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updated 3/12/2012 11:54:08 AM ET 2012-03-12T15:54:08

Guests: David Corn, Hampton Pearson, Susan Page, Rick Tyler, Chip Saltsman, Joy-Ann Reid, Matt Schultz, Thomas Caplan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Good economic news, bad news for the Republicans.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Raining on the parade. Here`s how you know Republicans are spooked by
today`s strong jobs report. Speaker John Boehner called it "a testament to
the hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people." Eric Cantor,
his deputy, said, "We know that jobs aren`t created by Washington." And
Michele Bachmann said, "This president still doesn`t understand that
government doesn`t create jobs."

Well, funny, isn`t it, that these same Republicans don`t hesitate to
talk again and again giving credit to Ronald Reagan for creating job growth
back in the 1980s. Republicans know the better the economy, obviously, the
worse it is for them this November.

Plus, giving Newt the boot. Rick Santorum has been saying it all week
and he said it again today, it`s quitting time for Newt Gingrich. What
Santorum needs, of course, is what Mitt Romney fears, an unobstructed one-
on-one race between the two.

Also, Republican legislatures are passing voter ID laws, as we`ve been
reporting here, allegedly to stop voter fraud. But are those new rules
really to make voting honestly Democratic harder?

And now for tonight`s off-the-waller. Sarah Palin has done it again,
saying the problem with Barack Obama, if you hadn`t noticed, is that he
hasn`t been properly -- or wasn`t properly vetted back in `08. Why would
she trot that out that little sugar plum on the very weekend that "Game
Change" is coming out?

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with "Game Change." What a movie and what
it says about politics at our highest level in this country.

We begin with the economy, what a story it is today and what it means
for the president. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today"`
and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC
political analyst.

This economic news today, the number`s at 8.3 -- I thought it might go
up, it didn`t -- and also a half million people joining the work force.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": A third good month of job news, things
moving in the right direction for the president. Unemployment`s still
pretty high, 8.3 percent, historically high, no president reelected with
unemployment numbers like that, but moving in the right direction. So that
is the best possible news for Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: And it`s steady. It isn`t dramatically good. In other
words, he`s not getting into a situation where it`s going to go down to 8
and then pop up to 9. It`s just holding steady at "better."

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we haven`t
seen wild swings in the unemployment rate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: But the trend line is positive. It takes about 150,000 jobs a
month to keep up with population growth and other matters. And if we want
to get back the jobs that were lost in the Bush-Cheney recession, you got
to add on top of that --

MATTHEWS: Well, three times that many people joined the workforce
this time, making it all the harder for that 8.3 to hold.

CORN: Yes. But -- so but what I`m saying is you have -- if you get
over 200,000, it means that you are chipping away at this jobs deficit,
which is good news. More would be better --

MATTHEWS: Want proof that it`s bad news for the Republicans? Want
proof? Here it is. So how did Republicans respond to the good economic
news today -- well, that the economy added 227,000 jobs in February? With
denial. Listen to this statement from Reince Priebus. I love that name.
He`s chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

He said, "Today`s jobs report is yet another reminder that far too
many Americans are out of work, and the situation is clearly not
improving." It`s actually the opposite of that, Reince.

Anyway, the unemployment rate has been dropping now for some time. In
October, it stood at 9 percent. Remember that, 9 percent as recently as
October. It`s now down to 8.3. Economists say the reason the unemployment
rate stayed at 8.3 percent despite the 227,000 new jobs, was because, as I
said a moment ago, more people went out and reentered the workforce.

So for a long time, people were dumping on the good economic news, the
lower rate, by saying, Oh, that`s because people gave up. No. Three times
as many as usual have joined the workforce.

PAGE: And of course, as things look a little better, more people who
have been discouraged workers not out there looking for jobs probably will
jump into the workforce. That could make the jobless rate go up a little
bit in the future. But it`s basically good news and --

MATTHEWS: So what -- I want to leave you with this. Mitt Romney, not
exactly Mr. Excitement -- he has one ace in the hole. He`s the turnaround
man. He`s the guy that comes into a sloppily run company, like he said the
government was, and he turns it around, like he did for the Olympics or he
did at Bain Capital.

How does he say, I`m going to turn things around, if they`re going in
the right direction? Because then a U-turn means back to Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: Well, what he --

MATTHEWS: A turnaround now means back to Bush.

PAGE: Well, what he said -- what he said today was, If I were in
charge, things would be even better.

MATTHEWS: Oh.

PAGE: But it`s a complicated argument to make. You know, that`s the
argument that Barack Obama made in 2010. Look, things are bad, everybody`s
miserable, but if I weren`t in charge, things would be even worse. It
didn`t sell well in 2010.

It`s a complicated argument to persuade voters that even though we`re
going in the right direction, if you change horses, you`ll go a little
faster.

CORN: It`s kind of --

MATTHEWS: People judge events by events.

PAGE: People -- and people know what`s happened with the economy.
It`s not something you can spin. You can talk about Iran and Syria, spin
it this way or that way. People know --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And by the way, they know more than the politicians know.

CORN: They know how they feel about the economy. As we`ve seen in
politics in the past, sometimes public perception is out of sync with what
the economy`s actually doing. You know, sometimes they think it`s worse
than it is or better than it is. But if they feel there`s a positive trend
line here, they don`t want to turn around. You`re right.

So Mitt Romney`s argument has to be that he`s going to accelerate.

MATTHEWS: Here it is --

CORN: (INAUDIBLE) the turnaround king. He`s the accelerator. That`s
a harder --

MATTHEWS: The accelerator. David, here he is. He put out a
statement today, not exactly putting his mouth around it. He put it out by
paper.

He said, quote -- in part, quote, "President Obama promised that he
would turn the economy around, but millions of Americans are struggling for
work and the economy is not adding jobs at a sufficient pace. What would a
second Obama team mean -- term mean for the economy? Another four years of
job-destroying policies."

So he didn`t even want to make a statement publicly --

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- on the issue, which shows you he`s chicken right now.

The president spoke himself about the positive job numbers at an event
in Virginia this afternoon. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re still recovering
from the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes. And we`ve got a lot of
work to do before everybody who wants a good job can find one. But here`s
the good news. Over the past two years, our businesses have added nearly
four million new jobs.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We just found out that last month, in February, we added
233,000 private sector jobs.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So the economy is getting stronger. And when I come to places
like this and I see the work that`s being done, it gives me confidence
there are better days ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s the president today down in Virginia. Well, the
president has had a run of good news lately, of course, though, of course,
there is still a long time to go before the election.

Here`s how Jonathan Chait, who`s been writing brilliantly lately, put
it the "New York" magazine. Quote, "Why has Obama improved his standing?
Pretty much everything has moved his way all at once. The recovery, which
stalled last year, is picking up speed. And perceptions of the economy are
improving along with it," as you said.

"The Republican candidates have all hurtled rightward and lost
popularity in the center. Obama has managed to establish a contrast
against the wildly unpopular Republican House, rather than allow himself to
be sucked down into its dysfunction."

So at the very time he got the House to finally agree to continue the
reduction in payroll taxes, which he had to do -- he won that -- some
people think that was his turnaround.

PAGE: You know (INAUDIBLE) if you want to look at the other side of
things, you could say, So why isn`t President Obama doing better at a time
when Republicans are beating each other up and the economy`s getting a
little better?

He continues to not have a sterling approval rating. His approval
rating monthly average for Gallup in February was 45 percent, not winning
number for an incumbent president. Today I think it was at 48 percent,
which is better, on the cusp of where he needs to be.

I mean, there continues to be a case you could make against President
Obama. And you noticed he wasn`t really triumphant in that speech in
Virginia because a year ago, we had a similar situation with jobs numbers.
We thought we were getting out of this recession. So things happened in
the world and --

MATTHEWS: So he`s still hedging on the possibility of another dip.

PAGE: It`s still possible. It`s a long way to November.

CORN: Well, listen, you`re going to hear, I think, Republicans talk
even more than they have been about gasoline prices. As the jobs numbers
get better, they`re going to use that as a surrogate or the battlefield to
make the case that the president is bad on the economy.

And you`re right. We saw Greece, we saw the Japan meltdown. You
know, they`re talking about maybe a war with Iran. You know, all these
things could turn at a moment`s notice.

But right now, I mean, Jonathan is right. After the debt ceiling,
where he hit the lowest he`s been in a while, and Congress did, he was able
to pull himself up with the jobs bill and morphing that into the payroll
tax cut fight. And he`s on a roll. He`s where he kind of wants to be, I
think, in this contrast issue. But it`s a long time and --

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Mark Zandi, who`s a very respected
economist. He`s a Democrat, I guess, technically, but he worked for McCain
--

CORN: He supported McCain, yes.

MATTHEWS: -- in his campaign. Yes, let`s take a look at him now. He
talked on "THE DAILY RUNDOWN" this morning. This is Mark Zandi talking
about who really deserves credit for this economic turnaround that seems to
be moving at a steady pace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ZANDI, ECONOMIST: I do think the policy response during the
financial panic and the great recession is very important to explaining why
the recession ended as quickly as it did and why the recovery is now
starting to gain traction. So I think --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the stimulus -- the stimulus worked a little
bit, you think, here?

ZANDI: I think it was -- I think it was a success, yes. It ended the
recession. It jump-started a recovery. It`s not a source of long-term
economic growth. It was never intended to be. But it did what it was
supposed to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Can he make that argument, the president, that the
stimulus, which has never gotten good PR out there -- that image -- can he
change its image and say, No, it`s not the future of America, but it got us
over a very dangerous period?

CORN: This is what they`re doing in Chicago. They`re going to come
out with this 17-minute-long film next week. But on the stimulus, on
health care, Wall Street reform, they believe that they can go back,
refight those battles and win them, and use that to make a case for the
president`s reelection. So they`re -- they -- they`re ginning up for that.

MATTHEWS: This is a big development. Susan, for the first time,
you`re hearing the president and his people decide, We`re not just going to
run some rotgut campaign saying Romney`s an idiot or Romney doesn`t know
what he`s doing, or whoever runs against him`s no good -- a positive
campaign, at least in form. They`re going to start saying, Look. Look at
the auto industry. GM is alive. Bin Laden`s dead. We`ve done great
things. We brought back the economy steadily. We met the crisis, probably
the greatest crisis since FDR had to face it back in the `30s.

Can they win a positive campaign in this environment?

PAGE: You know what they can`t win? A backward-looking campaign. I
mean, you can certainly make the case that some of these things that were
done got a bad rap and you ought to go back and look at them, but that`s
not what would win a presidential election. You needs to look forward.
What are we going to do next? What is the course ahead?

MATTHEWS: Haven`t done that yet.

PAGE: And they haven`t done that yet. But on the other hand --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that fascinating. In fairness, neither guy has.
Romney hasn`t done it, either.

CORN: Well, they -- every political consultant will tell you playbook
101 is that every election is about the future.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s --

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: And that`s what they all say.

MATTHEWS: We can`t wait for that because that`ll have to come in the
debates. Thank you, Susan Page. Have a nice weekend. David Corn, as
always.

Coming up: Rick Santorum wants Newt Gingrich out of the race so that
he can have a one-on-one with Mitt Romney. Will he get it? We`ll see
after this weekend, perhaps after Tuesday. But to get Newt out, Santorum`s
got to beat him down South badly. He`s got to take Mississippi and
Alabama. He`s got to shut him out, in baseball terminology, close the guy
down. Can he do it? That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL. The destruction of Newt Gingrich coming up
for those fans of the destruction of Newt Gingrich.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, even before we get to next Tuesday`s primaries in
Alabama and Mississippi, we`ve got a caucus coming up tomorrow in Kansas.
Forty delegates are at stake, and the results should be in some time late
afternoon.

The culturally conservative state should pick Rick Santorum, who`s
already won neighboring Oklahoma, Colorado, and that beauty contest over in
Missouri. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee won Kansas with 60 percent of the
vote, beating John McCain by 36 points. Wow.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the Republican primary race
heads South to Alabama and Mississippi next week -- actually, it`s already
there, the votes are Tuesday -- Rick Santorum argues the only thing
standing between him and the White House -- catch the phrasing -- the only
thing between him and the White House is Newt Gingrich. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you go
out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will
become a two-person race. And when it becomes a two-person race for the
Republican nomination, the conservative will win that nomination. And the
conservative wins the nomination, we will defeat Barack Obama in the
general election.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I love that clarity. Anyway, with Gingrich pledging to
take his campaign all the way to Tampa and the convention next summer,
we`re looking at a long and bitter spring and summer no matter what
Santorum wants to see, and a long time before Mitt Romney or any candidate
can nail down the nomination.

Rick Tyler is senior adviser to the pro-Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our
Future. And Chip Saltsman was a former campaign manager to Mike Huckabee`s
2008 presidential bid.

Let me put my cards on the table, my point of view. I want a one-on-
one race. I want a vote between -- a fight between the true conservative
in the Republican Party and Mitt Romney, who I believe deep down is a
moderate Republican from Massachusetts, just like when (ph) he was. OK,
that`s my view. And I admit my prejudice. I want a fight.

Rick, I think your guy is the road hog stopping that from happening.
Why doesn`t he let a conservative who has a chance to knock off Romney do
it, and get out of the way so it can happen?

RICK TYLER, WINNING OUR FUTURE SUPER-PAC: Well, first of all, Rick
Santorum`s not a conservative. He`s a big government Republican. He voted
to raise the debt limit five times. The reason he did that --

MATTHEWS: OK, you got the talking points.

TYLER: -- is because he voted for every -

MATTHEWS: There`s not a single person watching right now, Rick, who
thinks that`s anything but political blather. We all know, the American
people know --

TYLER: (INAUDIBLE) Chris --

MATTHEWS: -- he`s a conservative. Rick Santorum`s a conservative.
Can`t you give him that?

TYLER: Well, compared to you, Chris, he`s a conservative.

MATTHEWS: No. No.

TYLER: He`s not a conservative --

MATTHEWS: He`s a conservative. What was his -- what was his ADA
rating, 5? What are you talking about?

TYLER: Well, Newt Gingrich actually has a higher ACU rating than Rick
Santorum does, but if you look at --

MATTHEWS: I don`t deny he has a higher one. The question is, is
either one of them not a conservative. Anyway, we`re not getting anywhere.
You`re not going to break from the talking points. How much money -- how
much money has Sheldon Adelson agreed to give you guys to keep you going in
this race until Tampa? How far will he go with your candidacy?

TYLER: I don`t -- I don`t talk about -- I`m not going to talk about
donors and how much is in there. But did you also know that Rick Santorum
has fewer pledged delegates than Newt Gingrich? Of course Rick Santorum
wants Newt to get out of the race because Newt`s currently ahead in Alabama
and Mississippi, and he has more pledged delegates than Rick Santorum.

MATTHEWS: OK. So you`re saying that your guy`s going to win in
Alabama and Mississippi. If so, you win the argument.

Let me go over to Chip Saltsman. How do you see those two hot races
in Dixie going next Tuesday? Now, Newt`s been able to win contiguously.
He won in the panhandle. He won in South Carolina to get himself going
there. He won in his home state of Georgia. It`s all contiguous.

So based upon his geographic strength in the Southeast, he could win
Alabama. I guess he could win, potentially, another one. Who do you see
winning of those three candidates who are really contesting those two
states?

CHIP SALTSMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, what I can tell down
there is it`s really tight. I mean, I think Mitt Romney`s doing very well
down in Alabama, from the polling I`ve seen and from the people I`ve talked
to.

Newt Gingrich and Santorum are -- it`s a three-way race in those
states right now and I think it`s going to be very, very close next week.
So you know, when I`ve run in contested primaries -- I would have loved in
2008 if everybody would have dropped out and then Mike Huckabee would have
been the nominee. Much easier race that way.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a stupid comment. Wouldn`t you like to have
had a one-on-one with your other -- anybody can say that.

SALTSMAN: Well, we --

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN: But what I`m saying is, why should Newt get out so somebody
else can have a one-on-one race?

MATTHEWS: Because at some point, shouldn`t there been an effective
runoff? Most -- most life and all sports campaigns, everything we ever
watch, there`s eventually a battle between the two top teams or the two top
candidates. That`s what people like.

Wouldn`t it be good for the Republican Party to get to the point where
the two top candidates duke it out? I`m just asking in principle.

SALTSMAN: No, I think we started out -- we`ve had 12 candidates
running in this race at one time. They`ve all dropped out for another (ph)
reasons. And until somebody gets 1,144, I think everybody`s got a right to
stay -- a right to stay in and run--

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t deny their right.

SALTSMAN: -- if they`ve got the money and --

MATTHEWS: But doesn`t the voter have a right -- doesn`t the voter
have a right to a clear-cut choice between two people?

SALTSMAN: They`re having their say every couple of days right now.
They had their say last week in Ohio on super-Tuesday, and nine other
states.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, this is why we don`t have three parties in this
country. It messes things up.

Here`s Gingrich, by the way, on Fox last night describing how he sees
the race. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We
have a real race that`s a -- basically, a three-way race, with Ron Paul as
a fourth candidate who`s getting his percentage. You know, for a long
stretch, I was either in first place or I was clearly in second place.

During that entire period, Senator Santorum declined to leave. Now
suddenly, he`s in better shape. He would now like me to leave. I think
this is just all a game.

He and I would both like Romney to leave. The fact is everybody would
like to end this on their terms. I think this is going to go on probably -
- certainly into June.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was ridiculous. Nobody thinks Romney is getting
out. He`s leading.

Anyway, in an Alabama radio interview this morning duck up by Mark
Halperin, Gingrich pledged not to give up. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you pledging, Speaker Gingrich, to stay until
the convention, stay in until the convention?

GINGRICH: I`m going to be all the way to Tampa. There`s no question
in my mind. I think it`s important to win Alabama and it`s important to
win Mississippi. But I also have 174,000 donors, 95 percent of them under
$250. And I think they want to see a big solutions, Ronald Reagan-style
visionary candidate.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. You have a lot of donors under $250 and one big one
way above $250, Sheldon Adelson and his wife.

Let me ask you, Rick. Give me a scenario that`s good for your
candidate, the one you are implicitly supporting. That`s Newt Gingrich,
your old boss. How does it work well for him from now until Tampa and then
onto November? What`s a good scenario for Newt Gingrich to come out a
winner in this whole process?

TYLER: Well, the best scenario obviously is that he wins Alabama and
wins Mississippi. And then he can gain momentum from there.

As Rick Santorum -- you can look up his record, but Rick Santorum is
not a conservative. I think he gains momentum from there. But by the way,
the Romney campaign has put out all this math where it`s impossible for
Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to reach the delegates that he now is
claiming for himself.

And while I will admit that it may be improbable, but it`s also
equally improbable, if not impossible, that Mitt Romney actually gets to
the convention with the requisite number of delegates. The fact is if Newt
Gingrich were to drop out and leaving the voters with no conservative
choice at all, Mitt Romney would crush Rick Santorum. And he would be our
nominee.

MATTHEWS: You know, when Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House and
was responsible for getting the debt ceiling passed every year, wasn`t that
something you have as a reality in your own background for your own
candidate, Rick?

TYLER: Well, when Newt Gingrich was speaker -- when Newt Gingrich was
speaker, the budget was balanced under his leadership for four years in a
row.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he was speaker for longer than that. He was
speaker for longer than that.

TYLER: Well, he also paid off--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So he never had to raise the debt ceiling. He never had to
raise the debt ceiling. You`re saying he never raised the debt ceiling?

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER: I would have to look up his record. I don`t know if he raised
the debt ceiling.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re attacking the other guy for doing something you
don`t know about your candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In other words, you`re attacking the other for something
and you don`t even know what your own candidate did.

Let`s move over to somebody who knows what they`re talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER: Chris, all you have to look at is the record --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, seriously, you can`t attack without knowing your own
candidate`s record, can you?

TYLER: Well, I just did.

MATTHEWS: I`m being too tough. It`s Friday. I`m sorry. I`m being
too tough on you. Nobody has to know everything about everything. Your
job is to get the money going.

Look, let me ask you this. Do you think your candidate has a chance
to be president of the United States, really, Rick? Is that what this is
about or is it a grudge match against a guy who screwed you? By the way, I
might be engaged in a grudge match if I were Newt Gingrich after what they
did to him in Iowa. And I was there watching the destruction of this guy`s
reputation by a guy with more money, not a better person, just a guy with
more money.

I would be mad too. That might be my reason to stay in a race. Is it
Newt`s?

TYLER: Well, Chris, I`m like you. I have never known Newt Gingrich
to hold a grudge. I don`t think that is why he is in it.

I think he`s in it because he believes he`s the only one that can beat
Barack Obama. I believe him. And he`s the only one that can actually
change Washington, because he`s done it before, where the other two
haven`t. They have been about accommodation and accommodating Washington.

Certainly, Rick Perry (sic) has been about accommodating Washington.
Mitt Romney does not have a jobs record. He is number 47 when he had a
chance to lead in Massachusetts. He invented Romneycare, which now we have
Obamacare. Rick Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter, who was the deciding
vote.

So, while Romney invented Obamacare, Rick Santorum gave us Obamacare.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know just about everything you say. I just don`t know
its relevance.

Here we go. Mitt Romney, by the way, here`s -- let`s end on a lighter
moment, guys. I have been too tough tonight. Mitt Romney has been trying
to win over Southern voters. He calls it an away game, by the way, going
down there.

But this seems a little forced. Let`s listen to what he said about
his Southern talk just yesterday and today again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He`s now turning it into, I
don`t know, an unofficial Southerner, and I`m learning to say y`all, and I
like grits. And things are -- strange things are happening to me.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: The governor said I had to say it right. Morning, y`all.

I said it right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits,
I`ll tell you. .

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Chip, is this working, this sort of
admission of being a chameleon? If you admit you`re a chameleon, it is it
OK to be one?

SALTSMAN: Well, I think it`s OK for him to come down South and do
that. And I think it sounds a little bit more Texan than it did Southern
today, but he`s trying. And I think that`s OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that line something seems to be
happening to me? How did you make -- what is this guy, the fly? Is
something happening in his metamorphosis? Is he growing six-inch hairs on
his back?

What does he mean? Isn`t it a little strange when the guys says
something seems to be happening to me? What did you make of that, Chip
Saltsman? Give me the definition of this guy right now. Who is Mitt
Romney?

SALTSMAN: I truly have no idea what he was talking about. I think
that`s probably the biggest problem that we have all got.

MATTHEWS: Well, we all have in figuring him out.

I know who I am and you know who you are, Chip Saltsman.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, Rick, last word from you. You have a thought?

TYLER: Chris, the fact is Mitt Romney believes he was a conservative
all his life. He believed he led the Republican revolution and he believed
that he was for the little guy. He believed he was for little government
and he protected the Second Amendment rights and was for protection of the
unborn.

Why wouldn`t people think that he doesn`t now believe he`s a
Southerner?

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. I think you have a good point there. You end
on a good point and on a high note.

Thank you, Rick Tyler, for joining us from Restore Our Future, Restore
Our Future.

TYLER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, what is it? Winning Our Future.

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER: No, Winning Our Future.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Restore is the other one. Winning Our Future.

Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER: -- destroy our future. We`re Winning Our Future.

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER: OK. Take care.

MATTHEWS: I have to keep you super guys separated.

Anyway, thank you, Chip Saltsman, for being somewhat of our
nonpartisan expert here.

Up next, pot, meet kettle. Sarah Palin says Barack Obama wasn`t
properly vetted. Do you believe it? Pot, meet kettle.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, the vetting game. If you have seen any previews of HBO`s
"Game Change," you know about the upheaval that ensued within the McCain
campaign when the vetting of Sarah Palin fell through the cracks. Now
let`s listen to what Sarah Palin herself had to say just last night about
how things are shaping up in this year`s GOP race, with a special nod to
the all-important vetting process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Nothing is inevitable. And
I do appreciate that these men are continuing to duke it out in the arena
of ideas and are allowing themselves to be vetted. So thank you,
gentlemen, who are running on the GOP ticket, staying in there, allowing
yourselves to be vetted by the media, because they didn`t do it when Barack
Obama ran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Two words, "Game Change." Don`t miss it, what a
movie.

Next up, dance the night away. Take a look at what Newt Gingrich was
up to in the wee hours of the morning earlier this week after arriving in
Jackson, Mississippi. It was 2:00 a.m. in the morning when this was going
on. What prompted that impromptu serenade? Here`s what Newt had to say
about it last night on FOX.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: You know, Callista warned me that this would make
Gretawire.

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: Since we`d already agreed to come on, I figured I couldn`t
back out. We got in fairly late last night into Jackson. We had been
campaigning nonstop, as you know, in Georgia and had really campaigned
very, very hard. You could say we took about a two-hour vacation from the
campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess people with Santorum are hoping he takes more
than a two-hour break next time, that he and Callista take a long dance
break from the whole thing.

And, finally, giving it another go.

Last week, we heard Rick Santorum say that President Kennedy`s 1960s
speech on the separation of church and state made him, Rick Santorum, want
to throw up. Well, he has since said that he regrets that remark, or at
least the words, but went back at it again last night in Alabama. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The language I used was at
a minimum inarticulate.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: But what it showed was maybe years of frustration in what
President Kennedy had done. And his first opening statement in the speech
was, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is
absolute."

That`s not America. That`s France. That`s a naked public square,
where people of faith are out of bounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. So this time he knocks Kennedy and then takes a crack
at the French besides.

Anyway, up next, Republicans are pushing strict voter I.D. laws to
stop voter fraud. But what`s the real motive? To stop crooked voting or
honest democratic voting?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow industrials adding two points, the S&P gaining three and the
Nasdaq tacking on 15 points. The markets were rattled late in the session
when it was announced that Greece`s massive debt reduction deal with
private creditors will trigger default insurance payouts. Employers added
227,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate unchanged at 8.3 percent.
And gas prices held steady heading into the weekend, with the national
average for regular $3.76 a gallon.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There are currently laws pending in 24 states now that would
strengthen or create voter I.D. laws. And this issue is causing a big
fight out there, on one side, those who say the laws are designed to make
it harder for people who tend to support Democrats to vote, on the other
side, people who say you need to produce an I.D. for all sorts of things.
Why not for voting?

Well, just to get you up to date on this, right now, 15 states already
require photo I.D. to vote. Eight are considered strict photo I.D. states
where there`s no exception. In the other seven, there are exceptions. For
instance, if -- a voter with an I.D., he can go or she can go vouch for
someone who doesn`t have one.

In 16 other states, voters must show I.D. at the polls, but not
necessarily photo I.D. The list of acceptable I.D. varies in those states
state to state and can include anything from a local utility bill like a
gas bill or an electric bill to a bank statement.

And 19 states plus the District of Columbia have no voter I.D. laws at
all. But that could change dramatically if some of the bills in state
legislatures right now become law. Right now, there are now voter I.D.
proposals working their way through legislatures in 13 of our states.

In 11 states that already have voter I.D. laws, legislation has been
introduced to strengthen them, in many cases to require a voter to have a
photo I.D. with him or her.

And who doesn`t have photo I.D.s? Now, this is interesting.
According to a study by the Brennan Center done in 2006, six years ago, 11
percent of eligible voters. Well, 25 percent of African-Americans don`t
have photo I.D.s., 16 percent of Hispanics don`t have photo I.D.s, and 18
percent of senior citizens do not possess an voter I.D.

So, Joy-Ann Reid right now is managing editor of TheGrio.com. And
Matt Schultz is the Iowa secretary of state who proposed voter I.D.
legislation there. The Iowa State Senate refused to take it up, but it
could still be tacked on to other legislation.

Let me ask you, Mr. Secretary of State, why -- is there evidence of
significant voter fraud? I mean significant, like we outlaw murder because
there`s a murder problem, especially in some high crime areas, obviously.
But we pass laws when we need them. And that`s a conservative view. Why
do we need to pass a law unless there`s significant need to pass it?
What`s the evidence of a significant cases -- or significant level of voter
fraud out there?

MATT SCHULTZ, IOWA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we also pass laws to
close loopholes that we know about.

And the thing about voter fraud, it`s very difficult to prove one way
or another, because we don`t have voter -- or video surveillance at the
polls taking -- keeping track of everybody. And so it`s really tough to
prove if somebody was cheating or not at various times.

And so what we`re trying to do is close a loophole and make sure that
everything who is eligible to vote--

MATTHEWS: Well, then you don`t know. Then you`re -- then you`re
admitting that you don`t know--

SCHULTZ: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- there`s significant voter fraud out there.

SCHULTZ: No, absolutely, we don`t know. That`s the point.

But we do know there`s a loophole. And we need to close that loophole
and make sure that nobody is cheating. At least in Iowa, I can tell you,
our elections are getting closer and closer. And just a few votes could
swing an election. And if somebody is cheating, they are taking my vote
away and your vote away. And so it`s a matter of--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why are all the people pushing this Republicans? Why isn`t
there a bipartisan push for voter reform if there`s a problem?

Even if there`s a potential problem, wouldn`t you see a bipartisan
push? It`s either you guys are right in saying there`s probably a problem
out there, or could be, or the Democrats are wrong in saying they are
covering -- because they are covering up corruption or voter fraud.

It`s certainly ridiculous that only one party thinks there`s a problem
that needs fixing and the other doesn`t. That doesn`t make sense.

SCHULTZ: Look at Rhode Island, Chris. Rhode Island is dominated by
Democrats. And they passed voter I.D.

I think that what`s -- what we need to be talking about is what kinds
of I.D.s we`re going to use, how we`re going to implement voter I.D. And I
think, if people could come together and talk about that, we could come up
with some reasonable solutions.

Just like Rhode Island, to be a partisan issue. It doesn`t have to be a
partisan issue.

MATTHEWS: Is there an easy way to make a person who`s 80 years old
have a voter ID when they live in a row house of the big city? And they`re
not that rich, just an average working class person. And they have to get
out -- they always walk down the street and vote. They have been doing it
their whole life.

Now, you`re saying, when you walk down the street to vote in an
election, that you better have a voter ID card or a photo ID card.

They`d say, why would I have that? Nobody drives a car on this
street. I don`t have an ID card. Where am I going to get one? Oh, I got
to go to city hall to get one? That looks like a burden you`re putting on
somebody because you don`t want them to vote.

SCHULTZ: I think you`re insulting their intelligence. I got chewed
out by an 80 year old --

MATTHEWS: No. I`m talking about an 80-year-old woman. Where is she
supposed to get this voter ID card?

SCHULTZ: Look, if you look -- obviously, I`m sure you haven`t seen
my bill. But my bill allows for those elderly people who are confined in
nursing homes would just have to sign an affidavit. We also have an
affidavit process for indigent people.

But the fact of the matter is, I can tell you, I got chewed out by an
80-year-old just last week who said, hey, I can find an ID. Do you think
we`re stupid? We can`t go get one? I think that your premise is terrible.

MATTHEWS: What would the ID be -- let me go over to Jo-Ann -- no,
it`s not a bad premise because I grew up with a family. It was row house
people in a big city who didn`t have cars. So, I mean, it isn`t something
that everybody has a driver`s license.

Let me go to Jo-Ann Reid. Let`s ask about this. I want to know one
thing -- the burden issue. I want everybody to vote. Certainly everybody
who follows politics ands cares about the vote. I don`t want them to have
a reason not to vote, OK? So, I`m looking for anything that gets in the
way of their voting.

Is this something that will get in the way of people voting, Joy-Ann,
as you said?

JOY-ANN REID, MANAGING EDITOR, THEGRIO.COM: Yes, absolutely it will,
Chris. I mean, the idea -- and I think that you were getting to it, that
the state shouldn`t put any undo burden or any undue hurdle on the exercise
of fundamental rights. Look, I showed an ID to get into 30 Rockefeller
Plaza this morning, but I don`t have a fundamental right to be in 30
Rockefeller Plaza there. I do have a fundamental right to be a in that
voting booth.

And if I live in the place like let`s say I just live in Florida for
14 years, there are entire swaths in Florida where you have to take a bus
to get all the way to the DMV to pay money to go and get the kind of ID
they want. That is putting an undue burden on the exercise of the right to
vote.

So, you just heard the state senator talked about having someone
signed an affidavit. The only instances of voter fraud that have actually
been documented in the country have been people filling out the wrong
address, putting the wrong address on their voter registration. Having an
ID at the polls doesn`t stop that at all. It does nothing about it.

And then you look at the selectivity of the kinds of ID that are
being required in some of these states. You can have a gun license, but
not a student ID. That`s sending a message about the kind of person you
believe is going to commit "fraud", quote-unquote, or that you just want to
stop from getting to the polls.

These laws are selective. They are being proposed only by
Republicans, and I really fundamentally believe they are being proposed to
address a demographic reality. Barack Obama lost the white vote by
something like 11.5 million votes in 2008, but he won the minority vote by
something like 22 million votes.

MATTHEWS: OK. Matt, you get to respond to now. You get to respond
to that.

SCHULTZ: I appreciate that.

You know, let`s talk about it fundamental rights. We have a
fundamental right to bear arms, but we have to go through a background
check and show IDs there.

In terms of going after a specific demographic, I can tell you in
Iowa, that`s not what we`re doing. And we`re trying to attempt to make
sure that we provide security without disenfranchising voters. I can`t
speak to other states in that case, but in terms of Iowa, I can tell you
what we`re trying to do is trying to find a way to make sure that people
who are eligible to vote are able to vote and to prevent cheating. We`re
not trying to keep those people from voting.

REID: Chris, can I respond to that? Because you know what?

MATTHEWS: Sure. Go ahead.

REID: This is exactly the case I`m talking about. The state does
have a compelling interest in making sure we don`t shoot people. So, when
the state has a compelling interest, they can put a barrier in place to
protect the public good.

What is unsafe about someone voting? When did you --

MATTHEWS: Well, they have a compelling interest in fair voting.

REID: Well, absolutely. However, having an ID at the polls does not
prevent the only kinds of voter fraud we`ve seen, absentee ballot fraud.

MATTHEWS: Let me give you an idea, let me give you an idea. I`m
going to try to break this tie. But it will probably bother one of the two
of you.

If the problem is being unable to prove or prosecute cases where
people do something wrong, and I think you should have the assumption of
innocence when people go to vote. I don`t think there should be assumption
of wrongdoing, which I think you`re putting here. And we don`t have
terrorists going to vote. It isn`t like airplanes. Why don`t you have a
little cell phone there and take a picture of everybody who votes? Nobody
is going to be offended by that.

And then you can always have a case if somebody votes for somebody
else. Take a picture of them. No effort, no problem by them. No burden.

As you walk up, you say my name is Mary Jones. They take your
picture. They know it`s you.

Then if there`s any problem, anybody is voting for Mary Jones, you
can nail them. Why don`t you do that? That means you`re after people
because they did something wrong. Not stopping them for doing something
they have a right to do.

Your thought about that, Matt?

SCHULTZ: Hey, I`m willing to work -- if the Democratic legislature
would bring that idea forward, let`s work on it. The idea is let`s make
sure that people can`t cheat. And so, you know, I`m willing to sit down
with anybody to work at that.

REID: You`re not seeing instances of it. Listen, I live in Florida
for 14 years. I went and voted in the same precinct for 12 years. You
have elderly people in some of these communities who have seen the same
person that they are voting in front of for years and years and years.

MATTHEWS: I think that`s great.

REID: Well, now, you`re saying, suddenly, show me an ID and prove
that you`re you.

MATTHEWS: OK.

REID: This is something that`s a solution to a problem that doesn`t
exist.

MATTHEWS: What about my idea? You just take a picture of the person
when they vote. What`s wrong with that? Who`s going to be offended by
that? Nobody. Joy?

REID: I don`t think anybody would necessarily have a problem with
that, Chris, because you`re not going to purchase that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s try to make sure we catch the bad guys and not
bother the good guys. Thank you, Joy-Ann Reid. Thank you, Matt Schultz.

REID: Thank you.

SCHULTZ: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, how Bill Clinton became Bill Clinton. A little
fun. I got a guy that went to school with Bill Clinton.

We love Bill Clinton. We love talking about him. Hillary Clinton
maybe the next president, who knows? Let`s talk about this guy.

He went to Georgetown with him, Thomas Caplan. He`s also a writer of
great fiction. He`s not going to give us fiction now.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming back with a look at the life of Bill Clinton when
he was a kid, but very political. We`re going to look at the real Bill
Clinton here.

Come back after this with HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back. With a little fun here at the end of Friday`s
show.

It`s been 11 years since Bill Clinton left the White House and
remains certainly one of the most fascinating people in the world. He`s
the most popular politician in the country. Worldwide, not just in
America. He inspired -- what inspired him to get into a life of politics?

We`ve got here a guy was there at the creation. Thomas Caplan lived
with Bill Clinton in a dormitory at Georgetown University way back then.
He remains one of his closest pals. He`s also the author of a novel of
"The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen" which has an introduction written by --
Bill Clinton.

So, this is -- yes, I`m going to use you for a few minutes here.

THOMAS CAPLAN, AUTHOR, FORMER ROOMMATE OF BILL CLINTON: OK.

MATTHEWS: Great book. "The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen," a novel
by you.

OK. Bill Clinton, I am still fascinated by this guy. When you meet
him, he gives you the magical one or two minutes where you are completely
encased in his world, total communication.

CAPLAN: It`s completely genuine. I mean, it`s because he really is
-- his mother once said it`s easy to remember people`s names and their
stories if you care. And a lot of Bill Clinton, of course, comes from
Virginia. And --

MATTHEWS: His mother?

CAPLAN: His mother. Wonderfully positive attitude about life. So,
the reason that he has that effect on people is because it`s genuine.

MATTHEWS: And when you met him, you were 17, 18 years old, you went
to school just like that, Holy Cross. Jesuit, wear coat and tie.

CAPLAN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Was he like a poor kid or a rich kid? Or -- I heard he
had a convertible. He had some money. He wasn`t --

CAPLAN: Nobody had cars the first year. I can`t think of anyone who
did.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but later on.

CAPLAN: But later on, yes, he had a Buick because his father worked
or his adopted father, stepfather, took -- worked at a Buick agency.

MATTHEWS: That`s how he got the car.

CAPLAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about -- did you see the pol back then?

CAPLAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What was he like? Did he know everybody`s name?

CAPLAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Ha.

CAPLAN: He was very gregarious. Very easy. I mean, not sort of
ambitious pol but just an easy fellow who got to know people.

MATTHEWS: Did you get a sense early on that this kid from the back
woods of Arkansas, compared to a lot of you guys, you`re from New York and
Jersey, all big city places, Catholics. Did you think he was on the road
to something big politically?

CAPLAN: I thought he would be a huge success and probably in
politics or government, maybe law. As for being president, you never know
who is going to -- there`s so many slips between the couple who live (ph)
for that and so many careers. But I always thought he would be a
successful person.

MATTHEWS: Looking at these pictures, long before he ever ran for
national office, Bill Clinton made his mark running for class office at
Georgetown University. Look at this Clinton campaign flyer. There he is,
running for his team.

Now, he had one big loss. The key to Bill Clinton is his comebacks.
He runs for student council, he gets his ass kicked, right, by a nobody?

CAPLAN: Last year, for president.

MATTHEWS: By a nobody.

CAPLAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And then he runs for governor, he gets -- he runs for
Congress, losses; runs for governor, gets defeated for re-election. Gives
a terrible speech at the convention and he comes back on the "Johnny Carson
Show". He gets impeached, comes back and then very popular as president.
What`s that about?

CAPLAN: This goes back to where I was saying, it comes from
Virginia. You have six pieces of news, five are bad, one are good. You go
with the good one and you have an optimism about the future. Keep going.

Churchill thing never, ever give up.

MATTHEWS: And that`s him.

The name of the book, "The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen," a novel
inspired by --

CAPLAN: Bill Clinton. Well, not inspired by Bill Clinton, inspired
by Alfred Hitchcock.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPLAN: But introduction by Bill Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Is he a good writer? Did he write this, you edited?

CAPLAN: He did and he edited the book.

MATTHEWS: Did he really?

CAPLAN: Yes, I gave him the book originally and I knew he was a fan
of thrillers. Very kindly.

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. The blue pencil job by Bill Clinton,
another talent by a great former president.

Thomas Caplan, I love digging your mind on this stuff. Anyway, I
love digging it out.

CAPLAN: Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with -- I got some an
important thing to say about this movie "Game Change," something you`re not
used to hearing about. It`s what really goes on in the back room of
politics and the pressure on these people. Come back and watch it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

You know it`s an amazing thing to be caught in a public predicament
to have this problem, this situation that may be beyond your control. But
you and everyone in the country is watching you. You have to fix it.

I watch "Game Change" for the second time this week. It`s a fabulous
movie. As I`ve said before, anyone who loves politics and loves this
country will love this movie. And you should find a way to watch it, many
times actually, because you keep appreciating it all the deeper.

What it`s really about this movie "Game Change" is this thing I call
a predicament, is when you are in deep, growing pretty sure you`re not
going to be able to get out of it the best way and hoping you have to cut
your losses. And this is where Steve Schmidt and his candidate John McCain
are in this movie, where I imagine those hard weeks of 2008 when the
presidential election was just retreating away from them in the face of the
charismatic Barack Obama and the apparent vacuity of the vice presidential
candidate they had decided would be their game changer.

It`s Steve Schmidt I kept more and more focus. This guy was up to
his elbows in alligators, desperately trying to keep things from going
completely haywire, trying to keep his candidate on the road to possible
victory. And this is the hard part: keeping Sarah Palin, a reasonable
facsimile of a national candidate and also keeping Sarah Palin from -- in
her own unforgettable phrase -- from going rogue. It`s pure pathos and so
much of what it means to be a human being in this complex, shake-and-bake
era we live in.

Not to be too snotty, I reminded me of a quote of Jean-Paul Sartre,
"We do not know do what we want and yet we are responsible for what we
are."

"We do not do what we want, but yet we are responsible for what we
are." How many times do we get pushed into a decision only to begin to
regret that decision the moment after we`ve made it.

They knew picking Palin was a mistake. They knew it was a risk
certainly, but they did it anyway. They knew they were not picking a
possible president or even a vice president. They were simply picking a
running mate who would help them win but didn`t nonetheless.

And they faced the consequences and had to live them out slowly and
painfully, really only a down payment of what history would exact of them,
for having made that expedient decision to pick an unqualified candidate
for V.P.

This is what this incredibly serious and yet wonderfully entertaining
movie is all about -- the all-too-familiar, all-too-human predicament that
gets put on public display in politics. We do not do what we want, yet we
are responsible for what we are. What a movie.

Anyway, that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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