20
years, not just by any Republican candidate, but Newt Gingrich."

And there`s a reason many conservatives they have backed off attacks
on Bain Capital. And that`s it right there. They don`t like Michael Moore
agreeing with them. The truth hurts.

And, finally, breaking the rules. Mike Huckabee co-hosted a
presidential forum this past weekend with South Carolina Congressman Tim
Scott. The rules weren`t quite as rigid as they are for debates, but
here`s the one rule Huckabee wanted all the candidates to pay close
attention to. No bashing of the other candidates.

Think everyone played along? All but one. Let`s see who decided to
ignore the rule book when one apparently pro-Romney voter asked candidates
they could defend companies that put a lot of money on the line to salvage
companies on the brink of total failure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney ran saying
he created 100,000 jobs in the private sector.

(CROSSTALK)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Mr. Speaker, we have
said we will not allow any comment on the other candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH: Well, I was trying to answer his question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s right. It was Newt. The event ended without
Huckabee or Congressman Scott endorsing any of the candidates. And many
attendees were still saying they are undecided. How can you be undecided
now?

Anyway, up next, if you`re looking for the presidential candidate who
can turn around job losses, prevent economic collapse, destroy al Qaeda,
perhaps lower taxes, and keep health care in private hands, you have got
one in President Obama. Isn`t it amazing? The writer Andrew Sullivan
makes a great case for Obama, a positive, sound one. And you have got to
wonder why hasn`t the White House made it this sound and this good?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
what`s happening.

President Obama and his family celebrated the memory of Martin Luther
King Jr. with a volunteer project. In remarks earlier, he said the best
way to honor the civil rights leader was to do something on behalf of
others. The first family spent part of their day at the Browne Education
Center in Washington, where they helped out in the school`s library.

The number of missing from that shipwreck off of a luxury cruise liner
has risen to 29. The ship`s owner says it was human error that caused that
horrific crash off the Tuscan coast. So far, six people are confirmed
dead. The ship`s captain was arrested on Saturday. He`s accused of
manslaughter and abandoning ship.

And help has arrived for iced-in Nome, Alaska. A fuel tanker is less
than half-a-mile from that city`s harbor. Without the delivery, Nome`s
residents would run out of fuel by March or April. Crews are working to
lay a path of ice so they can secure a hose and make that transfer -- now
back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This is going to be a big segment for everybody who watches this show.
In the past couple weeks, we have pointed out that some of the criticism of
President Obama from Republicans is simply not rooted in fact. Well,
criticism that he`s bungling the economy, that he`s greatly expanded the
size of the U.S. government and, perhaps most obviously incorrectly, that
he`s an appeaser.

In the current issue of "Newsweek," Andrew Sullivan takes on Obama`s
critics on both the right and the left and points out that President
Obama`s strategy is to take the long view, play the long game, and that,
ultimately, he will outsmart his critics. But a long view requires an
Obama second term. And what would that look like?

Well, Andrew Sullivan is joining us right now. And he has got the
cover piece. "Why Are Obama`s Critics So Dumb?" it`s called. He`s the
editor of The Dish and a columnist at "Newsweek."

Andrew, thank you so much for joining me.

My friend, here is your opportunity, an opportunity. A soliloquy is
at hand. And I don`t mind you engaging in one.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: On the same day the Bureau of Labor Statistics released
numbers, new numbers showing 200,000 jobs were added to the economy, Mitt
Romney on that very day criticized the president`s economic policy. I want
you to respond to this, Andrew. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: He not only wasted government money. He made it more
difficult for entrepreneurs and innovators to come up with new ideas in the
future. This president doesn`t understand how this economy works. It`s
time to get a president who does.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, as this chart shows, Andrew, when Obama took office,
the U.S. economy was already well into a huge job loss. This started under
President Bush. We all know that intellectually. People keep forgetting
it. Our economy was losing about 750,000 jobs a month when Obama became
president.

He halted the collapse and turned it around. And the unemployment
rate has been dropping steadily since August.

Anyway, your thoughts about what really happened? I want you to take
on the right here.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think that Obama has governed as
he said he would, as a sensible, pragmatic centrist.

He`s grappled with the key issue facing the economy, which was this
inherited, massive depression. And he`s taken the most sensible course to
correct it. If you look at the way austerity is killing some countries in
Europe, you see that actually he`s managed to sustain steady recovery and
growth with some clear strategy, a stimulus package, lower taxes.

You will never hear Republicans point out that he`s cut taxes. And a
sensible basically right-of-center approach to running the economy. As for
Obamacare, that hasn`t really come into effect yet. And even when it does,
it will cost a fraction of what Bush`s Medicare prescription drug coverage
did, and it also helps the economy.

It`s important in a market economy that people go to jobs for the
jobs, not because they need the health care or can quit a job for the right
reasons, not because they can`t lose their health care. So health care
helps the economy as well.

And I just got frustrated hearing all these people tell untruths about
the record. The record is that he has done something perfectly sensible.
He`s fulfilled the promises that he made to turn this country around
slowly. Everybody acknowledges that this financial crisis was the worst
since the `30s and would take time to recover from.

I think people need patience and I think they need to look at the
record and realize that things are going in the right direction in
extremely difficult times.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at that list of accomplishments
that you write about.

It includes depression averted. Well, that`s the case, a fact. We
did avert a Great Depression the second time. Auto industry bailout
successful. That was his idea. He did it. And it`s worked. The Iraq war
ended. He said he would and he did. Bin Laden dead. He said he would.
He did. Well, he didn`t promise he did, but he did.

And a pair of liberal appointments to the Supreme Court, so the
Supreme Court is in better shape. And a reminder to the left, you write --
quote -- "oh, yes, and the liberal Holy Grail that eluded Johnson and
Carter and Clinton, nearly universal health care has been set into law."

Let`s talk about the criticisms from the left. How do you respond to
those -- I don`t think they are practical, but I do value their thinking --
that say, well, we still have Gitmo, we didn`t get a public option? There
is a list you`re familiar with from the people on the progressive side.

SULLIVAN: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: What do you respond?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think you have to look and see what was he able to
do? For example, in the National Defense Authorization Act, where it looks
like habeas corpus is up in the air, he had 100 votes in the Senate. What
was he supposed to do with that?

The same with Gitmo. He wanted to close it and move them, but in fact
the Congress stopped him. He`s not a magician, nor is he a dictator. He`s
part of a process. And one of the things that he`s had to deal with is an
unusually obstructionist Republican Party...

MATTHEWS: That`s for sure.

SULLIVAN: ... that will not cooperate on anything, basically, that
gave him in the worst depression, downturn, zero votes for a pretty modest
stimulus package in line with most mainstream economists.

That`s what he`s also been dealing with. And I think one of the great
things about his possibly being reelected, as I hope he is, is that we
might for the first time get through to Republicans. You know, you can
actually compromise with him when you want to, if you want to. And maybe
if you stop obstructing him and start negotiating with him, you`ll actually
get a better deal and the public will listen to you better in the future.

MATTHEWS: Well, run through what you think a second term would look
like, because that`s what this election is about. It`s not really about
the past. In terms of government activism, health care, is that the last
step he`s going to take? Is there`s something on the immigration front?
What`s he going to do in terms of economic growth?

What do you see is the picture of the second Obama term?

SULLIVAN: I see it in the picture in which the American society,
certainly in terms of sunsetting the Bush tax cuts and having some sort of
rise in the tax rates for the rich will be an attempt to tackle the debt.
That`s a huge problem. We can`t get away from it.

And I think he offers the possibility of a fair and balanced way of
cutting that debt than the Republican approach, which is entirely to do it
on the backs of the middle class and the poor. Having some sacrifice from
the very wealthy is important.

I also think, obviously, immigration reform is possible, necessary,
and important. And I think he has a chance to do that. Again, if the
Republicans are prepared to be reasonable and come back to the negotiating
table in a way that isn`t completely determined by a fantasy about who this
guy is. He`s not a big old lefty.

I mean, as for the left, he`s a compromiser in the middle. And I
think what he`s done is set out carefully where he wants to go and he`s
waiting for them to come to the table to get there. And if he does and
does it with that kind of bipartisan support long-term, his achievement
will be very durable, as durable as Reagan`s was.

MATTHEWS: OK. Why do I not hear this kind of clarity and perhaps
clairvoyance from, or positive clairvoyance, talking about the future,
where he`s taking, us from his team in Chicago? Why don`t I hear it from
him?

SULLIVAN: Well, I wish we did. I think this case could be made.
And in reporting this piece, I was frustrated in talking to them about
their inability to simply present the record, just the record of this
moderate, successful, and I think in some ways transformative president. I
mean, his foreign policy alone, not just bin Laden. And, by the way, Bush
did take the eye off bin Laden.

But most of the leadership of al Qaeda destroyed.

MATTHEWS: This is so -- let me --

SULLIVAN: He finally won the war against the worst attack on this
country.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let`s mix it up here a little. That`s brilliant what
you said. By the way, everybody is going to read this article in
"Newsweek" and I agree with you. You`re genius on this.

But there`s something endemic with the liberals. Why did Al Gore not
claim that during the Clinton administration, whatever you think about
Clinton`s misbehavior personally, it was irrelevant to Al Gore? The
economy was fantastic under the Democrats from `93 to 2000. Yet when Gore
ran for president, he never once drag bragged.

What is this about the defeatism, this loserism of Democrats? Is it
the fear if you brag about economic success, some poor people will say, you
left me out? What is it that staggers their ability to occasionally do a
dance in the end zone and say, look, we`ve done it, we did?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think it`s partly because they invested into Obama
a whole bunch of fantasies, that he was some kind of far-left radical who
is going to transform the world. He never was.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SULLIVAN: He never said he was going to be. And he hasn`t been
that.

And there`s a sort of purism on the left that if you`re not that,
therefore, we must stay home. If I hear another person in their 50s with a
pony tail tell me they are not going to vote this year because they
couldn`t get a public option, I will scream.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re in `60s --

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: -- join the real world.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, the flagellant class, as you just
mentioned, are not limited to the people in their 50s. There`s a lot of
young bloggers out there in their 20s and 30s who are always whipping
themselves that this isn`t exactly the great transformation that was
promised by someone.

SULLIVAN: I just asked them to grow up a little and look at history,
and understand that -- and also at this point in Reagan`s term, it was not
clear that he would be the transformative figure that he was supposed to
be, and the right -- remember people like Richard Viguerie -- attacking him
from the get go.

I think it`s a different era than the `80s. And I think Obama is to
this era what Reagan was to his, which is why I`m perfectly happy saying I
back Reagan in the `80s and back Obama now. We need his correction. We
need his calm and we need his leadership.

His temperament alone is enough to keep him in the Oval Office, in my
view.

MATTHEWS: Who should the people with pony tails write letters of
anger at? I`m just kidding.

SULLIVAN: Me.

MATTHEWS: A lot of good guys with pony tails. A lot there on the
far right by the way, the MIA guys. Anyway, the motorcycles.

Anyway, both sides have pony tails. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: I`m sorry about pony tails. I support them in general. I
apologize.

MATTHEWS: OK, you`re a genius.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, Mitt Romney got another boost on his march to
Republican nomination. Jon Huntsman, not a big deal, but he`s out of the
race. It is gradually -- they are dwindling, these people. It`s getting
smaller this list.

Can anyone stop Mitt? That`s a good question. We`re going to answer
it in a minute.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, tomorrow is the deadline for signatures to force the
possible recall of Wisconsin union-busting governor, Scott Walker.
Supporters of Walker`s recall need about 540,000 signatures and the state`s
Democratic Party chairman says they are on track to hit about 750,000.
That would mean a recall election would take place as early as this spring
and it would be a crucial test of the power of big labor in a critical
swing state for the presidential election.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with Jon Huntsman bowing out of the race
earlier today in South Carolina. The race continues to whittle down to
Romney versus the non-Romneys, with Huntsman supporters very likely now to
throw their support behind Romney, and a still fractured conservative
crowd.

Can anyone Romney at this point?

Michael Steele is the former chair of the RNC and Howard Fineman is
editorial director for "The Huffington Post" Media Group. Both are MSNBC
political analysts.

And I guess that`s what keeps this game going.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: What would it take for Romney to lose in South Carolina?
And who could do it?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, it would take a surge by
one of the remaining candidates. I mean, you got an eye on certainly
Santorum and Gingrich are battling it out. But everyone is kind of
overlooking Ron Paul down there as well. I mean, the guy --

MATTHEWS: But he doesn`t matter.

STEELE: That`s what people like to think. I think Ron --

MATTHEWS: No, but he doesn`t stop him from getting the nomination.

STEELE: He doesn`t stop him from getting the nomination, but he
could make it more difficult downstream. In terms of stopping to get the
nomination, that`s going to be Santorum or Gingrich, and I`d probably have
to give the edge to Santorum, given the support that you saw from the
evangelicals this weekend.

MATTHEWS: It`s an interesting choice. They have, first, this LDS,
who`s a Mormon. They have two Catholics. They must -- what kind of world
do we live in down there?

FINEMAN: It`s called America.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: No, that was the space that Rick Perry originally was
aiming for, which is the Protestant, Bible belt vote, which is after all
the core of the modern Republican Southern-based party --

MATTHEWS: It`s Baptist.

FINEMAN: And South Carolina is the historic home, sort of the --
that`s the wheelhouse of the modern Republican Party, starting with Strom
Thurmond and Lee Atwater and all that stuff. Ronald Reagan`s big victory
in 1980.

It was Ronald Reagan who created -- his people created the primary.
Before 1980, it was a -- it was a convention-type deal. The Romney people
I talked to today said that they are more worried, they tell me this.
They`re more --

MATTHEWS: I love the way you do that because --

FINEMAN: I don`t know if it`s what they are really thinking but what
they are saying is that they are more concerned about Santorum. Keep an
eye more on Santorum, they`re saying, than Gingrich. And that translates
at least on -- in the airwaves and to the advertising that independent
groups are doing, independent groups are doing, they are attacking
Santorum.

STEELE: Right.

FINEMAN: They are not attacking Gingrich right now.

MATTHEWS: But it`s doable, Michael. Just look at the numbers.
Romney is not high up there like he was in New Hampshire.

STEELE: No, it`s a very close race on the numbers. And I think the
Romney people have to be concerned about what Santorum can do there.
Remember, Santorum, people play down the juice that he has coming out of
New Hampshire. Oh, you know, just a one-shot deal coming out of Iowa. But
he has been systematically on the ground down there, and having a very good
effect.

MATTHEWS: How smart are conservative voters to know they`ve got to
vote for one guy or they`re going to lose?

STEELE: Well, I think they are pretty smart. They are getting
smarter.

FINEMAN: Of course, they are being told that by all their leaders.
That`s what the meeting in Texas was about.

STEELE: Absolutely.

FINEMAN: And there are power pastors in South Carolina, as there
were in Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Do they issue the white and black -- in this case,
probably mostly white pastors. Do they actually say at the pulpit this
Sunday --

FINEMAN: No, I don`t think they say it at the pulpit but they say it
off the pulpit. They say it at the Wednesday night meeting. They say it
at the restaurant afterwards. What they believe gets out there and it`s
well known.

STEELE: And everybody --

FINEMAN: In a way, it`s a funny thing. The mainstream people don`t
love Mitt Romney but they`ll settle for him. And the conservative
evangelicals don`t love Rick Santorum, but they might settle for him as
well.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting, because I grew up --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I was warned by my relatives, you know, they don`t like
Catholics down South. I never encountered any of that. But the old joke
of one of my buddies` parents was, when you are in the South, go around
asking where the Catholic bus station is, which drives them crazy. They`ve
got their own buses up North?

STEELE: That`s an old joke.

MATTHEWS: An old joke.

But now, we have a situation where the Democrats are looking at this
thing. And I`m just thinking, what do the Democrats think? They must now
be thinking -- I`ll start with you, Howard -- they must now be thinking
Romney is like an old Polaroid coming into clarity here. It`s going to be
Romney.

FINEMAN: It is, but it`s going to be a very slow developing
photograph because even if Romney wins in South Carolina, I don`t think
he`s going to win big. He might win big in Florida.

But even were he to win every delegate from here on in, if everybody
else dropped out, mathematically, it would still take him -- maybe it`s
just a matter of procedure -- but mathematically would take him until at
least late March if not early April because of the way, and as the chairman
knows, they changed the rules in the Republican Party.

STEELE: Yes.

FINEMAN: It`s proportional. So, it`s going to be a long --

MATTHEWS: Is that a real -- if there`s nobody else that can beat
him, does it become sort of only for wonks to pay attention to?

FINEMAN: It defends of whoever stay.

MATTHEWS: Does anybody really think the nomination is in doubt once
he knocks out all his opponents?

STEELE: At that point, no. But you still -- as Howard said, you
still got to go through the process. You can`t claim the mantel --

MATTHEWS: Will there still be debates? I`m worried about -- will
there still be debates in Florida?

STEELE: Yes. Oh, absolutely. Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: So we have two more. One tonight, we got one later now.
We got two more. We got an NBC debate coming up in Florida.

STEELE: And, remember, Chris, you still have -- to Howard`s point --
Ron Paul is sitting out there. I mean, don`t think he`s going to go away
just because the others drop out.

MATTHEWS: Oh, great. Michael Steele, thank you. Howard Fineman,
the race -- this game ain`t over yet.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther
King in his own words.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I`d like to finish tonight with this:

It`s powerful stuff. I`m going to read you some words from Dr.
Martin Luther King`s letter from the Birmingham city jail in April of 1963.
I believe the words carry obviously universal power, but also bring alive
the spirit of the man we honor today.

Quote, "For years now, I`ve heard the word `wait`. This wait has
almost always meant never. We have waited for more than 340 years for our
constitutional and God-given rights. I guess it is easy for those who have
never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait.

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your brothers and mothers
at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim, when you have seen
hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, even kill your black brothers
and sisters with impunity, when you see the vast majorities of your 20
million brothers smothering in an air tight cage of poverty in the midst of
an affluent society.

When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and speech stammering as
you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can`t go to the
public amusement park that`s just been advertised on television and see
tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that fun town is
closed to colored children. And see the depressing clouds of inferiority
begin to form in her little mental sky and see her begin to distort her
little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white
people. When you have to concoct an answer for a 5-year-old son asking an
agonizing phatos, `Daddy why do white people treat colored people so mean?`

When you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep
night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because
no motel will accept you, when you are humiliated day in and day out by
nagging signs reading white men and colored when you are harried by day and
haunted by night living constantly at tip toe stance, never quite knowing
what to expect next and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments when
you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness, then you will
understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no
longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they
experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sir, as you can
understand, our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

Wow.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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