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updated 2/21/2012 12:08:35 PM ET 2012-02-21T17:08:35

Guests: David Corn, Seema Mody, David Corn, Michael Steele, Joan Walsh, Jonathan Martin, Susan Page, Dayne Walling, Jenny Beth Martin, Mark Meckler

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: What a pill!

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Woman trouble. The Republican Party is getting itself in deeper and deeper
trouble with female voters. Instead of focusing on their strong suit --
the economy and fiscal responsibility -- something has got them talking
about birth control -- birth control -- a topic that hasn`t been on the
national debate agenda since your grandmother`s day.

And look who`s doing the talking. Guys, guys talking with other guys
about having baby or not having babies. News flash. Men don`t have
babies. It`s the worst Republican obsession since the days of Terri
Schiavo, and it`s driving away voters, especially women voters.

Plus, Rick Santorum`s surge is serious enough now that the Obama
campaign is thinking of taking him on. Team Obama doesn`t want to elevate
Santorum, but they`re getting a head start on opposition research to
portray him as a conservative fringe figure out of touch with most
Americans.

Plus, Motown or no town? Mitt Romney`s having a world of trouble
explaining to Michigan voters headlines, like this one, "Let Detroit go
bankrupt." and now he`s making matters worse by trying to get to out-
right-wing Santorum by bashing unions. Is this any way to win a Michigan
primary? And what happens in November if either guy wins?

And the Tea Party troubles are out there. The big winners of 2010
seem to have sprung a leak. Are they a governing party or a permanent
protest party? That`s our question tonight.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a word about a friend of this show and a
colleague of mine for years, Pat Buchanan.

We begin with the fight over birth control and how Republican men may
once again be reaching for trouble, especially woman trouble. Michael
Steele was chairman of the Republican Party and Joan Walsh is editor of
Salon. Both are MSNBC political analysts.

I see the smile on my colleague`s face. And therefore, even though
she`s wearing green at least a month ahead of time...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... which is appropriate for my friend, Joan, and I would
appreciate a month`s celebration for St. Patrick`s day...

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Here`s your chance. Speak loudly and clearly about what
the Republicans are doing to the potential of getting even a smidgen of
women`s support in the next election.

WALSH: Oh, they`re decimating their chances! I mean, this has been
one of the best things they can do for President Obama. You know, the
Democrats lost certain groups of women in 2010, Chris, and they`re coming
back in droves.

And I think -- you know, we`ve seen -- we`ve had so many great images.
First of all, this whole debate we`ve had over contraception in the last
two weeks, it really brought home to a lot of women that, Wow, you know,
the Affordable Care act really pays for my contraception without a co-pay?
People didn`t know that, and so that -- you know, that`s a great benefit to
a lot of women.

But also, I think that this is terrifying. I think that the Terri
Schiavo moment, the comparison is very, very apt. That was the --
President -- President Bush had won reelection. The Republicans looked
very strong. And suddenly, they`re marching into a woman`s bedroom and
they`re coming back from vacation and they`re passing laws. And they make
very palpable what Democrats complain about, that they want to intrude in
our personal lives.

Suddenly, people really saw what that meant. And I think that that`s
happening again with contraception, with that ridiculous hearing yesterday,
and with, you know, our friend, Foster Friess, and the aspirin, which most
people are too young to even understand what that was about. It`s
hilarious.

MATTHEWS: I`m not -- I`m too young or too old. I don`t even know
what he`s talking about. He says, Back in my day. I wonder what day it
was, Gabby Hayes? I mean, what -- what is this, before "Gunsmoke" and "I
Love Lucy," at least.

Michael Steele for the defense here.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, no...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... your political party. I mean, guess who...

WALSH: Poor Michael.

MATTHEWS: ... was up there playing chaplain the day that they did the
Schiavo vote. With three U.S. senators present...

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... they voted unanimous consent to go ahead and intervene
in a family matter down in Florida involving a woman who was on a
respirator, who was -- you know, the whole situation we`re now aware of, a
very sad case for a woman there...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... a young woman dying at that age -- but getting involved
in that case as a U.S. congressman.

STEELE: Stuck in the craw of a lot of conservatives around the
country because those of us who believe that the government has no place in
the bedroom, it has no place in the health decisions that families have to
make -- which is the crux of our argument against "Obama care" in the first
place.

All of that gets thrown out of the window. And I think this case,
this situation is a little bit worse than the Schiavo because at least with
the Schiavo, you did have some women who understood and would probably be
with the party`s position in terms of wanting to have the family having to
make this choice or that choice.

But here, this is much more personal to every woman. And so now you
have the party, or at least certain voices out there, that have moved this
off of the conversation that it was, I think, rightly, on, on the role of
church and state, the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and
religion, to now where you`re talking about the health of women. You`re
talking about the types of recourse they have access to, to preserve their
health.

And it`s not a good spot for the party. So they need to get off this
conversation. They need to move off this message right now and focus on...

MATTHEWS: Have you got anything hard on this -- any data you...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: I`ve seen some early polling from inside a number of the
campaigns that is not pretty. We`re beginning to hemorrhage independent
women and women more broadly.

WALSH: Right.

STEELE: They`re moving away from -- from our leading candidates,
Santorum and Romney, around this issue.

And they have to figure out a way to stop the bleeding and then
retract the conversation about the economy and on to things that women are
more concerned about than having a bunch of men sit down to decide what
their health issues should be.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think -- I don`t think...

WALSH: But they keep doubling down.

MATTHEWS: ... a lot of fathers or parents want to -- want to know
about this -- this trying to keep people from having birth control as part
of their lives.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: You know, especially -- well, just in modern day. I mean,
we all know the situation.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let me -- I want to go to this. As we reported yesterday,
Michael and Joan, there were no women present in that first panel of the
House Oversight hearing on contraceptive coverage the other day. And today
Democratic senators made their anger about that slight very clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: They held a hearing on the
administration`s decision to ensure that women have access to affordable
contraception. But guess who was missing? The women.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: For millions of American women,
reading the news this morning was like stepping into a time machine and
going back 50 years, seeing the headlines and the photos of an all-male
panel in the House talking about a woman`s right to access birth control.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: When will they get this
simple, non-debatable fact? The power to decide whether or not a woman
will use contraception lies with her, not her boss, not her employer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go on to this issue. It seems to me, in all
fairness, Joan, you and I had a different perspective on this, I don`t
think different values but different perspective...

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... about the way this matter was proceeding a week ago.
And then it changed. I think once the president laid down what he
considered to be an important distinction, not whether women need full
health care, including birth control, as part of the package, but whether
it not infringe on what the church, the Catholic church especially, felt
was their domain, what they have to sign their name to.

And he said, You don`t have to sign your name to it.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: The government`s going to take care of it with the
insurance companies. And I think he finessed that. Henceforth, you would
think they would have pulled back and said, OK, we made our point.
Instead, they pushed forward and said, Let`s make this a birth control
issue, right?

WALSH: Right. Because this is not their point. I mean, that was the
point of certain church leaders and certain Catholics who felt very
strongly about it. That was their point. But once that accommodation was
reached and you had Catholic Charities and Catholic Health Association,
applauding it, Chris, you saw Republicans whose real -- real problem is
contraception, not just the religious freedom issue...

MATTHEWS: But how can that be?

WALSH: ... double down.

MATTHEWS: How can it be a problem for them?

WALSH: I don`t know. I -- I mean, poor Michael. Michael can`t
explain it.

MATTHEWS: What does it mean exactly to say you`re against
contraception?

STEELE: Yes, no, I -- I don`t...

WALSH: I don`t...

STEELE: And I don`t think it is, but -- quite honestly. Look, you
know, we`re forgetting another major player here in this -- in this
process, and that was the Obama political operation, which I think did a
wonderful job of shifting the dynamics of this conversation and focusing it
around the issue of contraception because that is a much more, how shall we
say, explosive conversation to have for the GOP...

WALSH: Well...

STEELE: ... than the one they were having.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me show you one of your top candidates...

WALSH: But that`s what it really was about, Michael!

MATTHEWS: I think we can clear the air here. I think we can clear
the air here.

WALSH: OK.

MATTHEWS: And I may not be fair here, but in an interview last
October -- not a million years ago, this past October -- Rick Santorum, who
is now running head to head for the Republican nomination, talked about
what he called the dangers of contraception.

WALSH: Oh!

MATTHEWS: Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the
things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I
think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual
libertine idea.

Many in the Christian faith have said, Well, that`s OK. I mean, you
know, contraception`s OK. It`s not OK because it`s a license to do things
in the sexual -- the sexual realm that is -- that is counter to what --
what -- how things are supposed to be. They`re supposed to be within
marriage, supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also
(INAUDIBLE) but also procreative. And that`s -- that`s the perfect way
that a sexual union should happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I was thinking of the old Bulwinkle show and the "way
back machine," you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Where are we going today, Sherman? We`re going way back to
the year 1953 where we`re debating contraception.

STEELE: Well, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: My view on that -- on that is there`s a reason why no
presidential candidate or president has talked about this issue before
because the church itself has not talked about this issue...

MATTHEWS: I haven`t heard a sermon on this since the `50s.

STEELE: ... in 30 or 40 years because...

WALSH: No.

STEELE: ... the church`s teaching is clear. And what the magisterium
of the church lays out is its teaching and...

MATTHEWS: That`s one church.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Our church, that`s right. This is one church.

WALSH: That`s one church.

STEELE: And then -- and then you have your pastors and priests within
that church, who from Sunday to Sunday, week to week, guide the faithful
along that path on those teachings. It is not the purview, I think -- and
this is a real big issue here, for me at least. It`s not the purview of
politicians -- I don`t care if they`re Republicans or Democrats, to get in
and pontificate on -- on doctrine when it comes to policy. And so I think
that that...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: ... you`ve got to keep that clear.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk -- let`s talk politics, Joan. Let`s look
at this new poll because I think this will also clear the air this Friday
evening.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: A new "New York Times"/CBS poll taken this February,
basically, spanned opinion both before and after the president announced
his accommodation this past Friday which kept the religious institutions
from having to sign on -- 66 percent support the federal requirement that
private insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control.

Now, there`s a very clearly worded, comprehensive question that says,
Should it be fully covered without a co-pay and it should be a federal
requirement -- a federal requirement -- that people with clear eyes said
yes, 66 percent.

WALSH: Two thirds.

MATTHEWS: No was...

WALSH: Two thirds.

MATTHEWS: No was only 26 percent, 1 in 4. Your thoughts. I mean,
this is a pretty clear public opinion here, I think.

WALSH: It`s very clear. And it`s clear among Catholics. You know,
interestingly, we had this big debate about what Catholics thought, and
Catholics were divided, et cetera. But when the dust settled, Chris, you
know was really -- the only people who were really opposed to this
ultimately are the people who are most opposed, are born-again evangelical
Christians. So again, this is a Christian right. It`s an issue that they
try to use to gin up the culture war. You know, Rush Limbaugh says they`re
going to win the culture war. I think he`s a secret Democrat. I think
he`s a closet Democrat.

MATTHEWS: Well, you mean (INAUDIBLE)

WALSH: He`s leading -- he is leading Michael`s party off a cliff on
this issue. All the polls show that. And Michael -- you know, Michael has
the integrity to admit that. This is not something Republicans should want
to be talking about...

MATTHEWS: Well...

WALSH: ... because Americans don`t want to talk about.

MATTHEWS: I think...

WALSH: We settled it a long time ago.

MATTHEWS: ... the progressive readers and lovers of Salon are
probably happy tonight. And the progressive people that want to see the
president reelected must be wondering, is this the luckiest man in the
history of the planet?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you...

STEELE: Well, through the month of February.

MATTHEWS: Where did -- where did...

STEELE: So we`ll see...

MATTHEWS: Where did Rick...

STEELE: ... what happens in March and April.

MATTHEWS: Rick Santorum has come back to haunt your party with his
strong new views.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Michael Steele, thank you, Michael. I don`t
know if you`re rooting for the other guy or not. Anyway, thank you, Joan
Walsh. Thank you, Michael Steele.

Up next, Rick Santorum`s surge is real, and now the Obama campaign is
considering taking him on down the road. They may have to fight this guy
come November. They`re getting ready, but they don`t want to get too ready
because in a weird way, I think they want him to be the nominee.

You`re watching HARDBALL -- not a weird way, common sense way. You`re
watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Wow, we`ve got a new poll from that hot Senate race up in
Massachusetts, and it doesn`t look like other recent polls we`ve been
tracking. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard" tonight. Here it is.
According to the new Suffolk/WHDH poll, Senator Scott Brown has a 9-point
lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, first time we`ve seen him
up, and he`s up dramatically, well beyond the margin of error, 49-40. A
poll earlier this week showed Warren with a 3-point edge. And other recent
polling had Warren in the lead.

So maybe this is a poll that`s outside the norm here. We`ll keep
tracking those numbers from Massachusetts. It`s early in the game. This
is still the hottest race, I think, in the country for the Senate.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Boston, the home of Mitt
Romney`s campaign headquarters, has its eyes on Rick Santorum now and his
recent rise in the polls, a rise so steep you can now see Santorum`s ahead
of Romney now in four national polls, but narrowly.

But a little further west, another campaign is also intently watching
Santorum. Team Obama is following the new front-runner and weighing
whether to jump into this fight and start framing the story of just who
Rick Santorum really is. Do they sense a threat? Well, perhaps.

Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" and Jonathan
Martin is Politico`s senior political writer.

Now, I don`t want to jump ahead in this story because I think they
think they`re still probably facing Romney. Is that correct?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": They still think they`re probably facing
Romney, and they still think Romney is probably the stronger candidate for
the Republicans to nominate against Barack Obama, but hard to ignore the
fact that Rick Santorum`s the one who`s won four states and is now leading,
as you say, in these national polls.

MATTHEWS: But right now, are they rooting for Santorum?

PAGE: Rooting for Santorum over Romney?

MATTHEWS: Are they sitting around having a beer at night out in
Chicago, the -- Axelrod and those guys -- are they -- and the women -- are
they basically saying, Come on, Rick!

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Yes. Absolutely.

PAGE: But we -- they`ve seen those, the vulnerabilities that Mitt
Romney is displaying and his (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Who`s got more?

PAGE: But I think that Rick Santorum has -- is a more target-rich
environment.

MATTHEWS: His rap sheet is...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: For a general election, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Yes, because of his problems with women, with gays -- not -
- gays is a smaller group, obviously, but majority of voters are women.
His rap sheet is...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: The Obama path, they think, is to go in the states like
Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, these so-called enclaves of
upscale suburbanites who work in technology, who don`t have sort of
cultural baggage, who are not hard-core partisans but who have moved away
from the GOP in the last five, six years. If Santorum is the nominee,
that`s a good contrast for President Obama.

MATTHEWS: That`s a bonus.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s a bonus beyond the -- but does he -- does Rick pick
up the -- just to make his case, does he pick up the Reagan Democrats?

MARTIN: Well, that -- that is the other side of the argument, Chris,
exactly right, is that would Santorum be a tougher candidate than Romney?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... people that once voted Democrat and now voting more
Republican. Can he pick up all them?

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) be tougher in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan,
Wisconsin, the Rust Belt, because he does have that sort of cultural down-
market appeal in a way that Romney has proven time and time again in the
primary he does not.

PAGE: Also, let`s not forget look who`s run the better campaign. I
mean, Santorum has no money. He hasn`t had endorsements. He`s had...

MATTHEWS: He`s coming off an 18-point loss in Pennsylvania.

MARTIN: Six years ago.

PAGE: Exactly. And yet he`s leading the national field. He did well
in those (INAUDIBLE) So -- so you know, sometimes the most rational
analysis doesn`t fit the way that politics actually works.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at "The Wall Street Journal" and its --
not in its opinion columns but in its news today. Quote, "Mr. Santorum
`doesn`t come with the type of political baggage that Gingrich had,` said
one Obama observer -- adviser, rather. `He has the ability to go farther
and is more likely to be a potential nominee.` Directing attacks against
Mr. Santorum, quote, `is under discussion at the headquarters` in Chicago,`
he added."

So, we do have evidence they`re under discussion. But it doesn`t
sound like they are moving very fast.

MARTIN: No. I...

MATTHEWS: My hunch is, they want Santorum to do all the damage he
can.

MARTIN: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Right? Rough up Romney and maybe at best beat him, but at
least rough him up as much as possible between now and Tampa.

MARTIN: And drag it well into the spring, if not the summer.
Exactly.

I think the posture now in Chicago is, go, Rick, go.

MATTHEWS: I think so.

MARTIN: They want him to do well in Michigan.

Keep in mind Michigan is an open primary. Democrats can vote there.
Now, they are going to have to say that they`re Republicans at the polling
place, but still they can show up there and vote. If a couple thousand
Democrats show up and vote in Michigan, it could certainly help Santorum.

MATTHEWS: I think the country wants to see a really -- everybody,
they`re dropping these debates like flies right now. The CNN debate is now
dead down there.

But wouldn`t everybody like to see a mano a mano, Susan, between
Santorum and Romney right now, just the two of them, some network with
hardly even a moderator there? Let them go at it, the cultural
conservative against the sort of weirdly detached presence of Mitt Romney.

PAGE: Well, reporters would like that and Santorum would like that.
I don`t know if the whole nation is waiting, hoping for this kind of
debate. Maybe.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Are you on my side or are you working against me here?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I think if Newt does fade here...

MATTHEWS: You know that thing in "Austin Powers" where the seat
disappears into the ground? What does he say?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We need Santorum. We love this guy.

MARTIN: But if Newt does fade hard here in the next few weeks, I do
think you`re going to see a one-on-one type campaign, where there will in
fact be pressure to do more debates because you will, like you said, a mano
a mano style campaign.

And whoever by the way is losing is going to be pushing for more
debates. Right? If Santorum makes a move, you will see Romney calling for
more debates and then vice versa.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the president now. He is still in
this race. Now he`s waiting to make his fight. Here he is in Washington
State today. He continued his pledge to fight for the 99 percent. He`s
still thinking Romney is the opponent, Mr. 1 Percent. He`d like to put
that on his bowling shirt. Right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If he ever went to a bowling alley, excuse me, Mitt Romney.

Let`s listen. I don`t think so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a choice right
now. We can either settle for a country where a few people do really well
and everybody else is struggling, or we can restore an economy where
everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share, and
everybody plays by the same set of rules, from Washington to Wall Street to
Main Street. Everybody is doing their part.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN: The campaign has started, huh?

MATTHEWS: I`m loving this. I think he really -- is beginning to
really feel like this presidential office fits him. It fits him well, the
role he`s playing in history right now of being the populist leader against
what he sees as sort of a reactionary party of the elite. He seems very
happy right now. That man looks happy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I never thought he was a populist until recently.

MARTIN: He`s trying the suit on out for sure.

MATTHEWS: Doesn`t it seem to fit him?

PAGE: I think he`s engaged now. For awhile there, talk about being
detached. He seemed a little detached from some of the things you need to
do in a campaign. He`s totally engaged in that now, obviously, with all
the money he raised.

MATTHEWS: Columbia and Harvard law are not exactly the little kids,
the state university, but yet he`s adapted and he`s coming off like the
middle class guy and the middle class champion. That`s what he is doing.

PAGE: And what`s even better news for him is these economic
indicators that are coming out, like the economic indicators out there
today up 0.4 percent. We see sign after sign that the economy is
recovering and in time this year to do him some good.

MATTHEWS: How does Romney come back and complain about this guy`s
economic performance when the stock market is back up to 13000,
practically, when it`s back up to where it was before this mishegas that
they created back in 2008 and 2009?

MARTIN: Oh, because you can point to the fact that more and more
people in the work force have stopped looking for a job.

MATTHEWS: But the markets, they are richer.

MARTIN: No, I understand that.

MATTHEWS: All the people that vote Republican have more money thanks
to Obama.

MARTIN: Well, but a lot of those folks are now voting for Democrats
too is the thing.

MATTHEWS: This market thing -- if this was happening under W., he
would be jumping up and down doing -- he would be spiking the ball in the
end zone.

MARTIN: No. You will see that message here in the months ahead.
That is, things are turning around. It`s morning again in America.

You will hear that message time and time again from the Obama folks.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, Susan Page. Have a nice weekend, and
Jonathan Martin.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, gentleman -- up next -- and lady.

Up next: Mitt Romney is trying to look like an average Joe. Boy,
that`s a pathetic effort. And now he`s telling a new story involving pink
nail polish. Trees are just the right height. He`s talking nail polish,
severely conservative. He can`t learn the idiom of our language.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow" this Friday.

First up: Mitt Romney the prankster? Well, that doesn`t round sound
right, does it? As Rick Santorum seems to be gaining popularity, however,
thanks to his average Joe persona, Romney is doing what he can to step it
up in that arena.

Yesterday, let an Ohio crowd in on a story he said he had kept under
wraps until that very moment. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You where Elyria, Ohio, is.

Well, there was a young lady who I had once spent some time with. And
she decided to marry a fellow. It was a perfect wedding. They had little
bottles of shocking pink nail polish, so that everybody had the -- all the
bridesmaids had the same nail polish.

I found the groom`s shoes, the patent-leather shoes he had rented.
And I took some of that shocking pink nail polish and I wrote something on
the bottom of his shoes. And the minister gave a beautiful service. And
then he said let us pray, and the couple knelt down.

Slowly, but surely, people ahead of us began to shake a little bit and
point up at the shoes. In bright pink letters, it said "H-E-L-P" on the
bottom of his shoes.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: I haven`t seen a crowd rock this in Ohio since then. And I
want to thank you for that wonderful welcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: God, it`s painful. This is Romney`s problem. He doesn`t
know what to say to people.

This one has got to be the moment of the week. U.S. Congressman Luis
Gutierrez thinks Newt Gingrich is trying to speak for American Catholics
when he bashes the Obama administration`s recent decisions on contraception
coverage. So the Illinois Democrat sees more than a few ironies with that
one. He channeled his disbelief with this riff against Newt on the House
floor yesterday. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: If Newt Gingrich can speak for
American Catholics, then it`s true. In America, anything is possible.

Maybe Charlie Sheen can become the spokesperson for the temperance
movement. LeBron James can be in charge of the Cleveland Chamber of
Commerce. And the cast of "Jersey Shore" can lead a national campaign for
manners, humility, and modesty.

If Newt Gingrich can do it, why can`t they? In fact, if Newt Gingrich
can do it, why can`t I? This is me with Senator Bill Bradley. He`s over
6`6`` and I`m barely 5`6``. He`s noticed the difference and he`s giving me
a friendly kiss on the top of my head. So I`m pleased to announce today
that if Newt Gingrich can speak for all Catholics, I`m going to start
speaking for all tall people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I think the gentleman from Illinois made his point.
He certainly did.

Coming up: Will Mitt Romney`s strategy of bashing labor unions
backfire in Michigan? He`s out there bashing labor unions. Do you believe
it?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEEMA MODY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Seema Mody with your CNBC Market
Wrap.

The Dow rises 46 and is within 15 points of the 13000 level. The S&P
gains three and the Nasdaq loses eight. On the economic front, consumer
prices rose 0.2 percent last month as gas and food costs moved higher.
Campbell`s Soup was up more than 2 percent in today`s trading day thanks to
better than expected earnings. And online review site Yelp is slated to go
public with about seven million shares priced between $12 and $14 a share.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

And it looks like Mitt Romney is engaged in a high-risk strategy as he
fights to win the first of his many home states, Michigan, which is just a
few days off right now. Michigan -- actually Romney has taken every
opportunity he can all of a sudden to start bashing the labor unions out
there.

Here are a few of his recent jabs. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I have taken on union bosses before. I`m happy to take them
on again, because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of
the American taxpayers and you can protect a great industry like
automobiles without having to give in to the UAW.

Some of the union bosses get things wrong. And I`m concerned when I
watch a president kowtow to the union bosses by putting in place those
labor stooges at the NLRB that stopped the Boeing decision in South
Carolina.

Let`s make sure we have, if you will, not crony capitalism, where a
president is giving to his friends that helped him in his campaign, in this
case the unions, the benefit of the federal largess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I haven`t heard this in awhile, a candidate for office just
bashing the unions as such. As Bloomberg News points -- Bloomberg News
points out, more than 18 percent of the work force in Michigan belongs to a
union. And more than a quarter of the people who voted in the Republican
primary back in 2008 were from households that included a union member.
That`s the Republican primary.

Meanwhile, Romney continues to struggle to explain his opposition to
the auto bailout, something almost every economist agrees helped save GM
and Chrysler and created jobs in Michigan, including in cities like Flint,
Michigan. In a moment, we will be talking to the mayor of Flint himself.

With me right now is David Corn of "Mother Jones."

This sort of generalized attacking on labor per se, you don`t hear
much of that anymore.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No.

MATTHEWS: It`s almost like birth control. It used to be you might
have one guy like Jimmy Hoffa you would go after, but going...

CORN: We`re really going back to the` 50s this week, aren`t we?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: And what is interesting is that Republican leaders out there,
including Governor Rick Snyder, are not backing Romney up on the union
bashing.

When asked about it, they are saying we have some disagreements,
because they know the stat that you just put out there -- 18 percent or so
of the voting electorate out there are union people or union households.
So what he`s doing is, he`s making a bid for a very small group of people,
Republican primary voters who can`t stand unions.

Why? Because Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania, a good union state, has
voted against right-to-work laws. So this is where he thinks he can be
more conservative than Rick Santorum, who is widely seen as more
conservative than him on most things.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think he`s known as anti-labor, though, at all.

CORN: No, Rick Santorum is not. This is the one place -- one of the
few places...

MATTHEWS: You can`t survive in Pennsylvania politics even for one
term by being known to be anti-labor. It`s a union state.

CORN: Of course not.

MATTHEWS: Here is what Mitt Romney said this week about the measures
taken to save the auto industry, which he`s got a real problem with.

Remember Motown no town? Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I love the businesses of this city. I love the auto
industry. I want to see it thrive and grow.

I`m glad it went for a managed bankruptcy process, which I recommended
from the very beginning, to shed unnecessary costs and get its footing
again. I`m delighted it`s profitable.

In had my view, this auto industry can continue to lead the world and
must continue to lead the world to keep Detroit with a vibrant and a
prosperous future.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He`s supporting managed bankruptcy, not TARP.

There`s a position that it`s almost like the old Jerry Ford to New
York, you know, Ford to New York, drop dead.

CORN: Drop dead.

MATTHEWS: Now that the thing is coming back, all the auto companies
are doing pretty well.

CORN: Very well, actually.

His position on the bailout is kind of like saying Osama bin Laden
would be more dead if I had been president. It`s just -- it`s absurd. The
managed bankruptcy that he talked about could not have happened because
there was no credit flowing. The economists had a devastating piece today,
saying, you know what? We were against the bailout, the auto bailout.

We were wrong. Looking back at it, nobody would have come in, in a
managed bankruptcy situation to save these companies.

MATTHEWS: There was no private money.

CORN: They would have been carved up and sold off for dead. That`s
what he says would have worked better.

He`s totally out to sea on this. He`s out of gas.

MATTHEWS: But the problem also he has got the Bain Capital -- he was
part of a company that went out and did that chop shop stuff. That`s the
very thing that those companies do for a living, take big things, break
them into pieces and make some money.

Here he is back in 2008. Romney laid out his position on the auto
bailout in a "New York Times"` op-ed headlined, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
In it he wrote -- quote -- "If General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler get the
bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the
American automotive industry goodbye. It won`t go overnight, but its
demise will be virtually guaranteed."

Now, what could he mean by that in today`s terms, now that they have
survived despite his opposition?

CORN: It`s like he`s in Cirque du Soleil. He`s contorting himself so
much because he`s doubled down on that position in order to attack the
unions, because Obama`s bailout, as he calls it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, is he arguing that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... the help they got from the government is somehow going
to poison their long-term potential to compete? Is there something more
subtle we`re missing here?

CORN: I think what he`s saying is, it would have been better to do it
in the public sector.

He`s playing -- again, it`s all about playing to a small slice of the
public. Republicans in Michigan, a slight majority of them were against
the bailout. And amongst people who vote, the more conservative
Republicans, more of them were.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the mayor of Flint right now, Mayor Dayne
Walling.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

We know -- we want to ask you what you make of this comment. Let`s
take a look at something that Mitt Romney said just recently about his love
of Michigan. I want your thoughts about this, with special emphasis on the
trees.

DAYNE WALLING, MAYOR OF FLINT, MICHIGAN: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I was born and raised here. I love this state. It seems
right here. Trees are the right height.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: I like seeing -- I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes.
There`s something very special here, the Great Lakes, but also the inland
lakes that dot the parts of Michigan. I love cars. I know -- I mean, I
grew up totally in love with cars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I know he would pander by saying I love cars. By the way, who
doesn`t love cars in this country? We Americans love cars.

But what did he mean the trees are the right height? You`re an
expert on your state and city. What does he mean by that? Because we need
to know not being from Michiganders.

WALLING: I have never heard anyone say that before. I just don`t
know what it means. We`re focused on trying to grow the economy here, not
the height of trees. It just doesn`t make any sense.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about your auto industry. You`re in
Flint. I have seen enough Michael Moore exposes out there. I`m sure
you`ve seen them, too.

What`s going on? All we read is good news. We thought the auto
industry was getting killed by Japan for years and Germany and, of course,
Korea. And it`s doing pretty good.

WALLING: Well, GM has come back strong. And that`s great news for
Flint and for Michigan. The UAW and the management have worked together.
We`ve got products like the Silverado HD, which was the 2011 Motor Trend
truck of the year rolling off the assembly lines in Flint.

We`ve got a third shift back to work, more than a thousand new people
who are working in the community, of course. That means they can pay their
bills and support their families and important for local governments. They
can pay some taxes.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you a couple of things. Why is Romney
wailing against union members, unions per se, union bosses? It sounds like
very old time Republican talk. Very old-time.

WALLING: Yes. It`s hard to figure out who he is pandering to
because he`s always flip-flopping on the issues. But what we want to see
is a strong partnership with our federal government. We want a president
who will stand up for working families and middle class security.

There were more than a million jobs at risk in this great recession
in the auto industry alone. And the president took a decisive step. He
made some smart decisions that put people back to work. And there were
some other provisions that made sure that the assets, the land, the brown
fields, in a place like Flint are now in responsible hands.

And when you talk about something just being washed through the
market and sold to the highest bidder, then all those protections go out
the window.

MATTHEWS: Talk about the bailout, the federal role in all this.
What role did it play as you see it as mayor of Flint, Michigan?

WALLING: Well, I take my cues from General Motors and the big
three`s leadership. And they said it took a process. It took the federal
government being involved to protect this valuable American asset. I mean,
this is one of the industries we can count on in the 21st century. And
General Motors has shown with the right support and the right team and
leadership in place, that they are able to outcompete with anyone in the
world. They are now the largest selling auto manufacturer in the world.

And that`s exactly the kind of industry we need in this country to
anchor our new economy.

MATTHEWS: I`d like you to finish this sentence. What`s good for
General Motors is good for --

WALLING: It`s so good for the United States. And it`s great for our
position in the world economy in the 21st century.

More people are buying cars than ever before around the world. And
we want the American auto industry to be leading that industry forward.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, on a Friday night. Have a nice weekend.
It looks like things are looking up out there. Mayor Dayne Walling of
Flint, Michigan.

WALLING: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: What an iconic place to represent as mayor.

David Corn, like being wise representative for "Mother Jones." It`s
the same thing.

Up next, seriously, though, folks, Flint, Michigan, the heart of
America.

The Tea Party -- is it headed for a beating in November? They had a
heck of a year in 2010. Did it crest?

We`re going to talk to a couple experts on the Tea Party. Did they
still have the clout they had two years? Are they falling in power?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Here`s some news from Jersey. Late today, New Jersey`s
Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed a measure that would make same
sex marriage legal in the state. The state senate and assembly passed the
measure this week despite Christie`s veto threat.

Chris Christie, who has national ambition perhaps for 2016, says he
wants the voters to decide the issue of same sex marriage in a statewide
referendum. Supporters of marriage equality, supporters, say it`s a civil
right and shouldn`t be put up for a public vote.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The Tea Party`s impact on the House and Senate during the 2010
midterm elections couldn`t have been ignored. Does the movement still have
the momentum going into the 2012 race? An open question.

Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin are cofounders of the group Tea
Party Patriots and coauthors of the book by the same name.

I should say that I`m a patriot as well. I know there are patriots
who are outside the Tea Party movement. But I`m in a good mood now. So,
let`s start.

Politics -- what is your purpose when you help as individual members
or as a group, help somebody get elected to Congress? And you send them
back here, what do you want them to do when they actually get to
Washington? They get paid $170,000 a year, they`ve got the staff,
everything, their transportation.

What do you want them to do when they get here?

JENNY BETH MARTIN, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Well, I want to make sure
we`re clear that we don`t help or endorse candidates.

MATTHEWS: Not that when you help. When someone gets elected you
like, what do you want them to do?

MARTIN: When they get elected, we want right now to see them cut the
overspending.

MATTHEWS: And how do you do that? How do you get a vote? You need
60 votes in the Senate, 218 in the House. They need a president to sign
that bill.

So, how do you get that done?

MARTIN: You have to keep pressuring the congressman and let them
know what you think the solutions are. There are a lot of solutions on the
table. They voted again today to put us another $100 billion in debt. And
they didn`t do anything at all to offset it.

MATTHEWS: But how do you get that to happen?

MARTIN: There`s legislation out there. The GAO has -- just has
released, not just released, but has released a list of services in the
government. Start cutting there. $100 billion could be cut now. It
wouldn`t even hurt the government.

MATTHEWS: There, you`re talking the talk and I`m all for -- I know
what you`re trying to do. And it`s totally for real and legitimate what
you are trying to do from your perspective.

But how do you get this to happen? You`ve had two years there. You
have a lot of people elected with Tea Party support. It didn`t happen.

How do you get it to happen?

MARK MECKLER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Well, I don`t think we expected it
to happen. I think we`ve gotten pretty much what we expected. We knew
that we had a Senate that was still controlled by the Democrats. We knew
that even a lot of the Republicans who came in would be co-opted by the
system and would end up going along. You and I have talked about that
before.

It takes more than one cycle to make this happen.

MATTHEWS: When -- but you don`t -- in this country --

MECKLER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- you have cycles.

MECKLER: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: You don`t have long trends.

You think there`s going to be a long trend over five or 10 years
where all of a sudden, the country is going to get conservative, they`re
going to all agree and you`ll get the Senate and the House, super majority
in the Senate and a president, all three --

MARTIN: We already had that in the early 2000s. We saw they
continued to spend. Exactly. That`s why we`re here.

MATTHEWS: But you are missing -- you are skipping over the step.
The actual effective success of the Tea Party movement, how does it occur?

MECKLER: I`ll tell you how you get it done. And it`s not just the
Tea Party movement. I think that`s something that we have to correct that
perception. It`s Americans.

Right now, we`ve got a problem is the ruling class -- the entrenched
incumbents against the citizens. They are on both sides of the aisle.
It`s not just Republicans. It`s not just Democrats.

We have to re-instill fear and accountability into the political
system. We have to remove a lot of incumbents at the primary stage. And
we`re going to do that. It`s going to happen in 2012.

That will change the dynamics on both sides of the aisle. It`s not a
partisan issue.

MARTIN: You don`t believe us?

MATTHEWS: No, I don`t believe it.

MECKLER: So let me tell you how we`re going to do it because there
is a way to do this.

MATTHEWS: I`ve been watching politics all my life and I know here`s
how it works. I now will be big brother and tell you what happens.

MECKLER: OK.

MATTHEWS: You may not likely looks of it but it`s the way it
normally works. There are trends -- when the economy is bad, we throw out
one party. We put in the other party. The other party does well or not.
It stays in as long as things are pretty good. Then we try them out we put
the other one in.

These are what you just called the word cycles.

MECKLER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: There aren`t really trends. It`s in or out. The party
that`s in gets blamed when things go bad. The party that`s out benefits
from things go bad and comes back roaring in.

But you don`t have these long trends.

MECKLER: Right. So how is that working for us? Not very well.

MATTHEWS: But how your going to change it?

MECKLER: We`re going to change it. Look, the country has changed
before. Our history is relatively short considering the history of
mankind.

It`s changed before. There`s been revolution. We`re talking
peaceful revolution. If you go out, you can --

MATTHEWS: OK, I would say something.

MECKLER: Yes?

MATTHEWS: The liberal -- the big liberal period lasted under
Roosevelt from like `37, about four or five years. Then it had to go
conservatives, the Southerners took over.

The liberal period under LBJ lasted a year or two after Kennedy was
killed, right?

MECKLER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Then that was gone.

These zealous periods where everyone knows what they are doing don`t
last long. You are in your zealous period now. If you want to get
something done, you got to get it done now. You won the big 2010 election
and you`re not getting it done.

MECKLER: I`m looking at longer term trends.

MATTHEWS: So you aren`t cutting the right deals.

MECKLER: You know, if you look at the longer term trends --

MATTHEWS: Yes?

MECKLER: You can this trend left, it started in the 1890s. It went
through the Wilson administration. The swing of this country left is an
arc of over 100 years.

MATTHEWS: The Democrats pick up seats next time, you`ll begin to
crest?

MECKLER: No, I`ll take that any day. I`m happy to take that bet.

MATTHEWS: I can`t make bets, but I`m making predictions.

Anyway, good luck. I like people to believe in this country and a
lot more people are patriots in this country than those on the right. I
can tell you that.

MECKLER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: I happen to be one. Anyway, thank you, Jenny.

MARTIN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming in to HARDBALL, Jenny Beth Martin and
Mark Meckler of the group Tea Party Patriots.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a word about a friend of this
show and a colleague of mine for years, Patrick J. Buchanan.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with Pat Buchanan. He`s leaving
the network and won`t be working with us from now on. I miss him already.

We`ve had drag down fights right here on this set and I`ve said
things that drive him up a wall and he`s said things that have driven me up
a wall. We`ve done it here in all, pretty good -- in a pretty good spirit
most of the time and have managed to be friendly and friends throughout it
all.

And, obviously, I`m going to miss his cheerful, fun-loving irascible
presence around here.

There are two aspects of Pat Buchanan I`d like to mention. One
highly and wonderfully positive; the other -- well, that`s the one that
gets him into trouble.

The good quality above his relentless genialities is deep even
formidable loyalty. Pat sticks up for his people like nobody I know.
He`ll laugh with you about the frailties and foibles of those he served but
he never, ever quits being loyal to them.

His most famous proof of loyalty was his strong defense of President
Richard Nixon. At his moment of greatest vulnerability when so many others
were running for the tree line, Pat Buchanan was out there in the open
field with a national television cameras right on him.

And here`s what he said to enemy and friend alike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK J. BUCHANAN: The president had conducted an administration
for four years that had won the confidence or support of millions of
Democrats. The president`s stand upon the issues of defense and welfare,
upon taxes and government, upon coercive integration and bussing were
closer to what the American people wanted than those of his opponents. But
we want as well, Mr. Chairman, because of the quality and the character of
our candidate. If one looks back over the political history of this
country, there is only one other man other than Richard Nixon who has been
his party`s nominee for president or vice president five times. That is
Franklin Roosevelt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Pat testifying before the Senate Watergate
committee in the fall of 1973, defending Nixon in his hour of peril. Using
a sharp mind and wit to stand up for someone who placed his trust in him,
young Pat Buchanan as a young man. Name another public figure who has
built his public career on being a stalwart loyalist to Richard Nixon.

Loyalty is the heart of Pat`s being. He is loyal to country, to
church, to neighborhood to heritage. To Pat, the world can never be better
than the one he grew up in as a young boy -- Blessed Sacrament Church and
Grade School, Gonzaga High School, Georgetown University. No country will
ever be better than the United States of America of the early 1950s.

It`s his deep loyalty to preserving that reality and all its cultural
and ethnic aspects that has been his primal purpose and is what has gotten
him into trouble. Not just now but over the years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN: And as those boys took back the streets of Los Angeles
block by block, my friends, we must take back our cities and take back our
culture and take back our country!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National
Convention and he`s never changed. It`s Pat Buchanan yesterday, today and
tomorrow.

But for all kinds of reasons, personal and professional, I will miss
him.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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