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updated 2/3/2012 11:58:04 AM ET 2012-02-03T16:58:04

Guests: Howard Fineman, Sue Herera, Dana Milbank, Steve Kornacki, Susan Page, Matthew Hoh, Steve
Clemons, Loretta Sanchez, Allyson Schwartz

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Honeymoon in Vegas.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The rich and the richer. The day after Mitt Romney says he`s not concerned
about the very poor, he won the endorsement of the flauntingly rich.
Donald Trump, whose catchphrase, "You`re fired," is something Romney says
he likes doing, has announced he`s going with Mitt.

But make no mistake -- make no mistake, this isn`t a good day for
Romney. And what happened today in Vegas certainly won`t stay in Vegas.
Even conservatives have a question for Romney: What`s wrong with this guy?
And that`s the headline in the conservative "National Review" today. "The
National Review" crushed him. So did Rush Limbaugh and "The Weekly
Standard," all after his comment that he`s not concerned about the very
poor.

It was a grade A gaffe, a universal offender, panned on the left and
on the right. And it has conservatives worried and progressives hopeful
that Mitt Romney just isn`t a very good, dare we say, politician.

Also, a huge dispute today between two organizations dedicated to
women`s health. What`s behind the decision by the Susan J. Komen
Foundation, the group behind the Race for the Cure, to not fund anymore
Planned Parenthood?

And word that the U.S. could end combat operations in Afghanistan as
early as next year has brought the usual complaints from Republicans like
Mitt Romney. But exactly how long would Mitt like us to stay in
Afghanistan, until the Taliban just goes away?

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with a great day in politics, where you
can see the differences between Mitt Romney and President Obama more
clearly than ever.

We start with Donald Trump`s endorsement late today by Mitt Romney.
With me in Washington is "The Washington Post" columnist Dana Milbank and
Salon`s Steve Kornacki.

Dana, you don`t need much satire to catch the day`s elements. Here`s
Trump throwing his support behind Romney late today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: It`s my honor, real honor, and
privilege to endorse Mitt Romney. Mitt is tough. He`s smart. He`s sharp.
He`s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country
that we all love. So Governor Romney, go out and get `em! You can do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, it was like announcing the Miss World winner. I
mean, it was pure Trump in the golden tower of Vegas, looking like -- he
looked great, as usual. He made his appearance there. Romney came out and
said all the right things, as if he`d just been endorsed by Boss Daley in
the old days of Chicago. He treated it like it was an actual event and not
a faux event.

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: This is exactly what
Romney needed is to have a really rich guy on the stage, another really
rich guy getting behind him. I think that`s really going to solidify what
he needs to do in this race.

MATTHEWS: This guy flaunts his wealth. Fine. But he`s not in
politics. What made this guy, Romney, think he benefited from this show
today?

MILBANK: Well, you know, there was this time during the primary...

MATTHEWS: He should have put a tiara on him.

MILBANK: I`m surprised he...

MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t it be great if he came out -- here`s a tiara.
You`re going to be my nominee, the Miss World.

MILBANK: I bet he would have done it. If Romney wants to liven up
his milquetoast reputation, he might have Trump as his campaign spokesman.
That would liven things up.

There was a time when everybody wanted the Trump endorsement, when
there -- you know, when there was a real Republican race going on. At this
point, heading into a general election, maybe not so much.

MATTHEWS: Steve Kornacki, I want to introduce you with a claim that
we can go back to reality. In a Fox News poll this past autumn, 62 percent
of those polled said an endorsement from Donald Trump would make no
difference in how they ended up voting -- they made sense -- 31 percent
said a Trump endorsement would make them less likely for the person Trump
endorsed, 6 percent, whoever these full mooners are, said they would be
more likely to vote for a candidate after a Trump endorsement.

Who are these 6 -- 1 in 16 or whatever people they are that say that
they would more likely switch to Romney after Trump said, He`s my guy?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Well, I think they`re sort of the heart of
the Republican Party base, of the Tea Party base of the Republican Party...

MATTHEWS: The base of the base!

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: That`s why I read this -- I don`t read this as a general
election move at all. If this was a general election move, I think this is
the moment when Mitt Romney would pull what`s, you know, sort of known as
the Sister Souljah moment, where he would refuse the Trump endorsement
dramatically. The press would heap all this love over him, you know, and
it would sort of reassure swing voters.

But this is a campaign that struggled -- you know, the entire story of
the 2012 Republican race is Mitt Romney struggled to relate to and win over
the Tea Party base of the Republican Party. And I think his campaign
learned, if they hadn`t already learned it in South Carolina with Newt
Gingrich, that, you know, that danger is going to exist, of a Tea Party
insurrection in the primaries, until he finally clears that, you know,
magic delegate total.

So they watched Gingrich come back from the dead once before. They
think they have him right now. They probably have him right now. But you
know, Donald Trump has credibility with that Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Rush
Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KORNACKI: Those guys are all out there singing...

MATTHEWS: I respect your analysis. Let`s go further. Let`s put
together some facts here, Steve Kornacki. I`m not leaving you on this one.
Mitt Romney, if you believe in him, has one great strength. He`s what`s
called a data miner. He digs deep for facts and puts all these facts
together, like the old McNamara, the former secretary of defense of the
Vietnam days. Of course, that got us in big trouble -- Let`s put all this
data together and figure it out, so without too much pre-thought or any
prejudice.

OK. Fine. One of the things he might have dug for is that this guy
is a birther! He is today standing there taking the tiara, the whatever,
the crown from a guy who is a full-fledged birther. Isn`t anybody keeping
track of this stuff, Steve?

KORNACKI: Oh, no...

MATTHEWS: That`s the guy who gave him the magic wand. He`s the guy
that said, He`s my guy, a birther, a guy who believes the president of the
United States is not a citizen of the United States, wasn`t born here, and
by the way, the guy who says nobody knew him in school, nobody knew him in
college, nobody knew him growing up, who has this sort of crazy mystery
thing he does around the president.

That kind of full moon talking is what just endorsed the guy who`s the
front-runner. Why does he want this endorsement?

KORNACKI: No, no. Absolutely. That`s why I take this move as sort
of the ultimate commentary on how weak Mitt Romney has been as a Republican
front-runner because a front-runner who is more secure in winning the
Republican nomination and thinking ahead of the general election would
probably or conceivably take this opportunity to make the exact point you
just made, that, you know, Listen, I want to have the support of as many
people as possible, but there are some things I`m just not willing to do,
the -- sort of the Sister Souljah thing, when Bill Clinton went and you
know, he pitched his message to the general electorate by turning off Jesse
Jackson. That would be what a secure nominee would do in this position...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KORNACKI: ... but Mitt Romney isn`t that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s remind ourselves of a couple things. Romney takes
credit for the fact, rightly or wrongly, I guess most people give credit to
for him, always having had the same marital mate, always being married to
the same woman for many, many years, 40 or 50 years or whatever, for always
being in the same religion, although I think people should be free to
change religions. Conversion is fine with most Americans. But he says
that`s good.

Taking an endorsement from Donald Trump. Let`s take a look. Here`s
Trump. I mean, put it all together here, a birther with his history
endorsing this guy who lives a completely different life. Here`s Trump, by
the way, whacking Romney. These guys are not soul brothers! Let`s take a
look -- last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Mitt Romney is a basically small business guy, if you really
think about it. He was a hedge fund. He was a fund guy. He walked away
with some money from a very good company that he didn`t create. He worked
there. He didn`t create and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did create (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Well, he -- but -- but -- look, he would buy companies, he`d
close companies, he`d get rid of the jobs, OK? I built a great company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Trump -- I give him credit. He built a great
company. But there he is, trashing, minimalizing, stomping on the notion
that Mitt Romney`s worth anything.

MILBANK: Right. Because it`s only a few hundred million dollars.

MATTHEWS: Yes. But really trying to minimize the guy`s significance
as a political or a national player. And there he is today, putting the
tiara on his head. What happened? Why`d he do it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... logical question here?

MILBANK: Why did Trump do it?

MATTHEWS: A logic question.

MILBANK: Well, no, I mean, Trump wants to look like he`s the king
maker. Romney is quite clearly in everybody else`s mind out there. So he
gets out to do it. I think the bigger question is why Romney would accept
it. And it does suggest that he`s more worried about Gingrich than I think
a lot of us think he is that he still feels he needs to do this and...

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know why Romney wants it, but why does -- why does
Trump do it?

MILBANK: He wants to look like he...

MATTHEWS: I mean, we used to say this about Jack Javits, the former
senator from New York who was a real smart guy, but he was always
calculating in the middle. They used to say that things started to come
down on New Year`s Eve, that ball on Times Square -- Jack was like that.
At that split moment, he knew that it was the new year and he would say,
OK, I`m with you.

Does he now signal the fact that people like Trump are putting their
money on the fact that this guy`s the nominee? Is that what really it
means?

MILBANK: Well, of course. Trump wants to look like the king maker.
I mean...

MATTHEWS: The king`s been crowned by the voters of Florida!

MILBANK: Exactly. But you know, people talk about Romney as a flip-
flopper. I mean, you think about Trump ran for president as a pro-choice
candidate, so...

MATTHEWS: OK, good news for one -- one bit of good news for the
Republicans here. Steve Kornacki, is it good news for the Republicans that
Trump now probably can`t run third party?

KORNACKI: Well, yes, I mean...

MATTHEWS: Having endorsed somebody else for president.

KORNACKI: He...

MATTHEWS: I`m only talking in the crazy world where anything can
happen.

KORNACKI: Here`s the good news for Republicans, assuming, you know,
Mitt Romney ends up the nominee and can wrap up this process quickly. By
not, you know, angering Donald Trump too much, Mitt Romney probably
guarantees that Trump will not use his outsize media platform for the rest
of the campaign to trash Mitt Romney. He`ll focus his fire on Barack
Obama, probably.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s look at President Obama today. This is the most
beautiful day in American politics because one guy`s out having his
honeymoon in Vegas with Donald Trump, OK, and here`s President Obama
talking about the poor, a la St. Francis, at the prayer breakfast today,
the National Prayer Breakfast. This is how he chose to spend his day. He
gave as his reasoning for standing (ph) for foreign aid one of the reasons,
helping the poor. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s also about the
biblical call to care for the least of these, for the poor, for those at
the margins of our society, to answer the responsibility we`re given in
Proverbs to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the
rights of all who are destitute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So the moral Majority is going with the guy in Vegas?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look -- here`s President Obama also doing
something that I would certainly wish I had had the chance to do, speaking
emotionally about the great, the revered, Billy Graham at that prayer
breakfast. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: ... one of the great honors of my life, which was visiting
Reverend Graham at his mountaintop retreat in North Carolina when I was on
vacation with my family.

This man who had prayed great prayers that inspired a nation, this man
who seemed larger than life greeted me and was as kind and as gentle as
could be. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him.
I didn`t really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to
the man who`s prayed for so many?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was my relationship -- not my relationship, my
reaction to meeting Billy Graham. I mean, it is profound. It is profound.
And here he is talking about it, the president of the United States, at a
prayer breakfast.

MILBANK: Right, almost as if he anticipated what circus was going to
happen in Vegas in the afternoon.

MATTHEWS: So one guy`s out playing political blackjack out in Vegas,
you know...

MILBANK: No, I mean...

MATTHEWS: ... at the craps room, and he`s with the prayer breakfast
talking Billy Graham.

MILBANK: Now, I know it`ll shock you to know that there is some
politics at the National Prayer Breakfast. But of course, it was a freebie
for Obama to talk about the least of these, the day after Mitt Romney says,
I don`t care about the poor.

MATTHEWS: OK, just remember the last national bet, Steve, that Donald
Trump made was when he bet on black or red, whichever way you want to bet
it, that President Obama couldn`t come up with his birth certificate. He
did come up with it, and Donald Trump still stands. It`s a statement about
his hubris.

Thank you, Dana Milbank, and thank you, Steve Kornacki. A clear day
like this, you can see forever politically.

Coming up, the optics of today`s Trump endorsement aren`t good for
Romney, of course. It comes one day after Romney said he`s not really
concerned about the little people, the very poor. And that has some
Republicans even wondering if this guy`s got good enough chops to even be
their nominee. Do people want to be in the company of a guy that talks
like this, even at a country club?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Speaker of the House John Boehner says he and Majority
Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia get along just fine, despite reports to the
contrary. Politico reported this morning that tension between Boehner and
Cantor had gotten so bad that the two sides had to call a truce.

Today Boehner says he and Cantor haven`t had a single disagreement in the
past year. Cantor`s often seen as the voice of the more conservative
insurgent members of the House -- in other words, the Tea Party people --
who`ve made compromise at times difficult for Speaker Boehner. And that`s
putting it lightly. This guy Boehner`s normal. Cantor`s speaking for the
crazies.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, the criticism of Mitt
Romney for his incredible, I think, gaffe about poor people the other day
continued today. Conservative media figures have piled on the front-runner
for the statement he made in a CNN interview yesterday morning. Let`s
watch them go at him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I`m in this race because I care about Americans. I`m not
concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs
repair, I`ll fix it. I`m not concerned about the very rich. They`re doing
just fine. I`m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95
percent of Americans who right now are struggling.

We will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor. And
there`s no question, it`s not good being poor. And we have a safety net to
help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income
Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. There`s so many fragments of craziness in that
statement, I don`t know where to start. But "The National Review," "The
Wall Street Journal" and Rush Limbaugh -- Rushbo himself -- have all
blasted Romney for the comment. It seems to fit a pattern with Romney, who
has ran into trouble throughout the campaign for his off-the-cuff comments
when he`s not scripted.

He`s now the clear front-runner in the race. So the question is, will
his weakness continue to haunt him now that the spotlight`s on those words?

Howard Fineman`s an MSNBC political analyst and Huffington Post Media
Group editorial director, and Susan Page is the illustrious Washington
bureau chief for "USA Today."

Susan, I want to start with you, this whole question of why would the
right care about a guy talking the way he talks?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, two things. I think, substantively,
they don`t like the idea that he says there`s a safety net, if we need to
repair it, we will. They have some questions about different programs
they`d like to do that might, they say, help the poor.

But the other thing is, are they about to nominate a guy who seems so
prone to gaffes in spontaneous situations, and gaffes that reinforce the
biggest vulnerability he has electorally, that he`s a rich guy that has --
who doesn`t relate, doesn`t understand the lives that most Americans lead?

MATTHEWS: You know, in "Blade Runner," that great movie by Ridley
Scott, when they try to find out if you`re a replicant or not, whether
you`re a real person or not, and they start asking you questions. How did
you feel when you watched that beetle die in the sun? You know, that kind
of stuff. This guy -- it`s almost like we`re all blade runners now! Are
we really going to...

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
You think that it`s going to sort of spontaneously combust at some point?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, these questions -- like, he says things like it`s
not like he doesn`t care about the little people, the very poor. I guess I
can figure out exactly what he means. In other words, we do have Medicaid.
We do have those programs. They do exist. Nobody`s happy, and they`re
certainly not -- as Joan Walsh said they other -- they`re hardly hammocks
for people. They don`t make their lives happy. And they`re not getting
them out of poverty.

You know, when you say things like, They`re going to be there forever,
there are always going to be poor, that`s not a good statement for a
conservative to make.

FINEMAN: No, it`s not. A few things. First of all, talking to
people in the Romney campaign, they try to make the point that lots of
people, millions of people, have fallen into poverty in the last few years.
And even though Barack Obama, the president, spoke this morning about "the
least of these," he also has focused most of his rhetoric on the middle
class.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

FINEMAN: But he doesn`t do the things that Mitt Romney did yesterday,
to say, Don`t worry about the poor, they`re over here in the corner. He
doesn`t say -- he doesn`t call -- he doesn`t say, I`m for Americans. What
Mitt Romney said, if you parse that further, he said, I`m for Americans, as
though the poor really weren`t Americans and only the middle class...

MATTHEWS: Yes, the heart of America...

FINEMAN: The heart of America.

MATTHEWS: ... does not include these poor people, who are mainly the
ones who probably deserve a little heart.

FINEMAN: To go to Susan`s point, a lot of conservatives over the last
generation have said, We have conservative answers for the problems of the
poor, starting with Jack Kemp and others who said, It`s not that we don`t
care about the poor, we don`t think that the big federal bureaucracy is the
way to do it.

MATTHEWS: But their real fear, Susan, dare I say it, is that they
fear he`s a nincompoop, that he doesn`t know how to talk like a politician,
he`s going to keep doing this. If he gets elected, should he get -- he`ll
keep talking like this every time he`s unloosened.

PAGE: Well, of course, he does some things politically very well,
right? He`s run a very disciplined campaign. It stays on message. He`s -
- he`s had a smart campaign. But he clearly has a lot of problems in kind
of the guts of politicking, which is meeting people, talking to them,
making them feel like -- like you hear them...

FINEMAN: He doesn`t. He doesn`t hear the music (ph).

PAGE: That`s not -- he`s got a tin ear.

FINEMAN: He doesn`t hear the music.

PAGE: And he`s got to tune that up a little bit if he`s going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Wow. You`re being kind, you guys. I don`t know why you`re
so kind today.

Today, Newt Gingrich tried to score some political points off his
rival`s comments. Let`s watch the Newtster when he said what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really believe that we
should care about the very poor, unlike Governor Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: But I believe we should care differently than Barack Obama.
Both Governor Romney and Barack Obama seem to believe that a -- quote --
"safety net" is all the poor need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, that`s smart. Once again, I jump to Newt`s
defense. But you do it. I think he made a very telling point. Jack Kemp
would say -- the late Jack Kemp would say, don`t skip the poor. Get them
out of poverty. Don`t give -- don`t throw life buoys to them. Pull them
by a rope.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: That`s what the generation of conservatives was claiming
they were trying to do. Whether they succeeded at all with Reagan and Bush
is a question, but they did try.

MATTHEWS: The ownership society.

FINEMAN: But these things are related. The tin ear and the lack of
ideology are related. It`s all mechanical Mitt Romney. He doesn`t hear
the music of politics. He has no peripheral vision about it. And he`s
always trying to prove now that he`s a tough guy who believes in the
markets, which is why he says let`s let the housing market bottom out.

MATTHEWS: So that we can rent to people.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: And corporations are people, my friend.

MATTHEWS: And I like to fire people.

And, by the way, there he was today with the chief firer. And I do
want to ask you, because you seem to be sympathetic to his situation, which
is what you have to be when you cover these guys, trying to figure out what
their situation is. Do people who like Stu Stevens and people around him
who are smart, who write novels, are they going to him afterwards and does
he get the look from them like the mother who goes to the kid, you did it
again? I just got the call from the teacher.

Do they have to tell him when he blows it?

PAGE: I think he understands that this was inartfully put yesterday.
I don`t think there is anybody that needs to tell him that.

I think there are some people around him who are blunt. I think Chris
Christie for one is someone who has become a blunt adviser behind the
scenes.

MATTHEWS: Calls him up and says get your act together.

PAGE: And speaks in the way Chris Christie does to all of us, which
is pretty unmistakable.

MATTHEWS: None of your business.

PAGE: The other thing, you were showing the clip with Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich had a great image right after the clip that you showed, which
was, I don`t want a safety net. I want a trampoline for the poor, which is
a great image and one that would put Democrats on the spot.

MATTHEWS: It would say a lot of the old neighborhoods have been poor
for a long time. And you Democrats have been so-called representatives of
those districts. And you haven`t improved a lot of those people in those
neighborhoods.

PAGE: Right. There`s an argument you can make.

FINEMAN: Chris Christie notwithstanding, most of the people around
Mitt Romney are telling him it`s the media, watch out. In other words,
what one of them told me yesterday is that he had said this before. Why
are you guys making such a big deal of it now?

MATTHEWS: OK. Blame the messenger.

Let`s take a look at some of the very strong reaction on the right in
the conservative media. In an article entitled "What Is Wrong With This
Guy?" "The National Review"`s Jonah Goldberg wrote -- quote -- "The
underemphasized dynamic in this race isn`t that Romney isn`t conservative
enough. It`s that he`s simply not a good enough politician. He may be the
most electable on paper, but every time he seems to get into his groove and
pull away, he says things that make people think he doesn`t know how to
play the game."

Well, that`s pretty cynical, but he made his point. "The Wall Street
Journal" wrote in an editorial today -- quote -- "Like Twain said of
Wagner`s music, Mr. Romney is better than he sounds."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, on the conservative blog RedState, Erick Erickson
wrote: "I`m not sure I will waste my time. Sure, I will vote for him. But
I think I will focus on House and Senate races, so when the buyer`s remorse
sets in on those who did back Romney, we`re not completely screwed down the
ballot."

Well, this doesn`t surprise me from him. He`s pretty far over.

FINEMAN: Here`s the thinking among those people, some of whom I know
quite well.

They are thinking, we don`t love Mitt Romney. OK? He may be a
Massachusetts moderate. He doesn`t understand the conservative movement.
He`s trying to make himself a conservative.

MATTHEWS: Well, Newt calls him a liberal now.

FINEMAN: OK. But if we`re going to take him, let`s at least have a
good politician. Let`s have a guy who is good at being a politician. So
if he`s not with them ideologically, and he`s bad technically, on what
grounds are the conservatives going to accept him?

That`s what Jonah Goldberg and the others are saying. Laura Ingraham,
who I know well, who I just spoke to, I said, hey, is he hopeless?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: She said, no, he`s not hopeless, but he`s not there yet.

MATTHEWS: Look at his rap sheet, guys. "I should also tell my story.
I`m also unemployed. We could raise taxes on people. Corporations are
people, my friend."

FINEMAN: "My friend," I like that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take look at it all. Let`s take look at it on tape.
I didn`t know we had it on tape.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Here it is, some of his sort of chain of infamy here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I should also tell my story.
I`m also unemployed.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: We could raise taxes on people. That`s not the right...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations!

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

Rick, I will tell you what, $10,000, $10,000 bet?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I`m not in the betting business.

ROMNEY: OK. OK.

I know what it`s like to worry whether you`re going to fired. There
were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.

It also means that if you don`t like what they do, you can fire them.
I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

I`m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.
If it needs repair, I will fix it. I`m not concerned about the very rich.
They`re doing just fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Looks like a good ad for Obama.

PAGE: So that`s terrible string of things. And you think that`s
catastrophic. But Rick Perry is a really good politician. Where`s he?
He`s out of the race.

Other great politicians have been in this field. And somehow Mitt
Romney is the one who has emerged as the likely nominee. So, clearly, he
has something going for him. But agreed, this is a weakness he needs to
try to deal with.

MATTHEWS: Wow, the best there is. This is as good as it gets.

Anyway, thank you, Susan.

And, Howard Fineman.

Up next, another awkward moment for the Mittster. The "Sideshow" is
coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, back to HARDBALL. And now to the "Sideshow."

First up: old pals. A novelist and old college buddy of former
President Bill Clinton appeared on "MORNING JOE" earlier today to discuss
his newest book. Little did he know that his longtime friend would be
dialing in.

Want to know what the former president was like as an 18-year-old
college freshman?

Well, here`s Bill Clinton and his old friend Thomas Caplan talking
about the Georgetown days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")

THOMAS CAPLAN, AUTHOR: We became friends really as an accident of the
alphabet, because though the university said that they placed you with
students from diverse backgrounds and far parts all over the country, we
later discovered that everybody on our corridor went from Bastion to Duffy.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been
friends since we were 18 years old.

When I met him, he was sitting in a rocking chair at 18, as I
remember, listening to the music from "Gone With the Wind."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was he as loquacious? Did he like to hold court
and talk to people back then for long periods of time?

CAPLAN: Loquacious in the best way, gregarious. I think half the
people I knew at Georgetown, I knew because I knew Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s well said. There`s a friendship there that`s
really stood the test of time, obviously.

But think Clinton hung up on the phone before the subject turned to
presidential politics? Hardly. Here`s what he had to say about some of
today`s candidates and how they seem to lack one of his own greatest
strengths, relating to people.

He`s one to cut them some slack. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")

CLINTON: If you go back to the history of the country, to be fair,
though, we have had a number of presidents, some of whom did some
remarkable things, who cared about people in general, but had a hard time
relating to them in particular.

Programs like this bring it all home to people. It`s harder to pull
off. But we have had a lot of presidents that were awkward and with people
individually, but cared a great deal about what happened to the country.
Because of the immediacy of the modern media, we need to make sure we`re
raising people who do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think he`s talking about people like Woodrow Wilson,
who people said liked everybody, but nobody in particular, something that
was no problem for Clinton himself.

Next up, party crasher -- Mitt Romney had an unwelcomed guest to
contend with during an event in Minnesota yesterday, a protester who
unexpectedly showered him with glitter. It wasn`t the first time one of
the candidates has been glitter-bombed. But Romney`s follow-up stands
alone.

Here`s how he responded to that protester.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: There`s the guy. Wave your hand over here who threw the
glitter. There he goes. Hi there. How are you? Hi there. How are you?
Good to see you. There we go. Oh, I have got glitter in my hair. That`s
not all that`s in my hair. I`ll tell you that. I glue it on every
morning, whether I need to or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I have no idea what that means.

Anyway, the collection of awkward jokes just keeps getting better from
the front-runner.

Up next: a big controversy between two groups dedicated to women`s
health. Why has the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the group behind the Race
for the Cure, decided to stop funding Planned Parenthood?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The Dow slipped about 11 points today, the S&P up 1, the Nasdaq up 11.
Ahead of Friday`s employment report, applications for first-time jobless
benefits fell by 12,000 to 367,000, holding below that key 400,000 level
for eight of the last 10 weeks.

And January retail sales were kind of mixed, a rough day though for
Abercrombie & Fitch, which says deep discounts and high cotton costs would
dent its earnings. Its shares lost nearly 14 percent.

And that`s it from CNBC. We`re first in business worldwide -- and now
back to Chris and HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: We are back.

The end to an unpopular war seems to be a little closer in view right
now. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters yesterday that the
U.S. -- that`s our country -- was looking to transition from a combat role
in Afghanistan to a training and advisory role by next year. That`s a year
ahead of when NATO has agreed to end its mission in Afghanistan and pull
out all combat troops from the country.

There`s still 90,000 American troops over there fighting that war,
even as polls show the American public is overwhelmingly uneasy with how
things are going.

So what does all this mean and how successful have we been in
combating the Taliban? Matthew Hoh is a senior fellow at the Center for
National Policy. He`s a former Marine -- I think you`re always a Marine --
and State Department officer. And Steve Clemons is Washington editor at
large at "The Atlantic."

Gentlemen, it`s great to have expertise on.

I don`t want to have a big argument here. I want to have an
understanding. And the understanding, Matthew first and then to Steve, the
significance of this leak, if you will, the statement by the secretary of
defense about us pulling out by next year?

MATTHEW HOH, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It`s a big change in
policy. We were going to do combat until the end of 2014. And we moved it
up for 18 months. So it`s a big change. And it`s a good thing. It`s the
right thing to do. Escalating the war...

MATTHEWS: What caused him to make the announcement?

HOH: Because escalating the war has failed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The surge has not worked.

HOH: The surge has not worked. The Taliban is larger than they were
two years ago. Karzai is weaker than he was two years ago. We have got
worse relationships with the Pakistanis than we have ever had before. And
al Qaeda is not there.

So, Chris, we had 5,500 Americans killed and wounded in Afghanistan
last year, and for what?

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s my fundamental question. It`s about life and
death.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Before we went to Afghanistan in 2001, after 9/11, rightly
or wrongly, we went in there and we overthrew the Taliban. Before we went
then, the Taliban was in charge. How will it be any different once we
leave? Won`t the Taliban be in charge again? In other words, without our
presence, they ran the show. Without our presence again, won`t they end up
running the show?

I`m not saying it should happen, but won`t it happen?

STEVEN CLEMONS, "THE ATLANTIC": They are going to try to leave some
residual force there to shape what the choices are for the Taliban and
other political players. And as Vice President Biden said last time we had
a shift in strategy, we`re no longer out to beat the Taliban. We`re out to
shape choices. That means they will try to prevent anyone from being able
to overthrow the regime in Kabul.

But you`re going to have a mix of warlords, you`re going to have a mix
of Taliban-run operations. And the invisible hand that`s really behind
this, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Lebanon?

CLEMONS: Yes, it will be a little bit like Lebanon.

But you also have something going on. You had the Pakistani foreign
minister come out and endorse these so-called peace talks that are going
on. My bet is that this is not just a shift in strategy, that this is a
posturing statement, confidence-building with Taliban.

MATTHEWS: What will do to Karzai`s government? Now they know they
are not going to have big brother there. And I don`t mean that
derogatorily, because our guys have served and paid in life and blood for
this thing and a lot of lives.

But here`s the question. Once we leave, once it`s clear the clock is
ticking, will Karzai now say, they are not going to be here a year-and-a-
half from now, they`re going to be gone next year some time, I have to
start dealing with the guys who are out to kill me?

Can he deal with the Taliban, or will they take over -- try to take
over?

HOH: That`s absolutely what is going to happen. And he has to.

And this is what -- this is why the U.S. saying we are leaving is a
good thing for negotiations, because it makes the conflict go to its next
phase. The conflict has been going on for 30, 35 years.

MATTHEWS: And I raise that point because Mitt Romney said that`s the
wrong thing to do. By -- signaling that we`re leaving by a date certain
gives the enemy the information. But as you`re pointing out, it also gives
our allies the information.

HOH: Absolutely.

When I was there working with the Karzai government, they had no
interest in reconciling with -- because we were propping up and we were
making them rich, too. So this pushes Karzai to have to deal with the
insurgency.

It also -- what it also does, too, is, it takes away that big unifying
factor for the insurgency. The Taliban is a -- it`s a discredited
religious movement that`s now an army of national liberation because
there`s 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan.

You take away those foreign troops and you can take away some of that
support for the Taliban.

MATTHEWS: Do you buy the Taliban is weaker?

STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: I -- it`s not a question of weaker.
The question is, we`re in a silo talking about Afghanistan here. What I
think what is right about what the president and Leon Panetta are doing, is
this is the first time we`ve seen in a long time of a strategic play as
opposed to being stuck in a silo. When you ask the question, if we were
for five years or 10 years more, what it would be like? My answer is,
America`s strategic strength would be sapped even more, that Iran and China
would be convinced that we`re militarily overextended.

MATTHEWS: That`s my question, let me put it to you.

CLEMONS: Yes?

MATTHEWS: If you`re a more conservative president, more right wing
if you will, and said, no, keep the troops there more. My question to that
person --

CLEMONS: Is it Iran --

MATTHEWS: -- five more years would do what for us? Or what would 10
more years do? Twenty more years do?

CLEMONS: Ten more years -- it would fuel the ambitions of Iran.
Make China feel that America was militarily overextended and was stuck in a
trap.

What you need to do, and what America is doing, and you have seen it
in General Dempsey`s statement, and the repositioning towards Asia, is
we`ve seen a rebalancing, a strategic rebalancing of U.S. forces. Getting
out of things that are convincing the world that we`re weak and it may look
like we`re stepping back a little bit.

It`s not the question of Afghanistan makes America weak or strong.
The question is, if you`re stuck militarily overdeployed, spending $120
billion a year on a country with $14 billion of GDP, that`s not a sign of
strength.

MATTHEWS: Are we shifting our resources to the Far East?

CLEMONS: Yes.

HOH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: We are. So we`re confronting what we see as a strategic
threat from China? Is that going to get us into a deeper problem with
Chinese who think we are out to harness them, to limit them?

HOH: Well, we see them already getting back to Afghanistan and
Pakistan. We made an announcement to have a relationship with India, which
is Pakistan`s chief rival.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HOH: So, you see how it influences us with.

MATTHEWS: You both think this is smart move by the president?

HOH: Absolutely.

CLEMONS: I think it`s a smart move by the president because Iran and
other in a very tough neighborhood need to see that U.S. has resources and
latitude to shape the region. And being stuck deeply in Afghanistan,
dependent on Pakistan -- one of the colleagues, Jeff Goldberg (ph), would
call that the "ally from hell" -- we are dependent on very difficult
allies.

MATTHEWS: I like when presidents make decision, not the military
commanders, because the military commanders make decisions entirely for
different reasons, for different reasons entirely.

Thank you, Matthew Hoh. Thank you for your service.

HOH: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And thanks for Steve Clemons.

Up next, let`s get to the roof of that fight -- the root of that
fight between Susan G. Komen Foundation which does the Race for the Cure,
and Planned Parenthood. This is hard.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Washington state is set to be the next state to allow same
sex marriage. The state senate voted 28 to 21 last night to legalize
marriage between same sex partners. The measure now moves to the lower
house where it has majority support already. So, the governor, Governor
Gregoire, says she`ll sign it into law when the time comes.

Same sex marriage is already legal in six states: Connecticut, Iowa,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, and also here in
Washington, D.C.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A battle is brewing definitely this week among two prominent women`s
health organizations after the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the group behind
Race for the Cure, announced they`ll no longer fund grants for breast exams
at Planned Parenthood. Well, the Komen Foundation says the change is the
result of a new grant criteria which includes no longer funding
organizations being investigated.

Planned Parenthood is currently under investigation in Capitol Hill
by a pro-life congressman.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood believe politics is at play here and
that the Komen Foundation bowed under pressure from the right.

With me now are two Democratic Congress people, Congresswoman Loretta
Sanchez of California and Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz from Pennsylvania.

Congresswoman Schwartz, give us a layout on exactly what just
happened, because a lot of people were completely caught off guard by what
seemed to be a good relationship between the Susan G. Komen Foundation and
Planned Parenthood, that`s just come apart here.

REP. ALLYSON SCHWARTZ (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Yes. Well, I can tell you,
many of us are very disappointed and pretty outraged that the action that
was just taken. But the Komen Foundation made a decision and announced a
decision to no longer give funding that they do and have apparently doing
for years to Planned Parenthood. What they fund are breast exams to help
detect cancer and do wonderful work in terms of breast cancer screenings.
And they`ve said because -- the reason they gave is because Planned
Parenthood is under investigation by a subcommittee in Congress, they are
not going to fund Planned Parenthood to do this very important women`s
health work.

And, you know, nothing has been found. We don`t even know if what
happens with the investigation, but the Komen Foundation has made the
decision. And a lot of women in this country are pretty outraged about it.

MATTHEWS: It seems like a bogus case, Congresswoman Sanchez because
an investigation by Congress. Congress investigates all the time. And
they are not investigating for real criminal behavior. They`re
investigating them over questions of going over the border, they`re dealing
with, or giving abortions or whatever.

I mean, it seems to me using money for abortions, this seems to me
this under investigation thing has a very dirty sound to it, when in fact
it`s hardly a reason to cut the funding here.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Planned Parenthood, of
course, has always been very strict about how it spends the money that it
receives from the federal government. And it is, you know, one of the most
sought-after resources by -- especially young women because, you know, so
many women do not have health care. It`s sort of their primary doctor in
the sense that they`ll go into a Planned Parenthood clinic and get their
yearly exam, et cetera.

And so, to cut this off -- for the Komen Foundation to cut these
moneys off I think is really sad because what you`re talking about is not
just finding the cure, which is a great reason to be. There`s been a lot
of money raised on that and a lot matched from the federal government to
help try to find a cure for breast cancer. But when you do to make sure
that you never even get to that spot, make sure that you have annual exams.

MATTHEWS: Right.

SANCHEZ: So these went hand in hand and it seems a shame that out of
nowhere -- well, most of us think it was because of this new vice president
that started over at the foundation, the Komen Foundation, who is very, of
course, anti-Planned Parenthood and vowed when she ran for the governorship
of Georgia -- of course, she lost -- saying that she would shut -- that she
would stop all funding, all of these types of grants to Planned Parenthood
if she were in office.

MATTHEWS: Well, one thing I think the men out there aren`t aware of
this ought to know right now. Or maybe you two can tell them, I`ll tell
them what I`ve learned today is that it`s an inexpensive way to get a
breast examination. If you don`t get it early, you`re gong to have
problems, horrible problems in some cases.

So, you want to get a breast exam very early in this game and
hopefully you are safe. But if you have to deal with it, you deal with it.
And anybody doesn`t think that`s good for the country must not be paying
attention.

Here`s an interview with Andrea Mitchell today, the head of the women
foundation, Ambassador Nancy Brinker. Here she is talking on the Hill
about the investigation as being the only factor in their decision to stop
funding Planned Parenthood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY BRINKER, SUSAN G. KOMEN FOUNDATION: Investigation isn`t the
only issue. In 2010, we set about creating excellence in our grants, not
just in our community grants but in our science grants, putting metrics,
outcomes and measures to them, so that we can translate all of the science
we funded over 30 years. Many of the grants we were doing with Planned
Parenthood do not meet new standards of criteria for how we can measure our
results and effectiveness in communities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that seemed like gobbledygook, Congresswoman
Schwartz. I mean, it didn`t seem like the way you communicate a thought
because it didn`t communicate a thought.

SCHWARTZ: Yes. I mean, really, what we all know and I hope we agree
is that making sure that women, young women, women of all ages, have access
to the kind of health screenings, the health care that we need. And as
Congresswoman Sanchez pointed out, that many women, thousands of women in
our communities, go to Planned Parenthood for regular health screenings.

And cancer is a worry for everyone. But certainly breast cancer is a
worry for just about every woman in this country. And making sure that
they have access to the proper screenings and information and knowing how
best to take care of themselves is so important and has been a part of what
Planned Parenthood has done in our communities across this country.

So, the Komen Foundation has been funding these breast cancer
screenings at Planned Parenthood. I understand it was a great
relationship. And all of a sudden, this afternoon they said the reason was
because of this investigation, which is a pretty scary thought that any
member of Congress can call for an investigation, start an investigation,
and that somehow snowballs just because of a false accusation.

Look, there are members of Congress who were willing to shut down the
government over the discussion about Planned Parenthood and we didn`t let
that happen. And Americans, really millions of Americans spoke up about
how outrageous it was, because they want to see access to women`s health
care across this country and Planned Parenthood is a part of that.

SANCHEZ: You know, Chris --

MATTHEWS: Well, I think -- go ahead. We only have 10 to 15 seconds
here. Go ahead, Congresswoman.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, in some cases, the Planned Parenthood
clinic is the only medical clinic available for people who don`t have the
means, who don`t have a doctor, who don`t have health insurance in so many
areas, where places have closed down. So, it`s very important to keep them
open and to have those screenings happen because the sooner we detect, the
easier it is -- the more life there is left to a person.

MATTHEWS: And I`ve been hearing that people are very comfortable
with women going into the Planned Parenthood organization, institutions and
facilities. It`s a very popular organization. This is a sad story for
everybody.

Anyway, thank you, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

SANCHEZ: Thank you, Chris.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who does a good job
representing my old neighborhood of Somerton.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the stark -- 58th Ward -- with
the stark contrast between Mitt Romney and President Obama. What a day you
could see forever in American politics -- you could see the whole situation
develop today from Vegas to across the country.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

It was a great day in American politics -- in other words, one of
those clear days when you can see forever, when the differences between the
two parties stands right up there for all to see.

Did you see Donald Trump out there with his new prize candidate? Did
you see Mitt Romney standing up there like he`d just won the Miss World
contest? The latest prize figure in the world of Donald Trump -- a world
of golden buildings and high-rise casinos where it`s hard to find the
elevators where you can see -- all you can see are the endless rows of slot
machines, blackjack croupiers and roulette wheels.

But we Americans just want to make it to the elevators, Donald. Why
are you trying to hook us into the latest games that, you know, and that`s
why you built this place, all favor the house. No, life isn`t a casino and
most can`t afford to do business with Trump.

And like those very poor that never come through that door, even
though some people leave those casinos in that category of very poor.
Those very poor are not on Romney`s radar. He says he`s not even thinking
about them. They`ve got their safety net, he argues, and don`t need our
attention. They aren`t going to be part of the "we the people" under his
presidency. We, those people, are going to be the folks a bit better off,
of course.

Now, Mitt`s looking for the upscale crowd to put him into office.
That hidden crowd way back behind the scenes who pay for all those millions
of dollars of dirtball TV ads he used to stop Newt Gingrich with in places
like Des Moines and Daytona. They are the folks he`s going to pay
attention to and their need to get a great tax deal and even better deal
than one that has gotten him paying below 15 percent in taxes on $20
million a year, that allows him to his money in the Caymans. They are the
folks he likes.

President Obama, where was he today? Well, on Mitt and Donald`s big
day in Vegas, he was having a prayer breakfast here in D.C., talking about
our duty to the poor, about the wonders of that good man Billy Graham.

Yes, that`s where the president of all the people was, where we want
him to be. Not in Vegas with Trump. Not in the Caymans making his latest
deposit. Not hiding from the very poor out of sheer hope they won`t be
counting on a president like him to be looking out for poor people like
them.

As I said, what a great day in American politics, when you can see
all the way to Vegas where Donald makes his money and those islands in the
Caribbean where his new best friend Mitt Romney hides his money from Uncle
Sam and, of course, the American people he says he wants to lead.

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.
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