1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 1/24/2012 10:27:59 AM ET 2012-01-24T15:27:59

Guests: Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, David Gregory, Tyler Mathisen, David Corn, Joe Williams, Bill McCollum, John Mica, Michael Kransih, Scott Helman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Mutiny in the Magic Kingdom.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Tampa, Florida, the site of
tonight`s NBC News Republican debate.

Leading off tonight, fight night in Florida. Want to know what panic
looks like? Just watch Mitt Romney. Here are just some of the phrases
he`s been throwing at Newt Gingrich -- "Resigned in disgrace," "failed
leader," "left in shame." Mitt can`t sell himself, so he`s going after
Newt.

But already, two automated polls for Florida`s primary next week have
shown a complete reversal. It`s now Newt on top. Why? Because the base
is revolting against the Republican Party`s ruling class. The winner in
South Carolina this Saturday was the Republican right wing. No one
channels the anger -- the hatred, and not just of Barack Obama -- better
than Newt. The only way for Mitt to catch Newt is for him to match Newt,
pretend he hates just as much. He might also learn how to become a media
basher like Newt. No one does it better. Will Newt -- well, Newt, will
Newt do it again tonight?

And watching all the debates, you might have gotten the impression
that President Obama is a socialist, someone desperate to turn the U.S. of
A. into some pale imitation of a bankrupt Europe. Well, tonight, debunking
some of the enduring myths about President Obama.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the fact that down here in Florida,
it`s not all the Magic Kingdom.

And don`t forget you can catch -- or actually watch the NBC News
Republican debate tonight on a special edition of "ROCK CENTER" with Brian
Williams. The debate on NBC airs at 9:00, 8:00 o`clock Central time.

We start with fight night. It`s got to be called that. Chuck Todd is
the political director for NBC News, as well as our chief White House
correspondent. And Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and the
Huffington Post Media Group editorial director.

Gentlemen, it seems to me it comes down to one thing, if you tout (ph)
tonight. Mitt Romney is going after Newt Gingrich personally, going after
his character, making who this guy is the central issue of his campaign.
Newt knows this better than anyone. Newt will respond. What a night!

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is. And
it strikes me, frankly, as a little bit of trap because this is what Newt
Gingrich does. He enjoys the verbal combat. What I am surprised by this
Romney pivot -- the Romney pivot is full on. Make Gingrich completely
unacceptable, whatever it takes to make him completely unacceptable as a
potential Republican nominee.

But they are not showing anything yet -- and maybe this is coming.
Maybe this is coming in a couple of days -- is how to fix the Mitt problem.
There is a Mitt problem there, or he wouldn`t be losing the conservatives
by a near 2-to-1 margin in South Carolina. He wouldn`t be seeing his leads
collapse at a moment`s notice because his leads have collapsed. The robo-
polls are probably overinflating the Newt surge, but the campaign pollsters
all have -- this race is neck and neck.

MATTHEWS: Why don`t the Republican smart guys around Mitt Romney
remember what Jimmy Carter tried to do to Ronald Reagan? Instead of
building up Jimmy Carter, they said, Oh, you can`t vote for Ronald Reagan.
And the public, the electorate, said, Oh, yes? Oh, yes? We`re going to
vote for him because we don`t like you.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, there are a couple problems for Mitt Romney. One of them is he can`t
credibly attack Newt Gingrich from the right. Now, Joe Scarborough, our
colleague, can say Newt Gingrich isn`t a real conservative, and that`s
damning coming from Joe, who is one, but it won`t work for Mitt Romney.
That`s number one.

Number two, I just spent the day in a very affluent part of Sarasota,
Florida, near Long Boat (ph) Key. The establishment Republicans were as
thick upon the ground as the egrets on the golf course, OK? And they are
saying -- they`re saying if Mitt Romney goes down that road, it`s not going
to do Mitt Romney any good.

I talked to a guy named Fred Niedrich (ph), I think, in Sarasota. He
said -- and he`s a staunch establishment Republican. But he said, If Mitt
Romney tries to behave like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney will lose what I
find attractive about him, which is that he`s a sane, straight-ahead,
level-headed guy. And he`s going to lose that fight. That`s what the
establishment Republicans say.

So the problem that Romney has is he`s faced with a Hobson`s choice
here. Does he go after him that way or not? Either way, he loses.

MATTHEWS: One of the most -- roughest political advice I ever got
was, Don`t get in peeing match with a skunk. Right?

FINEMAN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m not saying it`s relevant, I`m saying it`s helpful
information in a general situation.

Newt Gingrich told a crowd in Tampa this afternoon he expected Mitt
Romney to get desperate at the debate tonight. Let`s watch his pre-game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If
you`ve been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away,
you get desperate. And when you get desperate, you say almost anything.
And I think tonight`s debate, he`ll will probably stretch the barrier of
almost anything. And I`ve been memorizing old phrases like, "There you go
again" because it`s such baloney. Now it used to be pious baloney, but now
it`s just desperate baloney. So that`s the succession of this campaign.
We`ve moved from Romney`s pious baloney to Romney`s desperate baloney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m going back to the fight game here. If Romney attacks
or throws the punch or Newt reminds him that he threw the punch, even if he
checks his swing tonight, it`s easy because people always root for the
person under attack, whether it`s Ronald Reagan with "There you go again"
or anybody, or David against Goliath.

TODD: Well, it`ll be interesting to see. Look, I think this is one -
- they loved how Newt responded to their attacks in Iowa. You know, Newt
sort of grabbed it and he -- and it was -- and he didn`t handle it well.
So I think that`s one thing. They think, OK, he didn`t handle it well the
first time. Let`s see what happens when we really drop a meteor on him.

The second thing, though, is what does -- how does -- how does Newt go
forward in this a little bit that says, OK -- you know, on Saturday night,
I thought he responded with a very odd speech. His victory speech was not
a victory speech, it was still somehow showing a grievance, somehow showing
the anger...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but wasn`t it aimed at...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I thought it was aimed, after I thought about it, at this
state...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: He didn`t act like a nominee, though. He didn`t act like a guy
who might be on the verge of front-runner.

MATTHEWS: But he`s still got to win Florida!

TODD: Can I just tell you -- well, not only that, the -- what I don`t
get on the Romney people is they make this case that it`s the long game,
that they`re the ones ready. They`re acting, though, that if they lose
Florida, it`s a house of cards and that the whole thing crumbles.

MATTHEWS: But isn`t Newt still trying to win up -- we call it the
panhandle, the southern part of northern Florida, where people are much
more likely...

FINEMAN: Well, it`s partly that...

MATTHEWS: When you keep talking about food stamps, playing to white
resentment...

FINEMAN: But it`s not just the panhandle. Yes, it`s partly that, but
it`s also -- even among these establishment Republicans that I was talking
to today...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... they can`t stand Barack Obama on many levels. They want
him out. And even for moderate establishment Republicans, they`re
surprisingly fierce when you`re talking to them on a street corner in an
affluent part of Sarasota.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: They want him out. They wish that Mitt Romney had the
ability to fight the way Newt Gingrich does.

And the problem that Mitt Romney also has is, yes, there are
surrogates, yes, there are independent spending groups, but in a debate,
you have to carry the argument yourself.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: Newt Gingrich relishes this. He`s had 20 years of it on the
floor. He`s had 25 years of it in Congress. Mitt Romney doesn`t know how
to do it very well.

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is...

FINEMAN: He doesn`t know how to do it very well.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s watch him here. Here`s the man we`re talking
about, Mitt Romney, getting aggressive and attacking Newt Gingrich last
night. He called the former speaker of the House a "failed leader." Well,
today, he hit Newt on multiple fronts. Let`s watch him in action. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the case of
-- of the speaker, he`s got some records which could represent an October
surprise. We could see an October surprise a day from Newt Gingrich!

Saying that Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact. But
if you`re working for a company, getting paid for a company through one of
your many entities, and then you`re speaking with congressmen in a way that
would help that company, that`s lobbying.

I think as you look at the speaker`s record over time, it`s been
highly erratic. He`s gone from pillar to post almost like a pinball
machine, from -- from item to item in a way which -- which is highly
erratic and does not suggest a -- a stable, thoughtful course which is
normally associated with -- with leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? He`s going after -- what is he
saying, he`s Captain Queeg...

FINEMAN: Well, yes, he`s...

MATTHEWS: ... there`s something wrong with the guy?

FINEMAN: One of his top people just the other day e-mailed me to say,
Newt`s crazy.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And that`s the line that they`re...

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s crazy like a fox because...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... just got the word from Mike Isikoff of NBC because I
just heard it through my ear, that Newt Gingrich is going to release his
Freddie Mac contract. So this big demand for the full paper load...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: And he released his tax returns, which are interesting, by
the way...

MATTHEWS: Who, Newt`s?

FINEMAN: Yes, and not totally exculpatory...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: ... a lot of his business and hides some of that tax stuff.

FINEMAN: Yes, he -- it`s not totally clean, but he puts the pressure
on Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: This kind of ballgame, Newt -- whatever else you think about
Newt...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... he`s a master at it.

MATTHEWS: Romney comes across as a calm, sweatless, in-charge
executive, CEO. If Newt can drag him into a mud fight, who wins the mud
fight?

TODD: Well, this is what happened four years ago. We saw this movie.
Mitt Romney came to Florida desperate to stop John McCain and he threw
everything at him, went in debates. And John McCain every time -- John
McCain sort of just -- just swatted him away, almost like a lion would swat
away some...

MATTHEWS: OK...

TODD: ... some fly that was coming after him.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s the dirt...

TODD: And Newt is...

MATTHEWS: Here`s the ad. Look at this. We`re right on top of this,
what you just said, Chuck. Here`s Mitt Romney`s newest ad. It`s not him.
It`s the paid ad. But it is his own campaign`s ad. It`s not some third
party -- going after Newt`s ties to Freddie Mac. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While Florida families lost everything in the
housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 by
the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.

FINEMAN: And I offered advice. And my advice as a historian...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An historian? Really? Sanctioned for ethics
violations, Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace and then cashed in
as a D.C. insider. If Newt wins, this guy would be very happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is ultimate fighting.

FINEMAN: Well, that`s their best argument. I think that`s the Romney
campaign`s best argument. It`s not that Newt isn`t a real conservative
because I say they can`t carry that argument. It`s...

MATTHEWS: They`re calling him a crook.

FINEMAN: Yes, they`re calling him a crook. And they very cleverly
cut in the fact that he had the ethics violation and left Congress with
Fannie and Freddie, which really weren`t related at all, but they make it
look that way.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FINEMAN: And that can cut down -- that can cut down here, don`t you
think, Chuck?

TODD: It can because of the foreclosure, all those things. But
again, it doesn`t deal with the Romney problem.

MATTHEWS: And it still...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: And ultimately, that`s the issue. He`s got a message problem.

MATTHEWS: All right, we got to go...

TODD: I don`t want what he`s for.

MATTHEWS: We got to -- who do you want fighting Obama? They seem to
want Newt right now. Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, figuring out the fight
game tonight. And you can watch the NBC News Republican debate on a
special edition of "ROCK CENTER" tonight at 9:00 o`clock Eastern with Brian
Williams, 9:00 o`clock Eastern, 8:00 Central, the big fight tonight on NBC.

Coming up: The base is revolting. Newt Gingrich is surging because no
one channels the right wing`s hatred not just of Barack Obama better. And
that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Today at a campaign event here in Florida, Rick Santorum
was questioned by a woman who referred to President Obama as a Muslim.
Listen to the question and then Santorum`s answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is an avowed Muslim.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And why isn`t something being done to get him
out of our government? He has no legal right to be calling himself
president!

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, yes,
I`m doing my best to try to get him out of the government.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: And you`re right about how he uniformly ignores the
Constitution. He did this with these appointments over the, quote,
"recess" that was not a recess. And if I was in the United States Senate,
I would be drawing the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "An avowed Muslim." That`s what she said. She also said
he has no right to call himself president. And no correction whatever from
Rick Santorum.

Well, the former senator told reporters afterwards that he`s not --
well, it`s not his job to correct people who say things he doesn`t agree
with. And he said the reporters who asked him about were playing gotcha.

Well, by the way, telling the truth and correcting people who don`t
tell the truth is not a matter of opinion or agreement. This is below the
normal moral behavior of Rick Santorum I`ve noticed over the years. He
should have corrected it right on the spot. He normally would have, I
think.

We`ll be right back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FINEMAN: I think they sent two really big messages, which I wish the
national establishment could pick up. The first is real pain. There`s
tremendous unemployment. People really are hurting. The second, though,
which I think nobody in Washington and New York gets, is the level of anger
at the national establishment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s got that right. Welcome back to HARDBALL. The
base of the Republican Party is in revolt, and right now, no one is tapping
into that anger and channeling it better than Newt Gingrich. You just
heard him there.

This trend line from RealClearPolitics, by the way, that tracks
polling shows that since December 1st, Newt Gingrich has surged with
Republican voters here in Florida. He slipped for a few weeks, but
automated polls taken just this weekend have Gingrich ahead now here in
this primary coming up next week and he`s pulled into a tie now when you
average polls taken in the past week.

Well, can Gingrich ride the wave of anger to a victory in Florida?
Can he win the Republican nomination overall? Bill McCollum served with
Gingrich in the U.S. Congress. He was the state attorney general here in
Florida. He`s now Newt Gingrich`s Florida campaign chairman. For the
other candidate, Florida congressman John Mica, who`s serving right now --
he supports Mitt Romney.

Let me give you both equal time here. Bill McCollum, I hear you have
a great statewide organization. I heard it from a top Democrat the other
day. And you`re putting it at the disposal of Newt Gingrich.

BILL MCCOLLUM (R), FMR. FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Well, we`ve got a great
statewide organization. It`s not all mine, it`s really his. It`s a grass
roots organization. We have county chairs, Chris, in all 67 counties. We
have many coalition groups.

And there`s this groundswell of support mainly because people see Newt
as the one who`s the most able to articulate the conservative positions and
will be the most likely to be able to win in the fall election against
President Obama because he`s crisper, more concise, he has a vision. He
has the leadership skills. He has the knowledge. And you`re seeing that
demonstrated in every one of these debates.

MATTHEWS: Why is he calling the president the "food stamp president"?
Do you like that language?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think he`s trying to make the point about Welfare
reform. Remember going back to our days when you and I used to talk about
that?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCCOLLUM: And the truth of the matter...

MATTHEWS: You don`t think that has a racial tinge to it...

MCCOLLUM: Not at all.

MATTHEWS: ... "food stamp president"?

MCCOLLUM: No. I`ve heard you say that, and I don`t...

MATTHEWS: You don`t agree with me on that? Why does every African-
American I talk to think it has a racial tinge to it?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think that`s a leftover vestige. I think...

MATTHEWS: For them? They get it wrong?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think today, things have changed a lot. I think
the bottom line is a lot of people are on food stamps in Florida who have
nothing to do with race. I mean, we`ve got a lot of people who are hurting
in this state that are whites, that are Hispanics, that are every race.

His point is, look, we need to give people a hand up, not a handout.
And that`s something that Republicans and conservatives believe very, very
deeply and it stings (ph) right to the bottom line. So Newt is hitting the
core issue of what we do in the future. What`s the difference between the
Republicans and the Democrats on a lot of these issues, and especially
about the economy?

MATTHEWS: Well, the difference between your candidate, Newt Gingrich,
and Mitt Romney is that kind of talk.

Let me go to Congressman Mica. Your candidate, the former governor of
Massachusetts, just doesn`t talk about that kind of red meat stuff -- food
stamps. You know the big excitement that rages among working-class whites.
They go, Oh, yes, these guys are living off the state and I`m working hard.
You know the old symbolism of that kind of talk.

Mitt won`t talk in that angry talk of the ticked-off voter. Is that
going to stop him from winning?

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think, you know, this political
banter and the charges -- last week, I think Mr. Gingrich -- and I served
with him, too -- he became the recipient of some of the, you know, anger of
the American people.

And it was really, I think, part of the media going overboard in his
case. And he benefited by it. And we`ve seen these media bumps in the
past, but I think when Florida settles down and votes -- and it`s quite
different and has an amalgamation of people from around the country. They
want someone who`s solid and who can address their issues who`s also had
business experience, his personal life, and also I think elected executive
experience that make a difference and can make a difference in their life.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think the difference in the way you two guys talk
explains this race so far.

Here`s NBC`s Peter Alexander asking Mitt Romney if he`s done a good
enough job of channeling the anger and resentment of the base of the
Republican Party that it feels right now. Here`s Romney`s answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, something Mike
Huckabee said was kind of interesting. He said, look, I`m a conservative,
but I`m not angry at anybody about it.

And I don`t think ours is the party of angry -- of anger. We`re upset
with the president. He`s taken the country in the wrong direction. But we
want someone who can lead our country and can lead our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m not sure when Mike Huckabee made that kind of banal
comment, but anger is in the streets of this country, and not just in the
Republican Party.

MCCOLLUM: Well, Chris, it isn`t just anger. They are looking for a
bold leader. They are looking for change of direction. They know the
economy is not going right.

Newt Gingrich has the boldest and the best economic plan of any of
these candidates. He`s strong on national security. He has a long
background of knowledge in that arena. And he can talk the talk. He knows
how to take it to the debate. And that`s what the people like. That`s
what the conservative base likes. They want somebody that they are
confident is going to be able to take it to President Obama in the fall in
the campaign and in the debates.

MATTHEWS: What will he do in the debate that Mitt Romney won`t do?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think he will be sharp, he will be crisper. He
will be more to the point. And let`s take Obamacare.

MATTHEWS: He will be personal, too, won`t he?

MCCOLLUM: Well, let`s take Obamacare for one thing.

Romneycare is the model for Obamacare. Governor Romney has one arm
behind his back. He supported that. They have got real problems in
Massachusetts with it now, higher insurance premiums. Fewer people can get
to see doctors, all kinds of problems. Newt can talk about it on that
plane that Romney never can.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but with Newt, Mitt Romney -- I mean, Newt Gingrich,
it`s so good. It`s always feeding time in the lion cage for him. He`s
always throwing the slabs of meat, this thing about the president being a
socialist and being trained by Saul Alinsky, the clever language about food
stamps. He never stops talking like that. And they love it.

MCCOLLUM: Absolutely right, because it gets the points across pretty
crisply, pretty sharply.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: He`s a good organizer.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president is a socialist? Is the
president a socialist?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: I don`t call him a socialist.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: He`s way over the to the left. I get pretty close to that.

MATTHEWS: A European what? What is he?

MCCOLLUM: I say he`s a European style of president. He is one who
would like to take us in the direction...

MATTHEWS: A European-style president.

MCCOLLUM: But let me tell you this, Chris. What Gingrich has is
leadership skills, knowledge, and he has a vision.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You mean he`s like Churchill, that kind of leader,
Thatcher, de Gaulle?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: I think he`s a little closer to Maggie Thatcher, Margaret
Thatcher.

MATTHEWS: See, this is the language.

See, Congressman Mica, your candidate will not talk in the street
language of so`s your old man, saying he`s not quite a socialist, but he`s
way far over to the left. He`s sort of European, whatever that means.
Does that mean he`s like Maggie Thatcher, one of the conservatives` heroes,
or my hero, Winston Churchill? Or is he one of those stranger Europeans?
Berlusconi. Well, he`s on the right too.

What are they talking about when they say he`s European? I don`t get
it. I do get it.

Mr. Mica, your guy doesn`t talk like this guy.

MICA: Well, I think Americans have had enough of people who try to
incite with rhetoric and all of this stuff that has gone on. And then we
have had the other side of the coin, people who just don`t seem to
understand that what we need is a uniter, and not a divider.

The country has had enough of that.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MICA: Then the most important thing -- and this is the thing for
Floridians. We have 10 percent unemployment. I have got 14 percent. When
all this mishmash is over, we need somebody who has business experience,
somebody who has a personal life that`s a good example, and who has led as
an executive.

We have got a guy that was a community organizer. He won the
"American Idol" contest. And he can sing, but he can`t lead. And we have
had that. We need a leader.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Mr. Mica.

And thank you, Mr. -- you heard that shot about the personal life.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: Well, John Mica is my congressman. He`s my friend. I
disagree with him on this, because I do think there are European leaders
who are way over to the left. And that`s where President Obama is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t you say Newt Gingrich`s personal life is more
European than Obama`s?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I don`t think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I would say it`s more European.

Anyway, thank you, Bill McCollum.

And I don`t mean to disgrace him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Bill McCollum.

Thank you, Congressman Mica.

You`re both gentlemen. I`m so glad -- you`re great members of
Congress. I have worked with you guys -- I have seen you guys over the
years. I think you`re great. I love this debate.

Up next, Newt Gingrich is also a professional basher of us, the media.
He`s pretty good at it, by the way. He`s going to do it again tonight, in
the debate tonight.

Let`s ask David Gregory. He`s had some of these debates to moderate.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back.

When the books are written about the 2012 campaign for president,
there`s surely to be a chapter focused on Newt Gingrich`s debate
performances in South Carolina last week.

Well, we have a big debate coming up tonight on NBC down here in Tampa
moderated by Brian Williams. And all eyes will be on the former speaker.
Can he keep up his momentum? What does he need to do tonight, and what can
we expect from his rival, Mitt Romney?

Here to help us with that is David Gregory, the moderator of "Meet the
Press," who has also interviewed Gingrich yesterday.

You have also moderated a debate. You have kept control of the range.
You ramrodded it. You kept up the tension. But these are so fascinating
because Newt Gingrich uses debates for a whole new thing.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s not Nixon vs. Kennedy. Sometimes it`s Newt vs. the
moderator. You never know what to expect.

GREGORY: There`s no question. But let`s remember this is not a new
feeling anymore.

He had the debate last week where he really went after this question
about his ex-wife. So that novelty is going to wear off a little bit.
This is what Gingrich does. It`s a game.

MATTHEWS: Will he jump the shark tonight, do too much of it?

GREGORY: Well, it`s possible, but I think he knows how to restrain
himself too.

I think the risk here is that Romney is going to come out a little too
hot. And then Gingrich is going to be like Bush was, remember, in 2000
when Gore walked up to him, and just shoot him a look.

MATTHEWS: He won the election with that, I think -- if he did win it.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY: Right. Who is most comfortable in their skin? It`s going
to be a battle of that.

So I think, look, Gingrich is waiting to go after the media elite, so-
called. I just think it`s important for us to remember, as hard as this is
for people in our business, this is not about us.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

GREGORY: This is not about us. This is what he does. This is not an
argument on the merits.

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch him do it. Here`s Thursday night in that
debate. Let`s watch Newt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the destructive,
vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to
govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public
office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a
topic like that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHN KING, MODERATOR: As you noted, Mr. Speaker, this story did not
come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation
on the campaign. I`m not -- I get your point. I take your point.

GINGRICH: John -- John, it was repeated by your network. You chose
to start the debate with it. Don`t try to blame somebody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, just in terms of -- get off the media for a
second. In terms of just political gamesmanship, he took what we call a
lemon and turned it into lemonade, an attack on his personal life, where
he`s vulnerable, and turned it into a brilliant assault on the
establishment in front of a Republican audience.

GREGORY: First of all, you walk into that room as a member of the
media.

If you`re going to pick a fight like that, you have got to be willing
to follow it through.

MATTHEWS: Right.

GREGORY: Because you`re not going to win the crowd. OK, so you can`t
play to that crowd.

The reality is that Newt Gingrich has said -- he`s said it to me and
others -- that these are fair questions. And when I questioned him about
it yesterday, I made that part of the predicate.

So the reality is, there was a new wrinkle there. What was the answer
to the question? He ultimately got to the answer there after he wanted to
make his point. But, look, Gingrich may try to do that, use the media as a
foil.

But I really do think that`s the undercard here tonight. I think that
got a big splash. I think tonight is about how he engages Romney and how
Romney decides to come at him.

MATTHEWS: How does Romney -- you have to watch this as a moderator.
Maybe this is not our business, but it will be after we watch it.

Romney has to go on the attack, because he`s been on the attack for 48
hours now. He can`t pull back or he will be accused of pulling a -- that
guy from Minnesota, where you can`t remember his name anymore.

GREGORY: Pawlenty, yes.

MATTHEWS: Pawlenty pulled a Pawlenty, where he was ready to go and he
didn`t do it.

Even if he doesn`t take the shot, Newt can come back and say, I have
heard what you have been saying about me.

GREGORY: Sure, absolutely.

Look, I think the moderator`s job -- and Brian Williams is more
experienced at it than me -- but I think the job is to get out of the way
and create a situation where you`re asking pointed questions to allow them
to debate each other and allow them to engage each other. And we were
talking during the break. You have got these time limits. And it`s always
so crazy with the lights going off and what does yellow and what does red
mean.

The reality is they have been doing this a lot already. Let them go.
Let them play.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, you probably have an executive producer in your
ear saying, ignore the lights.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let it go.

Anyway, thank you, David Gregory.

GREGORY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It could be one of the great night of political television
tonight.

GREGORY: Sure.

MATTHEWS: We will see you -- see you again tonight.

Anyway, tonight, at 9:00 Eastern again, 8:00 Central -- I keep
promoting this because if you don`t watch this tonight, you`re really
missing a big part of this Republican side of the fight to see who fights
Obama. By the way, this is a warmup, I would have to say, for what`s going
to come in November.

Up next, if you listen to the Republicans, you might think President
Obama is some kind of socialist. We just heard a guy on here, McCollum,
saying he has got European thinking. I don`t think he was talking about
Maggie Thatcher. We`re going to debunk some of that enduring myths about
the president when we come back. It`s going to be very interesting.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow industrials off by 11 points, but it was a lot worse earlier,
the S&P 500 up less than a point. And the Nasdaq was down two-and-a-half.
After the closing bell, Texas Instruments reported earnings and revenue
that beat expectations. The company also says it plans to close two older
manufacturing facilities, one of them in the United States. It employs
about 500 people.

Management change at the top of Research In Motion, not unexpected,
but not helping the stock price. The BlackBerry maker`s co-CEOs and
chairmen stepped down over the weekend. They will be replaced by the
company`s chief operating officer. RIM has suffered a number of setbacks
recently, including product delays and increasing competition from, among
others, Apple.

And lower natural gas prices forcing Halliburton to switch gears and
concentrate more closely on its profitable oil services business. That
announcement had investors largely overlooking the company`s better than
expected profit support, shares down about 2 percent.

And that will do it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back
to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

President Obama is gearing up to make the State of the Union address
tomorrow night, of course. And we wanted to examine some of those tall
tales, if you will, that Republicans have been pushing about President
Obama over the last three years.

Jonathan Alter wrote a piece this weekend, a ground-breaking piece,
taking issue with some of those myths Republican like to spin.

Joining me right now to walk through some of the list, Politico White
House reporter Joe Williams and David Corn, who is an MSNBC political
analyst and D.C. bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

I want to start with David.

Let`s take a look at the socialist charge. In Jonathan`s piece, Alter
points out that TARP began under President George W. Bush. And he goes on
to write that Obama`s policies have not even been close to being socialist
-- quote -- "Obama rejected nationalizing banks and made clear that he had
no interest in running the auto companies, receiving TARP money. The
president`s health care reform law keeps insurance in private hands, adopts
the individual mandate concept from the conservative Heritage Foundation,
and is modelled in part on former Governor Mitt Romney`s Massachusetts
reform, not exactly a Bolshevik plot, as he puts it, as Obama put it.
Finally, the Dodd-Frank reform bill, which Obama signed into law in 2010,
regulates Wall Street, but hardly controls it."

This idea -- by the way, I hold the president somewhat responsible.
How he ever got the socialist tag thrown on this bill, which is basically
at least -- I would say it`s to the right of Nixon`s plan. Nixon waned to
make employers have to pay for everybody`s health care.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This says the individual has to do it.

CORN: You know, it`s been an absurd charge from the very beginning
that he`s a socialist.

There`s nothing that he`s done that is the least bit socialistic. But
you still hear it, even in the past few days, Newt Gingrich out there
saying that he wants to turn America into a socialistic, European-style
secular state. And you hear Mitt Romney saying something a little bit more
mild than that, that he wants to turn America into a European social
welfare state, which sounds a lot like socialism.

I think the president needs to get out there and advocate for his own
programs more strongly than he has over the past three years, but he
shouldn`t be out there worrying about defending himself on a charge like
this. It`s kind of -- it`s not even a dog whistle. It`s a bullhorn. And
the people who buy it, you can`t reason with them. This is crazy stuff.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go on the dog whistle thing to Joe.

I keep hearing socialist. I hear Europe. I hear Saul Alinsky, very
ethnic. Ooh, who`s he, you know? Noam Chomsky.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: What`s all this? It seems it`s all to try to make him
somewhat alien, someone different, not just an America guy, but some kind
of different person.

We can`t argue about the role of government in this government without
called foreign? That`s what`s going on here, I think, Joe.

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Well, and that`s exactly right.

You put your finger on it, that not only are they charges designed to
make the president, who looks like -- unlike any other president we have
ever seen, which is part of the problem or part of the communications
issue.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

WILLIAMS: It`s so freaked out people on the right that they just kind
of grasp at other things to make him seem like he`s the other. And that`s
where the European charge comes in.

That`s where -- you heard it today in Santorum`s event, where you had
a woman declare, declare that the president was a Kenyan-born Muslim. I
don`t think she had the Kenyan part, but she made -- that part was pretty
much implied.

So, the truth gets out there, and it doesn`t stick. He released the
birth certificate. Three years ago, we were complaining about his
affiliation with a Christian reverend who had problems with America. So,
that, in and of itself, contradicts the notion that he might have some
other religious identity.

But the problem that the White House faces here is a communications
one. If they don`t refute these things fast and firmly, allegations which
they may see as silly, they have a tendency to stick especially with people
who don`t think necessary agree with his programs.

MATTHEWS: I think -- I think that is being aloof. I think things
are working, because they are working.

Contrary to popular belief, by the way, Jon Alter makes the case that
President Obama has not been an effective speaker. Quote, "There are few
examples of Obama`s speeches actually moving popular opinion. And that`s
because he speaks in impressive paragraphs, not memorable sentences. He is
allergic to sound bytes, and that keeps him from effectively framing his
goals and achievements."

Back to you, David. I agree. I think he has a problem for a guy who
is masterful, beautiful, poetic in his presentation, knows the language in
a richer form than most people on the planet, and yet doesn`t make the
points he needs to punch back with.

CORN: You mean winning the future didn`t do it for you, Chris? But
the thing is, I mean, I don`t disagree with Jonathan`s point. But I also
we live in a world now where big speeches just don`t bring big movements in
popular opinion.

People are watching the channels they watch. They are getting the
news they want. And we don`t have the sort of communal experience any
longer with our leaders.

Before the debt ceiling episode was over, the president did give a
speech. And he`d asked people to call Congress and complain or demand a
compromise. And the phone lines didn`t light up for a day or two.

So I think he`s had some impact. But I think it`s really hard in
these times to sort of move the needle. What moves the needle now is what
he`s done since that jobs speech, which is to get out there and fight day
in and day out for his program and show people he`s ready to throw a few
punches.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Joe, he got elected with his speeches. Joe, he got elected with his
speeches. They were brilliant. And, by the way, he was quite capable of
one-liners.

I will never forget that speech he gave at one of the inaugural --
not the inaugural, went back at one of the acceptance speeches. I think it
was in 2004 when I first discovered this guy him. Only in this country is
my story possible.

WILLIAMS: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: What an amazing line. It`s so pro-American, so much to
the heart of our exceptional nature. And he has them -- it`s chilling to
think about what a great line, that remains to this day. Barack Hussein
Obama, president of the United States. And no other country would make
that decision.

Go ahead. Your thoughts.

WILLIAMS: The skinny kid with the big ears and the funny name, he
also put it. And this is one of the things he has to hammer home, is that
his is truly an American story. What David said is very true, that people
who don`t believe it aren`t going to. And that`s a tough road for them to
hold because those -- that segment of the population tends to infect the
other, where you have the sort of granular truth that comes out and people
sort of accept it as fact.

So, that`s a communications issue.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: And it also speaks to the fact that Mario Cuomo once said,
the famous line from him, you campaign in poetry. You govern in pros.

That`s not always strictly true, where a lot of times, the speech in
Kansas moved a lot of people. It got a lot of inspiration going on the
left.

MATTHEWS: It sure did.

WILLIAMS: So, there is room for that. Whether or not the president
thinks this is something he needs to do or is drawing away from his
seriousness of his presidency, I think he`s got to make his mind up and his
communications chop has to make up their mind about that as well.

MATTHEWS: He better be paying attention to Newt Gingrich, because if
Gingrich gets all the way in this fight, he knows how to use two words to
make points. Anyway, thank you. Food stamps.

Thank you, David Corn. And thank you, Joe Williams.

Not the nicest words in the world, but he knows how to use them.

Up next, will the real Mitt Romney please stand up? By the way,
that`s a question. Where is, is there a real Mitt Romney? Hell of a
question for a lot of people.

We`re going to a couple of "Boston Globe" reporters who just wrote a
book about the guy, based on covering him for years. Let`s find out who
this guy is, because he`s fighting for his life right now politically.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Fight night in Florida. Watch the NBC News Republican
debate on a special edition of "Rock Center" with Brian Williams tonight.
The debate airs at 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central. And join us tomorrow night
for MSNBC`s coverage of President Obama`s State of the Union Address.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Mitt Romney has been running for president now for years, but with
his resistance to get into the details of his financial success, his
religion and his personal life, in many ways, he`s still unknowable. So,
just who is this man? And why is he running for president? That`s a darn
good question.

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman are "Boston Globe" reporters, have
co-authored of him, "The Real Romney," that tries to unlock that mystery of
Mitt Romney.

Welcome.

Michael, I guess, I want to read something from your book. It`s
something that was said following his defeat to Ted Kennedy back in 1994.
There was a looming question there, over a dinner one night after that
race, a Romney fellow has this to say to him, it was something that was
really eating at him, that one couldn`t sum up in a sentence why he had
run.

Quote, "After all the weeks and months of that campaign, if you ask,
why did Mitt Romney run for U.S. Senate and what did he stand for? Most
people had no clue. Although the Republican recalled that Romney was
saying, quote, `We didn`t do a good job of getting the message across.`"

Well, what is the message, Michael? Why is he running? Does he
know?

MICHAL KRANISH, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, Chris, even in 2008, after that
campaign, there`s a chapter of the book and the conclusion of that chapter
has Mitt saying the sort of the same thing, that he didn`t do a good job
getting his message out. And running for president, clearly Romney`s
message is that he believes a business-centered country that has fewer
regulations. That that is what he believes in. He believes government
should be stripped away to some degree. That`s why he`s running from his
point of view.

He`s also running to fulfill a legacy. If you talk to his friends
and family, they will tell you how strongly he believes he needs to pick up
where his father failed back in 1968, when his campaign was pretty much
exploded, when George Romney said that he had been brainwashed by the
generals in Vietnam. And Mitt Romney feels a great sense of obligation to
see that through and has long seen this as his path.

But as you mentioned, he`s often looked ahead to see how do I get to
where I can win? And some people said that he lacks perhaps showing a core
conviction and then will get to where he wants to be.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to Scott on this. It seems like --
I`ve just read "The Economist" this week. It said that Romney lacks
conviction, passion and instinct. That`s sort of the ball game, isn`t it
politics? If you don`t have passion, you don`t have conviction, you don`t
have instinct, is that a fair shot? I mean, it doesn`t sound like he has
any of the tickets.

SCOTT HELMAN, BOSTON GLOBE: Yes. I mean, I think it`s a fair
criticism and it`s something he`s faced throughout, I mean, going back to
the Kennedy race in `94. He had a completely different political
definition then as you know than he does today. And I think he has moved
around a lot. And I think that goes to the heart of why people don`t trust
him.

As one Republican said during that Kennedy race, his main cause
appeared to be himself. He never got beyond that and gave a sort of race
on death row for his campaign. You are seeing the same thing now.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about this whole question of money.
Michael, he seems to be very nervous, almost giddily weird when the issue
of his money comes up. He has that funny laugh he gets in to. He says
maybe I`ll release these. He`s finally getting around apparently to
releasing his tax returns for 2010 and an estimate for 2011 tomorrow. But
he has been so weird about it. What is it about him and his wealth?

KRANISH: Well, you know, this is an issue again that goes back 18
years, back in the Kennedy race that we referred to. He challenged Ted
Kennedy to release his tax returns and he said, what have you got to
return? Release your returns.

And Kennedy did not. Romney said, if you`ll show yours, I`ll show
mine -- and neither did release their returns. It`s an issue that he`s
been dealing with for many years.

And you mentioned the moment where he said in that debate "maybe" in
response to whether he`d release his returns.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KRANISH: That`s pretty much the last word you`d want to use if people
have questions about where are your core convictions. You want to show
absolute certainty. And he said yesterday that this was a mistake and now
will release a year of returns and an estimate of last year.

It won`t answer all the questions, obviously, when he was at Bain
Capital. That goes way back `84 to `99. If we don`t see those tax
returns, then there will still be questions about that.

If he is the nominee in the general election, you can be sure the
Democrats will say what about those tax returns when you were at Bain
Capital?

MATTHEWS: Yes. Scott, is there something in his background, maybe
not his LDS religion, but something in his upbringing that would never
allow him to be anti-establishment? To never even tonight on the debate
stage, to never try to -- Newt Gingrich for kind of being crazy kind of
bring the house down guy. He seems like he can`t be anti-establishment,
Mitt Romney.

HELMAN: No, I think that`s right. I mean, he`s always been an
institutionalist. One of the fascinating things from his past as you look
at the sort of anti-war era. That`s when he was sort of coming of age as a
young adult.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HELMAN: And, in fact, there`s a great picture we have in the book of
him actually protesting the protesters at Stanford. I mean, he was
somebody who was appalled by counterculture. He was -- you`re right. He`s
about as far away from a sort of bomb-throwing kind of anti-establishment
person as you can get.

And his trick tonight, of course, in going on to Florida is to find a
way to sort of go after Newt but to not make it look like he`s putting on
too much of a costume because it`s not him. As David Gregory said, he`s
got to look like he`s comfortable in his skin or the whole thing comes
across as phony.

MATTHEWS: You know, I even get the fun, this is a little bit
humorous, Michael, but I notice the way he dresses politically. He wears
those mom jeans they were called on "Saturday Night Live." It`s very
formal, the whole thing. Even rolls his sleeves up in a kind of an odd
way. He doesn`t like roll them up the way most people roll them up.

He doesn`t actually seem to open up his shirt collar. He opens it
up, but it somehow seems to stick together somehow. The guy is so
physically constricted. Is he ready for this business of politics at this
level?

KRANISH: You know, it`s interesting. Chris Christie said yesterday
on "Meet the Press" that Romney is very "reserved," quote/unquote.

And obviously, there`s a little disconnect. If you are running for
president, you are also very reserved, that is difficult. There`s an
anecdote in the book, for example, in the last campaign where the Florida
advisers wanted him to ditch the suit and tie. They said, if you are going
into a retirement community in Florida, you really need to look more
relaxed. At that time, they responded that would look un-presidential.

This time around, they`ve tried to take that advice but then it leads
to criticisms like you just raised he looks like he`s trying too hard.
He`s certainly more at home in the suit and tie.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think you`re right. That`s fair enough. It just
doesn`t click with the way things are.

Anyway, great book, I`m sure. I`m going to read this thing. "The
Real Romney."

Thank you, Michael Kranish. I read parts of it, it`s great. And
thank you, Scott Helman.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the grim reality on the ground
in florida. It`s not the magic kingdom, not the whole state.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

We`re heading into Florida politically, so get this straight. We`re
not going to Disney World.

What Newt and Mitt are entering now here in this state is the real
world of 2012 -- the world of people`s houses being below water level,
being worth less than the mortgages they are paying every month, maybe in
some cases at more than 5 percent.

And one county here, Flagler, the average house price has plummeted
from $260,000 to $120,000. Think about that. Get your head around those
numbers. One day your house is worth more than a quarter of a million, the
next day down to about $100,000. And that`s what you are worth now.

Well, think about the average retirement savings right now and where
that stands compared to a few years ago. Think about the outlook for your
kids compared to the 1990s. Down here, the unemployment rate is way above
the national average, up around double digits.

What does that do to the chances of launching yourself into the good
life? What does that say about parents watching their children trying to
make it, wondering if they gave them the right start after all?

So this ain`t the magic kingdom. This Sunshine State is the land of
empty condos, mile after mile of them. Once this stuff that middle class
dreams were made of, now the empty hopes and failed properties of those who
can`t figure out how to unload them.

No, it`s not bad for everyone. There`s still the big yachts that the
Republican high rollers are looking to dock here in Tampa for the
convention. We all feel for their inconvenience, their lack of a chance to
lord it over those who get to walk past their parties, watch those on-board
parties knowing they haven`t gotten invited to them.

But that`s the way it is as Walter Cronkite once put it. And that`s
why people so angry -- so angry at Obama, at the Republican establishment,
at us at the media, at anyone they can be angry at -- anyone who will
listen to their pain, the pain that comes, the nastiest to those who
thought things would end up better. Didn`t we all?

I`ve said it before. This is going to be one hot convention when
they meet down here in late August. And Mitt Romney is not the right guy
to be standing up there with his neat hair and his life so together. They,
the Republican red hots, want someone to match their madness and Newt in
some mad way, is just what the doctor ordered.

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

Copyright 2012 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>


More on TODAY.com

  1. Courtesy of Steve Mason

    Parents plead forgiveness for late daughter's $200K student-loan debt

    7/31/2014 7:10:12 PM +00:00 2014-07-31T19:10:12
  1. Only enough for one: Experimental serum used on US Ebola patient

    A dose of “experimental serum” arrived in Liberia to be tried on a U.S. charity worker struggling for her life — but there was only enough for one of the two infected workers.

    7/31/2014 4:20:32 PM +00:00 2014-07-31T16:20:32