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updated 3/13/2012 1:21:31 PM ET 2012-03-13T17:21:31

Guests: Chris Cillizza, David Corn, Hampton Pearson, Atia
Abawi, Cynthia Tucker, Jennifer Donahue, Michael O`Hanlon, Louis Susman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Southern exposure.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
March madness. It`s the Southeast conference of the Republican nomination
fight, Mississippi and Alabama. The brackets are set and tipoff is
tomorrow.

Can Romney win at least one state to claim he can win in the South?
Can Santorum become the sole Romney challenger? Can Newt Gingrich stay
alive? And then there`s this question. Would Romney even have a chance if
he had to take on either of these guys one on one?

Speaking of March madness, consider this. A poll of likely
Republicans in Alabama shows that only 14 percent believe President Obama
is a fellow Christian. In Mississippi, the figure is 12 percent. And a
majority there say, a strong majority say he`s a Muslim.

Plus, it`s no secret that there`s a gender gap in this country
politically, with Democrats holding an edge with women. Now the Obama
campaign is looking to seize the moment and use Republican efforts to limit
abortion rights and access to contraception to create an insurmountable
lead among women in November.

Also, what are we to make of that horrible rampage by an American
serviceman in Afghanistan over the weekend? The calls for the U.S. to get
out of there are getting louder and louder on both sides of the political
aisle here at home.

And what did Steve Schmidt really think of the movie "Game Change"?
He fesses up in the "Sideshow."

We begin with that tight Republican race down South. Cynthia Tucker`s
an expert down there, a Pulitzer Prize winner and visiting professor at the
University of Georgia. And Chris Cillizza -- I think he`s a Northern boy.
He`s with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Cynthia, it`s great to have you on, especially at this time when your
expertise is great. Let me show you two new PPP polls on Alabama and
Mississippi, showing tight races in both states that are voting tomorrow.

In Alabama -- in Bama -- Romney leads with 31 percent. But right
behind him, Gingrich at 30 percent -- boy, they`re so close -- Santorum at
29 percent. They`re really bunched. Ron Paul`s back at 8 percent.

In Mississippi, Gingrich at 33, followed close behind by Romney at 31,
Santorum a bit further behind at 27. Ron Paul has only 7.

How do you look at those numbers? Do you believe them?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIV. OF GEORGIA: Yes. Yes, I do, Chris. I think
it`s -- many legislators, Republican legislators in both states have said
that they think it`s going to be a very close race. And I think the big
surprise is how well Mitt Romney seems to be doing in these states. He`s
either just barely ahead or just barely behind.

And that comes as a big surprise, given that he wasn`t expected to
fare well at all in the very deep South. And if Mitt Romney pulls off a
win in just one of them, even a close win, I think it would do a lot to
silence those conservatives who say he cannot unite the party. At least,
that will certainly be what he`s saying if he pulls off a win in one of
those states tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: Chris, I`m a little more skeptical. I wonder whether --
you look at polling coming out of Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Romney
looked like he was doing better and didn`t. I think there may be an anti-
LDS, anti-Mormon factor there. I`m not sure.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
first of all, let me clarify. I am from the North, but I married into a
Southern family, and my Texas in-laws would not take to me to describing --
being described as 100 percent Northerner.

But that said, look, I -- I do -- look, Governor Bentley in Alabama
agrees with you. He -- who is supporting Mitt Romney. In a radio
interview, now (ph), he was prompted about the LDS Mormon issue, but he
still said it could be an issue in Alabama and other states.

What we know is that to the extent there is skepticism -- and there
clearly is skepticism about Mormonism within some portions of the Christian
faith -- evangelical Christians are the most likely to view it skeptically.

The Romney team semi-openly acknowledges that was his problem in 2008.
He spent lots of money in Iowa. He just couldn`t break through those
evangelical Christians. Alabama, Mississippi is kind of a home ground for
those folks. Lots of them very conservative, very religiously minded
electorate.

But to Cynthia`s point, look, I don`t see how Romney`s not in the
game, Chris, here. And I would say he`s probably in the game not because
of himself but because Newt Gingrich is stronger in Mississippi and
Alabama...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: ... than he was in Tennessee and Oklahoma. If Gingrich is
stronger, he splits that -- that vote with Santorum more, which gives
Romney -- Romney`s never going to get 50 percent in these states, but he it
gives him more of a chance to split the difference.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree with that. Newt`s been very strong. He wins
South Carolina, if he wins Georgia, he won the panhandle of Florida.

CILLIZZA: Right.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at some of the views held by those likely
Republican voters. These are likely Republican voters in tomorrow`s votes
down in Alabama and Mississippi.

When it comes to evolution, just about one quarter of these
Republicans believe in evolution, about 26 percent, 22 percent in
Mississippi. Very strong, almost two thirds believe against it.

When asked about the president`s religion -- this is President Obama`s
religion -- among Alabama Republicans, only 1 in 7 believe he`s a
Christian, even though he is a Christian, 45 percent believe he`s Muslim,
41 percent say they don`t know. Similar numbers among Mississippi
Republicans. Only 1 in 8 believe Obama`s a Christian, 52 percent, a strong
-- or a serious majority, believe he`s Muslim, and 36 percent who say they
don`t know.

Let me tell you, Cynthia, what I think. I think when people say they
don`t know what a guy`s religion is, when he tells them what it is, they`re
not going to vote for this guy because if they think you`re lying about
your religion, how could they possibly vote for you?

So I just take those 36 percent and say these guys really don`t like
this guy. They think he`s lying about who he is in his basic beliefs.
Your thoughts.

TUCKER: Chris, I think we already knew that, that they -- that he
really -- that they really don`t like Obama. They really didn`t like him
in 2008. Obama, there were -- in many states, Obama drew more white voters
than John Kerry had in 2004. But there were a handful of deep South states
where Obama did worse than John Kerry among white voters. And those states
included Alabama and Mississippi.

I hate to have to say this, Chris. I`m a native of Alabama, Alabama
born and bred. But my native South remains a hotbed of ignorance and
bigotry. Simple as that.

CILLIZZA: And you know, Chris -- Chris, just to add very quickly to
Cynthia`s point, Louisiana, which votes March 24th, also falls in that
category, which is that Barack Obama performed less well -- even while he
was winning overwhelmingly nationwide, performed less well than John Kerry,
who lost in 2004 in Louisiana, which speaks to Cynthia`s point.

MATTHEWS: While out campaigning today -- I`m sorry. Campaigning
today in Mississippi, Rick Santorum tried to declare tomorrow`s races home
states for him, a jab at Romney`s characterization of Southern states as
being "away games" for him. Well, obviously, it`s an away game for both of
them, but let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re
competing in every single state. We`re not just focused on one region of
the country. I don`t consider this an away game. This is home for me,
just like it is everywhere I go in this country, because we got Americans
who love this country, who want to see, you know, a government that`s put
back within their bounds. They want the opportunity to be free and be able
to raise their families and build their communities without the government
in Washington interfering with them. And that`s why I feel like every --
every -- every state`s been a home -- home game for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Cynthia, you`re not as old as me. And certainly
Chris isn`t. Neither one of you guys are. But let me tell you, there`s an
old phrase on television, in a sitcom. This guy -- "The Life of Riley"
said, "Well, this is a revoltin` development" when something went wrong.

Here you have people in these two states, your Alabama and
Mississippi, that don`t believe in evolution, who don`t think the
president`s a Christian, think he`s a Muslim largely. And here they have a
big three choice.

You start with -- no, you start with this, Cynthia. They get to
choose among two Catholics, which a lot of them think is a cult anyway, and
a Mormon. So in order to beat the guy they think is a Muslim, they got to
choose between three cultists! I mean, I`m being a cartoon here, but what
do you do if you`re a deep South evangelical and you got this potpourri to
look at, Cynthia?

TUCKER: Well, Chris, I happen to remember when the prejudice against
Catholics in the deep South was a lot stronger than it is today. So that
is one area where I`ll have to say that I think voters have advanced a bit.

There is, as Chris -- the other Chris said a few minutes ago...

MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza.

TUCKER: ... there is still -- Chris Cillizza. Thank you -- said
about the against Mormons, there`s still quite a bit of that. That`s one
of the surprises for me about how well Mitt Romney is faring.

But having said all that, I don`t think that there is a great deal of
enthusiasm for the current field in Mississippi or Alabama, anymore than
there is in the rest of the country. Will people vote for whoever the
nominee is in November?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TUCKER: Yes. Most of them will. But I think there`s an enthusiasm
gap here.

CILLIZZA: And Chris, just to add -- look, I -- I think it`s funny.
None of -- look, here`s the -- here`s the dirty little secret that you --
you`ve hit on. None of these three guys are sons of the South in any
meaningful way. The guy who was the son of the South in this field was
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. He was culturally and stylistically a
fit with the South. Obviously, he`s not around in the race anymore.

Newt Gingrich -- I know he represented the Atlanta suburbs in
Congress, but Newt Gingrich is not kind of a cultural Southerner in any
meaningful way.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Rick Santorum is from Pennsylvania and Mitt Romney is from
Massachusetts. I mean, I just -- having grown up in the Northeast, I can
tell you, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, they don`t understand the very
unique culture that is the South.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I think it`s why you`ve seen lots of coverage of these guys
trying to talk about how much they love grits and how they fit in. Look,
you know -- talking with a Southern accent.

The truth of the matter is none of these guys is a natural fit for the
South. (INAUDIBLE) Cynthia`s point, it`s why you see lots of undecideds.
You know, on those polls, you show one thing (INAUDIBLE) People don`t
really know who they want.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CILLIZZA: When they`re are pushed, they`re going to have to choose
someone tomorrow, but I`m not sure that they`re convinced that any one of
these...

MATTHEWS: What would you...

CILLIZZA: ... three guys is their guy.

MATTHEWS: What would you call Newt Gingrich`s accent?

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: I don`t -- in order to keep my job, I won`t try and
speculate on air about Newt Gingrich`s accent is!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I think (INAUDIBLE) an actor named Orson Bean are the only
two guys in the world that talk exactly the same way.

Anyway, another odd moment by Mitt Romney this morning in Mobile,
Alabama, as he campaigned with comedian Jeff Foxworthy, you know, the guy
who says "You know you`re a redneck." Well, there they are together.
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (INAUDIBLE)
say hi to everybody. Plus give us a big hug. That`s the girls. I`ve been
getting hugs from the Southern girls tonight! Absolutely. And I mean from
12 to -- well, a lot more than 12.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Cynthia? What do you make of --
hugs from the Southern girls.

TUCKER: Oh, poor Mitt Romney. You know, his attempts at humor, his
attempts at being warm and fuzzy almost always fall flat. Mitt needs to be
himself, which is just a sort of robotic rich guy. And the people who are
going to vote for him tomorrow...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That`s warm and fuzzy, Cynthia!

TUCKER: ... already know that.

MATTHEWS: You`re really selling this guy!

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: ... bumper sticker, robotic rich guy on a bumper sticker.
Oh, nothing but votes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: A great robot, but he`s expensive. Anyway, thank you,
Cynthia Tucker, for that quick capsulization. Chris Cillizza, thank you,
as always.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Democrats have an edge among women voters. We
know about that. And now the Obama campaign wants to capitalize on
Republican efforts to restrict abortion rights, and of course, access to
contraception under "Obama care." Well, let`s see that fight coming up.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Pretty big news here. One week from tomorrow, Republicans
go to the polls in the big state of Illinois, the president`s home state.
We`ve got a new poll in that contest. Let`s check the HARDBALL
"Scoreboard." Here it is.

Mitt Romney has a 4-point lead over Rick Santorum, just 4, in that new
"Chicago Tribune" poll, 35-31, and that`s right at the margin of error.
And it`s very close in a state that`s probably -- well, you`d think would
have favored Romney. The poll finds Romney doing well in the Chicago
suburbs and Santorum doing well pretty much everywhere else in the state.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Why extremists always focus on
women remains a mystery to me. They want to control how we dress. They
want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we
make about our own health and our own bodies!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Yes, it is hard to believe, but even here at home, we have
to stand up for women`s rights and reject efforts to marginalize every one
of us because America needs to set an example for the entire world.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That`s, of course, Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton. She made a rare public comment on domestic politics
-- that was Saturday -- when she spoke at the Women in the World Summit.

Her comments came as Republicans have growing reason to worry about
women voters. A "Washington Post"/ABC poll out today shows voters
overwhelmingly say Democrats care more about issues important to women, 55
to 30. And our NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll zeroed in on the wave of
suburban women voters, crucial swing voters, of course -- we know that --
who have flipped in just the past year, half year, from wanting Republicans
to control the U.S. Congress to now wanting Democrats to control it.

The Obama campaign is trying to capitalize on that, trying to, of
course, exploit it, rolling out a nationwide effort today to promote the
Obama health care plan`s benefits to women. These flyers are samples of
what the DNC will send out to battleground states.

Jennifer Donahue`s a contributor to the HuffingtonPost and a fellow at
the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College. David Corn is an MSNBC
political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

Jennifer, I`ve been thinking about this for 20 years, about -- 30
years, why women tend to be more Democrat than Republican. And it isn`t
just choice, it is all these multitude of concerns. Women tend to be the
most responsible partner in marriages for their parents, the older parents
who are still around.

JENNIFER DONAHUE, EISENHOWER INSTITUTE FELLOW: Sure.

MATTHEWS: ... concerned about their Social Security benefits,
concerned about the fact that they are able to benefit from Medicare and
things like that. They`re much more concerned about the details of
school...

DONAHUE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... who the teachers are...

DONAHUE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... who the classmates are, the details of the quality of
education. The husband in marriages will have some interest. I`m not
saying they`re bums. But the focus -- the person who`s the pilot...

DONAHUE: Is the mom.

MATTHEWS: ... in the airplane -- yes...

DONAHUE: The woman. Absolutely. If Hillary Clinton had delivered
what we just watched her deliver in 2008, she`d probably be president right
now. Advisers told her not to go that route. They told her not to appeal
to women. They told her to be a masculine candidate. And she took that
advice. But that Hillary Clinton that we just watched is the one that
resonates with women. She ceded young women to Obama, and that`s what won
Obama the nomination.

MATTHEWS: And she ceded them in what way?

DONAHUE: She ceded them by not speaking to them, to the heart. That
was Hillary Clinton speaking from her heart. To women, it resonates. And
it speaks to men, too. It speaks to both sides. But it`s what gets those
swing voters to come out and say, You know what? There`s a reason for me
to vote.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... issues like -- I want to broaden this discussion a
little bit beyond the usual gender/sex part of it, which is part of -- a
big part, but it`s not the whole story. Men always say, With any luck, I
won`t need Social Security. They`re right...

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... because they won`t live that long.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... old folks home, it`s overwhelmingly women.

CORN: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: Social Security is for real among women, who live well into
their 80s. They have concerns about Medicare because the older you get --
once you pass 80, everything falls apart. You need Medicare.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: These concerns are vivid.

CORN: Oh, they are, and they`re vivid also for the children of those
people. And the thing about that Hillary speech -- I`ll take a little
issue with you -- is that she didn`t have the opportunity at the time.
She`s playing off this explosion of Republican extremism that we`ve seen
since they`ve come into power.

They came in in January 2011 in the House. Some of the first bills
they put forward were not about jobs, they were about redefining abortion -
- redefining -- redefining rape so you can limit abortion in those cases.
You know, what you`ve seen across the country, state level and at the
federal level...

MATTHEWS: What do you mean, redefining rape?

CORN: They wanted to...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE)

CORN: No, no. Last year...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... statutory or what?

CORN: Yes. Yes. There were all sorts of ways they would redefine it
and make it harder to get it under that exception. And so they`ve tried to
redefine rape.

MATTHEWS: OK...

CORN: They`ve talked about transvaginal, you know, ultrasound...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Ann Romney, who`s got a tough job on
her hands. And here`s a woman who`s running with her husband, trying to
get him elected, trying to battle this perception we`re talking bout. Here
she is in Alabama today, trying to put the focus on -- to women on the
economy issues (INAUDIBLE) cross-gender issue concern here -- pocketbook.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I don`t know if any of you are mad.
I`m mad. I`m mad at government spending. Any women out there mad about
the way our children are going to be inheriting this debt?

That`s what I hear everywhere. These women are talking about the
economy. That`s what I`m loving so much is hearing women talk about the
economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s clear what his wife is doing, that Mitt Romney
the candidate, and they have been running together for years now, could use
a boost among women voters.

And we got the new "Washington Post"/ABC poll showing him essentially
tied with Obama in a head-to-head. We will know -- this poll may be an
outlier. We`re looking at it because it has a different way of sampling.
But among women Romney trails the president by 8 percent.

Even in this poll, which is a little bit of an outlier toward Romney,
women are -- he`s getting killed.

(CROSSTALK)

DONAHUE: He`s getting killed because Santorum is taking the race into
the social issues, into the culture war.

There are still Republicans, conservatives who are angry at Bush 41,
Bush 44 for taking these issues off the table. They want this front and
center. They got overconfident in 2010. Ann Romney is trying to play to
the center for Romney. A lot of people are trying to move it back to the
middle.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, the usual so-called men`s issues of macho
foreign policy, let`s go to war, I have to have my gun, execute everybody
that commits a crime, I haven`t heard much of that, by the way. Nobody
wants to go to war right now that I know of.

CORN: No, no, no.

MATTHEWS: And the gun thing is sort of like where it`s at.

CORN: Well, the gun thing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Sort of the male issues, if you will.

CORN: But look at what happened with the balanced budget fight a year
ago. What did it fall apart on? Mostly, it was Planned Parenthood
defunding. That was the issue.

The Republicans came in and they talked about fiscal responsibility
and about jobs and they ended up making the fight about Planned Parenthood.
They have gone down that road. And then you`re right. Rick Santorum took
them further on contraception and on these other issues.

DONAHUE: Well, and this is going to have such a huge impact because
it`s going to force Romney to pick a running mate if he`s the nominee that
is to the right. And that`s going to really lose him to the gender gap and
Democrats are going to get that gender gap, which is what they have needed
from `92 to 2008 to win.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But having Ann Romney come out and say, hey, I know you care
about the economy too is not good enough.

MATTHEWS: Well, she doesn`t look angry, I don`t think.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: And she doesn`t look like she`s suffering.

DONAHUE: She`s not a convincing surrogate.

MATTHEWS: He`s not angry either. But let`s take a look. They`re
pretty well-off.

CORN: Yes, they`re not that worried.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s fair to say they like things the way they are.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, at a fund-raiser -- generally -- at a fund-raiser I
Houston Friday night this weekend, President Obama pointed out that -- what
he`s done for women, and all Republicans could take away from this fight --
let`s listen to this one. He`s putting the stakes on the table.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Change is the first
bill I signed into law that says women deserve an equal day`s pay for an
equal day`s work.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: You see politicians who are trying to take us back to the days
when this care was more expensive and harder to get for women. And I know
you`re seeing some of that here in Texas. You just remember we can`t let
them get away with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, his accent is changing a bit too.

DONAHUE: Yes, it is, isn`t it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That is interesting. I think that`s a good bragging right.
She left a book here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... to me the other day.

DONAHUE: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. This equal pay is another issue
Democrats are stronger are.

DONAHUE: It`s a huge issue.

I teach young women. I teach women in leadership. They ask how can
there not be a law that there`s equal pay for women? There`s a whole
generation of women who are completely confused about the fact that they
are still 75 cents on the dollar. And that`s what it is. This is 2012.
And I think there are a lot of people who are going to come out and they
will vote and they will be very, very angry.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Jennifer, this is it the toughest line, besides you.
Here`s another tough spokesperson. Here`s conservative columnist Peggy
Noonan on "Meet the Press." This was something.

She said, someone needs to step up and notice there`s a war on women.
This is Peggy Noonan. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEGGY NOONAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER: I think one of the
big problems with discourse in America is the way -- forget left and right
for a second. It`s the way women are being spoken of, women in public
life, women in politics, women in policy questions.

I think somebody has to stop and notice this sounds like a horrible
misogynistic war on women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Rush started it, but it hasn`t ended.

DONAHUE: Rush started it. It`s going to keep on going, because in
part 17 percent of Congress is women. Most of them are Democrats.

There are no Republican women voices who are moderate anymore. That
party is off to the right. On the Democratic side, there`s basically Obama
in charge and nobody is fighting the battle except for what he just said.
Peggy Noonan needs to get out there and so do the rest of women and make
this war stop.

CORN: Well, let`s see them call out the voices on the right that have
said these things. There`s a lot of reluctance to do that. The
interesting thing...

DONAHUE: I don`t think there`s reluctance. Rush Limbaugh got
slapped.

CORN: Well, not by so many Republicans. That`s the issue, not by the
Republicans.

And he is still going to be making $50 million this year. The
interesting thing about...

MATTHEWS: Who`s counting?

(LAUGHTER)

CORN: ... Obama is that they are pivoting on the health care.
Everyone thought the health care was a dog for them and would hurt them in
the reelection. They think they can turn it to their advantage, and by --
beginning by showing the appeal to women in terms of mammograms. You
mentioned health care for elderly, all these issues.

They will turn health care to the advantage by next November.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, if men don`t hear the wakeup call, they`re deaf.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There was a big wakeup call, everybody, us included.

CORN: Male politicians, yes.

DONAHUE: What universal health care allows you to do is be a divorced
or unmarried woman and have health insurance.

MATTHEWS: Jennifer, you have never been stronger on this show.
Should we thank Rush? I really mean it. You have been great.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: This is what I want more on this show every night, OK?

DONAHUE: All right. You got it, buddy.

MATTHEWS: You`re right.

DONAHUE: You got it.

MATTHEWS: And Peggy Noonan, I`m so proud of her this weekend. It`s
tougher to do it on your own side.

DONAHUE: It is.

MATTHEWS: And she was generally talking about Rush, but not
everybody.

Anyway, Peggy, the usual salute to you.

Jennifer Donahue, David Corn.

I notice how you didn`t quite look at her when she was coming at us
there. She was pretty tough there.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You were like shielding your head from her.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean it. It gets personal here.

Up next: Mitt Romney is trying hard to be something he`s not. What
else is new? Like a politician. A Southerner -- he`s trying to be a
southerner. That`s in the "Sideshow." It`s kind of sad.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, reviews from the front lines. This past weekend marked the
premiere of HBO`s "Game Change." And what a movie.

Anyway, Steve Schmidt, former chief strategist to the McCain campaign
and a good friend of HARDBALL, weighed in on what it was like to take it
all in as an audience member. Fascinating stuff. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: For all of us
who were in the campaign, it really rang true. It gave you a little bit of
PTSD at times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brings you back, huh?

SCHMIDT: It really did for me.

There`s a scene in the movie where I`m saying to Senator McCain --
it`s almost verbatim the conversation that happened -- that I would rather
lose by 10 points trying to win than lose by one point and look back and
say, did we do everything we could to win?

And for me, the experience on this campaign is that there are worse
things than losing. I think the notion of Sarah Palin being president of
the United States is something that frightens me, frankly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Stevie boy, as he was called in the movies.

As I said on Friday, that`s a fabulous quote. And, by the way, I`m
reminded throughout that movie -- I saw it three times now -- by Jean-Paul
Sartre -- not to be an intellectual -- he said this: "We do not do what we
want, but yet we are responsible for what we are."

That campaign manager and John McCain became victims of their own
decision.

Next up, to the away game. Mitt Romney is taking hits from all sides
for his attempts at appealing to voters in the South. Need a refresher?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Morning, y`all.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Good to be with you.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some
cheesy grits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Not convinced?

Well, Robert Gibbs, a chief adviser to the Obama reelection campaign
and a native of Alabama, had a warning for Romney on CBS this weekend.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As a Southerner, I
would tell him that kind of stuff doesn`t really go over well in the Deep
South.

I will tell him this. He might not have heard this, but if somebody
says they love the SEC, it`s not the investigative body that looks into
offshore Cayman bank accounts. In fact, it`s the world`s greatest college
football conference. So, I hope he will go with the flow if he`s down
there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s the Southeastern Conference.

Anyway, time has basically run out for Romney to up his game when it
comes to Southernisms.

And, finally, quite the comparison. Earlier, we saw part of Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton`s bold address at the Women in the World
Conference this weekend, but it was Meryl Streep who did the honors of
introducing her. The three-time Oscar winner took the opportunity to, of
all things, compare herself to Clinton. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: I find a lot of similarities.

(LAUGHTER)

STREEP: We both went from public high schools to distinguished
women`s colleges. We both called home collect from the dorm phone freshman
year from those colleges saying I`m not as smart as the other girls here.
I shouldn`t be here.

And we both went on to graduate school at Yale, which is where the two
paths diverged. While I was the cheerleader, she was the president of the
student government.

(LAUGHTER)

STREEP: Where I was the lead in all three musicals, people who know
her tell me she should never be encouraged to sing.

She has turned out to be the voice of her generation. I`m an actress.
And she is the real deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, don`t be too humble, Meryl. You`re both pretty
amazing people.

Anyway, up next, that terrible rampage in Afghanistan and now the
calls to get out of that country, they are getting louder and louder on
both sides of the political aisle. You`re hearing Republicans like
Gingrich saying come home.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow gains 37 points. The S&P is up a fraction, but the Nasdaq is
off by four and change. Yahoo! is reportedly suing Facebook over 10
patents, including technology related to Web advertising. Natural gas
futures slid again to near 10-year lows due to mild temperatures and a
supply glut. But gas prices rose by almost a nickel this past weekend to
$3.80 a gallon, a seasonal high. Prices are up 52 cents so far this year.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Of course, the terrible news out of Afghanistan this weekend was
horrific. Early Sunday, a sergeant in the U.S. Army allegedly slipped off
the base in southern Afghanistan, walked more than a mile, and stalked from
home to home in several Afghan villages, killing at least 16 civilians.
Nine of the dead were children, very young children.

It`s one of the worst atrocities committed so far in the Afghan war,
obviously, and it raised all kinds of questions, not the least of which is
why this soldier did what he did and then what are we doing there. There`s
also the question of whether or not this is a game-changing moment in the
war, when U.S. policy there will be reevaluated. Our mission is set to
conclude, by the way, by the president`s schedule at the end of 2014.
That`s the end of the year after next.

But should the timetable be moved up and what is our presence
accomplishing?

NBC News correspondent Atia Abawi joins us now from Kabul.

Atia, thank you so much for joining us. I have been watching your
reporting.

Can you give us any -- just give us a capsule for those who haven`t
caught up to the story. What happened?

ATIA ABAWI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a tragic incident,
Chris. What happened was yesterday in the early morning hours, a U.S. Army
staff sergeant left his base in Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, went
into nearby villages and the homes of Afghan villagers who were sleeping,
shooting and killing at least 16 people, nine of whom were children.

We have seen the pictures, Chris. I have got to tell you it`s
devastating pictures, toddlers with bullet holes in their foreheads. Many
of the deaths were execution-style. Obviously, NATO has apologized for the
incident. The Afghans are outraged. But more so the Afghans that I have
heard from are really saddened by what happened and they`re trying to
relate to the Afghan villagers who were struck.

And it really does make them angry at the Americans as a whole, rather
than just even at one individual.

MATTHEWS: And let me ask you about how does this add to the earlier
horrific events of the kill team, the people peeing on the bodies of those
Taliban dead, the burning of the Koran? How does it add up?

ABAWI: It`s not going to be good. I can tell you that right now.

The Afghan people are very upset. This has been one incident after
another incident. Although they have been rare, it`s made the media --
made the media here in Afghanistan and throughout the world, for that
matter, when they see this happening from U.S. military service members,
they blame it on Americans. They blame it the American leadership, the
military leadership for not having more control over these service members.

And we have to point out that these are rare occurrences, but they are
occurrences that have happened throughout the years. And through these
years, the Afghan people have seen it occur and they have seen really
people getting away with it. And it`s frustrated them.

And they feel that the Americans and the international community for
that matter don`t respect their culture, their religion, or the Afghan
people at all.

MATTHEWS: So it`s a matter of thinking that the American soldiers in
there risking their lives for that country and for our country don`t
respect the people they are helping?

ABAWI: That`s becoming the case.

I should mention there are still a lot of Afghans within Afghanistan
who respect the international mission here, and they want that mission to
continue in Afghanistan, especially when you talk to the women of
Afghanistan who are fearful of what will happen when the international
community leaves.

But an incident like the one in Kandahar with the killings, and the
killings of innocent men, women, and children, it does make a lot of people
scratch their head and wonder why America is here. But I should also
mention, there are Afghans who may be angry, but they also know that they
need the help of the international community and the Americans. But they
say they need the right kind of help -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s quite a balanced report. Thank you so much,
Atia Abawi, who`s over in Kabul.

Now we`re joined by Michael O`Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution. He`s also co-author of the new book, "Bending History: Barack
Obama`s Foreign Policy."

Thank you so much for joining us, Michael, as always.

How do you keep this balance? How do you keep the need to achieve a
foreign policy objective in the face of this kind of moral setback?

MICHAEL O`HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yes, Chris, it`s such a sad
and tough time to think that question through. But I think what you do is
you come back to first principles.

Now, a lot of Americans doubt -- especially with so many al Qaeda
leaders now dead -- whether we need to be successful in Afghanistan. But
to the extent, you need some level of stability, or want some level of
stability, before you depart. We`ve got about the fastest plan to get us
there. We`ve got an exit strategy.

As you know, President Obama is already pulling out a third of our
forces between -- last couple of months and September. We`ll be down from
100,000 to 68,000 by the end of the summer. We are, as you mentioned,
getting out entirely with our main combat forces by the end of 2014.
Afghan forces are doing more every year.

So, we are executing a plan that has an exit in mind. It has an exit
in view. It`s still a way`s off. The only reason I think to give up on
that strategy is not because there`s anything better that`s come along, but
only if you fundamentally lost heart that it can be in any way successful.

And I think that that kind of a question comes to people today. This
kind of tragic day brings that that question to mind. But there`s been a
substantial amount of progress in the country`s south despite the tragedy
being there, and in Kabul, and in the north and west. And the Afghan army
is much better than it was before.

So it`s a mixed bag, but there is headway and there`s a campaign
plan.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the president today. He was asked about the
incident by a local news affiliate. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened this
weekend is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. I expressed directly to
President Karzai how the American people feel any time innocent civilians,
especially children, are killed. And for it to happen in this kind of
terrible way, I think we all are concerned about it.

But what we don`t want to do is to do it in a way that is just a rush
for the exits. It makes me more determined to make sure we`re getting our
troops home. It`s time. It`s been a decade. And, you know, frankly, now
that we`ve gotten bin Laden and that we weakened al Qaeda, we`re in a
stronger position to transition than we would have been two or three years
ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at a possible game change development
politically. We know the American people weren`t happy about this. We`ve
got majorities were basically getting at, majorities -- in fact, strong
majorities saying we shouldn`t have gotten in.

But here`s Newt Gingrich, a man who has certainly identified with the
American political right with the military right. Here he is saying
something quite surprising, Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it`s very likely
that we have lost -- tragically lost the lives and suffered injuries to a
considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we`re going to
discover is not doable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s my question. Not that it wasn`t a worthy mission,
but its doability in the context of these horrible setbacks morally. We
have the people urinating on the dead Taliban. You have the kill team.
You have the Koran burning. Now we have had this.

Can we still win the minds and hearts as in-country allies of the
government?

O`HANLON: That may be too ambitious, Chris. And I`m not going to
claim we can do that. I would point out the Iraqis, frankly, were much
more angrier with us and we rated much lower among Iraqis back in `07 and
`08 than we do among Afghans, who still in the latest poll I`ve seen put us
up in the 40 percent or 50 percent favorability range. That`s not nearly
what it was in 2001 and 2002 when they loved us.

But, you know, there is a certain amount of common interest as well,
above and beyond whatever affection is still there. And I think the
Afghans know, they`ve got Pakistan into their east -- 180 million people
nuclear-armed, far bigger than they are, and also doing some nasty things
inside their own territory.

They are a little more afraid of being left alone, I think, than the
Iraqis who are fairly self-confident people were afraid of being left alone
when they asked us to leave last year.

MATTHEWS: OK.

O`HANLON: So, I think on balance, we`ll probably find a way to
muddle through this. I`m not saying it`s a great situation, but I think
both sides still need each other.

MATTHEWS: I know it`s interesting how a woman reporter, Atia, who
said that the women are scared of what would happen if we left. I think
it`s fascinating, at least how tough it was with the Taliban were
controlling things.

Michael O`Hanlon, thank you as always, great professional reporter.

Up next, will Britain stand with America when it comes to
Afghanistan, Iran and Syria? We have our ambassador joining us, United
State ambassador to the United Kingdom joining us right here on HARDBALL,
only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Two voter ID laws in two different states were blocked
today. In Wisconsin, a state judge issued a permanent injunction blocking
a new law requiring voters to present identification at polling stations.
Wow. And the Justice Department objected to the new photo ID requirement
in Texas, saying that law would discriminate against Hispanic voters, many
of whom lack state-issued ID cards.

Excuse me. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The terrible events in Afghanistan this weekend are being closely
watched in the U.K., the United Kingdom. And for good reason, the British
have the most troops in that country, Afghanistan, after us.

Well, tomorrow, British Prime Minister David Cameron comes here to
Washington for official visit.

And Louis Susman serves as our ambassador to the court of St. James.
He`s a close personal friend of President Obama`s.

Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. It`s great to have you on. You`re a pal
of mine too, I hope to say.

Let`s talk about this story. The Cameron visit. And we have this
special relationship. We had -- let`s see -- we had Bill Clinton, who was
a close personal friend of Tony Blair, and then Tony Blair become a friend
of W`s, and go way back to Churchill and Roosevelt, a special relationship.

How`s it going to hold now in Afghanistan under the pressure of this
horror that happened there the other day?

LOUIS SUSMAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.K.: I don`t think it`s going to
affect the game plan, the strategy. I think the British government is in
lockstep with ours in terms of the president`s plan, out of Lisbon, where
we`ll have a mid-inflection point in 2013, where we`ll go into a more
supportive role and we`ll be out by 2014 with an enduring presence. I see
no space at all between the British government`s position and the United
States` position.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go the hottest thing we talked about in the phone.
There couldn`t be a hotter issue than nuclear wars, a nuclear war, which
we`ve been lucky enough not to have, haven`t even used a nuclear weapon
since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What about Iran, what about Europe, what
about us?

SUSMAN: Well, again, we`re in lock step with the Brits on this
thing. The president is clear, he`s not going to let them have a nuclear
weapon.

And as he said, this president doesn`t bluff. He doesn`t believe in
a policy of containment. And I think, though, that he strongly believes
that the sanctions have a chance to work, diplomacy has a chance to work.
There`s going to be a meeting next month in Geneva back to the negotiating
table.

But I think it`s clear we are not going to allow Iran to have a
nuclear weapon.

MATTHEWS: Dou you think -- as a political guy, do you think we have
the muscle economically to change the mullahs` minds to convince them not
to go to weaponization? They want nuclear power obviously. Can we talk
them out of weaponization, of building a weapon?

SUSMAN: Tough question, Chris. Tough question. I think the
sanctions are hurting them now. Well, that, in and of itself, change their
policy? It`s a good question.

I think there`s other factors. They`ll be isolated. What Russia and
China will do and how they`ll deal with them. And their own internal
problems, how they`ll play out.

I think that they haven`t made a decision, the supreme leader, to
move forward on it. So we`ll have to wait and see.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the last question of Syria because on
this question, people like Newt Gingrich have been more hawkish. They want
us to go in there like with Libya. Now, maybe a lot of Democrats do too.

What`s the president`s position on Syria? It seems murky.

SUSMAN: Well, no, it`s not.

It`s we hate. We hate the fact that people are being killed.
There`s violence. We want it to stop. President Assad is killing his own
people.

That being said, you`re not in a position to do a no-fly zone.
You`re not in a position to put arms in the hands of people we don`t know
who they are. It`s a country much, much bigger than Libya. They have a
big air force.

It`s a real major problem of how to handle it, and they`re hoping
that, through the United Nations, through the Arab League, through Turkey,
et cetera, that they`ll eventually be in a position to solve the problem.
But it`s a real form of major power, having not the power they want to
have.

MATTHEWS: How about us? How`s our president doing over there in the
world? You have to represent in Europe and everywhere else.

SUSMAN: I`m very lucky. He`s got a 70 percent approval rating in
the United Kingdom. I suggested to him to run over there, instead of over
here.

MATTHEWS: Seventy percent. Thank you, U.S. Ambassador Louis Susman.
Thanks for coming on HARDBALL.

When we -- you`re going to have a big thing with the president on
Wednesday, right?

SUSMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: When we return, a big press conference. When we return,
"Let Me Finish" with the crossroads right now we`re facing in our war in
Afghanistan.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

Horrible things happen in war. Even at its cleanest, it`s good
people killing other good people -- guys fighting for their country against
other guys fighting for their country, and now women too.

I don`t know where we put this latest horror, an American soldier on
his fourth tour in a combat zone, who spent most of a dozen years over
there fighting our wars, gets up one day and heads around door-to-door
killing people, including nine little kids, killing 16 people in cold
blood, and then burning them. Is this war`s My Lai? Is the dread story
that comes up in any war, all wars, when combination of guys at the front
for too long then sent back too many times for too many years all the time
away from home?

Well, these are different kinds of wars. It`s not heading for Berlin
in tanks, island hopping our way to the Japanese home islands, or turning
back invaders like in Korea or in a much messier way in Vietnam. It`s
about trying to keep people who are of a country from coming back to
dominate a country, people of extreme nationalism and zealous religion to
grab back power a decade after we took it from them.

How do you sell the fact that we`re the good guys when things like
this continue to happen? The Koran burnings, before that, the soldiers
peeing on dead Afghans, before that, the kill team. How do you win hearts
and minds with that stuff making the rounds, with each new story adding to
the fire?

Ask yourself: is there a job in the world today that`s easier than
being a Taliban recruiter? Getting people to join up against the Americans
that have been in Afghanistan all these years.

Vice President Biden said a while back, we should get our big force
out of Afghanistan and shift to a policy of anti-terrorism, focusing on al
Qaeda, the group we went into that country to get. It does no good to say
what might have been had we followed that course. It does do good to
consider it now.

The mission of counterinsurgency, which the president chose over that
of anti-terrorism, is still the mission. Is it still doable given the
course of these events? Is our presence in that country helping to turn
the hearts and minds against the Taliban or in the other direction? A good
question to ask -- now more than ever.

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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