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updated 1/30/2012 11:44:57 AM ET 2012-01-30T16:44:57

Guests: Steve MacMahon, Ron Christie, Cynthia Tucker, Dana Milbank, Trent Franks, Jim Davis, Jonathan Martin, Nia-Malika Henderson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Liberals, root for Newt!

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Running scared. Liberals are enthusiastic about the idea of Newt Gingrich
as the GOP nominee for president, as Republicans are just as terrified of
that fact. The right is turning against Gingrich, afraid that he would
wind up as their nominee and take the party down with him.

Well, former colleague Tom DeLay called him erratic, and "American
Spectator" -- "The American Spectator" magazine compared him to Bill
Clinton. Neocon Elliot Abrams said Newt has a long record of bashing
Ronald Reagan. And perhaps most damning, the dainty Ann Coulter said the
best way to reelect President Obama is to vote for Gingrich.

Of course, Newt Gingrich might not need the Republican establishment
to win. His appeal is with the Tea Party crowd, the ones with the
pitchforks and the torches, while Romney attracts the well-heeled and
educated types. It`s become T-shirts versus tattersall, if you will, flip-
flops versus wingtips. And whoever wins Florida will have the inside track
to take on President Obama. And that`s a fight that looks increasingly
good for the Democrats.

The president is gaining strength in a new NBC News/"Wall Street
Journal" poll. His approval rating is the highest it`s been since June,
and Americans are starting to feel better about the economy itself. The
big question, of course, is, is this a temporary uptick or the start of
something very good for the country, and of course, for the White House?

And catch this picture of Arizona governor Jan Brewer sticking a
finger in President Obama`s face on the tarmac in Phoenix. Why does the
nasty right feel it`s OK to disrespect this president so much?

And "Let Me Finish" with the joy -- and I mean joy -- this Newt versus
Mitt Romney fight is giving yours truly.

We start with the right turning against Newt Gingrich. Dana Milbank
is a political columnist for "The Washington Post" and Ron Christie`s a
Republican strategist.

Gentlemen, let me start with -- first of all, it`s not Dana Milbank.

(LAUGHTER)

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I look a lot like Dana
Milbank, and I`m funny...

MATTHEWS: Steve McMahon, I think...

MCMAHON: ... like Dana Milbank, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... a change in direction here in our booking.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Our booking has changed rather dramatically. Let me start
with Ron Christie, since you were always on the palette -- or on the menu
here.

What do you make of this fact that, all of a sudden -- people have
been rooting for Newt Gingrich on the Republican side for years. He`s been
the speaker of the House when the Republicans took over. He was a hero, a
real ramrod for them in getting things done. Now all of a sudden,
everybody from the dainty, I should say, Ann Coulter to Elliot Abrams, all
these big shots in the party, all the way over to the right, in fact, are
saying there`s something fundamentally wrong with this guy.

What happened to Newt that they didn`t notice before?

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, good evening, Chris. And
first of all, I don`t know whether I`d ever call Ann Coulter dainty, but
we`ll let that slide.

Look, I think there are two Newt Gingrichs. I think there`s the good
Newt and the bad Newt.

MATTHEWS: Oh.

CHRISTIE: The good Newt is the visionary, the one who was the speaker
of the House, the one who led Republicans to a House majority for the first
time in over 40 years and really...

MCMAHON: And bad Newt is winning...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The bad Newt`s the guy that might win!

CHRISTIE: The bad Newt is one who comes out...

MCMAHON: Sorry!

CHRISTIE: Hang on, Steve. The bad Newt is the one who came out
earlier today and said he wants to have his moon base. He`s the guy who
was sitting with Speaker Pelosi talking about global climate change. And
frankly, he`s the one who, I think, makes a lot of Republicans believe that
should he get the nomination, the Republican Party would have zero chance
of beating President Obama. And the bad Newt is the one who`s out now and
the one that I think the establishment in the Republican Party is trying to
stop.

MATTHEWS: So the bad Newt, as you guys see it, is the one who
believes in science.

CHRISTIE: No, the bad Newt is the one who I think comes out...

MATTHEWS: In other words, there`s no man-made -- there`s no man-made
influence on climate change. That`s what you -- is that your belief, Ron
Christie? I didn`t know that.

CHRISTIE: Oh, my belief?

MATTHEWS: You`ve been out there with the full mooners...

CHRISTIE: I think -- I think...

MATTHEWS: ... on this one?

CHRISTIE: Well, let me enlighten you on this one, Chris. I think
global climate change is the biggest fraud...

MATTHEWS: Oh!

CHRISTIE: ... that`s been perpetuated in this country. The
scientific evidence isn`t there. This is something that Al Gore and his
cronies have made millions of dollars perpetuating a myth.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CHRISTIE: That`s what I think.

MATTHEWS: OK. How are you standing on evolution these days?

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: I`m feeling pretty good about evolution these days.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in it?

CHRISTIE: I believe that God is our creator, and I think we all
evolved from the good Lord.

MATTHEWS: So you don`t believe in evolution.

CHRISTIE: I believe that God`s our creator and we`ve all evolved from
the good Lord.

MATTHEWS: So you don`t want to -- what is it about -- the
troglodytes, the Luddites -- what is the party that used to believe in
things?

CHRISTIE: Troglodytes! Chris, it`s true!

MATTHEWS: No, it`s just you guys...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: ... in this country!

MATTHEWS: No, no. Excuse me. I`m sorry. I don`t want to just play
-- plumb the depths of the position the party`s taken that`s so far right
these days.

Let`s go back to the life on this planet here. The new NBC/"Wall
Street Journal" poll out, Steve, has numbers tonight that explain why
liberals would be excited by a Newt Gingrich candidacy and the conservative
establishment would fear it.

Just take a look at the numbers. In the poll, people were asked
whether they had positive or negative feelings toward the candidates for
president. Obama -- actually, for President Obama. Half the people polled
said they viewed him, the president, positively, while 39 percent said
negatively. Mitt Romney did a little worse.

But for Newt Gingrich, only 26 percent viewed him positively. Nearly
half the people had a negative view of him.

MCMAHON: Right.

MATTHEWS: So for whatever reason, the voter -- electorate at large
has a real problem with this guy. That`s why the establishment is scared
on the Republican side.

MCMAHON: The establishment is scared because they understand that a
Newt Gingrich nomination would almost certainly mean a defeat for the
Republicans in the fall at the White House level. But they also are
worried that it would mean that they`d lose the House and they wouldn`t be
able to make the gains that they`re hoping for in the Senate.

So it`s the prospect for Republicans of a three-way sweep, the White
House and both houses of Congress, and they`re worried and they`re
understandably worried.

I`m not sure, though, that they`re going to be able to stop him. I
mean, remember, this is Florida coming up. And everybody says Florida`s
not South Carolina, and that`s true. But there was a guy just like Mitt
Romney who was sort of a moderate and he was glib and everybody around
Washington thought he was perhaps going to be a national candidate some
day. His name was Charlie Crist. He ran for the Senate and he was
defeated by a Tea Party candidate, Marco Rubio. And Rick Scott, another
Tea Party candidate, won the -- won the Republican nomination...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go...

MCMAHON: ... for governor.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to...

MCMAHON: So this is a good sign for Newt Gingrich in Florida.

MATTHEWS: Ron, what kind of a the Republican Party is in Florida? Is
it a right-wing party, a center party? Is it more conservative than it
used to be? Based upon what Steve said and what I`ve heard, it has moved
to the right.

CHRISTIE: I think it has. I think it`s more center-right than it is
anything else. I think, certainly, Marco Rubio was elected to the United
States Senate based not only on conservative support but by the support of
independents and Democrats.

I take one exception with what Steve said. I do agree that should
Speaker Gingrich win in Florida, that would cause a lot of heartburn for
the Republican establishment. But if you look at the latest poll, Steve,
Governor Romney is up. I think Governor Romney has the organization and
the momentum to win in Florida.

MATTHEWS: OK...

CHRISTIE: And that would position him very well for the remaining
contests...

MATTHEWS: The only question I want to know is...

CHRISTIE: ... and the nomination.

MATTHEWS: ... is the party moving to the right down there enough to
actually win it for Newt? And if the party has moved that right, what
right has the establishment got to tell the party not to vote for the guy
they want to vote for?

Let`s take a look at these poll numbers we showed you. It`s perhaps
not surprising that many Republican leaders are panicked about a potential
Newt candidacy. Today, Politico, the newsmagazine, put (ph) at it this
way. "It`s as if the conservative media over the past 24 hours decided
Gingrich is for real and they needed to come clean about the man they
really know before it`s too late.

All of a sudden -- (INAUDIBLE) the Drudge Report, for example, led with a
headline saying Newt had repeatedly insulted Ronald Reagan. It linked to a
devastating article in `The National Review.` Ann Coulter, who has said
she supports Mitt Romney, wrote that the best way for Republicans to help
the president get a second term" -- or actually -- "would be to nominate
Newt Gingrich" -- or the Democrats.

Let`s listen to what she said on FOX News this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Having, you know, a candidate
who goes out and calls Obama a Kenyan colonialist or a socialist -- that`s
not what you need. And at the same time, with Newt Gingrich, you get the
name-calling for the president, very popular with the Tea Party crowd in
South Carolina, not so popular with independents. But he won`t put a fence
on the border! But he wants amnesty for illegals! But he took $1.6
million from Freddie Mac! But he went to -- attacks Paul Ryan`s plan on
Social Security! So you know, with Newt Gingrich, you throw out the baby
and keep the bath water!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: God, the hysterics. Here`s Elliot Abrams, who worked in
the Reagan campaign and the Bush campaign, Bush White House. He wrote in
"The National Review," Mr. Gingrich often spewed insulting rhetoric at
Reagan, his stop aides and his policies to defeat communism. Such was
Gingrich`s faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan`s
meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, quote, "the most dangerous
summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in `38
in Munich."

This stuff is being dug up. The establishment and all the way over --
I wouldn`t call her establishment, Ann Coulter, who`s smart but very
radical -- all these people all ganging up. They are really afraid.

MCMAHON: They are. And you know what this reminds me of? Do you
remember Delaware last year, when that -- when Mike Castle was supposed to
cruise to the nomination and everybody was throwing rose petals in front of
him as he walked down the parades. And then all of a sudden, a little Tea
Party candidate named O`Donnell jumped in the race and suddenly up-ended
the whole thing.

The establishment figured out about six days before that she was
coasting for victory. They brought out all the guns. They did everything
they could to stop her. And guess what happened? She got nominated.
That`s exactly what`s going on in Florida. It`s what happened...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: ... with Marco Rubio and Bill (SIC) Crist. It`s what
happened with Rick Scott against McCollum, who was the establishment
candidate. This train is rolling down the tracks and the establishment`s
trying to stop it. They may be too late.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ron Christie, I didn`t know you were as far over as
you are. I thought you were more a moderate Republican. But let me put it
to you this way...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: No, seriously. I am -- I`m amazed you don`t believe in
evolution and you don`t believe in mankind`s effect on climate change. I
thought those were established facts.

But let`s move on. It seems to me that your party wants to have the
wild people, the Tea Party people with the pitchforks, if you will, help
them win a majority in the Congress. They love getting Tea Party support,
the wilder the better, the more demonstrations, the better. The crazier
the placards, the crazier the beliefs, fine, as long as they vote
Republican and give you control of the House.

But when it comes to deciding who should be their nominee for
president, you disdain them. You`ve got to come in and warn them what
they`re up to. Don`t you know, you wild people, that you might be putting
the wrong candidate up there? Do you just want their votes but don`t
respect their votes? Is that it?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely not!

MATTHEWS: You don`t respect their votes...

CHRISTIE: These -- these...

MATTHEWS: ... but you want their votes.

CHRISTIE: These wild people...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: These wild people that you insult, Chris, these are
patriots. These are American citizens who`ve said...

MATTHEWS: But you don`t want them to vote for Newt!

CHRISTIE: ... we are tired -- no, Chris, the point here is that these
people are honest Americans who are tired of...

MATTHEWS: But you don`t want them to pick the candidate!

CHRISTIE: No, I want them to pick a candidate. I want...

MATTHEWS: You want them to pick your candidate!

CHRISTIE: ... a conservative. I don`t want Newt Gingrich to be
president of the United States. I would take...

MATTHEWS: But they do!

CHRISTIE: ... Rick Santorum...

MCMAHON: He won`t be.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: Look, you guys -- it`s fun to laugh at people who are tired
about Washington being arrogant...

MATTHEWS: But you don`t want...

CHRISTIE: ... out of...

MATTHEWS: You don`t respect their votes.

CHRISTIE: Of course, we respect their vote! But Governor Romney...

MATTHEWS: But you don`t want them picking a candidate.

CHRISTIE: We want conservative Americans picking a candidate on the
Republican side and we want a conservative. And people have recognized
that Newt Gingrich might not be the right candidate.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CHRISTIE: But to suggest that we disrespect the Tea Party -- I stand
with the Tea Party because they are sick and tired of this government the
way that it`s run.

MATTHEWS: What`s going on right now, the establishment of the party -
- and I include -- I include Ron Christie in the establishment -- are all
running around scared to death. We`ve got trouble in River City. All of a
sudden, they`re afraid that the people that they have loved to have vote
for them are picking somebody that they don`t like.

MCMAHON: That`s exactly right. And it happens all the time in
primaries, that the base rises up...

MATTHEWS: The Sharron Angles.

MCMAHON: ... against the establishment -- and Mitt -- I`m sorry, Newt
Gingrich has two things going for him. Number one, he just projects
strength. And you can disagree with everything he says, but he`s very,
very strong. And Mitt seems a little timid.

And the second thing he has going for him is what drives independents
away. And you can see it in your numbers tonight in the new poll. And
that is he channels this anger and this rage at President Obama that makes
the Tea Party folks stand up on their chair and applaud. And it makes
independent voters wonder...

CHRISTIE: Oh, Steve, come on! Now, wait a second!

MCMAHON: ... what the heck is going on here?

CHRISTIE: Again...

MCMAHON: How is it possible for a candidate running for president of
the United States to disrespect the president that much to wag a finger in
his face...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: ... end your filibuster?

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: The rude thing here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Just a minute!

CHRISTIE: The Occupy Wall Street people have been raping people!
They`ve been robbing people!

MCMAHON: They`re not running for president, Ron!

CHRISTIE: You haven`t seen anything...

MCMAHON: Ron, they`re not...

CHRISTIE: Steve, you haven`t seen anything...

MCMAHON: ... running for president, are they.

CHRISTIE: Well, when you and Chris disparage the Tea Party, you
haven`t seen anything...

MATTHEWS: We`re not disparaging them. I`m rooting for them!

CHRISTIE: You haven`t seen anything...

MATTHEWS: I want them to vote for Newt Gingrich because I think Newt
Gingrich will shake up your party!

CHRISTIE: Chris -- Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Can I get a word in here for a change?

MCMAHON: ... establishment is disparaging...

MATTHEWS: You were just interrupting Steve, by the way, Ron.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Ron. Go ahead, Ron.

CHRISTIE: My whole point is that the Tea Party people have been very
respectful. They have been very cordial in their demonstrations. You
haven`t seen anything out of the Tea Party like you`ve seen with Occupy
Wall Street. And I find it disgraceful that the media doesn`t pay...

MCMAHON: I`m sorry, Ron...

MATTHEWS: ... any attention to that! And the Tea Party folks are the
ones who are saying...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: ... we need a new president...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: ... Capitol last year when they were saying racial epithets
to African-American members of Congress.

CHRISTIE: Oh, Steve, name one!

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Oh, Steve, come on!

MCMAHON: Maybe you weren`t there then, Ron.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Actually, Steve, there has never been an actual proven
instance...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CHRISTIE: ... where there`s been a racial epithet against this
president! That`s a lie you know...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: ... and that`s a proper narrative for scared Democrats to
throw out there!

MCMAHON: Against African-American members of Congress, Ron. You
know...

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Oh, Steve, actually, I was actually at that rally...

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you-...

CHRISTIE: ... at Capitol Hill.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: That is not true! You guys can continue to make it up!

MATTHEWS: Look, the people on this program have seen the Hitler
posters all over these Tea Party meetings. And they`ve seen them at all
the demonstrations. They`ve seen them with their own eyes. They don`t
need to be told what they saw. Anyway, thank you, Ron Christie. Thank
you, Steve McMahon.

Coming up: How President Obama got his groove back. Our new NBC
News/"Wall Street Journal" poll has some pretty good news for the
president. Relatively speaking, he`s back on track.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Warren Buffett had been the most prominent
billionaire calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, but now he`s got
company. Microsoft founder Bill Gates says taxes should be raised and the
rich should bear a larger burden of that increase. And when asked about
the familiar Republican argument that taxing the wealthy would stymie job
creation, Gates said he didn`t buy it, saying there`s no correlation
between jobs and taxes. Well, according to "Forbes" magazine, Gates is the
second richest person in the world, while Buffett is number three. What a
crew.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, Nevada!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: It is great to be back in Las Vegas! I love you back!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back. "I love you back." Welcome back to
HARDBALL. President Obama is on day two of his post-State of the Union
tour through important 2012 swing states. Today Nevada and Colorado. And
the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll has encouraging numbers for the
president.

First, Americans are feeling better about the direction of the
country. This is an important indicator. Thirty percent now say we`re
headed in the right direction, while 61 percent still say we`re on the
wrong track. That "right direction" number is up 8 points in just a month.
Our pollsters say that`s a huge one-month gain.

Americans are also feeling more optimistic about the future,
projecting out, say, five years from now. I think this is important.
Fifty-three percent say things in the U.S. will be getting better, and
that`s a huge improvement from 2010, when just 37 percent of Americans
thought things would be getting better five years out. Well, it looks like
the encouraging economic news of the past six months may be starting to
sink into Americans` minds politically.

Dana Milbank is a political columnist for "The Washington Post."
Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professor at the
University of Georgia.

I just want to dwell on those numbers, starting with you, Cynthia.
You know, it`s not a great time. Nobody is jumping up with, you know,
party noises -- or noise makers. It`s not time to celebrate. But people
are a little more optimistic than they were, especially about the long-term
outlook.

It seems if you looked at those numbers when people say it`s going to
be better five years from now, they`re basically saying, Yes, we`ve been in
a cycle that went down. It`s coming up. But a while back, not so long
ago, people thought, No, we`re in a trend line going down. Things five
years out are going to be worse. A big change, I think.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, UNIV. OF GEORGIA: It is a big
change. And it`s good news for President Obama if it`s sustained because
it`s happening just at the right time. If you look back through the
history of presidential races of the last 30 or 40 years, what mattered was
the direction of the economy at the time of the election. And unemployment
may still be high. It may still be over eight percent in November, but
these -- if the trend continues in this direction, it`s very good news for
the president.

And, you know, he seems to be feeling more confident. He looks more
confident.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TUCKER: He looks like he`s having a good time out on the campaign
trail.

MATTHEWS: Well, we were with him the other day for that briefing. I
can`t say what he said, but he looked like the guy -- not that he`s
floating on air, but he seems to be pretty confident where he`s headed here
right now, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Yes. It`s just a matter of time until they`re doing the "Fired up, ready
to go" chant again." The president...

MATTHEWS: What`s that mean, fired up, ready to go?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is that good? Is that happy talk or is it...

MILBANK: It is.

I think this president likes to be back in campaign mode. Certainly,
these numbers haven`t come a moment too soon for him and arguably won`t do
him a whole lot of good. But I was over at the Federal Reserve yesterday
when they were coming out with the new economic statistics. And there is a
consensus among economists that things have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re saying it won`t do much good that the economy is
looking better right now?

MILBANK: Of course it will do him some good. But the forecast is
still that we`re going to have 8.2 to 8.5 percent unemployment in November.
That`s lousy.

But the fact that consumer sentiment is up, and that`s what you`re
seeing and more people seeing things are going in the right direction,
that`s the crucial number for the president.

And it has turned around. Now, if things get further messed up in
Europe, there`s a whole bunch of different things that could bring this all
apart within a matter of weeks. But as this trend is going, the president
is looking a whole lot better.

MATTHEWS: Yes. He`s also trying to benefit from the comparison
already now with who is going to be his rival, Mitt Romney, no matter how
well Newt is doing down in Florida.

Without even saying his name, President Obama today simultaneously
challenged Mitt Romney and made his case to Americans. Let`s watch the
matchup.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has nothing to do
with envy. It has everything to do with math. It`s what I talked about
earlier. We`ve got to make choices. Americans understand if I get a tax
break I don`t need and a tax break the country can`t afford, then one of
two things are going to happen. Either it`s going to add to our deficit,
right, or somebody else is going to have to make up the difference.

A senior suddenly is going to have to start paying more for their
Medicare, or a student is going to have to pay more for their student loan,
or a family that`s trying to get by, they`re going to have to do with less.
And that`s not right. That`s not who we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Cynthia, he`s not just saying fair taxes are good in
themselves. He`s saying, if you don`t have fair taxes, if people at the
top get away scot-free, that means either we`re going to have a bigger
debt, which is going to hurt the whole society down the road, or right now
we`re going to have to trade off needed services like Medicare and
Medicaid.

TUCKER: He makes a much better case for understanding the situation
that the average American is in than Mitt Romney does, you know, when he
talks about paying for college costs.

Mitt Romney is certainly a decent man, but everybody knows how robotic
he is on the campaign trail. And his big problem is he doesn`t even seem
to understand how much people are struggling out there. Mitt Romney says
things such as, I earned a little bit of extra income from speaking
engagements.

That was $379,000. That`s not, you know, not very much. That`s a
whole heck of a lot of money. That is more than three years` salary for
most Americans. So what the president is doing is drawing a stark contrast
to the needs he sees out there and the way his administration would help
ordinary people deal with those needs as compared to Mitt Romney. And,
quite frankly, Mitt Romney is helping the president make that case.

MATTHEWS: Actually, it`s about -- I did the math. Cynthia, it`s
about seven times the average medium income for a family. It`s an
incredible advantage.

Compared to the money he`s pulling in, $25 million a year, yes,
relatively a small part of his income. But he ought to be thinking, since
he wants to be president of the United States, about the United States, not
about him.

MILBANK: That would be helpful when you`re running for president of
the United States.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: I think what we`re finding out here is that the president is
looking a whole lot better in all of these matchups, but it has relatively
little to do with him.

He`s being more comfortable making his -- getting his point across,
but I think he`s benefiting from what might be called the Gingrich bounce
right now and that Newt Gingrich has succeeded in trashing Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s doing a great job.

MILBANK: Far better than David Axelrod could ever do. Romney is down
to -- only 30 percent or so view him favorably. And Obama is now back up
into the 50s. These are related things. Gingrich has succeeded in
bringing -- making Romney as unpopular as Newt is, which is an
extraordinary feat.

MATTHEWS: He said the other day so well -- he says -- the guy who
makes more in a day than most people make in a year. He says, the guy is
making $25 million. He`s got his money in Zurich, in Swiss banks. He`s
got them in the Cayman Islands. He`s not quite aware of life on this
planet.

Anyway, thank you -- except in the Cayman Islands.

Anyway, thank you, Dana. And thank you, Cynthia.

Up next: a slip of the tongue. Are the Democrats already subbing out
Warren Buffett for Mitt Romney? Stick around for the "Sideshow."

And you`re watching it right here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: slip of the tongue? The day after President Obama`s the
State of the Union address, well, it had members of Congress on both sides
now answering that expected question, so what did you think?

When it was Senator Chuck Schumer`s chance at the mike, he made a
point about what has become known as the Buffett rule, from which President
Obama has craft this. If you make more than $1 million a year, you
shouldn`t pay less than 30 percent in taxes.

Well, let`s hear Senator Schumer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We agree with the president that
it makes no sense that a millionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a
secretary. So it`s a priority for us to act on some kind of Romney -- I
mean Buffett rule this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Some coincidence. Romney`s newly released tax
returns show that he paid about 14 percent in taxes in recent years. It
looks like the Buffett rule has a new poster boy.

Up next: The clown show lives on. I`m not alone in using that term
in talking about the Republican race, of course.

Here`s Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and good friend of
ours at HARDBALL, weighing in on the GOP race today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The Republican race for
president so far has resembled a clown show. The clowns arrive in the car
and they keep getting out of the car. And there`s one clown after another.

And we have seen clowns run for president totally unqualified, have
one bizarre idea after another. If I was an independent voter or even a
moderate Republican and looked at this, I would say, oh, my God. Is this
what the Republican Party has to offer? Speaker Gingrich and Governor
Romney keep making one mistake after another, seem to be tone-deaf to what
American people really are interested in, and are deeply flawed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: By the way, all those Ed Rendells were actually Ed
Rendells.

Anyway, Rendell says that all this is a godsend for the Obama
campaign.

Finally, going through the motions. There`s been no shortage of
people weighing in on the president`s State of the Union, but how about the
verdict from someone less political? Well, a body language expert, let`s
hear from him.

According to a piece written for "Forbes" magazine, the president had
three things going for him that night in terms of body language, one, his
smile. According to the piece -- quote -- "A smile like that is an
invitation, a sign of welcome. It says I`m friendly and approachable."

Two, his fluid motions -- quote -- in the article, "He walked with
ease , stood erect, but not stiffly so. And his gestures were fluid and
flowing."

And, lastly, verbal and nonverbal alignment. What does that mean?
Well, apparently, the president`s body language matched perfectly with the
speech itself -- quote -- "President Obama has a model of congruent
communication last night. His body language totally supported his
message."

Well, it all matters, especially when it may still be up against Mitt
Romney, not exactly -- well, how could he not -- or how could he not beat
Mr. Smooth, Mitt Romney?

Up next, take a look at this picture of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
Talking about body language. Jan Brewer jamming a finger in President
Obama`s face, the president of the United States. That`s how you treat a
visiting president? It`s the latest example of the right-wing nastiness
towards the president.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow Jones industrials shed 22, the S&P 500 down seven and change,
Nasdaq off 13. New home sales were not so hot in December. They fell 2.2
percent, making 2011 the worst year ever for newly-constructed home sales
dating back nearly 50 years to the 1960s. The report sent home builders
lower today.

On the jobs front, applications for first-time jobless benefits rose
last week. Now, filings were up 21,000, but still below the key 400,000
level. Durable goods orders were strong last month. Orders for products
expected to last three years or longer rose 3 percent as demand jumped for
machinery and commercial aircraft.

And that kind of demand is what boosted profits at Caterpillar. The
Dow component said fourth-quarter earnings were up 60 percent, sales higher
by 35 percent. Along with the better-than expected report, the company`s
guidance was upbeat, so shares finished up about 2 percent.

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

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

We were talking about body language. Here`s a picture that tells
1,000 words in the photo captured last night of Republican Arizona governor
Jan Brewer pointing her finger -- there it is -- in President Obama`s face.
It`s an image that surely doesn`t connote respect for the highest office in
the land, does it?

A White House official said after the governor gave the president a
letter, President Obama told her, the governor, he thought she
mischaracterized in her book a meeting they had had together back two years
ago. Well, here was the governor`s response last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: I wanted to be there to welcome him to
come and see firsthand what Arizona has done in regards to our economic
recovery. He wanted to talk about the book. And I thought that he was
pretty fenced in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

But does this image capturing something even bigger, the widespread
feeling of disdain among conservatives for this president?

Arizona Republican Congressman Trent Franks is a Newt Gingrich
supporter. And former Congressman Jim Davis is a Florida Democrat.

Gentlemen, let`s go over the rules of etiquette in talking to another
politician or anyone in private and then describing that meeting. I am
stunned that people today seem to think when you have a private
conversation with another politician, you have the freedom to go out and
describe it any way you want, to the detriment of the other person.

Wasn`t there an etiquette along those lines, Congressman Franks, not
too long ago that private conversations were not to be exploited later for
political gain?

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: I`m not sure I understand the
question, Chris. Try again.

MATTHEWS: What`s complicated about it?

FRANKS: I`m not sure. You said something about meeting some --
meeting...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this. When you have a conversation
with someone on the House floor that`s not on the record, you`re just
chatting with somebody, do you feel the right to go out, and go out and
say, well, I just talked to him and he said this or she said that?

FRANKS: No, I think a person should always respect any
confidentiality.

Now, if it`s an open discussion between policy-makers, then I think
they have a right to express their own perspective on that. But I do agree
that we should have -- that we should respect confidentiality.

I thought you were talking about Jan Brewer. I have known Governor
Jan Brewer for almost 30 years.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FRANKS: Ever since she was a little girl. And I will tell you that
she`s always talked animated and talked with her hands.

But let me say to you, I don`t know of...

MATTHEWS: Has she ever wagged her finger at you?

FRANKS: ... a more respectful, decent person.

MATTHEWS: Has she ever wagged her finger at you on camera?

FRANKS: I don`t know of a more decent, respectful, polite person in
all of politics.

And, no, she`s never -- she`s used her hands this way, but she`s as
kind as anybody could ever be. And if you knew her, you would agree with
me.

MATTHEWS: I`m going by the picture. I don`t know her, so you got me
on that one.

Here`s what Governor Brewer wrote in her book about that 2010 meeting
with the president. "It was as though the president -- or President Obama
thought that he could lecture me and I would learn at his knee. He thinks
he can humor me and then get rid of me."

Well, Congressman Davis, your view about that kind of accounting of a
private meeting where you get to put all the color of the game in your
terms?

JIM DAVIS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: It`s very important, Chris,
that a governor of any state in any party and the president have a
relationship of trust and discretion.

Who knows. There could be a disaster there in the next few months or
so, and the governor and the president need to work together. This was an
unfortunate incident. And it was a mistake. She apparently lost her cool.

You treat the president, you treat the presidency with respect. And
there`s plenty of room to disagree within that context. That didn`t happen
here.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Newt Gingrich, who is running very
hard down in Florida. In fact, a lot of us are rooting for him to shake
things up down there.

Here he is at a Tea Party event in Florida. He laid out the choice as
he sees it or wants to see it between him and the president in pretty raw
terms. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you`re for paychecks,
you`re with us. If you`re for food stamps, you`re with Barack Obama.

If you are for American exceptionalism, you`re us. If you are for
European socialism and and Saul Alinsky radicalism, you`re with Barack
Obama.

If you are, in fact, in favor of a strong America in a dangerous
world, you`re with us. If you`re for a weak America that tries to appease
its enemies, you`re with Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I understand a lot of that, but a part of it gets me. And
I think there`s some signaling going on there.

Congressman Franks, why would you keep saying a president of the
United States, why would you always associate with a guy named Saul
Alinsky? What does that mean to most people, the term Saul Alinsky, to the
average person in Florida for example this week?

FRANKS: Well, I think, the average person is not even familiar with
Saul Alinsky and some of his community organizational tactics that are much
like this president. And I have to say to you, I think it`s pretty
esoteric and most people goes right over their head.

MATTHEWS: Why does he keep doing it?

FRANKS: Because I think he`s correct. And I think he wants us all
to begin to think about how this president became president, and how the
American people really never knew where this president was on anything
before we elected him. Not to any real degree. And I think now we do.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts on that, Congressman Davis? I mean, if it`s
not food stamps, it`s Saul Alinsky, with that sort of interesting Trotsky-
like sounding name. Alinsky was no hard left. He was no commie.

But I know why the name is used, to confuse the voter, oh, this guy
must be some far left, you know, dangerous alien that the president is
associated with. Why would the speaker keep using this name, Saul Alinsky?
You interpretation of it, because as the congressman just said, from
Arizona, nobody knows who this guy Saul Alinsky is. He doesn`t say he was
a community organizer who`s been instructed in his methods to people like
Dick Armey and the Tea Party, people who used it, his tactics, he`s a
tactician. He`s not some far crazy left winger.

But the president is being charged with hanging around with radicals
is what`s going on here again.

FRANKS: Which is a pretty easy to prove charge.

DAVIS: I agree with Representative Franks, folks don`t know who this
fellow is. I didn`t know much either. And it`s simply an attempt to paint
the president as a radical, which he is not.

And Newt Gingrich, who is fighting for his life down here in Florida,
is railing against anybody who represents the establishment -- President
Obama, Mitt Romney, the Republican establishment. Here today, Chris, it
looks like the general election, you got every major Republican surrogate
in the country down here railing on Newt Gingrich. He`s fighting back
against the establishment including the president.

MATTHEWS: What were the radical proposals of Saul Alinsky,
Congressman Franks? What were the radical proposals?

FRANKS: It was some of the tactics that he espoused to where, you
know, you move into the community and you pump people up with false
statements and --

MATTHEWS: False statements?

FRANKS: With false ideals. False information.

MATTHEWS: Give me an example of a false statement he ever used.

FRANKS: Like the class warfare that this president uses, talking
about separating the country, dividing the country, trying to split the 1
percent from 99 percent. I think people ought to go to Newt.org/answers,
and they`ll see what Mr. Gingrich is talking about.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you.

FRANKS: I think if the left thought Mr. Gingrich was going to be so
easy to beat, that they`d be a little more quiet about it.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not quiet about it. I`ve been talking on Newt
Gingrich for weeks. He puts on the best show in town.

If all politicians were as colorful as this guy, it will be more
interesting game, I think.

FRANKS: Well, he will dismantle mister --

MATTHEWS: Mitt Romney, the guy you don`t like, is going to put
people to sleep.

FRANKS: I like Mr. Mitt Romney. Don`t say that. I like Mitt
Romney. I think he`s a good man. I just think that Speaker Gingrich will
dismantle the president in debate and we`ll be able to show the world all
the fallacies in the left wing rhetoric that he uses all the time.

MATTHEWS: By calling him the food stamp president?

FRANKS: He`s saying that we have gone from about 14 million more
food stamp recipients under this president than before. And this president
was supposed to solve the problem with poverty. But people have gotten
more and more poverty.

MATTHEWS: I think the unemployment rate is lower now than it was
what he inherited from President George W. Bush. Thank you.

FRANKS: We have nearly half of all the people in this country are
either poor or low income. It`s never been that way in my lifetime.

MATTHEWS: The Bush administration was a dandy operation, wasn`t it,
in terms of the company, the way he left us.

FRANKS: Well, I would suggest this president said he would create
2.5 million jobs. We have lost almost that much. And, you know, I have to
quickly go back to Jan Brewer. She has -- she came in the same time Barack
Obama did. The state in Arizona was among the worst hit with the housing
crisis. We were 47th in job creation. And now, she`s balanced the budget,
even though it was the highest per capita budget deficit in the country.
She`s balanced it. We have a surplus.

If the president would do that for America, maybe he`d have a right
to beat up on Jan Brewer.

MATTHEWS: She`s been a real unifier.

Thank you very much, Congressman.

FRANKS: She does in Arizona. She`s universally loved in Arizona.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Trent Franks. I thank you, Congressman. And
thank you, Jim Davis, for coming on.

Up next, the Republican fight between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney
has opened up a major fault line in the Republican Party. It`s t-shirts
versus tattersalls. Tea Party versus cocktail party.

I`ll be in Palm Beach, by the way, tomorrow at the Brazilian Court
Hotel. We`re having a breakfast discussing my book "Jack Kennedy: Elusive
Hero." Tomorrow night, I`ll be signing books at the Palm Beach`s Barns and
Noble all day tomorrow down there.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: What a fight we just had had. There`s another one coming
between the shirts and skins, if you will, in the Republican Party, the
cocktail party versus the Tea Party. That`s ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Gingrich versus Romney fight in Florida is for the nomination for
president has revealed a sharp division in the Republican Party, across the
party. As "Politico" frames it, it`s fanny packs versus tatersall plaid,
monster trucks derby versus the Kentucky derby, the Tea Party versus the
cocktail party.

Look at these photos, by the way, from the "Politico" article today.
More wealthy and educated crowd show up to support Romney, while less
affluent and less educated voters turn out for Newt. That`s where my
voices there.

Jonathan Martin is the senior "Politico" reporter who wrote this
story, what a great story, Tea Party versus cocktail party. Wow!

Nia-Malika Henderson trying to keep up with this verbal genius, as
political reporter for "The Washington Post."

You start, Jonathan. I am stunned by this here, the first guy to
ever notice this. I remember watching a crowd in Texas in 19 -- or 2000,
rather. I could tell all the pinks and limes were with W. And I said this
crowd is too rich to (INAUDIBLE) state. No state has got that many rich
people.

But you`ve sized it up in terms of class, if you will?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: Yes. Right. And, Chris, this is
something a lot of Republicans don`t like talking about because they have a
party, frankly, like Democrats do, too, that has a very odd coalition.
They`ve got the auto mechanics and they have the bond traders, and
everything in between.

So this is an awkward topic. But it`s come to life here in the last
few weeks, starting in South Carolina and really on display now in Florida.
You go to Romney event and you see folks that represent upper middle class
and upper class America. That`s who is really into Romney.

It`s revealed also, Chris, in the exit polls. Look at the states
where Romney does the best. It`s among the highest income folks and those
with the most education.

Conversely, you go to Newt events, you see folks who are wearing
jeans, who are wearing big American flag t-shirts who are carrying Tea
Party flags, who are sporting fanny packs even at times. It`s more down
market demographic.

Where you see this oftentimes in Democratic primaries, as you know,
Hillary and Obama, Gary Hart/Walter Mondale, you know, Bradley and Gore,
where you`ve seen it in the past in Democrat primaries. I don`t recall a
Republican primary where it`s been on such vivid display as this year.

MATTHEWS: And, you know, it is the Republican Party. Nixon used to
call it or we used to call it the time in those days, the mink coat party
and the cloth coat party.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: Right. Yes. No, that`s
exactly right.

And, you know, being at some of these rallies for Newt Gingrich, not
only in South Carolina but also in Florida, these are folks in tattoos,
they are chanting, "USA, USA."

MATTHEWS: They are the Newt people?

MARTIN: Right.

HENDERSON: Exactly. I think he`s running the same argument against
Romney that he is against Obama, which is to say that both of these folks -
-

MATTHEWS: What`s his solution to the fact? What`s his populism
about, Newt`s?

HENDERSON: I think his populism is about Romney and Obama are not
one of us. They are not regular Americans. They don`t get the sort of
experiences that Newt Gingrich, frankly, experienced when he was --

MATTHEWS: But doesn`t Newt -- I don`t want to argue the politics
here, but doesn`t Newt support the same kind of tax breaks for the rich
that Romney does?

HENDERSON: He does, but I think the benefit to him is that Romney
embodies that tax bracket much more so than --

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you, what do voters want that`s different
between the class groups, if you will, Jonathan?

MARTIN: Well, Chris, there are no real substantive differences.
It`s rhetorical. It`s Newt who knows how to play the conservative base
like a piano because he`s been doing it for years. It`s very reminiscent
of Pat Buchanan talking about New York and Washington --

MATTHEWS: Yes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I remember those speeches.

MARTIN: Yes, Goldman Sachs, you know, he knows all of the notes to
play. And the fact he lives in McLean, Virginia, like Pat Buchanan did,
not exactly the hot bed of populism, is irrelevant, because it`s the
message that folks are focused on and not necessarily the messenger who the
Romney folks have been reminding us now every day emphatically is a flawed
messenger. But the message connects with a lot of working class folks,
Chris, in South Carolina and Florida.

MATTHEWS: Every time he says food stamps or the name Saul Alinsky,
which I`m convinced if you ask 99 percent of those people with their fanny
packs who -- they think Trotsky, they think some communistic --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: A poor guy who`s a communist, reads Karl Marx all day.
Yes, he knows how to play to this crowd quite well. But I tell you --

MATTHEWS: I envy you guys. It`s fun out there. Jonathan Martin and
Nia-Malika Henderson of "The Post" -- Jonathan Martin, of course, of
"Politico."

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the joy I`m getting watching
this fight from here between Newt and Mitt.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

How can you not love this battle in Florida. Here we have two
candidates, one, the prince of the establishment, the other charging with
his battering ram. One bereft of spontaneity, robot-like in his earnest
just to learn how people actually behave. The other speaking from the gut
of every ticked off voter watching him from the sidewalk.

What a display of personal opposites, both fighting to the political
death to represent the same political party, to be the champion of the same
partisan demands. Look, I think this is going to be a close election this
November. Real close. The tough economy almost dictates it.

We Americans are a demanding bunch and we don`t like economic
failure, refuse to accept economic decline and we`re always looking for
options, especially when things aren`t so great. But this demolition derby
that`s going on before our eyes, climaxing with another ringside event
tonight, is just too good to be true if you are Barack Obama, too wildly
lucky if you are watching the spectacle.

How can a political party put on such a show of clowns followed by
this gladiatorial spectacle we`re watching now? How can a party be so
behind (ph) to think this is what the American people want to see?

I don`t know if Newt has the mojo to keep this going, whether he can
land some loud punches tonight and gets applause from them, getting votes
from them next Tuesday. I do know the man from Georgia is raising issues
that the Democrats will find more than handy this fall, the most important
being that Mitt Romney has benefited from the unfairness in the American
tax system.

What the Democrats need to add to this charge is that not only is he
a beneficiary of this unfair system, he wants to make it more unfair. He
wants to give further breaks to the guy, him, who makes more in a day
without working than the average American does in a year through the sweat
of his brow. He, Mitt Romney, wants to intervene in the affairs of man to
give more to the man on top. He wants to make our tax law more favorable
to the very rich than it already is. If Newt isn`t ready to challenge that
in debate, President Obama should be.

This is going to be a great national election this fall. We can
thank Newt Gingrich for making it an even hotter one.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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