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updated 3/8/2012 12:15:33 PM ET 2012-03-08T17:15:33

Guests: Chuck Todd, Amanda Drury, Eugene Robinson, Major Garrett, John Brabender, Dee Dee Myers, Susan Milligan, David Axelrod

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The beat-up goes on. Let`s play HARDBALL.

The beat-up goes on. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York. Leading off
tonight: To be continued. He won the most states. He won the most
delegates. He even won the big prize of the night, Ohio. So why does Mitt
Romney still look like a big bowl of cold mashed peas to Republicans?
Romney`s argument seems to be, You`re stuck with me, so live with it. Not
exactly the lift (ph) of a driving (ph) dream, is it.

The race goes on and on, and guess what? The next few states favoring
Rick Santorum. Santorum might have a clean shot at Romney if only Newt
Gingrich would get out of the way. Newt won his home state and nothing
else yesterday, so why is he staying in the race?

Meanwhile, over at team Obama, they`re smiling, I guess. I talked to
David Axelrod about the state of the race and President Obama`s great
fortune in having Mitt and company as his opponents, and only opponents.

And Rush Limbaugh keeps losing advertisers, but wait until you hear
which big-name progressive is defending him.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the lack of greatness in the
Republican presidential campaign, as if you needed to hear about it from
me.

We begin with Mitt Romney weak -- W-E-A-K -- in victory. Chuck Todd`s
political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News, and
Major Garrett is with "The National Journal." Gentlemen, thank you so
much.

Let`s take a look at the wicked national press reviews Romney`s been
getting. His six-state win yesterday didn`t stop the chorus of critics in
the conservative press. Rich Lowry, writing for Fox News, said, quote,
"For all his technical proficiency and institutional advantages, Romney so
far is the candidate of `eh.`"

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson was no less harsh, writing on
Redstate, quote, "Were I Mitt Romney, I`d be wondering how I spent 5.5
times as much money as Rick Santorum and barely won Ohio. I`d be wondering
who on my campaign staff gets fired first. With each Romney win, he comes
away even more badly bruised. The rest of March will be just as brutal.
What a mess."

And an editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" put it this way, quote,
"Republican elites are aching to declare this race over and take aim at Mr.
Obama. The hand wringing is fruitless. The voters are in charge, and
their split decision shows that Republicans still haven`t settled on a
standard bearer."

So there we are, my friend, Chuck. It seems to be the strangest race
in the world. No matter how many races we have, it really doesn`t seem to
seem like anything we`ve had before. They just can`t put their face into
this guy and kiss him. They just can`t do it.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I hear you,
except, you know, you got to give him his due. We said he had to win Ohio.
He won Ohio. We said he had to win a majority of the delegates. He won a
majority of the delegates.

He does have a delegate lead that if somehow, Santorum pulled this
off, he would do something that no presidential candidate in the modern
history of how we do this process over the last 40 years has been able to
do. So he is a commanding front-runner now.

Now, all that said, I think that what you`re seeing here in the
conservative press, what you`re seeing among other Republicans, is they
can`t believe that a guy who is this sort of -- has this sort of lack of a
core base conservative enthusiasm, which clearly, that is there -- I mean,
you know, even in Ohio, we saw that -- how he`s going to be the standard
bearer for 2012.

I mean, I think that that`s the -- that`s the issue that Republican
elites and Republican activists and Republican Tea Partiers have to come to
grips with because guess what? He`s going to be their nominee.

MATTHEWS: Who are these -- Chuck, while I still have you, who are
these featureless young people waving those placards?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, are they androids? Who are these people that seem
thrilled? Look at them. They all go up in unison. They all put their
placards up at exactly the same way. There they all are, exactly in
unison. Is this North Korea? Who are these people? There`s this kid in
the white shirt and the glasses. They all look like the perfect little
kids in school with perfect attendance. Who are these androids?

TODD: Well, actually, I think that`s actually a pretty good
description, what you said, these are the perfect -- I mean, I -- look --
perfect kids. I think that that`s -- that`s what you get at a rally
sometimes. They get behind him -- I mean, you`re right.

You point out another problem that I have found when I go to Romney
events, which is you don`t meet people that will crawl across broken glass
to vote for Mitt Romney. They`re settling. There`s no question. It`s
like, you know, the song that`s in my head, "If you can`t be with the one
you love, honey"...

MATTHEWS: I know that song, yes.

TODD: ... "love the one you`re with." And I think that that`s --
that`s what a lot of Republicans have to -- have to come to grips with.

But again, you got to give Romney his due. He did have a big super-
Tuesday night. He won in a bunch of time zones.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: He won Ohio.

MATTHEWS: Oh, God.

TODD: Yes, by the skin of his teeth, but he won it. And he won a
majority of the delegates.

MATTHEWS: Major, he still looks like one of the figures at the Hall
of the Presidents, one of those statues that`s -- you know, motorized.
They stand up and wave. There he is with his wife. She looks normal.
They turn around and they wave to a crowd of androids who all look the
same. They all put their placards up at the same time.

He turns around and smiles as if he`s connecting with them, and he is
clearly not a human being connecting with other human beings. Look at
this. Is this real?

MAJOR GARRETT, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Chris, of course it`s real. You
may not like it. You may want to brand them androids. But they`re real
people supporting a candidate they believe in, and that`s what the
democratic process is all about. Mitt Romney does not have a backdrop
problem, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes?

GARRETT: And don`t think that he does. What he has is a Republican
Party that is in transition, and Romney wins big where that transitional
party is withering, the Northeast, and he loses where that party is strong,
the South and the West, with the exception of Arizona.

Now, everything that Chuck said is true. Romney had a pretty good
night last night. But last night was an opportunity, the first he has
really had in this race to definitively and conclusively wrap this up not
just mathematically but atmospherically, and he didn`t do it.

The close win in Ohio was not good enough. And I believe the loss in
Tennessee proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Southern Republicans will
not back Romney even when they know instinctively, strategically, the time
to end this process is over and they`d be better off as a party
strategically, their ambitions of taking the Senate...

MATTHEWS: Why not? Is it...

GARRETT: ... would be better off and holding...

MATTHEWS: ... religion?

GARRETT: ... the House would be better if they did. But they simply
won`t. They are resistant to Romney.

MATTHEWS: Is it religion or ideology that stops them from going for
him, beyond what I`ve looked at? His 28 percent seems to be his ceiling in
all Southern states.

GARRETT: Look, what I believe it is, fundamentally, is they do not
trust him as a conservative.

MATTHEWS: OK.

GARRETT: And Republicans in the South treat their conservatism as
something that is -- it is a principle to them, and they look at Romney and
say, Across the board on a lot of issues, you do not earn my trust. You
have not won my trust, and I`m not going to hand it over in a simple
transactional way to you just because it would be better for my party.

So they`re not thinking strategically, they`re thinking personally and
principally. And in that respect, they are depriving Romney of what he
most needs, which is a couple of victories in states where it`d be
unexpected for him to win.

Romney wins where it`s expected. He does not win big or doesn`t win
at all or where it would be unexpected. And that`s his central problem.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: ... turn this around?

MATTHEWS: Sure.

TODD: Santorum still has to beat -- you know, yes, I agree with Major
here, and I think that, ultimately, you know, Mitt Romney -- it would be
better for his chances to unite the party, you know, rather than be a
nominee of a fractured party -- to unite the party, to win in a Southern
state to sort of erase this issue -- a Southern state, by the way, that is
not named Virginia or Florida...

MATTHEWS: Right.

TODD: ... two states that are trending in different directions, but
sort of the deep South.

But let`s remember, at some point, Rick Santorum has to be -- you
know, has to knock Romney down. And he`s had two shots at it, and he
certainly bloodied him up in Michigan and bloodied him up in Ohio, but he
hasn`t knocked him out.

It`s like the old -- you remember in the old days of boxing, you know,
to beat the champ, you didn`t get to win it by points, you had to knock the
champ out.

MATTHEWS: You had to knock him out. Well, let me ask you about...

TODD: So now...

MATTHEWS: ... that. You`re moving ahead, you guys...

TODD: ... he`s got to go do it in Illinois.

MATTHEWS: You guys...

TODD: He`s got to go do it in Illinois.

MATTHEWS: ... are the best in the business. Chuck, you start. Next
week, can we see a knockout? If Romney can`t win in either Alabama or
Mississippi, and he loses to either of these guys, perhaps he loses one to
each of them, is he knocked out in the South?

TODD: No, no, no. I think this is the reverse.

GARRETT: Right.

TODD: I think it`s an opportunity for Romney. And I`d say the
opportunity is perhaps in Mississippi, where it`s a little more of a
machine state...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... where, you know, maybe the Barbour machine can help him
out, if he can -- if he can cut that deal. You know, they`ve actually been
a little hesitant to rally around Romney. But Mississippi -- he`s going
to, you know, try to -- he announced some Alabama endorsements today. If -
- Romney only has to win once in the deep South, and we erase this
conversation.

But let`s look at it through the other prism, which is where does
Santorum create momentum for himself? First of all, I think he needs to
win both states, Alabama and Mississippi. He needs to sort of shove
Gingrich out of this race, and Gingrich himself has said if he doesn`t win
both, he`s not credible anymore. And then Santorum needs to beat Romney in
one of these neutral sites (ph) states. Illinois is the next one.

MATTHEWS: Who`s that guy Clark (ph) down there, who built that
Mississippi party years ago? Remember that guy? Clark something. I`ll
think of his name. Anyway, this afternoon...

TODD: OK.

MATTHEWS: ... Rick Santorum was asked about comments from Mitt
Romney`s campaign that Santorum would need an act of God to win the
nomination. By the way, Romney shouldn`t raise the religious issue, but
here he is again. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What won`t
they resort to, to try to bully their way through this race, you know? If
the governor thinks he`s -- you know, he`s now ordained by God to win, then
let`s -- let`s just have it out.

I feel very, very good that -- that -- that we`re running a race,
energizing people, the man versus the machine. And you know, they got the
machine and they got the -- they got the -- you know, the insiders and the
-- and the big money, and we`ve got the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Why do you think this morning that Mitt Romney went on
"SQUAWK BOX," our sister station over there at CNBC, Major? It certainly
isn`t going to break his image as the business candidate for president.

GARRETT: Well, look, I think where Romney`s campaign is, in candidate
and with those who are advising him, is they are in sort of a data Bain
Capital mode. And what I mean by that -- everything they said today was
about the mathematics, the data, the numbers. And everything they said is
true, that to obtain the proper amount of delegates, Gingrich and Santorum
have a much, much harder path than does Romney. That`s true.

But there is something in its analytical truth that is also a bit
bloodless about this, and that`s why Santorum really does want to portray
this man -- people against the machine.

MATTHEWS: John Henry against the train.

TODD: Yes, I have to say I don`t understand reinforcing the image,
going on a channel that is watched by the business elite of the Republican
Party. That`s his base. Mitt Romney was talking to his base this morning.

And granted, I know he does have some fund-raising that he needs to
kick-start again because they`re burning through money big-time. But it
did seem an odd decision to talk to some of his base supporters...

MATTHEWS: Yes, maybe it`s fund-raising.

TODD: ... rather than...

MATTHEWS: Do you think that?

TODD: I do think there`s a -- there`s a little bit of a fund-raising
issue. I don`t think Mitt Romney wants to write a check. I think that
that would reinforce every negative narrative that`s building around him
personally.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let`s watch.

TODD: I think that that`s -- that`s fraught with peril for himself.

MATTHEWS: I want to get on that show, by the way, to talk about my
book, by the way, but Becky Quick (ph) is on that show.

Let`s take a look at Mitt Romney -- not knocking "SQUAWK BOX." None
of us are doing that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s a great show. But why is he doing it, reinforcing his
brand? Let`s talk about -- here he is talking about how he thought he`d
wrapped up the nomination before the convention. Let`s watch him on
"SQUAWK BOX."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I`m prepared to fight all the way to become the nominee. And
you know, I was pleased with our success last night. Obviously, we`ve got
a very strong lead in delegates, a very strong lead in terms of the number
of people who`ve actually voted for our campaign.

We`ve got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the
delegates, and we think that`ll get done before the convention. But one
thing I can tell you for sure is there`s not going to be a brokered
convention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Quickly, Chuck, and then Major. How does Santorum win the
nomination at this point? Is there a route for this guy, Chuck?

TODD: Well, I think it has to become this perception primary. And it
goes back to what I was telling you, using the boxing metaphor. He`s got
to start beating him all across the board. When he starts winning, he
can`t stop winning because the math stinks for him.

He needs basically two out of every three delegates from here on out,
so that means you can`t stop winning. And it would have to be this growing
chorus of him just not losing at all to Romney, no matter the territory.

GARRETT: You know, Chris, I`ve described on your show the difference
between the two voting blocs in this primary process, the "rationals,"
who`ve always been with Romney, and the "notionals," who`ve been with
anyone but Romney.

The notionals are all with Santorum. What would need to happen for
Santorum is not only victories but victories that pull the rationals away
from what they perceive to be the rational choice and make them notionals.

I thought of super-Tuesday it was going to be exactly the opposite,
that Romney for the first time would persuade those notionals. You know,
I`ve flirted with a lot of different Republicans, but it`s time to move
over to Romney. It didn`t happen in large enough numbers. For Santorum to
do this, he`s got to reverse that trend.

MATTHEWS: When -- which "Rocky" was it that the "Italian stallion"
went up against that android from Russia? Was that...

TODD: That was "Rocky IV."

GARRETT: "Rocky IV."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, guys.

TODD: It was "Rocky IV," and even -- and even that movie had a
montage. But never mind. Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: OK.

MATTHEWS: You guys are great.

GARRETT: And they`re not androids, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I knew you`d know.

GARRETT: They`re real people. They`re not androids. You may not
like them, but they`re really people...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will break you.

GARRETT: ... and they like Romney.

MATTHEWS: What a liberal...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You got to be a real liberal to say that. Thank you,
Chuck. Major Garrett, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good-bye (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Why does Newt Gingrich think he should stay in
the race? We`re getting up to him now. Newt Gingrich, of all people. He
won Georgia, his home state, but didn`t finish higher than third anywhere
else, and he`s still in it. And now the Santorum campaign`s working to get
Newt out so they can be one on one with Romney. Makes sense. See if it
works.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Two incumbent members of Congress lost their bids for
renomination last night. Dennis Kucinich lost a primary fight to fellow
Democratic congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. He came up on the short list last
night. And Republican congresswoman Jean Schmidt of the Cincinnati area in
Ohio is also out of Congress after losing a primary fight to political
newcomer Brad Wenstrup, a doctor and Iraq war veteran.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are
staying in this race because I believe that it`s going to be impossible for
a moderate to win the general election. And I would say, with all respect
to my friend from Pennsylvania, Senator Santorum, there is a big difference
between being a good team member and changing the game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Newt Gingrich, there he was
after winning just a single state in the super-Tuesday contest yesterday,
his home state of Georgia. He vows to stay in the race.

Meanwhile, the supporters of Santorum`s super-PAC say it`s time for
Gingrich to get out. In a statement today, an adviser to the Red, White
and Blue Fund -- that`s the Santorum fund -- says, quote, "Based on his
electoral performance last night and his out-of-step record, it is time for
Newt Gingrich to exit the nominating process."

But the Gingrich campaign comes right back at them. A Gingrich aide
says, quote, "In turn, we can make the same argument. The worst part of
Santorum`s analysis is he doesn`t realize he is splitting the moderate vote
with Romney." I have no idea what that means. I`m taking sides now. With
neither Santorum nor Gingrich backing down, neither will get a chance to go
one on one against Mitt Romney.

John Brabender is the chief strategist for the Santorum campaign. Dee
Dee Myers is former Clinton White House press secretary.

Thank you both. Dee Dee, you`re watching this. Brabender, you`re in
this fight. This fight, this Newt Gingrich obnoxiousness of saying that
you`re a moderate -- what -- what -- what twinkie on his campaign thinks he
gets away with calling your guy a moderate? Not a single person watching
this show, not a single person on right, left or center -- nobody thinks
that Rick Santorum is a moderate.

Why are they calling you that dirty name, as far as you guys are
concerned?

JOHN BRABENDER, SANTORUM CHIEF STRATEGIST: Well, and Ron Paul a
couple weeks ago called him a liberal, which in my mind -- a lot of people
probably thought for a long time we should have drug testing, random drug
testing in Congress, and I think that gave them a little bit more evidence
or proof that we should. But look...

MATTHEWS: Why are they calling you those bad names? You guys are
hard-right conservatives on cultural, economic, every issue. You`re hawks
on foreign policy. Where are you in any way vulnerable to the nasty charge
of moderate?

BRABENDER: Well, you know, obviously, Rick Santorum is seen as a
trusted conservative, Tea Party supporter, so you have somebody that is
sympathetic to their views. And so I think it`s a ridiculous argument.

But the one thing I will say is this. Conservatives and Tea Party
members have a choice and they have a decision to make. Either they`re
going to let the sort of minority in the party, the moderates, decide who
our nominee is, which`ll be Mitt Romney, or they can unify behind a single
candidate.

I think, if nothing else, Rick Santorum has certainly shown in the last six
weeks that he is the one who can go up against Romney. Look at the scene.
In that six-week period, he won six states. He had a lot of close second
places that went into overtime. And, frankly, if all those conservatives
and Tea Party would have been with Rick Santorum, he would have won those.

Mitt Romney -- or -- I`m sorry -- Newt Gingrich in that six-week
period, he did well in his home state. Other than that, in that six-week
period, his best finish was next to last.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Dee Dee.

You`re watching this from the sidelines. Why do you think Newt
Gingrich is in this race at this point?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, for
the same reason that Newt`s done a lot of what he has done in his life,
because he has a gargantuan ego. The guy does not lack for brio.

As John just said, he hasn`t finished better than second to last in
eons, and he still claims that he`s the only guy that can beat and debate
President Obama. And, you know, it`s -- I hope he stays in because he is
totally entertaining.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MYERS: And as long as the race remains muddled, it`s good for -- it`s
good for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go completely Machiavellian.

And I will start with Mr. Brabender.

I don`t know you, gentleman. And I have certainly know Dee Dee over
the years. But I want to ask you a real Machiavellian question. You got
two guys really racing against this guy. There`s your candidate, who is
Santorum, and, of course, Romney. Your guy can`t offer him anything to get
him out of the race because you have nothing to give him.

Romney has got a lot to give him because he is the front runner, but
damn well he doesn`t want him out of the race. He wouldn`t give him a
nickel to get out of the race because he wants him in it.

Is that a pretty good analysis?

BRABENDER: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, let`s be honest.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You have got nothing to give him and the other guy doesn`t
want him out of the race.

BRABENDER: But that`s their worst nightmare.

Look, there was one state already, Missouri, where Mitt Romney -- or
Newt Gingrich didn`t make it on the ballot. What happened? Rick Santorum
won Missouri by 30 points over Romney and won every single county. The
biggest fear I think that Romney has is that if he -- if this ever became
just a one-on-one race with Rick Santorum vs. Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: OK. What happens here? I was looking at the numbers last
night. I had hours to look at the numbers last night.

Romney can`t break, Dee Dee, 28 percent in the Deep South. You start
in South Carolina and work your way through Georgia and go over to
Tennessee and Oklahoma. He never gets above 28 percent. One of these two
other guys also, since they`re both going to be in the race, has got to get
well above 30 it seems to me because the Romney money machine is going to
go into those states and try to jack them up to mid-30s.

Isn`t this race going to come down to a couple points next Tuesday
night, whether Romney can stay in this race in the South or not, or whether
Gingrich can stay in the race at all?

MYERS: Right.

I mean, Gingrich can stay in the race as long as he has enough money
to stay in the race.

MATTHEWS: Because of Adelson?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Yes, so far. I mean, he`d be out of the race a long time ago
if it wasn`t for one family.

And I think we will see what happens going forward. So it`s
impossible to say whether he will have to get out of the race. This is a
totally new world in terms of where the money comes from and how it gets
allocated.

But, look, what we`re having -- what we`re seeing is it`s a lot of
regional candidates. If you looked at the map last night, Santorum was
very strong through the middle of the country. Romney was strong on the
coast and sort of the more -- hate to say it -- Romney moderate places.

And Gingrich has won the biggest contests, other than Florida, in the
South, if you can count Florida as not Southern.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m looking at it.

MYERS: And so we have three candidates that represent three different
regions of the party and sort of different -- slightly different ideologies
and we will see how it goes.

It is great theater for us who are on the president`s team, and the
longer it goes on, the better.

MATTHEWS: Do you think, John, that Adelson is being tickled in the
ear perhaps or whispered in the ear or blown in the ear, whatever, by the
Romney people, saying, keep this guy Gingrich in the race?

BRABENDER: Look, I don`t know.

That is the strange thing about these super PACs, as you know.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think is going on? Why is Adelson
backing a guy -- Adelson is a smart guy, I mean, really smart. I met him
once. He is very smart in his business sense.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why is he backing a guy who ain`t going anywhere, unless
there is some kind of rim shot, bunker shot, whatever you call it? What is
going on? Why does he want Gingrich in the race, except to cut the
advantage down for you guys?

BRABENDER: Well, I mean, that could be. I don`t know what -- the
reason.

What I do know though is that Mitt Romney`s super PAC has spent over
$30 million in negative ads.

MATTHEWS: I know.

BRABENDER: He has outspent anybody and he can`t put anybody away. He
outspent us probably 10-1 in Ohio and it went into sudden death.

MATTHEWS: OK.

BRABENDER: And so I think that shows an enthusiasm gap for Romney.
That to me is the bigger question.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know what I think is going to happen? You guys
are going to get offered the vice presidency at some point.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Are you going to take it?

BRABENDER: You mean instead of Biden?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: No, no, no, the vice presidency from Romney.

BRABENDER: Look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re not going to take it? Right now, you`re saying that
on behalf of your candidate?

BRABENDER: We have -- what I`m telling you is we have exceeded
expectations all the way through. We have only had about 20 out of the 50
states even vote at this point.

MATTHEWS: I know. But you`re just talking now.

Will you take the vice presidency or not?

BRABENDER: Right now, we`re running for president of the United
States, and nothing but president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Right now, but when you get there, when that runs out, that
string, are you going to accept the V.P.?

BRABENDER: But it`s not -- but -- but I`m going against your premise.
Nobody is telling me that that is going to run out.

MATTHEWS: OK.

BRABENDER: I will tell you this. If we get a one-on-one race where
it`s Rick Santorum vs. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum will be the Republican
nominee.

MATTHEWS: Yes. If is a big word. If is a poem, by the way, but it`s
not a campaign.

Let me ask you one more time. Is vice president of the United States
your ultimate endgame here?

BRABENDER: Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: OK.

BRABENDER: President of the United States is the endgame.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much.

By the way, I hear you`re a great guy. And...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... must be a hell of a high school to produce you.

Anyway, thank you, John Brabender.

BRABENDER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I think he is a product of the Jesuits.

Anyway, Dee Dee Myers, thank you for joining us.

Up next: Newt -- Newt doubles down on his plan for a lunar colony.
You can`t beat Newt Gingrich for showbiz, a lunar colony. And I guess he
will be the mayor -- up next in the "Sideshow."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up: making time for the colony in space. Even in the midst of
Super Tuesday -- that`s right -- Newt Gingrich found room for a visit to
the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama. Of course, there have been a
lot of jokes about Newt`s promise of an American colony on the moon if he
is elected president.

Remember the "Saturday Night Live" sketch that made Gingrich the
president of a colony far, far away? And then there was this zinger from
Romney at a recent debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I had a business
executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion
dollars to put a colony on the moon, I would say, "You`re fired."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, Newt hasn`t forgotten Romney`s jab or that shot from "SNL."
Here he is yesterday at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This isn`t the end state
of the space program. This is the launching pad for the next phase of
excitement.

Governor Romney said, well, if he had been in business and somebody
came into him with a big idea, with that kind of idea, he`d have fired
them.

And I realize that he has said he likes firing people. I want to
restate, far from backing off, I invite "Saturday Night Live" to come here
to Huntsville to tape one of their skits.

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: They could tape it at the space camp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there goes commander Gingrich, back to the future.

Next up, yesterday may have been an important day for Republicans, but
President Obama is getting his own jump-start on the battleground states.
He spoke earlier today in a manufacturing plant in North Carolina and
didn`t pass up an opportunity to ding his potential opponents. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since I took office,
America`s dependence on foreign oil has gone down every single year. Now,
you wouldn`t know it from listening to some of these folks out here.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Some of these folks.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Next time you hear some politician trotting out some three-
point plan for $2 gas, you let them know, we know better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Coming soon, the real face-off.

And now for tonight`s "Big Number." As the results of last night`s
primaries were coming in, each of the candidates took their turn at the
mike to thank supporters and ramp up support for what`s ahead.

But how about some congratulations for the other fellows? Here`s Mitt
Romney and what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I want to congratulate Newt Gingrich on a good night in
Georgia and Rick Santorum on his good night and Ron Paul for his steadfast
commitment to our Constitution.

Thanks, you guys. Nice races.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There you have it. Well done, I think.

But get this. Of the three other contenders, how many extended a
similar pat on the back to Romney? Zero, not even Ron Paul, who many
thought had some kind of bromance in the works with Romney.

Romney snagged more delegates last night than his opponents, but none
of them threw an election night congratulations to him. Zero, that`s
tonight`s "Big Number."

Up next: Advertisers are ditching Rush Limbaugh`s radio show after
his ugly attack against that law student Sandra Fluke. And that`s ahead,
more coming with him. There he is bouncing away.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Amanda Drury with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Well, the Dow gained 78 points today. The S&P was up nine. And the
Nasdaq added 25. On the economic front, employers added 216,000 jobs to
their payrolls last month, according to processing firm ADP.

Meantime, student loans helped to boost consumer borrowing by nearly
$18 billion in the month of January. And Apple unveiled its iPad 3
earlier, called the new iPad a lighter, better model with a high-definition
display and two cameras. Prices will start at $499.

And that is it from CNBC, first in business worldwide. Now it`s back
over to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Dozens of advertisers have now ditched "The Rush Limbaugh Show" after
Limbaugh`s owes offensive attack last week on Georgetown law student Sandra
Fluke.

Today, Rush played down the feeling -- or the fleeing, I should say,
of support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Everything is fine on the
business side. Everything is cool.

Twenty-eight sponsors out of 18,000, that`s like losing a couple of
french fries in the container when it`s delivered to you at the drive-
through. You don`t even notice it.

None of what`s happening is out of the ordinary. It`s just part of an
onslaught to try to convince you that this show is history and our days are
numbered. And I`m happy to tell you nothing could be further from the
truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And now Rush finds himself supported by an unlikely duo,
Sarah Palin, of course, and Bill Maher -- Bill Maher.

Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The
Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. And Susan Milligan covers
politics for "U.S. News & World Report."

Well, there you have it. I guess I should say there is a lot of talk.
But here`s what Bill Maher tweeted just yesterday -- quote -- "Hate to
defend Rush Limbaugh, but he apologized. Liberals looking bad not
accepting. Also, hate intimidation by sponsor pullout."

And last night on CNN, Sarah Palin weighed in on the controversy.
Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I think the definition of
hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, forced to
apologize, and retract what it is that he said in exercising his First
Amendment rights, and never is that -- the same applied to the leftist
radicals who say such horrible things about the handicapped, about women,
about the defenseless.

So, I think that`s the definition of hypocrisy, and that`s my 2 cents
for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s not bad for her.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Gene Robinson.

Your thoughts, sir, about this whole thing? I`m going to reserve my
comments, which may surprise, but here they -- they will be coming in a
moment.

Yours first. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Robinson now steps
on to the hot skillet of media criticism.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I try to avoid
media criticism...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Me, too.

ROBINSON: ... because it`s not like we`re short of media critics.

But -- but it wasn`t -- it wasn`t very much of an apology. And, in
fact, he apologized for the word choice, and not for the misogynist
bitterness with which he attacked the woman, Sandra Fluke.

And, in fact, my colleague Gene Weingarten, in an otherwise fairly
scatological post about -- on her Web site yesterday about the whole affair
yesterday, pointed out that actually what Rush Limbaugh said was pretty
close to slander...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: ... in that he erroneously stated facts.

There was -- the central fact on which he built this whole fantasy was
not in fact true. She didn`t go before Congress and say that she was
having so much sex, that she needed somebody else to pay for it.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

ROBINSON: So, I clearly think the criticism is justified. And I
guess I understand why Bill Maher might think otherwise, but especially
about...

MATTHEWS: Well, you know why you would think that, because you know
pills like Viagra are taken for each incidence of sexual encounter, whereas
birth control pills are taken on a time basis, a monthly or daily basis,
right?

ROBINSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: And he is assuming that the more pills you use for birth
control, the more sex you`re having.

That was his erroneous stupidity, right, upon which he built his whole
assault on this woman.

ROBINSON: Well -- well, that plus the fact that, actually, if you
actually look at her testimony, she -- she spoke of women she knows at
Georgetown who have difficulty paying for -- for birth control pills.

He made it a very personal thing about her...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: ... which, again, if you look at the testimony, she did
not. So, he was wrong on every basis.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, he`s so wrong. Then the bottom line is we`ve all
said what we say and we say it here for a week now and it took Mitt Romney
a week now to say nothing, Susan. To me I`d like to focus on the
politicians because they are the ones who we elect or don`t elect. We have
a real lever on them. Don`t vote for `em.

SUSAN MILLIGAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, exactly. I don`t
think this has anything to do with Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin or Bill
Maher for that matter. I mean, Santorum is right when he said that
Limbaugh is an entertainer, and, you know, he is keeping this going now in
a way and painting himself a little bit as a victim and that`s probably
going to help his ratings as well.

That`s not the issue. The issue is these presidential candidates and
these leaders in Congress who are so afraid of Rush Limbaugh --

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

MILLIGAN: So afraid of alienating that wing of the party that they
won`t say what is so obvious, that this is just an outrageous thing to say
about any human being. It`s not even about how you feel about
contraception.

And I think they`re playing a very, very dangerous game here, because
I think this issue has the capacity to be the second coming of the Anita
Hill controversy, where women who otherwise might be attracted to a small
government, fiscally conservative candidate or perspective are going to get
so riled up at a bunch of men, you know, metaphorically patting them on the
head and saying this isn`t about contraception or calling them sluts or
prostitutes or tolerating it.

I don`t think I can improve on George Will who said that when -- I
think it was Speaker Boehner said that his words were inappropriate.
Inappropriate is a word you use for describing somebody using the wrong
fork not for somebody calling somebody something like that on the radio.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to the sanctioning here. Very quickly, it
seems to me that Bill Maher makes a point because of what he`s been
through. He talked about our use of stand back weapons, you know, in
fighting terrorism and saying what makes that more courageous one way or
another against these bad guys who are fighting who give their lives up in
these horrible incidents that no one should be engaged in. And he lost his
job for that. Remember that, Gene?

ROBINSON: Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS: I think he`s probably quite aware he doesn`t want Fatwas
being issued. He doesn`t want people saying fire the guy. Argue with him.
Trash him. Destroy him in terms of the public debate, but don`t go after
jobs.

ROBINSON: Well, I understand why he would say that. On the other
hand, you know, I think that`s kind of the way the free market in ideas and
in talk works.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: You know, we go on the air and we say what`s on our minds
and we all walk a tight rope. When you walk, you walk a line. And if you
go too far off that line, the people can call you on it.

MATTHEWS: Yes. We`ll see. Anyway, lots of ways to do it. You can
go through boards, you go -- actually people not -- the best way is for
people not to listen to a guy they don`t want to listen to.

Anyway, thank you, Eugene Robinson.

Susan Milligan, as always.

What a strange comment for us. I don`t like media criticism
generally.

Up next: the fight for the Republican nomination has been a boon
actually for team Obama. I talked with David Axelrod about Mitt Romney and
company and how the president plans to run for re-election. Let`s get back
to the Democrats for the next few minutes with David Axelrod, the chief
communications direction for the Obama reelection campaign.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The primary calendar isn`t favorable for Mitt Romney, and
so April 24th, when five Northeastern states hold primaries. We`ve got a
new poll from one of them.

New York state -- let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard. Here it is.
In New York state, the new Siena poll -- it`s Mitt Romney up at 38,
Santorum at 23, Gingrich at 13. So, it`s Mitt with a 15-point lead in New
York state.

But a lot can change of course between now and then especially if
Newt is no longer in the race.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Obama campaign is waiting in the wings right now to take on a
Republican candidate. They previewed their strategy today in a conference
call with reporters.

Early this week, I sat down with Obama campaign senior strategist
David Axelrod out in Chicago to preview the fight ahead for the general
election. I began by asking David about Mitt Romney and what Axelrod has
learned about him from this primary process.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SR. CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, he`s been a weak
front-runner. I thought he was a weak front-runner from the beginning.
But I think there are tests -- campaigns test you.

I`ve said always that there is sort of an MRI for the soul and people
learn about you and along the way, there are tests. We saw one last week
when Rush Limbaugh engaged in that horrendous outburst against the young
woman, law student from Georgetown. And the Republican candidates were
asked to comment on it. And Romney first refusing them, finally just said,
well, that`s not language I would have used, that`s not language I would
have used.

That`s not language I would have used -- what about the essence of
what he said? You know, he called this woman, you know, a prostitute, and
he called her a slut. You know, and suggested that her -- she was trying
to get taxpayer-funded birth control.

And so, all of it was outrageous. The premise was false. And that
was a moment where he could have stood up and been a leader and earned the
respect of the American people.

MATTHEWS: Who is he afraid of do you think?

AXELROD: Rush Limbaugh -- I think he was afraid in that case of
Limbaugh.

And, you know, as George Will said, if you`re afraid of Rush
Limbaugh, how are you going to deal with Ahmadinejad and all the bad guys
you have to deal with in the world?

Sometimes, you have to stand up and these campaigns test you. There
are moments like that. And this was one of those moments. And he failed
the test.

So I learned that about him. I`ve also learned that the -- that he,
through the economic nostrums, he is offering, you know, he just offered a
tax plan that would, you know, was very much like what we`ve seen in the
past. It would add trillions of dollars to the debt. It would be -- it
would advantage the very wealthy. It would occasion huge cuts in Social
Security and Medicare and education, and allow the things that we need to
grow as a country.

So, theirs is a kind of back to the future platform and we`ve tested
these premises and those premises have failed us.

As you know, Chris, he ran for governor of Massachusetts as a self-
styled moderate with progressive views. Now he calls himself a severe
conservative.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

AXELROD: That`s a big -- that`s a big leap to travel and it causes
people to say, "Well, who is this guy?" So you twin that up with an
economic policy that conspires against the middle class, that will blow a
bigger hole in our deficits and so on, and I think there`s a great deal of
doubt about him -- now more than any I`ve seen for any punitive nominee in
my lifetime.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at what he could do potentially. I
mean, you must think of worst case scenarios and the president`s point of
view. Suppose -- Bob Woodward this weekend on my Sunday show said, you
know, he -- whatever you think of him, he`ll bring in that whole 40 percent
that hates Obama. He`ll bring in that Rick Santorum crowd, that Republican
angry base. They`ll automatically vote against the president.

Suppose he takes that base and becomes more of a moderate in the
general, offers himself up as a rational business problem-solver. On top
of that right wing hatred, can he build 51 percent against you?

AXELROD: Well, look, anybody can win. We are prepared for a close,
tough race. We -- 47 percent voted against us in 2008 when we won a
massive victory. So, you know, we have the wind at our back then. We
don`t have the wind at our back now.

So we`re prepared for a tough race. I think it`s hard for him,
though, because, you know, ultimately people judge who you are and look at
what you are proposing. And the essence of what he`s proposing is a repeat
of what we had in the last decade: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulate
Wall Street. It`s been a disaster for the middle class and a disaster for
the country. I don`t think that`s a winning platform.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think he`s defined himself yet either. Let me ask
you about his strategy. The campaign is very effective in eliminating
opponents. He went into Iowa and ran a Dresden-style bombing campaign
against Newt Gingrich, basically erased him from the campaign.

AXELROD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He did it again --

AXELROD: In Florida.

MATTHEWS: -- run so boldly (ph), in Florida again. Then did the
same thing in Michigan to Santorum when Santorum had picked up those three
states the week before.

We assume he -- you look at the spending patterns over Super Tuesday
this week, the same spending patterns. Huge negative ad campaigns in
states like Georgia, in states like Ohio, where his opponents have
strengths, take that to the general election. You guys are going to be as
well funded as him, am I right?

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Well, we`ll see. I thing super PAC issue is one that
concerns us. There are hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly pledged
for negative ads in the general election through these super PACs.

MATTHEWS: Can you match the Koch brothers and all that --

AXELROD: I don`t think we can match them no. I think we can help
offset that somewhat partly through the money we raise. You know, we`ve
endorsed one super PAC`s activities and perhaps they can help close that
gap. But there will still be a gap.

Ultimately, we`re going to make it up because people, A, know the
president. The president will speak to them directly. He`s not in the
position that these other candidates were who Romney dispatched with
negative media.

And we`ve got an army of folks all over this country of volunteers
who people volunteering every day, who support the president and are
carrying the message to their neighbors. So, for every $1 that these guys
run in negative ads, we`ve got people out talking to their neighbors,
talking to their friends.

MATTHEWS: I know that.

AXELROD: It`s an effective way to --

MATTHEWS: I`m on your mailing list.

AXELROD: That`s effective plan --

MATTHEWS: I know your social media is very good. I can tell it`s
good.

But let me ask you about this -- as an American, and I think you
should be concerned as an adversary. Suppose we have a battle of the super
PACs this fall whereby Romney raises close to a billion with Restore Our
Future, that`s their big super PAC. And your side is able to match that
but it`s all negative.

Will that drive down the vote? Will that suppress the vote in a way
that not only hurts the country but hurts a progressive -- a moderate to
progressive candidate like Obama more so?

AXELROD: Let me -- let me make it clear: we`re going to run a
positive campaign about the future of this country. We`ll draw contrasts.

But the president has a fundamental vision about how to move this
country forward, how to rebuild the middle class, how to build an economy
in which the middle class is growing and not shrinking, where hard work
pays, responsibility is rewarded, everyone plays by the same rules.

We`re going to make that case, and we`re going to draw those
contrasts.

I don`t think a fundamentally negative campaign is going to win this
election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: That`s an important interview. David Axelrod from the
Obama campaign out in Chicago.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a lack of greatness in the
Republican campaign this year.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

This Republican primary campaign lacks greatness. I keep waiting for
someone to thrust to the front, say, somebody vital and compelling and hear
the crowd cheering with excitement.

Is this asking too much? Is my heart so demanding that it expects
each four years or eight that each of the two major political parties sends
someone to the floor who captures the imagination of the American people?

No, I think hard. I think hard.

Since World War II, tell me how many figures from either party has
met this test? Has presented himself or herself before the people and
asked us to make him or her president? How many young stars have we seen
flash across the firmament.

Well, since World War II, start with those World War II leaders,
Truman and then Ike. Who are the young stars since then? Well, there was
Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Jack Kennedy. Then, on the right, Barry
Goldwater. That takes us into the `60s, I count four possible starts. In
the `70s, there was Carter briefly, then Ronald Reagan, and finally,
Clinton. Then, OK, that`s a total of eight since World War II.

Come on. Name some more stars, some heroes that have grabbed us with
their magnetism. Then, in this century, 21st, it`s Obama and, of course,
Hillary Clinton. Ten possible heroes to lead the country in over 60 years
-- scarce. And that`s the word for it: scarce.

So the real problem today, I think is that few young people willing
to enter the derby, to put their souls out there for our inspection, for
our approval, for our excitement.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we are forced to watch. For
me, people like me to cover actually, this sparse arena we see before us
today -- one lifetime wannabe who decided he wanted to be president after
his father had failed, a couple of ideologues and an opportunist. Not much
of a field.

The horror is not so many that so many will have to choose from among
this tattered brigade, the spirit of 2012 fluting itself across the parade
ground. The real horror is that these four are all who wanted to show up
for muster -- hardly anybody today wanted to be president.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now. we say.


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

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