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updated 2/13/2012 11:19:34 AM ET 2012-02-13T16:19:34

Guests: David Corn, Mark Halperin, John Fortt, Melinda Henneberger, Cynthia Tucker, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, James Cromwell

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Good deal.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Peace agreement. That`s what it looks like tonight. When day broke this
morning, the president was facing an uproar in his own party. Prominent
Democrats were protesting the way he`d handled this issue of church
organizations being forced to pay for birth control.

Well, tonight he stopped the hemorrhaging. He`s won agreement with
Democrats and pro-Obama voices in the Catholic church who were opposed to
his initial position. While Republicans continue to wage war on him and
the Catholic bishops are not party to today`s deal yet, it was a very good
day for the president at the end of a very troubling week. And that`s our
top story tonight.

Plus, what`s the damage report from this hard fight? We`ll ask the
HARDBALL "Strategists."

Also, look out, Mitt. Here comes Rick. Both Mitt Romney and Rick
Santorum addressed CPAC today, the Conservative Political Action Committee.
Mitt said all the right things, but many conservatives suspect he`s just
mouthing the words. Santorum, on the other hand, sounds like someone who
really means what he says, and that`s a big problem for Mitt.

And anti-immigration fever. Did a Mississippi state representative
really introduce a bill to change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the
Gulf of America?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the president`s timely political
savvy.

We start with the deal President Obama made today in that fight over
birth control. Melinda Henneberger is with "The Washington Post" and
Cynthia Tucker is a political columnist and now a professor at the
University of Georgia. Thank you both for joining us.

It`s been a turbulent week, but today President Obama announced he`s
changing that HHS rule on contraceptive coverage. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under the rule, women
will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive
services, no matter where they work. So that core principle remains. But
if a woman`s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious
objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan,
the insurance company, not the hospital, not the charity, will be required
to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without
co-pays and without hassles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Without hassles. New York archbishop Timothy Dolan said in
a statement that his organization (INAUDIBLE) the church, that`s the
organization of Catholic bishops, sees initial opportunities in preserving
the principle of religious freedom after President Obama`s announcement
today. So that was a positive note. Archbishop Dolan then added, however,
"While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns here, we
reserve judgment on the details until we have them under hand."

Well, Sister Carol Keehan, one of the key people in this whole debate
-- she`s president of the Catholic Health Association -- she said she`s
satisfied with the president`s actions. Quote, "The framework developed
has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed."

Well, Melinda, you have been covering this thing with great zeal and
passion so well, I have to say, for all these days. It looks like the
president blew the whistle on this fight. The president said -- according
to my sources, the president decided about a week ago this thing had gone
too far. He was simply looking for time to get someone to come up with a
solution like we found today.

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, "WASHINGTON POST": I think this is fantastic for
everybody. I think it really is a classic win-win. And it`s terrific
that, on principle and on politics, I think he really did the right thing.

You know, of course, there are still going to be critics. There are
Republican critics of the president who would never have been satisfied.
But for people for whom this really was a matter of principle, this really
was about the 1st Amendment, I think they can be very pleased that the
president listened to their concerns and acted on them.

MATTHEWS: Well, basically, the solution is that instead of mandating
that Catholic institutions, like colleges, universities and hospitals and
the Catholic Charities, et cetera -- that those organizations be forced to
provide health insurance which covers birth control, which offends, of
course, their religious scruples, religious beliefs and principles -- now
the government will simply say, in those cases where there is objection --
Cynthia, you pick up here -- that the government will simply under this new
health care law simply mandate -- itself will mandate that those insurance
policies cover birth control.

So it seems like an incredibly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... amazingly arbitrary way to solve something, but it
seems like it solves it.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, UNIV. OF GEORGIA: The insurance
companies have to provide the contraception, which seems to be the
difference here. And that`s fine. If rational people are satisfied with
this, it is, as Melinda said, a win-win. I think Sister Carol Keehan
signing off on this is a really big deal because she was a supporter of the
health care law all along.

It preserves what President Obama was trying to do, which is make sure
that contraception is readily and easily available. This means that women
don`t have to dole out a co-pay if they want the birth control pill or
other contraceptives. And for some women, that`s a big deal.

And Chris, you know what I think the biggest deal of all this? This
will help curb the abortion rate.

HENNEBERGER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TUCKER; For those of us who are tired of the abortion wars, if you
really want to curb the abortion rate, make contraception more easily
available, and this does that.

MATTHEWS: Well, of course, it was all a question of what role the
churches were willing to play. They didn`t want to be the ones to put
their imprimatur, if you will, on birth control. But they also -- seems
like in this case, liberal Catholics, Melinda, are willing to say, OK, the
federal government has a perfect right to do what it does in these cases.
They control health policy under the interstate commerce clause. There
they go.

Here`s Tim Kaine, by the way, someone who was really caught in the
middle of this, one of the many Democrats who was caught in the middle.
He`s a former chairman, of course, of the Democratic National Committee.
He`s running in a very tight race in Virginia for United States senator.
He`d pointed to some of the problems in that HHS rule, but now he supports
the president`s latest iteration of it which was announced today. Let`s
listen to Governor Kaine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM KAINE (D-VA), FMR. GOV., SENATE CANDIDATE: My only concern was
that a church or a church-affiliated institution not be required to do
something or to purchase a coverage that violated religious doctrine. That
concern has been conclusively solved by this compromise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And now U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who`s, of
course, strongly pro-life, and distinctively so, said, "I`ll review the
details of today`s announcement to determine whether it strikes the right
bounds." So he`s a little bit hesitant here.

How do you read that, Melinda, the fact that he`s not ready to sign
on? Is he waiting for the bishops?

HENNEBERGER: I don`t think so. I mean, maybe I`m reading into it and
-- and I don`t know for sure. But it sounds like he just wants to know
every single detail before he makes a statement that he`d then have to walk
back. But I think that most people where Bob Casey is seem to be pretty
happy with this deal.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to the recalcitrant hold-outs, and they have
very much a political right to do so, the Republicans right now. We want
to quote right now Representative Fred Upton. He`s, of course, the
chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He`s been designated
by Speaker Boehner to take charge of this issue from the Republican side.

House Speaker John Boehner said he`s not satisfied with the
president`s actions so far. In a statement he put out today, quote, "The
Catholic church and others in our nation`s religious community are not yet
convinced the president`s mandate doesn`t constitute an attack on religious
freedom. The House of Representatives will continue to work toward a
legislative solution."

So I don`t know what to make of that. I mean, this is all a
combination here of church belief, religious belief, background, ideology,
and good old-fashioned politics, Cynthia. Maybe they don`t want to walk it
back, their objections, so quickly. They want to give the president still
a bit more heat, at least for the weekend.

TUCKER; I think it`s more ideology and politics than anything else,
Chris. Let`s remember John Boehner is against the entire Affordable Care
Act, which is -- provides the larger context for this debate. So he
doesn`t want women to be able to get contraceptives without co-pay or any
of the preventive care that people will get without co-pays through the
Affordable Care Act.

But you know, I think that`s a dangerous position for Republicans to
take. Most women, according to polls, support the idea of making
contraceptives broadly available without co-pays through insurers. And I
see Republicans just widening the gender gap if they continue to insist
that they`re against this.

MATTHEWS: Well, what I think was good, Melinda -- do you want to say
something? We only have a minute.

HENNEBERGER: I was just going to say that I think for Catholic women,
the issue was the government flying in and telling the church they had to
do this. It was not over birth control.

So for people for whom it was not over birth control, the issue is
solved now. And on the cost side, I think it`s very interesting to see
that this is cost-neutral and will, in the end, save money. And as Cynthia
said, and I think this is so important, we can`t say it enough -- if this
reduces the abortion rate, that should be the ultimate win.

MATTHEWS: Certainly. Let me just say that politically, I think the
president put it together. He wanted to reassemble his political
coalition, the one that put together health care. He was bringing it back
together, and he did so today as a political issue. Put aside religion,
values and everything else, pure politics, he did his job today. Melinda
Henneberger, thank you, with "The Washington Post," and Cynthia Tucker of
the University of Georgia.

Coming up: Mitt Romney tries to win over skeptical conservatives at
CPAC. Boy, does he have a lot to sell, and not much to offer. And it`s
Rick Santorum who was a hero today. Santorum gave them the old-time
religion, and they loved it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got new poll numbers on the presidential race. Let`s
check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard." In North Carolina, it`s neck and neck in
the presidential matchup between President Obama and Mitt Romney, Obama 47,
Romney. In New Jersey, President Obama`s approval rating is ticking up.
It`s into positive territory now, 51 percent in that key Democratic state,
42 percent still disapprove.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Two highly-anticipated speeches
today at the conservative gathering here in Washington known as CPAC.
While Mitt Romney played defense on his conservative credentials, Rick
Santorum seemed to revel in the social issues that are his forte. Let`s
listen to Santorum and then Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We hear
those same voices today, that we have to learn our lesson, that should no
longer -- that we -- that -- that we need to compromise, do what`s --
what`s politically reasonable and go out and push someone forward who can
win. Well, I think we have learned our lesson, and the lesson we`ve
learned is that we will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies
and principles that made this country great for a hollow victory in
November!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election
is not just about getting more votes. Defeating Barack Obama is only one
step towards our ultimate goal of saving America. Of course...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Of course we can defeat Barack Obama. That`s the easy part.
Believe me, November 6th will be the easiest day our next president is
going to face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Newt Gingrich also gave a fiery speech just moments
ago. And there`s a new poll out today that shows Santorum surging
nationally right now. Catch this. What kind of momentum does he have
going into the next few weeks?

Mark Halperin was in the middle of it all. He`s MSNBC`s senior
political analyst and a "Time" magazine editor-at-large. David Corn is the
Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and a political analyst here for
MSNBC, as well.

Gentlemen, let`s take a look at these polling. Here`s a new national
poll out today from Fox News. It has some fascinating findings. The poll
was conducted over four days, from Monday through Thursday of this week.
That`s through last night.

In the first two days of this week, Romney has a big lead and his
closest opponent is Gingrich, Santorum a distant third. But look at these
numbers for the last two days. Wednesday and Thursday of this week show
Santorum surging, doubling his vote practically, and Gingrich collapsing.
Look at the numbers on the right. Santorum is now tied at 30 with Mitt
Romney and Gingrich is, again -- well, now he is a distant third.

David Corn, this is stunning. It shows the -- what a boring word --
volatility. This a national poll by Fox. And it shows -- what happened?
This guy wins three primaries, and all of a sudden, the entire people in
the country, the Republicans like lemmings...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: They just all of a sudden say, Oh, is that the word from
the big boys? I guess we`re all now for Santorum.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s a shiny
object.

MATTHEWS: Why are they doing it?

CORN: Well, if you look at the numbers, Mitt Romney dropped 5 points,
but Newt dropped 10 points. So we get back to the same story we`ve been
talking about since last summer. Who -- you know, what happens to the non-
Romney vote?

And the volatility is, like, going from Newt, basically, stampeding to
Rick Santorum after those wins. I mean, if you sort of factor it in, took
a poll today or the next day, you`d probably see even more running from
Newt to Rick Santorum.

So Mitt Romney stays at about a third, 30 percent, and the other
people are just running around trying to figure out where to be -- where to
go to find that non-Romney.

MATTHEWS: Mark, a lot of people who watch this show are progressive,
and they`re looking across the aisle, figuratively, at the Republicans,
saying, What the heck is going on over there? Democrats are for Obama.
They were fairly consistent the last couple elections. I mean, this party
seems to be like a yo-yo. I mean, they go all over the place! And it
seems to change -- what happened Tuesday night? They got the headlines.
And by Wednesday and Thursday, all of a sudden, the Republican Party is a
different party. It`s more of a Santorum party than ever before. Because
of the news?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME," MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: They`re not
engaged in the election very much. We see that in the turnout numbers.
And we`ve got a front-runner in Mitt Romney, still the most likely nominee,
I think, still by far, who has a lot of weakness, who has a ceiling on his
support. Florida, he was able to shatter that. And it`s possible that
going forward, unlike in the three states on Tuesday, if he spends the
money he spent in Florida, if he has the performance level he had in
Florida, last Tuesday will just be like a bad dream for him.

But it`s also possible that Santorum can keep this going and finally
be, at the right moment in musical chairs, the guy who sat down in the
chair at the right time when the music stopped.

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is going after his nemesis, Romney, numerous
times throughout his speech today at CPAC. Let`s watch. Santorum`s
argument, by the way, for why Romney would be bad for the party this year.
Here`s his case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: We`re not going to win this election, ladies and gentlemen,
because the Republican candidate has the most money to beat up their
opponent and win the election!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: We won in 2010 because conservatives rallied. They were
excited about the contrast. We always talk about, Oh, how are we going to
get the moderates? Why would an undecided voter vote for a candidate of a
party who the party`s not excited about?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And here`s Romney, by the way, making a case, using an
unusual term here, describing himself as "severely conservative."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Forget "compassionate conservative." I never heard of
anybody called themselves "severe." But here he is, Mitt Romney defending
himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I fought against long odds in a deep blue state, but I was a
severely conservative Republican governor. I understand that -- the
battles we as conservatives must fight because I have been on the front
lines and expect to be on those front lines again.

Now, here`s CPAC. I know you guys understand that. This gathering`s
always welcomed me and you`ve consistently supported me not because of my
rhetoric but because of my record and my experience in that deep blue
state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that? I didn`t think -- I
thought he was a little arch today. But what did you make of Romney, who`s
on defense, clearly?

CORN: That comes -- that falls into the category of trying too hard.
"Severely conservative"? When he ran for Senate, he called himself a
moderate and progressive. You know, if you watched Santorum`s speech and
Romney`s speech, which I did and I`m sure Mark did, they both used the word
"we" a lot, "we conservatives." When Santorum said that, it felt real.
When Romney did it, it felt defensive.

He had to explain why he was a conservative, saying where his conservatism
came from, while Santorum got out there and said, we`re conservatives. We
don`t like the health care bill. We don`t like the government.

And it was -- it was authentic. It was integrated with the audience.
And so two very different uses of the word "we." Romney, after five years
of campaigning, he still hasn`t convinced this lot that he`s with them,
that he`s one of them. And that showed today.

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess despite the New Orleans music out there,
Mark, he hasn`t exactly built up the jazz aspect of his personality, has
he?

HALPERIN: Look, he hasn`t, although he talked in a little bit more
personal terms today. This was a brand-new speech for him. It wasn`t his
normal speech. We will see if he uses it going forward.

He took on directly his Massachusetts record. First, we all pride
ourselves in trying to be able to read the room at an event like this. I
don`t think either of them had a performance here that`s dramatically going
to change the trajectory of where this race is, which is I think headed
really towards Michigan and Arizona and what happens there in a couple of
weeks.

Santorum was very good. I thought he could have been better. Romney
I thought was pretty good for this audience. He`s not jazzy and he is
never going to be. I think he does have to take on his Massachusetts
record both as a candidate for the nomination and in the general election.
I think he was smart to do it today.

And I think he did it pretty well. And he does have a better story to
tell there to conservatives than the general coverage of him would suggest.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s watch them both living off the land on the
issue of the Catholic Church especially, and that birth control issue,
which seems to have been resolved today for many of the people in the
Democratic Party.

Here -- anyway, that issue handed to them by the White House gave
Santorum the perfect issue to play to his social conservative base. Here
he is, Santorum, talking about the president today and the recent
controversy with the Catholic Church over contraception. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But he`s now telling the
Catholic Church that they are forced to pay for things that are against
their basic tenets and teachings, against their First Amendment rights.

This is the kind of coercion that we can expect. It`s not about
contraception. It`s about economic liberty. It`s about freedom of speech.
It`s about freedom of religion. It`s about government control of your
lives. And it`s got to stop.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe the president all week long was helping --
helping Santorum.

Well, here`s Gingrich, the third man now in the polling, late this
afternoon, also went after the Obama administration in a fiery speech. He
accused the president of waging a war against the Catholic Church. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This administration is
waging war on religion, but so are the courts. This is why we need a
movement that`s bigger than just beating Obama. We need a movement that
understands we`re going to change the Congress, the White House, the
bureaucracies and, where necessary, the courts.

And we all need to understand how real this is. This country was
founded by people who came here in order to avoid religious persecution. A
very basis of this country was religious liberty. Our core document says
we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. And Barack
Obama seeks to cut across those.

And I, frankly, don`t care what deal he tries to cut. This is a man
who is deeply committed -- if he wins reelection, he will wage war on the
Catholic Church the morning after he`s reelected. We cannot trust him, we
should -- we know who he really is, and we should make sure the country
knows who he really is.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Mark Halperin, that was a rather desperate cri de
guerre, don`t you think, cry to arms, given the fact there was just a peace
treaty announced among moderate Catholics, maybe not right-wing ones? But
it seems like Newt Gingrich is just trying to wave the bloody shirt there.

HALPERIN: Well, that`s the reddest of red meat to a crowd like this.

But I do think, whoever the Republican nominee is, even if it`s Mitt
Romney, who, by inclination and record, would have the hardest time doing
it, whoever the nominee is, is going to use that kind of argument. However
the HHS rules get resolved, they are going to say the president is engaged
on a war on religion, the president doesn`t respect religion, and that he`s
engaged in a liberal overreach across the board in the health care law in
general and then against people`s religious freedom.

It`s going to be something that rallies the base in robo-calls and
direct mail and some campaign rhetoric, and maybe even ads on radio
probably no matter who the nominee is, no matter how this is resolved. I`m
quite sure of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, and maybe what we`re watching here is simply a
recognition the economy is getting better. They have got to switch to the
social issues and get a bit desperate.

Mark Halperin, thank you, as always. Have a nice weekend.

David Corn, my buddy, thank you for being here as well.

Up next, what did Michele Bachmann learn from her campaign for
president? Well, that`s ahead in the "Sideshow." She got a little
funnier, actually.

You`re watching HARDBALL -- funny ha-ha, as in funny -- not funny
crazy -- anyway, only here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: When President Obama`s campaign released its campaign music
play list yesterday, you might have wondered about the campaign tunes of
his potential Republican rivals. Well, the group Americans United for
Change has some suggestions for Mitt Romney. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have been embarrassed for him on the campaign
trail. Now bring some of Mitt Romney`s most cringe-worthy musical hits
recorded with co-star and running mate Gordon Gekko.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Oh, secretive Swiss banking laws for
massive bank accounts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will get the songs that touched your heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Should past positions be forgot and
never thought upon, so once I was a moderate, it`s fully past and gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go to RomneyGekko. Make sure you have your gold
card and start spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow, K-tel Records.

Anyway, that`s courtesy of the Democratic-leaning group who has made a
point of aligning Mitt Romney with the fictional, of course, Wall Street
character Gordon Gekko.

Next up: Michele Bachmann. The former presidential candidate took to
the stage at CPAC yesterday and talked about her days on the campaign
trail, ones that she said could have been -- actually could have used a do-
over, she said. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Running for president of the
United States is really one series of humiliations after another.

(LAUGHTER)

BACHMANN: And I learned three things when I was running for
president. First of all, I learned where John Wayne was born. That`s very
important.

(LAUGHTER)

BACHMANN: And then second, I learned the day that Elvis Presley was
born. These are vital issues to our republic.

And, third, I learned never forget the three things that you learn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the last one was of course a reference to Rick Perry
and his forgetting of that third reason -- third agency he wanted to get
rid of.

And, finally, read between the lines. A new piece of proposed
legislation from a state representative down in Mississippi sparked quite a
bit outrage early this week. The bill from Democrat actually Steve Holland
says, "For all official purposes, within the state of Mississippi, the body
of water that is located directly south of Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson
counties shall be known as the Gulf of America."

So no more Gulf of Mexico? Really? Well, Holland`s office was faced
with a barrage of callers asking just that question. Holland is now
telling the host of angry critics it was just a joke. Well, apparently
Holland came up with the ruse to draw attention to a number of Republican-
backed state bills that he feels are too harsh on illegal immigrants.
Holland says he`s actually tickled that his satire was lost on so many
people. Well, some of his Republican colleagues were less than amused by
the trick -- if it was a trick.

Up next: How much did the fight between the Obama administration and
the Catholic Church hurt President Obama with Catholic voters? We will ask
the HARDBALL strategists when we come back.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JON FORTT, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Jon Fortt with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The Dow closed off 89 points. The S&P 500 shed nine. And the Nasdaq
was down 23. Worries about Greece`s long-awaited bailout snapped a five-
week winning streak. One stock bucking the downward trend, LinkedIn, which
surged nearly 18 percent. The company`s profits were better than expected.

And a rough day for Toyota after safety regulators began looking into
complaints about door fires in some models. Shares sank 3 percent.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re lucky to have the HARDBALL strategists join us tonight, because
we have to -- witnessed actually two big political earthquakes in just a
few days.

First up, that culture war and those issues that reemerged in the
campaign, abortion, gay marriage, and most important birth control of all
things in the Catholic Church. Rick Santorum went so far today as to say
it will be as important as the economy come November. And Mitt Romney is
facing perhaps his biggest challenge yet, having lost three contests this
week, and with his advisers now publicly voicing deep concerns about their
candidate, his ability to connect with voters.

Do you believe that? The guy`s own people are dumping on him.

With me now are the HARDBALL strategists, who would never do that
about a candidate of their own, Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican Todd
Harris.

We have got to start with this culture thing. But before we get into
the big question, have you ever seen staffers dump on candidates like the
people around Romney do? First of all, they took all the credit when he
had a good week. And then when he had a bad week, they dump on him.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Have I seen it before? Yes, I
have seen it before.

MATTHEWS: In the newspapers.

HARRIS: And it`s shameful.

I will say I think the story was overwritten. It talked about --
quote, unquote -- advisers who "flew to Boston." Well, everyone who
understands the Romney operation knows that if you`re an adviser of any
substance or weight in that organization, you ain`t having to fly to Boston
to deliver your message. There are a lot of people who want...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. The trouble is that completely identifies who
the guy is, probably, by saying who flew up to help him.

How about you, Steve? Here he is. One of these guys say, you can`t
make him what he`s not. They are complaining about the putty they have to
work with, the candidate.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is amazing.

Actually, you asked if we have seen this before, and the truth is, we
saw it just a few weeks ago in the Rick Perry campaign. You remember even
before Rick Perry got out of the race, his advisers were already pointing
the fingers at each other and pointing the fingers at -- pointing their
fingers at him.

And now you see the Romney campaign guys doing the same thing. If I
were Mitt Romney, I would be absolutely furious. I would be trying to
track down who these leakers are and I would get -- I would run them out of
the campaign, because, if they are doing it now, they will be doing it all
the way to November.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: And it`s never good for a campaign to have this going on,
because it doesn`t just anger the candidate.

It actually demoralizes the campaign from the inside. It`s like a
cancer, because you`re in meetings where you`re wondering who the leaker
is, and people go out and they basically give everything up, and half the
time, you don`t find them. Sometimes, you do. And when you do, you run
them out.

MATTHEWS: What we`re talking about today, guys, so everybody keeps up
with us, the front page of today`s "Washington Post," right in the middle
of the front page, under a large photo of the CPAC conference today, is the
headline, "Romney Stuck in Lukewarm, Advisers Fear."

And here`s a portion of it. "One prominent adviser told the candidate
to sharpen his use of conservative code words and create small pictures,
vivid imagery, in other words, to connect with voters. Another flew to
Boston," as we said, "to say that Romney`s message is too businesslike and
broad to capture the passion of angry Republican voters."

Well, we could have told them that.

"Still others have gone on television and written opinion columns to
hammer home what is becoming a common theme this year, that Romney has not
been able to ignite a cause, when the GOP is primed to become part of one."

This is the problem. The Republican Party has ganged up against
Obama. Everybody knows they don`t like Obama -- 39 percent of the country
is conservative. It`s all there for this guy Romney. He can`t grab hold
of it.

HARRIS: Well, look, it -- anything can happen, as we saw with this
whole fury over the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s been running for office now for three years.

HARRIS: Well, look, the president has been president for three-and-a-
half years and just stepped in it this past week and turned the whole
political conversation upside-down.

November is a long way away. Barack Obama became president and in the
process lost in the primary states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York.
Everyone said, oh, this is horrible for Obama. He will never win in
November. Of course, he went on to win.

Are there concerns right now? Yes. There are some concerns, but
there`s no real Romney adviser who is going on television or writing
opinion pieces saying any of this stuff. This is a bunch of consultants
who probably lost some gig to try to get that work who are pissed off.

MATTHEWS: Well, earlier today, Rick Santorum suggested that social
issues may be -- may trump the economy. This is an amazing statement. He
said they may be more important than the economy, stupid.

Well, let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: We know there`s a lot of excitement here, because this
election is about very, very big things.

This is not just about jobs, although it is about jobs. And we
obviously need to do something about jobs in this country.

We know it`s about big things, though, really big things, more than
just, well, the economy. It`s about foundational principles. And we`ve
seen that played out here just in the last few weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting, Steve McMahon, is that the
advisors to Mitt Romney, who was still the front runner if you listen to
the (INAUDIBLE), the experts, are saying smash this guy. Go out there and
smash him, run negative ads like you destroyed Newt with. Other advisers
are saying, you better not do that again because you`re getting a
reputation as simply a negative campaigner.

Isn`t that a problem when you`ve got advisors saying that both,
different advisers saying the opposite of each other publicly?

MCMAHON: Yes, it is a problem. And I`m sure they are saying the same
thing privately, which would identify who they are. But the interesting
thing here, Chris, is, you know, candidates go into these partisan venues
and they make these speeches. And they are really talking to the people in
the room, but the cameras are rolling.

So, this clip that you just showed is going to make a great clip for
the general election if Rick Santorum can pull off a miracle and get past
Mitt Romney. And I think, you know, he`ll see a lot of this if he moves
on.

MATTHEWS: Because he said other issues are more important than the
economy.

MCMAHON: That`s right. That`s right. And I don`t think most people
believe that. I think it actually makes the case that Rick Santorum is
outside of the mainstream.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MCMAHON: And that`s not really what centrist voters are going to
vote for this November.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of social issues, here`s President Obama. He
said the contraception issue, quote, "shouldn`t be used as political
weaponry". Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand some
folks in Washington may want to treat this as another political wedge
issue, but it shouldn`t be. I certainly never saw it that way. This is an
issue where people of goodwill on both sides of the debate have been
sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that
works for everyone. With today`s announcement, we`ve done that. Religious
liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventive care will
not discriminate against women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Can we all agree that the president basically solved the
problem today? He brought together his very aggressive people who cared
about women`s rights, and rightfully so. It`s certainly in the Democratic
Party, it`s a big part of the party`s belief system. But he also brought
back the more conservative Catholics who were concerned about it would look
like a move against the church`s basic authority over its own principles.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He didn`t necessarily fix the
policy of it, because there are still real concerns about these
institutions having to subsidize these insurance policies, but he diffused
the politics of it. I doubt this is going to be -- there will still be
conservative Catholics who probably weren`t going to be with the president
in the first place who will still be up in arms about this.

MATTHEWS: But the liberal Catholics --

HARRIS: And rightfully so.

But the liberal Catholics who wanted to be with Obama got the fig
leaf that they needed.

MATTHEWS: Fig leaf? Are you into Adam and Eve? That`s the Old
Testament.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Steve -- let me get a positive view here from Steve.

I think he did a great job of bringing him together and from my
background information today, he really did respect the views of the
Catholic Church on this issue. They are right to their own prerogatives
and concerns and principles. He understood this was a legitimate debate
within the community of the Democratic Party that may have disagreed on
this issue.

MCMAHON: I think he did a great job of setting a tone of
reasonableness and reconciliation. I notice that the conference of bishops
went out there and they basically said, we`re encouraged, but were not
necessarily satisfied.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: So, this may not be over.

But I do think that he took a principled and tough position to begin
with. He understood the political peril, and he dealt with it quickly, and
he came to a solution that hopefully everybody can live with.

HARRIS: The problem is they are still requiring institutions to pay
for it. In Hawaii, where they took the model --

MATTHEWS: OK. We`ve got to go. We`ve got to go. Take that to the
RNC meeting.

Anyway, thank you, Todd Harris. Thank you, sir. Great to have you,
but you`re wrong.

Steve McMahon is right.

Up next, the movie "The Artist" is up for 10 Academy awards. It`s
going to win best picture.

We`re going to take a look and talk to up with of the stars of "The
Artist" and the question about why it`s being told today, why are we
watching a silent picture in 2012? I`ll give you a reason when we come
back.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee is
under investigation by the House Office of Ethics for possibly violating
insider trading laws. U.S. Congressman Spencer Bachus, a Republican from
Alabama, says he`s cooperating with the investigation and welcomes the
opportunity to set the record straight.

At issue is whether Mr. Bachus benefitted financially from stock
trades made right about the time of the 2008 financial collapse.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The movie "The Artist" is up for 10 Academy awards this month. It`s
a story that brings us back to the late 1920s and early `30s in Hollywood
and the end of the silent movie era.

Let`s watch.

(MOVIE CLIP PLAYS)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Actor James Cromwell plays Clifton, the loyal chauffeur, the big
movie star in the film. He joins me now.

James Cromwell, everyone knows you. And now they know your name.
It`s so great to have you on this show.

JAMES CROMWELL, "THE ARTIST": Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Why in the year 2012, believe it or not, the year we live
in right now, has a silent, mostly-silent film, which for at least an hour
and a half, you think is a silent film, become what I believe the number
one film and the other one that I believe will win the Academy Award for
best picture this month? What`s going on in our world that makes us want
to see an old movie like a silent movie?

CROMWELL: Well, even though it is a silent movie in black and white
and it`s -- the context of the story is the late `20s, it actually is a
contemporary story and the period, the dynamics of the period in the late
`20s and now are somewhat similar. People were anxious, depressed. The
market had failed. People didn`t know what was going to happen in this
country, much the same as we don`t know today.

So the story, even though it`s set back in 1929, is available to a
contemporary audience because the audience itself is creating the story on
the basis of what they see in the frame and not on what`s said.

MATTHEWS: You know, there`s another piece I`m sure you are giving
thought to, is that at the time when people, a lot of them are losing their
jobs because of productivity or automation in this world, especially in
television with the camera people not working here like they used to, that
they do identify with this guy who was big in the silent film and he
couldn`t quite make the change to the talkies. Boy, is that like today or
what?

CROMWELL: Absolutely. You know, the -- it`s interesting, comparison
between two films. On the one hand, you have "The Artist," a very small
$12 million film, made about this period. On the other hand, you have this
"Hugo," which is $250 million with 3D and all the other effects. And it`s
interesting that they both deal with the beginning of movies and the effect
of movies, that it has on people and what we tried to express in this
country to the rest of the world about who we were and what we thought
could be.

It`s less cynical time. Not so cool. More engaged. Everybody wore
their heart on their sleeve. And every once in a while, things worked out
the way they should.

MATTHEWS: Yes, there`s a piece of it, and it`s the wonderful sort of
music in that movie that someone like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and
it`s like this sense of youth and hope about this country. The fact that
Hollywood actually looked like that where it was still -- the simple town
that it was and meant to be, this place of innocence even.

CROMWELL: Absolutely. We`ve gone, you know, now there are so many -
- the making of films is so complex that sometimes that complexity takes
over the story and directors, in order to justify these incredible budgets,
they are actually serving the story up to the audience on a plate --whereas
everyone who comes to "The Artist," every audience member creates the story
for themselves in their head and the experience is sort of like reading a
wonderful novel.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CROMWELL: When you get past those 20 pages, the story has you hooked
and --

MATTHEWS: You are so right, James. I watched this movie for an hour
and a half in a big theater. I got to tell you, I didn`t realize until an
hour and a half in. Hey, this is a black and white silent movie.

CROMWELL: Right.

MATTHEWS: There`s no mugging. There`s no weird stuff. It just
happens to be silent. You go -- I can`t believe this is good.

By the way, here`s another clip where the movie star George Valentin
plays a trick on the unsuspecting backup singer Peppy Miller who becomes
his love interest. Let`s watch.

(MOVIE CLIP PLAYS)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know where they found those guys, James. I got to
tell you, I grew up watching Sid Caesar on television, watching him play
the character like John Gilbert, the guy who had the high voice and
couldn`t make it into talkies. And they used to have this gig where they
would throw the water on the guy, give him a cold so his voice could drop
and he could actually play in the talkies.

I can`t think -- we`ve forgotten the great Sid Caesar. I hope he`s
watching now, by the way. He`s in his late 80s. But he really got me
hooked on this stuff.

CROMWELL: Yes. A lot of people, too.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, well, what more can we say except congratulations.

CROMWELL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You`re going to win the Oscar. You`re going to be in the
best movie of the year. Good luck to Harvey Weinstein, although he hardly
needs my good luck. And it`s great to finally meet you after watching you
in "W." and "RFK," "The Sum of All Fears," "The West Wing" and especially
as the duke of Edinburgh. You did a fine job as an American, having gone
to the Carnegie Mellon school of greatness out in Pittsburgh.

Thank you so much, James Cromwell, for being on HARDBALL.

CROMWELL: My pleasure. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And when we return, "Let Me Finish" with President Obama
finding a solution, the way out of that political quick sand of that birth
control fight with the Catholic Church. What a great piece of politics
here on this Friday.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

President Obama gets a gold star tonight. He`s found a way to
reconcile the goal of good health care, including reproductive health care
for women and what he acknowledges as the legitimate rights of religious
organizations. He did it by mandating insurance companies swallow the cost
of birth control in their policies when church organizations decide they
cannot in good conscience do so.

Well, today`s announcement by the president was evidence that he was
both alert to the public debate and strong enough to make an adjustment in
policy when needed, he decided early on in this debate that action was
necessary and took it as soon as of solid public policy options was before
him. He wanted to bridge the goals of women`s advocates with what he
recognized as the legitimate position of the Catholic Church.

As is often the case, the way the public decides such issues is to
decide who is being the bully in the case. If you viewed the government
here as bullying the church, you found for the church. If you viewed the
church as bullying its female employees, then you found against it.

Today, the president presented a way to address both perceptions by
directing the insurance companies themselves to absorb the cost of birth
control. He freed the churches of having to do so.

For people on both sides of this dispute, it was a good way to end
the week. It was especially a good way to end the week for President
Obama. It showed he was awake to the problem, was flexible and humble
enough to demand a fix and that, as he said, he gets better at this job all
the time.

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

And those of you in the Washington area, this weekend, by the way,
I`ll be hosting a book signing at Blessed Sacrament Church just off Chevy
Chase Circle in Washington, Sunday morning at 11:30, to talk about my new
book that has the whole story on JFK, stop by if you can.

"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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