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updated 2/24/2012 2:31:43 PM ET 2012-02-24T19:31:43

Guests: Howard Fineman, Tyler Mathisen, Susan Page, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Jill Zuckman, Elijah
Cummings, Barbara Favola

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The last harrumph.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Team of grouches. Was there anything that happened in last night`s debate
that could make Republicans happy? Did one candidate emerge as a likable
leader? Did any look like a hero? Did they together build their case
against President Obama? No.

And with each passing day and every passing sinking poll number,
Republicans are wondering, Is this the team we want on the field? The
serial stumbling in the GOP is turning the whispers into cries. Is this as
good as it gets? Could a third-party candidate emerge? And what would
that do to the race in November?

Plus, reversal of fortune. Now that Virginia`s Republican governor
Bob McDonnell has backed down, but only partially, on the ultrasound bill,
who`s happy? Not Republicans, who accuse him of backing down, and
certainly not Democrats, who say he didn`t go far enough in backing down.
But Democrats are taking the issue as a way to deepen the GOP`s already
serious problem with women voters.

And President Obama is singing the blues this week, reminding us he`s
not the first commander-in-chief to ham it up.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now, was that good or what? Bill Clinton -- that was on
Arsenio. Richard Nixon and Harry Truman hit the piano, of course. And the
American presidents who are also -- well, besides commander-in-chief, they
also are "American Idol" wannabes these days.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with Rick Santorum`s strange notions about
phony theology.

We begin with last night`s debate. Howard Fineman is editorial
director for The Huffington Post Media Group. He`s also an MSNBC political
analyst. And Susan Page is a wonder, and she`s also the Washington bureau
chief for "USA Today."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: In one of the many frictions last night between Rick
Santorum and Mitt Romney in that two-hour debate -- was it only two hours?
-- Romney figured out a way to blame Santorum for President Obama`s health
care plan, which was modeled, of course, on Romney`s own plan up in
Massachusetts. Well, he turned the tables by citing Santorum`s support for
moderate Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter. Who would have thought
Arlen Specter would ever be mentioned again?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a
study just came out about 10 days ago, two weeks ago, that listed 15 ways
in which "Romney care" was the model for "Obama care." The real
fundamental issue here in government coercion.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason we
have "Obama care" -- the reason we have "Obama care" is because the senator
you supported over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, the pro-
choice senator of Pennsylvania that you supported and endorsed in a race
over Pat Toomey -- he voted for "Obama care." If you had not supported
him, if we had said no to Arlen Specter, we would not have "Obama care."
So don`t look at me. Take a look in the mirror.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Romney had his Amen chorus there last night.
What a bunch of little -- you know, little square-shouldered little
perfections (ph). You can imagine them in the audience all doing what they
were told to do, little goody two-shoes applauding on command.

But are we allowed to say the word pissant on television?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: This debate last night, Susan, was embarrassingly peevish,
petty, small, a debate on national -- about who`s going to command us in
the world. We`re fighting the Chinese. We got terrorism still out there,
way out there. We`ve got to deal with Iran. And they`re sitting there
talking about, Well, you know, all those years ago, you backed Arlen
Specter, your fellow Republicans -- give me a break. Mickey Mouse Club.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Yes, well...

MATTHEWS: Am I wrong?

FINEMAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Help me here, Susan, objective reporter. Objectively,
wasn`t it really petty last night?

SUSAN PAGE, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": You know, it was not one of
those -- we`ve had some good debates.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: I mean, we`ve had 20 debates. You`d hope some of them would be
good debates. Last night`s debate was a debate of candidates who know they
may not have much time left on stage. You know, after next Tuesday`s,
primary, Romney could be in real trouble if he loses Michigan. Santorum
could be fading fast or surging.

I mean, so you really find them trying to pick things tat
differentiate themselves from the other guy and push it home. It was a
debate that let President Obama off pretty scot-free until they got to the
very end...

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

PAGE: ... and talked a little about foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: And if anybody only had one day to live, would they live it
last night? I mean, anybody...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Was that anybody`s idea of life on this planet? It was so
-- I love politics. Everybody knows I love it. I love it so much. But
what were they talking about?

FINEMAN: Well, first of all, to say that it was about Republican
intramurals...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... is to overstate what it was. They were getting deep
into the history of legislation and legislative maneuvering...

MATTHEWS: Whose earmark...

FINEMAN: ... and trading votes...

MATTHEWS: ... with the "bridge to nowhere"...

FINEMAN: ... in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: ... and the Olympics one more -- I`d like to never hear
about those...

FINEMAN: Well, our friend, Roger Simon...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Our friend, Roger Simon of Politico, said that Rick Santorum
sounded like he`d studied at the Bob Dole school of debating.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, yes. Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

FINEMAN: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

MATTHEWS: OK, here he is. Santorum tried to defend his record as a
former Washington senator -- not the baseball team -- who championed
earmarks by arguing that Romney took earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics.
Here it comes. Be ready for the excitement. Let`s watch...

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: ... television ads right now, unfortunately, attacking me
for saying that I`m this great earmarker, when he not only asked for
earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics in the order of tens of millions of
dollars, sought those earmarks and used them. And he did as the governor
of Massachusetts, $300 million or $400 million.

What happened is there was abuse. When abuse happened, I said we
should stop the earmarking process. But I did say there were good earmarks
and bad earmarks.

ROMNEY: I would put a ban on earmarks. I think it opens the door to
excessive spending, spending on projects that don`t need to be done. I
think there are a lot of projects that have been voted for. You voted for
the "bridge to nowhere."

While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save
the "bridge to nowhere."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Susan, they`re -- they`re trying to get the job
FDR once had and Teddy Roosevelt and John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and --
and they`re looking like they`re trying to be Jerry Ford.

PAGE: Well, that`s -- that`s a good point. I mean, Romney clearly
wanted to get under Santorum`s skin. And he -- Santorum was in a position
all night where he was defending himself and getting engaged in these
discussions about how the earmark process works.

You know, you know you`re -- you know you`ve gone too far into the
weeds when that happens. In fact, at one point, Romney had a pretty good
line where he says, I don`t know quite what you`re talking about, but let
me make this point I want to make.

I mean, it -- for Romney, who wants to portray Santorum as a
Washington insider, Santorum he did his business -- the business for him
last night by trying to explain Washington processes that a lot of
Americans think don`t make any sense.

MATTHEWS: You know, Susan and Howard, we know the problems facing
this country, the real -- the reason people watch programs like this is
because they`re real. It isn`t just a pastime. We`ve got an unemployment
situation which is endemic. It`s chronic. It`s -- we`re never getting
back to 4 percent. Let`s talk about that.

Let`s talk about the fact we have real competitors in the world, like
China and India and Russia and South America now. We have terrorists out
there who get up every morning thinking how to kill us. And these guys are
talking about earmarks.

SANTORUM: Chris, this was a case of tactics and small-bore tactics
overwhelming any larger vision.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SANTORUM: It had been several weeks since the last debate. It
evidently gave the tacticians inside of each campaign way too much time...

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: ... to think of tiny little maneuvers...

MATTHEWS: I know.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Rick Santorum played right into it, as Susan said. This
was a huge missed opportunity for Santorum.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SANTORUM: What he needed to do was say, Forget about all that
legislative baloney. I`m not about legislative baloney. Here is my
vision. At the very time that he had gone to the top of the polls, he
needed to enlarge the stage.

MATTHEWS: So well said.

SANTORUM: And instead, he bored into the past (ph) and into all this
legislative minutiae. It was a terrible mistake on his pat.

MATTHEWS: Susan, we know he has a message. He wants to build a
Republican Party and a presidency that`s looking out not just for the rich,
the Fortune 500, but for the sons of Italian immigrants, for people living
in the parts of the country that are overlooked economically, that have
been left behind economically, the older people in Pennsylvania who he did
say don`t have the money to go to Arizona and to go to Florida. They`re
stuck living on their pension checks and their Social Security, if they`re
lucky to have pension checks.

This is a real important challenge out there for people living on this
planet. And what`d they talk about?

Well, anyway, it often seemed as if Ron Paul was on team Romney. I
want to talk about some of the double-teaming here. Talk about double-
teaming in basketball, he, too, went after Rick Santorum like he was
working for Romney. What`s he want to be, head of the post office? What
job are they going to give him? Calling former senator Santorum a fake.
Right on the air he called him that. Let`s watch the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN, MODERATOR: Congressman Paul, you`ve questioned the
conservative -- fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen, but
particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that
labels him a fake. Why?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because he`s a fake.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: I`m real, Ron. I`m real.

PAUL: Congratulations.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

PAUL: No, I find it really fascinating that when people are running
for office, they`re really fiscally conservative. When they`re in office,
they do something different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard, why are we watching Ron Paul? He`s never going to
be president of the United States -- ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. He`s
not actually running for president. What was he doing last night?

FINEMAN: Well, I think he`s -- I think he`s calculating and expecting
that in the end, Mitt Romney, somehow or other, is going to struggle his
way to the nomination. And therefore, Mitt Romney will control the
convention, although barely.

And Ron Paul wants air time and attention and a platform at the
convention, and I think would like, somehow, to perhaps have some kind of
role in economic -- I know it sounds crazy. I`m just trying to figure out
what he`s thinking.

MATTHEWS: But the networks aren`t going to give him time. The
broadcast networks aren`t going to let Ron Paul give a primetime speech.

FINEMAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: So Romney can`t really deliver, can he.

FINEMAN: Well, he can try -- he -- if that`s what`s required for
peace and to keep Ron Paul from walking out of the convention, that`s what
he`ll do.

MATTHEWS: I wonder -- Susan, do you have any theories about what the
game is here, what is exactly Ron Paul seeking from the good will of
Romney?

PAGE: You know, I think Ron Paul is someone who actually, unlike a
lot of politicians, believes what he says. He`s been saying the same
things...

MATTHEWS: Well, why is he spending all this time on Santorum?

PAGE: ... so he -- well, you know, that`s -- for whatever reason, he
and Romney seem to have a friendship that`s been enormously useful for
Romney to have somebody else on stage who`s willing to hit at whoever the
anti-Romney person of the night seems to be. He did the same thing with
attacks on Gingrich.

MATTHEWS: What are they, pinned? Are they pinned for the semester?
What do you mean, they like each other?

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: No, there`s a theory...

PAGE: I don`t -- you know, I...

FINEMAN: There`s another theory here. Yes. There`s another...

MATTHEWS: Susan, you don`t really think it`s about affection, do you?

PAGE: I think it -- I think Ron Paul is motivated by his ideas.
There`s ways he wants to affect policy. And in fact, you`ve seen the
Republican Party on some big issues move in his direction. So you know, I
agree that he`s not likely to get the nomination, but that does not mean he
is not likely to have an effect on where the Republican Party stands.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to your newspaper. It grabbed me. I walked
past the stand this morning early, and you had an amazing headline there,
which I think squares with my sort of psychology right now.

You have some new numbers in the "USA Today" Gallup poll. Look at
them. They`re pretty bleak for both the president and the Republican
field. Let`s take a look. Fifty percent of registered voters judge
President Obama`s presidency as a failure. Forty-four percent call it a
success. Now, that`s a tough assessment -- 44 positive, 50 negative.

And Republicans do not seem thrilled with their field of candidates
for president, either. Fifty-five percent, Susan, wish someone else was in
the race. Only 44 are pleased.

What an opportunity this seems to create, at least here in late
February, for some third option.

PAGE: Oh, absolutely. Now, who would it be? I don`t know. How
would they get funded? I don`t know that, either. But it`s not only the
satisfaction with both President Obama and the Republican rivals, it`s this
general sense that the country has gotten off track.

And what really struck us about these poll findings was this is a time
when Americans are feeling better about the economy.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: There`s more optimism. The economy`s growing now. Six out of
ten say it`s going to be growing in a year. And yet that hasn`t lifted the
views of any of the political leaders.

MATTHEWS: Yes. It`s so interesting. They don`t really like the
leadership of the country.

FINEMAN: Well, the approval rating of Congress is about 12 percent.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And by the way, looking at that number of people in the
Republican Party who want another candidate, even at this late...

MATTHEWS: So the president`s 44 is pretty good, you`re saying.

FINEMAN: Comparatively, it`s not bad. But that`s the highest number
-- we went back and looked at the history of this. That 55 percent of
Republicans who are saying, Please give us another candidate here -- that`s
the highest percentage ever.

MATTHEWS: I believe it. It`s appropriate.

FINEMAN: And that...

MATTHEWS: Objective (INAUDIBLE)

FINEMAN: ... captures the general mood of the country.

MATTHEWS: Last night was a good reason to explain that.

FINEMAN: Yes. Right.

MATTHEWS: I cannot believe they got a good -- I don`t know how CNN --
I wish them well, but I don`t see how they got a good number last night. I
just don`t think that turned on the audience. That was desultory. My new
word. Anyway, thank you. I know what it means, too. Howard Fineman,
thank you, buddy. Thank you, Susan.

Coming up: Fears are rising on the right that Republicans are kicking
this election away. They had a great chance. The numbers are there, but
the people aren`t there. The candidates aren`t looking very presidential,
as we said about last night.

Now a new worry (ph) for the third party coming along perhaps to the
right of the winner of the Republican nomination who could take away their
votes and get the president reelected. We`ll see.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: New poll numbers from my home state of Pennsylvania. Let`s
go to the HARDBALL "Scoreboard." According to a new poll from Franklin and
Marshall College, Rick Santorum has a huge lead over Mitt Romney in April`s
Republican primary. It`s Santorum 45, Romney just 16, a 29-point spread.

Now look at how Santorum and Romney match up against President Obama
in the general. The Santorum advantage is gone. The former Pennsylvania
senator trails Obama by 8 in his home state, 45-37. Same spread for Mitt
Romney, 8 points. Obama is up over Romney 41-33.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. With voter unhappiness with the
Republican field in half the country, and one poll judging President
Obama`s presidency a failure, our HARDBALL "Strategists" are here tonight
to discuss that fact.

First, if Americans don`t like what they`re seeing for 2012, could
this year really bring a third-party candidate to the presidential race who
matters? And two, all this talk of contraception, religion, gay marriage,
even Satan, which party has the edge when it comes to the culture wars?
Are these helping or hurting Republicans?

And here are the HARDBALL "Strategists." Of course, you know them
well, Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican Todd Harris.

You guys really are pretty smart, so let`s prove it.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: OK.

MATTHEWS: Steve...

MCMAHON: Again. You mean prove it again.

MATTHEWS: I think when you look at these numbers -- and I have been
very cautious about all this delight about the president`s people. They`re
all popping balloons out in Chicago when they -- way too early. The
economy hasn`t quite got into that lift yet that you need for a real
recovery. And the Republicans certainly are blowing it as much as they
can.

But I don`t think this president has been reelected yet. I don`t
think it`s happened. Do you agree with that, first of all?

MCMAHON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK. You agree with that?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You feel like -- OK. The Republicans have not shown any
greatness yet, have they?

MCMAHON: No.

HARRIS: Not yet.

MATTHEWS: OK. So there`s an opening for a third party. Let`s talk
about the third party. If it`s Romney -- let`s posit Romney pulls this
thing out in the worst way, but he pulls it out, your guy. Suppose it
happens. Is there a bigger opportunity for a third-party candidate to
emerge down the middle, like right down the middle, somebody out of New
York, somebody backed by this sort of elite group of...

MCMAHON: Mike Bloomberg.

MATTHEWS: ... American Elects -- a Bloomberg type, pro-choice, pro-
gay rights, not really a cultural conservative, but somebody fiscally
conservative Wall Street really respects? Or is there a great opportunity
for some hee-haw guy far out like Ross -- Ross Perot, someone who`s sort of
a cowboy libertarian, but somebody way out there?

MCMAHON: Well, I think there`s a better chance of actually getting
votes if it were somebody like a Mike Bloomberg or somebody like Donald
Trump with some credibility -- not Donald Trump -- who could actually run
against the system and run against the politicians that -- that -- that
have been controlling things...

MATTHEWS: You mean pull a pincer and go around the Republican
candidate.

MCMAHON: Pretty much. I mean, it`s sort of like a Ross Perot, a
modern-day Ross Perot, who can basically say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about that. Do you buy the fact that
somebody has to do a pincer, they can`t go to the right or left of Romney,
they`ve got to go around them or around Obama? They have to grab pieces
from around the territories and not just in one chunk?

HARRIS: If it were to happen, which it`s not going to -- if it were,
the way that you...

MATTHEWS: It did before.

HARRIS: The way that you would win is not through...

MATTHEWS: But this is a lot like `92, isn`t it?

HARRIS: It`s not through ideology. You would win because you had the
character attributes that people thought the other two guys were missing.
But the fact is, the history of third-party movements in our country have
always been personality-driven. They`ve never been environmentally driven.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So before you...

HARRIS: You`ve got to have the person.

MATTHEWS: Before you have the profile, you have to have the actual
person.

HARRIS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look. Former presidential candidate and
current Romney supporter Jon Huntsman called the Republican Party broken
this morning on "MORNING JOE." He waited (ph) on that third-party
question. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R-UT), FMR. GOV., FMR. PRES. CANDIDATE: I think we`re
going to have problems politically until we get some sort of third-party
movement or some alternative voice out there that can put forward new
ideas. That ain`t going to be me, by the way. I know the next question.
I`m not interested in that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he`s not exactly pushing Romney, says we need a
third party. Who is this guy?

HARRIS: Yes, with friends like these...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Are you sure he isn`t sort of out there sporting for the job?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, I think Huntsman makes the most sense of a guy who
could scatter his support. Some liberals even like him. Moderates
certainly like him. Some conservatives may have a hard time with him.

Can he scatter enough to get say 20 percent and really make a showing?

HARRIS: No. No.

MCMAHON: I don`t think he can. He would have been the strongest
Republican nominee, but he couldn`t nominated because the Tea Party
controls so much.

MATTHEWS: Well, why wouldn`t he make a good third-party candidate?

MCMAHON: Well, because there`s not enough vote left. The most
interesting person out there that I have seen that might run as a third-
party candidate is Buddy Roemer, who used to be a Democrat, who now is a
Republican, who basically rails against big money in...

MATTHEWS: You made his day.

MCMAHON: ... big money in politics and against the system as it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Mississippi, right?

HARRIS: Louisiana.

MATTHEWS: Louisiana, Louisiana. I`m sorry.

HARRIS: And the president with the move into the super PACs is
actually making that case a little bit easier for someone like that. He
did it for good reason. I think he had to do it, but the Republicans have
raised so much. But it does create an environment...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the situation.

Steve, your company, Vince Haley, you polled voters in 12 purple, in
other words, swing states that mattered the most. Overwhelmingly, voters
there see the GOP nomination battle as weakening the Republican nominee so
far. That`s 53 percent of those people in the swing states say this whole
primary season has hurt. Only 21 percent say it`s strengthened the
eventual winner.

HARRIS: I think it`s awfully hard when you`re right in the middle of
the battle to see that this is something that could potentially strengthen
the nominee.

But four years ago in the middle of the Clinton/Obama fight, I don`t
think many people were looking beyond the here and now, the immediacy of it
and thinking, well, you know what? Eventually this is really going to help
us. But obviously...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think Hillary Rodham Clinton against Barack Obama was a
strong contest of two strong candidates. I never got the feeling they were
killing each other for the general.

MCMAHON: That`s exactly the point.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Oh, I don`t agree with that at all.

MCMAHON: "The Washington Post" -- "The Washington Post" did a study
and they found that 6 percent of the ads four years ago in the Democratic
primary were negative. Over 50 percent of the ads so far that have been
run so far are negative.

In that same Purple poll that you mentioned, Mitt Romney`s
favorable/unfavorable ratio is 27/57 in those states. It`s a net negative
30. Those are places where he hasn`t campaigned. They are just reading
and seeing and learning about...

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about women. Two guys, three guys here. But
let`s try this. It`s dangerous territory. But I think we can hunch this
out pretty well, us three.

All this talk about contraception and some -- on the edge of abortion
rights, but mainly contraception, all this talk about theocracy from what`s
his name, from Santorum, this kind of stuff from the women I work with is a
major turnoff. They say why are you getting into the bedroom again? Why
are you telling us what we can`t do in our society, when it`s always been
seen as a personal thing, contraception?

HARRIS: This is my view about it.

Let`s put the specifics aside because some people have very, very
strong feelings on both sides about this. But the fact is that when you
look at poll after poll after poll, what is this election about, it`s about
jobs and the economy. I was just in a -- I just got out of the field in a
battleground state.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why is everybody talking about contraception now? Your
whole party is. Your whole party on Capitol Hill, everybody, they want to
pass a bill up there to overrule the president on this issue of giving
women free contraception as part of their health care, so we will have less
abortions, I would argue.

From my point of view, that`s the good part of it.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: I think most Republicans would argue that the specific bill
on Capitol Hill that that`s about religious freedom.

In the case of Santorum, I think you got to cut the guy some slack in
that he`s typically answering the questions that the media are asking him.
So if the media...

MATTHEWS: He said he was going to make contraception a major issue in
this campaign. He said it.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: I`m not saying that he hasn`t brought it up, but he gets
asked about it again and again. Look, they ought to be talking about jobs
and the economy. It`s that simple.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Todd is right. They ought to be talking about the economy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me get this straight. Romney says he isn`t going to
ask our questions. And we aren`t supposed to talk to them about what they
are talking about. Well, let`s not even have a conversation then.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: You can ask them whatever you want. But you can`t blame them
then for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to do this in the "Sideshow," by the way.
Romney never answers the question. But now you`re saying, don`t pay
attention to what they are talking about. Talk about what you think is
important.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Didn`t Romney establish that as a rule last night? You get
to ask whatever question you want. He gets to give whatever answer he
wants.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He will be a great president, by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Answer the question they should have asked you.

MCMAHON: Todd makes a good point.

The issue that will decide this election or the set of issues revolve
around the economy. And the president and the president`s team are out
there every single day talking about it. And the Republicans are talking
contraception and gay marriage and cultural issues, which frankly could
hurt them, not help them.

MATTHEWS: Last question. Rubio aside -- we now realize he was once a
Mormon. Now he`s a Catholic. People have changed religions, especially
kids.

HARRIS: He was 8 years old.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know. I think it`s interesting. But let`s talk
about this. Does the nominee, if it`s Romney, say, have to run a cultural
conservative with him to balance him out because he still seen as somewhat
secular?

HARRIS: I don`t think he needs to run a cultural conservative. I
think that he probably at the end of this fight is probably going to want
someone who will energize the conservative base.

MATTHEWS: Cultural base.

HARRIS: No, it doesn`t mean they have to be.

When Marco was elected in 2010, our campaign was entirely about
changing the direction of the country and creating jobs. It was all about
the economy.

MATTHEWS: What bones are you going to throw Ron Paul, by the way,
after last night`s flackery on his behalf?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That was sad.

HARRIS: He gets an attaboy.

MATTHEWS: I never disliked Ron Paul -- Ron Kirk -- but last night, he
was a flack for Romney. It`s pathetic.

MCMAHON: It wasn`t Ron Kirk.

MATTHEWS: He was like a little guy in those movies where the guy
rides alongside with the German guy with the sidecar with the motorcycle.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Steve McMahon. Thank you.

A little Sergeant Schultz.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Todd Harris.

Up next: What if Mitt Romney answered all the questions like the one
he answered like last, like didn`t answer them, when he said he would give
the answer he wants to give? Stick around for the "Sideshow" because he`s
in it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, question and answer. That`s how it usually goes when the
candidates hit the stage for a debate. Right? Let`s fast forward to the
final question in last night`s presidential debate, when the four
contenders were asked to name the biggest misconception that voters have
about them.

Let`s join Romney`s response already in progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re going to have to
create more jobs, have less debt, and shrink the size of the government.

I`m the only person in this race...

JOHN KING, MODERATOR: Is there a misconception about you? The
question is a misconception.

ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions you want. I get to
give the answers I want.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I like firing people.

Anyway, well, Romney`s amen chorus may have liked that answer, but if
that`s how he thinks it`s done, imagine Romney`s first press conference as
president of the United States.

Let`s give it a whirl.

Mr. President, when are we going to start to see that unemployment
number to begin to drop dramatically, as you promised on the campaign
trail?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We`ve got to restore America`s promise in this country where
people know that with hard work and education, that they`re going to be
secure and prosperous and that their kids will have a brighter future than
they have had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, Mr. President, can you give us at least a rough date
with the jobless number starts to come down?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions you want. I get to
give the answers I want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s how it will be.

When I saw that exchange last night, by the way, something in my
memory said I have seen all this before from Romney. We went back to Mitt
Romney`s 1994 debate with Senator Ted Kennedy and dug up this little
sugarplum.

The great Ken Bode of NBC asked Romney to name his biggest personal
failing. Well, here`s Romney`s, again, non-answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I have spent hours and hours, hundreds of hours in hospitals
across this state from Worcester to Boston, working with sick people, sick
people, talking with them, consoling them.

QUESTION: Mr. Romney, can I interrupt you? This was a question about
your greatest personal failing.

ROMNEY: My greatest...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, good for Ken.

I guess the guy has always thought that he can show up at a debate,
this is Romney, and not answer any of the questions. After all, he can
always fire the moderator. And Romney also started the night by the way
with an interesting note. As something of an icebreaker, each candidate
got the chance to give an opening statement.

And they were told to keep it short and sweet. What was Romney`s
tipoff that it was time to wrap up? Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I want to restore America`s promise, and I`m going to do that
--

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: That`s good enough.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: As George Costanza would say, when they`re applauding, stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, a little bit of a nod there to "Seinfeld."

Actually, it`s the episode where Jerry teaches George Costanza to end
every conversation on a high note.

Watch and remember.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SEINFELD")

JERRY SEINFELD, ACTOR: Showmanship, George. When you hit that high
note, say good night and walk off.

JASON ALEXANDER, ACTOR: All right, that`s it for me. Be good,
everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, ACTRESS: What was that?

SEINFELD: Showmanship. George is trying to get out on a high note.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. So it`s really Jerry`s line. But that aside, actor
Jason Alexander, the real guy and the face of George Costanza on
"Seinfeld," took to Twitter last night with his reaction to Romney`s line -
- quote -- "Thrilled Governor Romney enjoys my old character. I enjoyed
the character he used to be too. If he would embrace that again, he would
be a great candidate."

In other words, go back to being the moderate governor of
Massachusetts, that guy you have spent all these years since denying you
are.

Anyway, up next, Virginia Bob McDonnell backs down on that
controversial bill a bit -- a bit of backing down here -- requiring women
to seek abortions -- seeking abortions to get a particularly invasive type
of ultrasound. But for Democrats, it`s still a chance to exploit the
problems Republicans have with independent women voters. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow higher by 46 today, the S&P gained six, and the Nasdaq was up
24. Weekly jobless claims flat in the latest week holding steady at a
near-four-year low. That`s some good economic news. And Vivus shares up
77 percent today. Don`t you wish you owned that one? After an FDA panel
endorsed its obesity drug Qnexa. Procter & Gamble gained 3 percent after
the company said it is going to cut 4,100 jobs over the next year.

And strong holiday sales boosted profits at Target. It was up 3
percent.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, today, again, the politics of contraception and women`s medical
care are out front and center. Earlier today, Democrats on Capitol Hill
held a hearing of sorts to allow testimony from that single witness. She
was the woman Democrats wanted to include in last week`s initially all-male
panel discussing contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act, and
that`s the Obama health bill.

Although it was not technically an official committee hearing today,
it allowed Democrats to make clear again that they will not back down on
contraceptive coverage.

And over in Virginia across the Potomac, there`s polarizing reaction
to Governor Bob McDonnell -- he`s a Republican -- his decision to shift
position on legislation requiring, mandating under law ultrasounds before
abortions. Well, now he says he objects to requiring an internal
ultrasound, but he still supports a mandated external one, you know the
kind you usually have for having a (INAUDIBLE).

Will this small move gets the governor out of his glaring national
spotlight or not? Perhaps more significantly, will it keep him in the
Republican race for vice president?

U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings is a Maryland Democrat who attended
today `s hearing today on Capitol Hill. And Virginia State Senator Barbara
Favola is a Democrat who opposes that mandatory ultrasound bill.

It`s great to have you both on. You`re very much apart of this story.

Here`s part of the governor, by the way, Governor McDonnell`s
statement explaining his shift somewhat: "Mandating an invasive procedure
in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No
person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state
without their consent as a prediction to another medical procedure."

But that didn`t satisfy Democratic lawmakers in Virginia. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARNIELE HERRING (D), VIRGINIA STATE DELEGATE: It`s just -- it`s
still a mandate. And that`s the problem is -- actually mandating an
unnecessary procedure, and that`s the problem.

Still, Governor McDonnell is imposing a mandate and walking into
doctor`s offices and telling a doctor what procedure he should do, and it`s
an improper role of government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Just to get that thing squared away.

Senator Favola, thanks for joining us from Richmond.

What do you make of the fact that the governor, the Republican
governor of your state who may be on the ticket nationally this year, of
him saying, OK, you don`t have to get this vagina thing that is going in
there, this very invasive procedure, but you have to have the standard one
that women have often, our kids have when -- my wife has had in having a
baby?

Why did the mandate survive even in this form with the external
sonogram requirement?

BARBARA FAVOLA (R), VIRGINIA STATE SENATOR: Well, the mandate is
really -- it`s a ridiculous approach.

And I think Governor McDonnell showed his true colors. The General
Assembly spent lots of time on this transvaginal issue that was part of the
first bill, which Governor McDonnell clearly wanted. He proposed and had
his allies advocate for it in the General Assembly.

It wasn`t until hundreds and thousands women actually pushed back and
demonstrated on the state capitol and we heard from the American Medical
Association and a number of other interest groups where the governor
decided to amend the bill and actually just require these external
sonograms.

But let`s be clear. There is no need to require anything. If in fact
a woman medically needs this procedure, doctors will perform them. So
there is no need to require anything. If in fact a woman medically needs
this procedure, doctors will perform them.

So, there is no room for the state government in these decisions. No
room at all. And it`s just totally inappropriate. I oppose the bill.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Do you think there`s any evidence, not that
you have to give their argument, but do you know -- do they have any
evidence to suggest that if women are forced under law, a threat of law and
sanction, to have these sonograms and whatever form before having an
abortion? Is there any evidence they choose any number not to have an
abortion, which you would think would be their argument? Is that their
argument, that that will discourage women who go into the clinic to get an
abortion, will they actually decide not to based on that information or
not? Or is it just to torture people?

FAVOLA: Well, that clearly -- I mean, their intent is to prevent
women from exercising their constitutional rights in accessing an abortion.
And I think they are trying --

MATTHEWS: What do you mean prevent them? I mean, telling them --
discourage them. Not prevent them. Discourage them.

FAVOLA: Well, I would say -- I would say prevent. I mean, these are
pretty egregious bills, Chris.

MATTHEWS: How would they prevent? How would they prevent?

FAVOLA: Nobody can -- well, nobody can even point to an example in
Virginia history where we have actually gotten involved in the practice of
medicine and dictated to doctors how they should practice medicine. So,
you know, and let me just go on. You know, when you mandate anything, and
it`s not medically necessary, it`s really -- insurance companies don`t have
to cover it.

MATTHEWS: OK. I hear you. I hear your point.

FAVOLA: Poor women would be referred to clinics where there are long
lines. And, of course, in Virginia, they are called pregnancy crisis
centers. And they are really -- and they`re really abortion prevention
clinics.

So, you know, this has got lots of ramifications.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FAVOLA: And you and I, and a lot of -- everybody will be paying
through higher insurance premiums.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Senator. Hold up there for a second.

Let me bring in Congressman Cummings.

Congressman Cummings, you were very effective last week in lambasting
the majority in your House, the Republicans running that place, for the way
they put together an all-male panel. What did you get done today? How did
you make progress today?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Well, we did very well. We had
Miss Fluke, the young lady who we wanted to testify last week to come in
and provide testimony as to why it`s so important that women have access to
contraceptives. She made a clear case that there`s an effort throughout
the federal and state governments to cut back or to push back and actually
prevent women from getting contraceptives.

And that`s -- and she also talked about the difficulties that
students at Georgetown University go through. Normally, they would have to
spend some $3,000 over, say, a course of a three-year stay at law school on
contraceptives. And the fact is the way things are now, the way they are
going, there`s an effort to stop them from even being able to get them
through -- get contraceptives through their insurance.

But we`re seeing this all over, Chris. The Republicans seem to be
bent on making sure that women don`t have access to contraceptives. I`m
talking about the pill. I`m talking about IUDs.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CUMMINGS: It`s ridiculous. And I think women are rising up.

MATTHEWS: We`re out of time.

Do you think the Republicans will keep up this fight and actually
bring this bill to the president`s desk? Do you think they`re really
trying to force this to the president?

CUMMINGS: Well, right now, I got to tell you, I do think so. They
have 209 signatures, Chris, on this --

MATTHEWS: Wow.

CUMMINGS: -- Fortenberry bill. And that bill is a horrible bill,
which basically says if an employer, whether it`s a religious institution
or not, has any, quote, "moral convictions against contraception," they
don`t have to include it in an insurance policy.

And women are feeling this out and saying, wait a minute. The
Republicans are going far too far. We`ve gotten already over last or three
days, over 300,000 women signing on, saying they object to all of this.

MATTHEWS: You`re on the winning side of this one, Congressman.

And so are you, State Senator Favola. Thank you so much for coming
on the show tonight on HARDBALL, from Richmond, Virginia.

Up next, President Obama sang the blues this week, but he`s hardly
the first president to show off his musical side. But he`s got one. And
Clinton, Nixon, Truman, they all did it. We`re going to talk about what it
does politically when these guys get up on that stage.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: He`s the greatest. I chase them to get to that guy.

Well, Nate Silver, "The New York Times" FiveThirtyEight blog has
updated his projections for some of the upcoming primary contests.

So, let`s go to the HARDBALL score board. In Arizona, Silver gives
Romney an 89 percent chance of victory there next week. But look at
Michigan, much closer. Santorum`s the favorite barely with only a 52
percent chance. That`s a tossup.

Fast forward to Super Tuesday where Newt Gingrich still looks
competitive in his home state of Georgia. It`s a three-way race there
between -- well, among Newt, Mitt, and Rick.

And finally in Ohio, that`s a big one. Silver gives Santorum a 91
percent chance of winning. Boy, that`s an important state.

What a race. It looks like a three-way split that day on Super
Tuesday.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing): I`m so in
love with you

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re back. And that was President Obama bringing
down the house, obviously singing Al Green`s "Let`s Stay Together" at
Harlem`s Apollo Theater back last month. And the president picked up the
mike again at a blues event at the White House on Tuesday.

Let`s watch new act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: President Obama joins a long list of performing
presidents, if you will.

I`m joined right now by a public relations advisor, Jill Zuckman.

So, let`s talk positive and negative here. What`s the positive of a
president, whether it`s Harry Truman or it`s Mr. Bill Clinton or who, they
get out there and show some interest in being on stage as entertainers?

JILL ZUCKMAN, PUBLIC RELATIONS ADVISER: Well, first of all,
President Obama rocked it when he was crooning those lyrics. He -- it
warmed him up. Everybody complains.

How often have you complained, Chris, that he is the lecturer in
chief, that he`s detached, that`s he`s professorial? Suddenly, he was --

MATTHEWS: So he does listen to me?

ZUCKMAN: He`s listening to you. He looks happy. It warms him up.
He looks like he`s enjoying himself. And people can relate.

Now, don`t get me wrong. If the president sang one note off key,
we`d be excoriating him. So, there are a lot of risks with this.

Well, here`s Bill Clinton demonstrating what you are talking about.
Here`s his musical ability on display. He has some definitely on a
memorable appearance on Arsenio Hall back in `92.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MATTHEWS: You know what? He`s had credibility problems over the
years on different issues, as we know. Brilliant guy. There`s one thing I
trust him on absolutely completely -- music.

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He`s good at it. He`s talented. And when he talks about
it, like he talks about the old long playing records are, we`re the same
age, totally authentic.

ZUCKMAN: He got a huge reaction when he made that appearance and was
playing. I mean, people really connected.

And there`s something also about politicians. They come across as a
little bit one dimensional. But, oh, now we know that President Obama
really likes music, cares about music.

President Clinton, you know --

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s a guy with real P.R. problems. Richard Nixon,
years before becoming president, showed off his chops on the old Jack Paar
Friday night show. This is back in `63 after he had lost not just to
Kennedy in the presidential election, but lost to Pat Brown in the
governor`s election out in California. Here`s he is, a PC-composed
himself, Dick Nixon on Jack Paar.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MATTHEWS: Well --

ZUCKMAN: Fascinating. Fascinating. I have never seen that before.

MATTHEWS: It`s good.

ZUCKMAN: I had no idea he played the piano. Maybe that`s my failing
as a student of history.

The bottom line for all of this stuff is if you`re going to put
yourself out there, you better do it well, because if you don`t, everyone
is going to be watching.

MATTHEWS: OK. Danger point. Is it a danger for this president?
The Republicans are already running an ad -- we`ll show it tomorrow night -
- just razzing him on this, saying he`s acting like he`s celebrating and
there`s nothing to celebrate yet.

Let`s take a look. Here`s the attack ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

(OBAMA SINGING)

ANNOUNCER: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the
content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. They have him celebrating the rising gas prices.
That`s a pretty nasty, but it works, I think.

ZUCKMAN: OK, it`s a clever ad, you know?

MATTHEWS: Right.

ZUCKMAN: Hat`s off to the RNC. They made a clever ad.

MATTHEWS: But he still did the right thing?

ZUCKMAN: He absolutely. And --

MATTHEWS: OK. Jill, I like direct statements. Thank you. You`ve
gone from journalist to crisis manager.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a book -- actually I`m worried
about. Rick Santorum`s charge that President Obama -- boy, this is a nasty
charge -- subscribes to a phony theology. We`ve done some research on that
question.

Rick, you`re in trouble if you`re watching.

You`re watching HARDBALL, everybody, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish tonight with this:

The other day, Rick Santorum attacked President Obama for having what
he called a "phony theology" -- an apparent reference to the president`s
belief that man should do what he can, whatever he can to protect this
earth on which we all live. The earth that is, not counting the Newt
Gingrich plan for lunar colonization, the only place we, our children,
their children and forever into the future have to live.

Well, Santorum called this concern for a healthy planet a religion
that puts the earth above man. Well, I suppose he`s talking about the
concern that scientists and most thinking people have with climate change.
And what we`re doing to affect it.

Anyway, it`s all phony, he says, this serious concern about what
we`re doing to the earth, all this part of a phony theology. Well, so I
wonder who else believes in this so-called phony theology Santorum derides
from his electoral pulpit.

Well, here`s someone who believes in climate change and what we need
to do about it -- it`s someone addressing diplomats from around the world
just last month. Quote, "Environmental protection and the connection
between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas
for the promotion of human development. For this reason, I hope that
pursuant to the 17th session of the Conference of States Parties to the
U.N. Convention on Climate Change recently concluded in Durban, the
international community will prepare for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable
Development as an authentic family of nations, and, thus, with a great
sense of solidarity and toward present and future generations."

Well, who is this figure summoning the nations of the world to band
together as a family to work on the problem of global climate change? Who
is this person dabbling in what Rick Santorum calls phony theology?

Well, Rick, it`s Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Roman Catholic
Church. Your church.

So, where does Santorum get his theology of climate change ands other
environmental concerns? Where does he get this odd language he uses of
Christians having dominion over the earth? Could he be getting it from the
faction known as dominionists who also believe that Christians should
control civil society as well as their own church? Could an American
politician really be talking theocracy, control over the state by religion?

Well, anyway, keep your ears open when Santorum is talking. This is
getting interesting.

Coming up next -- first of all, this is HARDBALL. 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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