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updated 3/26/2012 1:31:56 PM ET 2012-03-26T17:31:56

Guests: Brian Sullivan, Chris Matthews, David Corn, Michelle Bernard,
Chris Cillizza, Joe Williams, Major Garrett, Neera Tanden, Mark McKinnon, Dan
Rather

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: President Obama wants the facts.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off
tonight: The president weighs in. It was inevitable, perhaps, and it
happened today. President Obama was asked about the shooting death of 17-
year-old Trayvon Martin. Mr. Obama said all of us have to do some soul
searching now to figure out how something like this could happen. And then
he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My main message is to
the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he`d look like
Trayvon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, the last time the president was asked about a
racially charged police incident, the moment backfired on him when he
sharply criticized the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer. This
time, I think he got it just right.

Plus, yet another sign that Republicans see a winnable election
slipping away from them. Peggy Noonan told Mitt Romney today in her column
that comes out tomorrow that it`s time to get off the "goofball express,"
as she puts it. "Enough with the cheesy grits, the jeans, the singing,
being compulsively pleasant and calling your opponents lightweights. Act
like a president."

Well, does he have it in him? That`s the question. Or is he, as his
aide confessed the other day, an Etch-a-Sketch himself?

Also, it was two years ago today that President Obama signed the major
historic health care law. Its unpopularity has proven to be resilient,
unfortunately, so has Mitt Romney`s hypocrisy on the issue as continued
today the charade that "Obama care" and "Romney care" aren`t essentially
the same thing.

And you know you can`t wait for it. "Mad Men`s" fifth season begins
Sunday night. We`ll introduce you to some of the real madmen who brought
Madison Avenue to presidential politics back in 1974.

We begin with President Obama weighing in on the Trayvon Martin
shooting. Joe Williams covers the White House for Politico. Michelle
Bernard`s an MSNBC political analyst.

You know, let`s listen to the president. Here`s what we know -- by
the way, let`s start with the facts as we know them. And please correct
me. We`re going to argue some of these facts, perhaps, as we know them.

The official police reports and statements regarding the shooting of
Trayvon Martin -- Sanford police observed Zimmerman with what they
described as a wet back covered in grass, a bloody nose and blood on the
back of his head when they initially respond to the scene of the shooting.

The Sanford city manager, Norton Bonaparte (ph), says Zimmerman claims
in his police statement that he was returning to his truck to meet with
police when he was attacked by -- when he was attacked by Trayvon Martin.

But a 16-year-old girl on the phone with Trayvon Martin immediately
before the shooting claims that Trayvon told her he was being followed by a
strange man, and she heard a man approach Martin to ask what he was doing
here.

And so we have very sketchy, conflicting evidence, if you want to call
it that, Joe, of what actually happened. The president today, however,
raised this to a presidential question. He said he wants to find out what
happened. He also said if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon,
bringing it back to the ethnic fact we`re all familiar with here.

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Well, and that was why the statement was so
perfect, something for him to say and elevate the conversation, not drag it
down with politics but not deliver pathos, either. It was something that
showed a relatable moment.

He knows -- he is telegraphing that he understands what`s going on and
how the parents might feel about this. So I think it was a very important
statement for him to make. It quells a lot of critics and keeps the...

MATTHEWS: Quells a lot of critics?

WILLIAMS: Quells some of the critics. A lot of people in -- from --
from...

MATTHEWS: People...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: People who were saying...

MATTHEWS: Describe the criticism.

WILLIAMS: The criticism was that Obama needs to say something. We
have the first black president here. We have a -- what appears to be a
clear-cut case of racial bias, or at least racial overtones in this case...

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to hear some of them in a moment.

WILLIAMS: ... the president -- yes, absolutely. The president needs
to say something about this. Commander-in-chief, he knows the experience.
This is a moment for him to step in and advocate for the African-American
community.

MATTHEWS: I think another thing that`s relevant here is that his
attorney general and close friend, Eric Holder, who also happens to be
African-American, is out there investigating, perhaps on the road to some
kind of hate crime prosecution.

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, and the
attorney general -- the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights
Division is Hispanic -- one of the most important things that we see, not
just in addition to the Justice Department actually taking a look at this.

When the president spoke today, he also let us understand when he said
that, This is what my son would look like -- what we`re -- what we know is
that we`re -- it`s not -- it`s powerful for many reasons, most importantly,
this is not some kid from the hood who might have been acting out, where
people might necessarily say, Well, you know, he was engaging in criminal
activity.

This is a young man. He`s well educated. He comes from a middle
class family. Mother and father love him. He was armed with nothing but a
bag of Skittles and iced tea. And some lunatic looks at him and says,
Here`s a black man in the neighborhood and I`m going to shoot him.

Maybe, maybe not. We don`t know exactly what happened, but we know
that racial bias was involved...

MATTHEWS: We know he was shot...

BERNARD: ... and we know he was shot...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... shot by that guy.

BERNARD: We know he was shot by that guy, and we know he`s dead. And
the president said, This could be any black man in America.

MATTHEWS: I thought it was wonderfully said. I mean, I`m white,
obviously, and I just thought it was a statement about our country that was
well done. And it was done with political deliberation, which is the way
he has to always speak. He has to almost speak like a pope. He has to get
it right the first time. Your thoughts.

WILLIAMS: Well, and that`s part of the problem. It`s a -- it`s a
blessing and a curse for the White House. The curse is that when you have
situations like these that come up, many eyes in the African-American
community turn towards the White House because we`ve never been here
before. One of these presidents is not like the other.

Therefore, looking to him to make a statement either one way or the
other puts a lot of pressure that none of his predecessors or very few of
his predecessors have, with the possible exception of Kennedy back in the
`60s when Martin Luther King ended up in jail and he called the family.

BERNARD: Well, his tone was perfect.

MATTHEWS: That`s a good impulse there. And that was an impulse.
This was really presidential behavior.

Anyway, let`s listen to the president now from today in his first
comments came today on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You
know, if I had a son, he`d look like Trayvon. And you know, I think they
are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with
the seriousness it deserves and that we`re going to get to the bottom of
exactly what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, finding out what happened is probably the first --
maybe I`m different than a lot of other commentators. I want to find out
what happened. I mean, you have to find out in court, ultimately, but
formally -- but what happened in this terrible case?

The guy is armed. He knows he has this "stand in -- stand in -- stand
your ground" law on his side. He`s acting like some kind of pseudo-
policeman. He has no authority whatever. And yet he`s on some kind of
neighborhood watch thing. It is a toxic mix, and he seems to have a point
of view that`s clear that this guy is a criminal.

WILLIAMS: Well, he was a suspect even before anything started...

MATTHEWS: Right.

WILLIAMS: ... because we have evidence, or at least there are tapes
purporting to show that Zimmerman repeatedly had called into question a
black man walking...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WILLIAMS: ... back and forth through his neighborhood.

MATTHEWS: Now let`s listen to something that I think is serious
business. Here is a tape, which we here have boosted the sound so you can
hear something that this guy, Zimmerman, says under his breath.

It sounds to me on listening to it a couple times like the "F" word,
which we don`t speak on television, and another word which is clearly
recognizable to anyone watching right now as a racial slur. Let`s listen
to the tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: OK, which entrance is that that he`s heading towards?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: The back entrance. (INAUDIBLE)

911 OPERATOR: Are you following him?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

911 OPERATOR: OK, we don`t need you to do that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we cut it off there. I don`t know why we cut it off
there.

BERNARD: Yes, I have listened to the enhanced version of the tape.
For whatever reason, it was cut off here. But if you...

MATTHEWS: No, it was apparently...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: It was the initial part where he`s whispering under his
breath. Obviously, it sounds like he`s moving -- "F-ing"...

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

BERNARD: I`m going to say it. I don`t think we should hide it. The
American public needs to know. If you listen to that tape, he says "F-ing
coon" under his breath. That is the...

MATTHEWS: Yes...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: It is unmistakable. It is undenial -- if you -- undeniable,
if you listen to the unenhanced version. That in and of itself makes it a
hate crime. That`s why the Justice Department is involved. It`s why the
FBI is going to have to investigate this case.

And if state authorities do not prosecute and properly investigate
this, we will see a prosecution, I believe, under the federal hate crime
legislation because what we have seen is that this killing appears to be...

MATTHEWS: If you`re the attorney here...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: ... racially motivated.

MATTHEWS: If you are in court and you`re a -- and you`re a prosecutor
and/or a member of a jury or a defense attorney, you will have to contend
with this boosted sound of he said on that 911...

BERNARD: The prosecution is going to have to contend with it. But
this is how they build their case. One, this -- Mr. Zimmerman has a
history of making a lot of phone calls to the police whenever he sees black
men in his neighborhood.

Number two, you can hear it very clearly on the tape, the police ask
him, Are you following this person? And he says yes. They say, We don`t
need you to do this. He keeps doing it. Then you add in what sounds like
him saying "F-ing coon."

MATTHEWS: No, I heard it. And it`s not just...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anybody watching this show, if they were sitting in my
office a few minutes ago, listening...

BERNARD: Would have heard it.

MATTHEWS: ... would have heard it. It`s -- let`s do it again. It`s
the "F-ing" word followed by a word we all recognize, unfortunately, as
racially evil, really. Go ahead.

BERNARD: It is evil!

MATTHEWS: Let`s listen. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: OK, which entrance is that that he`s heading towards?

ZIMMERMAN: The back entrance. (INAUDIBLE)

911 OPERATOR: Are you following him?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

911 OPERATOR: OK, we don`t need you to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You hear it. He says "F-ing coon." They said, We don`t
need you to -- we don`t need you to do that. He continues to follow him.
And you put all that together along with Trayvon speaking with his
girlfriend, and she`s saying, Run from him...

MATTHEWS: Right.

BERNARD: ... you have motive, and it`s clearly based on racial bias.

MATTHEWS: Well, this is going to be -- this is going to be one tricky
trial if this guy is prosecuted. And it could be murder one, two, three,
whatever. There`s all kinds of possibilities here. But now we`ve got two
levels here, Joe, of the reporting we have to do here. One is, as we said,
the Justice Department is moving on this case as what looks to be a case of
a hate crime. Looks to be, or sounds to be. Clearly.

And then you have the second issue. They`ve got a grand jury down
there. So locally -- the president, by the way, covered all the bases
today. He said local, state, federal, we have to all get into action and
do the right thing here.

WILLIAMS: Well, and to that last point, actions speak louder than
words in this particular case. The Justice Department was sent down a few
days ago, in addition to a community activism team, to try to get things
going and make sure that they do the right thing in Florida.

The problem, however -- going back to your initial point -- is that
we`ve got a law here, the "stand your ground" law, that is being replicated
all across the country.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: As far as we know, that was one of the trigger points of
this particular shooting. You mentioned that the shooter apparently felt
like he had the law on his side. That`s a really powerful thing,
especially when you consider the extended history we`ve had of profiling,
of stopping people in wrong neighborhoods...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: ... in this country. I mean, it happened to me -- it
happened to my dad in the `50s, happened to me in the `80s and the `90s.
Now it`s happening again. And now we have the added mix of what sounds
like permissible violence in order to...

BERNARD: Can I just...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: Can I just ask one really important question? When we talk
about this "stand your ground" law...

MATTHEWS: By the way, this law`s been used by criminals, as well.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: People who are normal criminals, who normally as a part of
their life commit crimes, have used this as a defense when they kill
somebody.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, that`s why it`s a flawed piece
of legislation.

BERNARD: Well, but also, but I think the important -- an important
point to make is, regardless of the fact that this guy felt protected by
the law, I can`t imagine any black man in the United States of America who
believes that if he were to stand his ground under this law and be the
shooter...

WILLIAMS: That he wouldn`t be prosecuted.

BERNARD: ... and the victim was white, he would not be prosecuted.
He would have been arrested...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: ... he would be in jail and he would be awaiting trial.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

BERNARD: Absolutely. That law does not cover...

MATTHEWS: Unfortunately, that`s the history.

BERNARD: ... cover blacks.

MATTHEWS: ... the history.

BERNARD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. (INAUDIBLE) I can have a happy weekend, but
it`s going to be a disturbing weekend for a lot of people. Michelle
Bernard, as always.

Coming up: Mitt Romney can`t shake his aide`s Etch-a-Sketch admission.
I`m calling it an admission, not a gaffe. And now Peggy Noonan has this
advice for Romney, "Get off the goofball express." I think he`s got bigger
problems than being goofy. I don`t think he`s goofy, I think he`s going to
a problem of believing anything he says he says he does. Anyway, Romney`s
continuing problems coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Tomorrow, Republican voters go to the polls in Louisiana.
Let`s check where the race stands right now on the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Here it is, according to a new PPP poll. Rick Santorum has a 14-point
lead over Mitt Romney down there, 42 to 28, with Gingrich down at 18.
Polls close tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central. And we`ll have
complete coverage, of course, of the results tomorrow night right here on
MSNBC.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. This week has been the best of times and
the worst of times for Mitt Romney. He did capture a decisive win in
Illinois and sits even closer to clinching the Republican nomination right
now, but he just can`t shake what his aide said this week about him being
an Etch-a-Sketch type.

Anyway, today comes this column from conservative Peggy Noonan in "The
Wall Street Journal." Quote, "For Mr. Romney in particular, suit (sic) up
and get serious now that everyone knows you`ll be the nominee. Get off the
goofball express. Cheesy grits, jeans, singing, being compulsively
pleasant, calling your opponents lightweights -- enough use -- enough. Use
the next few" weeks -- next months, in fact, "to get back to basics. Why
do you want to be president again? Is the answer, quote, Because I`m a
great fellow and it`s the top job? Dig down deep for a better reason."

What do you make of this? It seems every time he gets over strength
strengths, he has another problem.

Well, that`s pretty sound stuff. How does Mitt Romney wrap up this
race? Major Garrett`s the White House correspondent for "National Journal"
and Chris Cillizza is managing editor of Postpolitics.com on MSNBC -- he`s
an MSNBC analyst, as well.

Well, what do you make of this? It`s a -- every time he gets
something won, he has a problem. It`s not just goofball, by the way. It`s
worse.

MAJOR GARRETT, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Well, look, Peggy Noonan`s
criticism is -- is odd in one respect, because it says that Newt -- that
Mitt Romney is constantly falling down by answering reporters` questions.
You talk to the traveling press corps with the Romney campaign, that would
be a shock to them.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: ... notorious for not doing press avails, or when he does,
limiting to one or two questions. But the larger issue for Peggy Noonan an
for a lot of conservatives who now look at the race as essentially settled,
though not numerically settled and not by calendar settled, is can Romney
elevate his mission and elevate the party along with him? And I think he
took a step in that direction Tuesday night. I though that was the best
acceptance speech he`s given...

MATTHEWS: But suppose...

GARRETT: ... during the campaign.

MATTHEWS: In answer to Peggy, the real reason he wants to be
president is, I think I`m pretty good and this is the best job you can get
in this country, so I should be there.

GARRETT: If you talk to Romney advisers, what they will say is he
wants to be president because he believes he`s uniquely qualified for these
times. He ought to say that more often, that, I have a skill set and a
belief system that fits these times.

MATTHEWS: In other words, I`m not general -- generally Superman. I`m
not the greatest guy that ever lived. But in this time, where we have a
screwed-up economy, I can fix it.

GARRETT: Right.

MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, would that work, if he narrowed down his
claim to the fact, I`m Mr. Fix-it, I can fix it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POSTPOLITICS.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let
me first say, Chris, all the things you pointed out, cheesy grits, and you
know, all of his...

MATTHEWS: Peggy did that.

CILLIZZA: Peggy pointed them out. It`s because he`s trying to be --
this is the 2008 Mitt Romney, trying to be everything to everyone. He`s a
social conservative. He`s a businessman. He`s a moderate. He`s tonally -
- this campaign, to his credit, most of the time, they`ve stayed the
businessman route.

I think the further he gets afield from that, the worse he does. But
yes, I do think Major is right about this. If you look at exit polling,
Chris, one fascinating thing comes up. His -- Romney`s biggest advantage
over Santorum across all the demographic groups, experience, has the right
experience to be president. He wins it overwhelmingly.

In Illinois, Romney won a huge share of it. Newt Gingrich came in
second, Ron Paul came in third and Rick Santorum came in fourth among
voters who value experience.

So if he wants to close it out, I think that he very narrowly focuses,
This is my background, this is why I`m uniquely skilled to make this case,
and not just in the primary but in the general election, too.

MATTHEWS: It could be he`s not willing to take a chance on the one
reason he could be president, which is the economy takes a second dip at
the end of this spring, at the end of this fall, when they go in to vote
and people say, Wait a minute, we do need a Mr. Fix-it. Is he willing to
put all his bets on the fact that the voters will feel most of all not need
to continue this president but a need to try somebody who knows business?

Anyway, yesterday, on Hugh Hewitt`s radio show, Romney tried to
downplay the damage from that Etch-a-Sketch remark made the morning after
his big Illinois win. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What about that, the campaign
stepping on its own story, Governor?

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, this
timing was not ideal, of course, but you never can -- you never can
estimate that every word that comes out of your mouth is going to
absolutely the way you wanted to describe it.

Rick Santorum said the other day that he doesn`t care about high
unemployment. Really? Is that what he meant to say?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s not a good comparison because the aide was saying
exactly what he meant to say. This guy can reset and deny everything he
said in the primaries and adjust for the general, right?

GARRETT: On an issues basis. Remember, the question was not about
strategy, the question was not about financing or the overall metrics or
mechanics of a general election.

What about the issues you staked out here and now, will they hurt you
in the fall? Reset, Etch A Sketch, shake it up, start again, all of that
fits in that context.

But one thing going back to the Mr. Fix-it idea for Romney, he has
vulnerabilities on that, because Democrats will say, well, all of your vast
experience led you to say Detroit ought to go bankrupt.

If you had made that call and been in position with al your unique
skills, maybe you would have gotten that wrong. And put together health
care in Massachusetts. That was your fix then. What about now? Why do
you think that is a bad idea?

Even if Romney goes down this direction, and says I have all these
kills, my instincts are right for these times, there will be areas where he
will be vulnerable.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Rick Santorum in San Antonio yesterday said if the party were going to
nominate Romney to take on the president, you might as well keep President
Obama in office. Let`s listen to this nail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You win by giving people
the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who
is just going to be a little different than the person in there.

If they`re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with
what we have, instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch
candidate for the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Can you imagine him saying that down in Tampa this August,
might as stay with what we got in a Republican convention?

Here is Romney, Chris, responding to Hugh Hewitt`s radio show. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Desperate polls call for desperate pols. I know that there
are a lot of people across the country that are saying we need to
consolidate behind the guy who has now weathered -- I think there are 38
different contests we`ve had, if you include all the little islands as
well.

I`m sure that the Senator`s hearing from some of those people saying,
hey, let`s get going, let`s move on and get our nominee ready to go against
President Obama. And perhaps he`s striking out with some frustration from
those kinds of questions.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Here`s a guy that just won big in Puerto Rico and he refers
to it as one of those little islands.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s unbelievable.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: He`s won 80 percent of delegates in the islands.

One thing I would say, Chris, I actually do agree to a certain extent
with Romney, actually, in that -- with Romney actually in this response to
Santorum.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Because I do think some of stuff that is coming out of
Gingrich`s mouth lately is even for Gingrich kind of eyebrow-raising.

Some of the Santorum, too, I think what they`re doing is they see the
math. They see that barring some cataclysmic event, Romney is going to be
the nominee. They`re throwing stuff at the wall to see if anything sticks.
I think this is how primaries tend to end. I think back. Hillary Clinton
on June 6, remember the whole thing, we were talking about the RFK
assassination? This is how these things do tend to end.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re on a tangent here, so tell me this. And I didn`t
think we would go this way. Why would a guy or woman like Hillary Clinton
knowing they`re probably going to lose, in fact, they`re clearing going to
lose, start trashing the person they`re going to have to endorse in the end
of the summer? Tell me how that works.

CILLIZZA: Because you have spent lots and lots of time, months and
even years in some cases, of your life running against this person, getting
up every morning, trying to make the argument why you`re better.

Part of it is just that, that dynamic, it is hard to give up, and the
other thing is you`re tired. You`re worn down. You have spent months and
months of your life on something that will come up short, and that`s hard
to deal with.

MATTHEWS: Here`s Rick Santorum today. He tried to clean up his
remarks from yesterday. You respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: When I said the other day that we need a real choice in
this election, I`m for defeating Barack Obama. And I`m going to support
whoever wins the Republican primary to beat Barack Obama. That`s the
number one issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So he`s going to support the winner, come hell or high
water, even though he thinks he`s a jerk.

GARRETT: First of all, the first comment was a choice, not an echo.
That`s a very similar Barry Goldwater line from 1964.

That`s what conservative have always said. If you believe Romney is
going to win, but you`re not sure he will be effective and beat President
Obama, then your backtracking statement is he didn`t because he wasn`t
conservative enough. And I was and I may be thinking about 2016.

I do think, for the conservative critics, there is a strategic
indictment against Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Ah. So you have answered the question I put to Chris.

He`s trashing him now because he thinks Romney will lose and he will
pick up the pieces in 2016. So it`s going to be Santorum against Hillary
Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That would be a fairly easy vote.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: ... say as walk off the stage. Hey, I wasn`t good enough
for you.

MATTHEWS: That`s an election without undecideds.

Anyway, thank you, Major Garrett and thank you, Chris Cillizza.

And have a good weekend.

Up next, word association. What`s the one word people associate with
all four presidential candidates? With it until you hear how they react.
Stick around. One word to describe Romney, Newt, Rick, and Dr. Paul.

We will be right back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and now for the "Sideshow."

First up, what, no Etch A Sketch? When Mitt Romney`s adviser compared
his candidate`s shift from the primaries to the general election to an Etch
A Sketch, the 1960s toy soon became a must-have prop for Santorum and
Gingrich.

But Ron Paul? Not so much. His campaign came out with this new ad on
the topic. It sounds like more of a bromance continuing between him and
Romney. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It`s almost like an
Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an Etch A Sketch.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An Etch A Sketch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is my Etch A Sketch app?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have an Etch A Sketch?

SANTORUM: We`re talking about big things here, folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: See, it mainly goes after Gingrich and Santorum. Going
after Romney? Not here. The Paul campaign has released ads that go after
every other candidate, but never Mitt Romney.

Next up, money talks, but the heated debate on employer-covered birth
control sparking a heated debate in recent months. A lot of Democrats say
Republican lawmakers have waged something of a war on women.

Well, Richard Hanna was the sole Republican congressman at a rally for
the equal rights amendment here in Washington yesterday, and he had quite a
message for the women in the crowd. Wait until your hear it.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICHARD HANNA (R), NEW YORK: Contribute money to people who can
speak out on your behalf because the other side, my side, has a lot of it.

You need to send your own message. This is a dogfight, it`s a fist-
fight and you have all the cards. I can only tell you to get out there and
use them. Make it matter. Get out there, get on TV, advertise. Talk
about this. The fact that you want it is evidence that you deserve it and
that you need it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did you catch that? He seems to be saying donate your
money to the other side, as in the Democrats. He`s going to take heat from
his party for that one, but as Hanna is a pro-choice advocate anyway, this
may not be the first time he took heat from his own crowd.

Finally, you know the game where somebody says a word or a phrase and
you have to say the first word that comes into your mind when you hear it?
It`s called word association. Right? Well, those were the rules behind a
new "Washington Post"/Pew poll.

The prompts? Simply the names of the four GOP candidates running for
president. Let`s take a look at the top two words for each of them. Mitt
Romney, no and rich. Rick Santorum, conservative and no. Newt Gingrich,
old and no. And Ron Paul, no and old.

So there`s a pattern there, I suppose. More people had negative words
than positive for all the candidates, with Newt Gingrich taking the lead
for the highest number of negative word choices.

But next: Two years ago today, President Obama signed the health care
bill into law, and next week it will be argued before the Supreme Court.
But the only thing more predictable than Republicans` opposition to it is
Mitt Romney`s hypocrisy to it. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SULLIVAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Brian Sullivan with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow sketched out a 34-point gain to end the week. The S&P was up
four and the Nasdaq up the same. Things did not go as planned for the
trading debut of BATS Global Markets. The stock exchange operator was
forced to pull its own IPO after a slew of blunders, including a series of
trades. It valued its own stock below a penny. Meantime, new home sales
fell for a second straight month, dropping 1.6 percent in February. The
good news, though, prices did rise. They`re at an eight-month high.

And that is it from CNBC, first in businesses worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

All eyes will be on the Supreme Court next week starting on Monday
when the justices take up one of the most politically significant cases in
decades determining whether President Obama`s 2010 health care law is
constitutional.

The White House is making a concerted effort to win over a public that
is still somewhat skeptical of the law. Here is a part of the new Web
video defending the president`s signature piece of legislation. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After a century of
striving, after a year of debate, and after an historic vote, health care
reform is no longer an unmet promise. It is the law of the land. It is
the law of the land.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We`re going to have millions of people with health care
coverage that wouldn`t otherwise have it. It can`t be dropped when you get
sick and you need insurance most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the president is defending his law both in the
Supreme Court and, of course, in the court of public opinion.

Mitt Romney has stepped up his criticism of it, and that`s in spite of
the fact that his own Massachusetts law served as the model, the
inspiration, if you will, for the federal one and included the centerpiece,
the individual mandate.

How will he thread that needle in the general election?

Neera Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress. She
served as an adviser to the White House on the health care law. And David
Corn is bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and author of -- he`s also an MSNBC
political analyst. His brand-new book, a stunner, "Showdown: The Inside
Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party."

It`s a great weekend thing to go out and get at the bookstore right
now. David is not only a good friend of mine, but he`s also one hell of a
political reporter.

I think if you read books like this, you really get juiced up for this
campaign, won`t they?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: God, I want you to be the pitch
man for the book. That`s great. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I`m that kind of guy.

Let me talk to you about this thing. They`re all out there.
Krauthammer is out there shooting at this thing. Everybody is out against
it right now. What effect is this going to have on Romney, who is
basically the pioneer of the individual mandate?

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I think, you know,
the general election around this will be pretty muted if Mitt Romney is the
nominee because...

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s make the grand assumption that he is the nominee
moving forward. I don`t why you`re still playing with this, but go ahead.
He`s the nominee. Make the case.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Make a case.

TANDEN: Look, I think the challenge for Mitt Romney is that he`s the
chief architect of the legislation, as you point out. He`s been the chief
supporter of the individual mandate.

MATTHEWS: Well, how does he skunk it now?

TANDEN: I think he thinks people will forget.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Your crowd ain`t going to let him forget, American
Progress.

TANDEN: No. And I think that`s why he doesn`t really talk about
health care generally. He did it today because it`s the anniversary, he
has to throw some meat. But he does not talk about this and he won`t be
able to.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Romney here. Here`s Mitt Romney.
Today, Romney did. He penned an op-ed for "USA Today" arguing President
Obama`s program is -- quote -- "a dramatic new federal intrusion into our
lives."

He expanded on this criticism this morning in a speech. Let`s listen
to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would like -- instead of
having the government come in and mandate price and cost controls, I would
like to have individuals have a greater incentive to shop around and to
make this act more like a market.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Obamacare, in my opinion, is simply the wrong direction.
Obamacare substitutes government intrusiveness for the dynamics of
individual responsibility, for individuals being able to pursue different
options and for the dynamics of a free market.

I believe in the marketplace. I believe in consumers pursuing their
own dreams. I believe in individuals being able to make their own choices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How does a guy like that deal -- let`s take it from the
progressive side. You`re on the progressive side.

How does he defend the fact that we have 40 to 50 million people
without health insurance, and if we get rid of what he calls Obamacare and
the president now does, we will be back to that square one? How does he
defend the status quo in this country?

TANDEN: Well, look, the Mitt Romney of seven years ago looked at the
challenge of health care in Massachusetts, lack of coverage, and said I`m
going to have a solution. I`m going to have a mandate. I`m going to have
the president put forward, essentially.

And recognized that you needed the mandate to do that. He saw that
problem. He was a governor who actually led the nation on this. And it
wasn`t just that 12 years ago he did that or seven years ago he did that.
Just a few years ago, he was defending the mandate and actually arguing
that the mandate and the Massachusetts plan should be the model for the
nation.

That`s why I think the challenge for him is the past Mitt Romney cared
about the situation and cared about solving it, and the Romney of today
would like to use rhetoric to hide the fact that he is especially, he is
the chief architect, that we took it from him.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: You what this reminds me of?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: You`re speaking on the record.

TANDEN: Yes, I am. We took it from him.

MATTHEWS: Take it from you.

CORN: This reminds me of that Al Sharpton commercial. He has pie
all over his head.

MATTHEWS: Blueberry pie.

CORN: It`s like I hate pie. I really hate pie. But no --

MATTHEWS: OK. Flip it over. You`re a progressive. You flip it
over to the right wing side. They`re down in Tampa. They`re cheering like
men when he says I can`t this Obamacare and they`re all thinking he
created.

TANDEN: Yes.

CORN: But you know what? I have to say this. It`s the only play
he has. And if a conservative voter is going to have a choice who embraces
Obamacare, as Obama does even calling it that now, and somebody who used to
embrace it but now says he`s going to support repeal and you may have --

MATTHEWS: What is the guy, Whitaker Chambers? He said, I used to be
a communist but I`m not anymore. Look, all this (INAUDIBLE) don`t work.
But that`s fine.

Here`s Republicans that have lined up against the individual mandate,
as we know. But Romney will have a hard time debating Obama on that
topic. His plan in Massachusetts obviously included that individual
mandate. In 2008, Romney admitted the very thing. He said he liked the
mandates. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Romney, those mandates in Massachusetts,
although you backed away from mandates in national basis --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, no. I like mandates.
The mandates work.

FRED THOMPSON (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I beg your pardon?
I didn`t know you were going to admit that. You might mandate.

ROMNEY: Let me tell you what kind of mandates I live, Fred, which is
this --

THOMPSON: The one you come up with it.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Here`s my view. If somebody can afford insurance and
decides not to buy it and then they get sick, they ought to pay their own
way as opposed to expect the government to pay their way. That`s an
American principle -- that`s a principle of personal responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He makes a better case for your program than you guys did,
the president does. He said it`s individual responsibility, we don`t want
anymore free loaders out there heading into emergency rooms, getting picked
up on highways or at heart attacks, who don`t pay a nickel towards their
health and then they walk in and get it free. And he says, no, they ought
to be responsible and self-reliant. It`s an argument.

TANDEN: You know, the mandate is a Republican idea. The Heritage
Foundation is the one that came up with it.

MATTHEWS: You don`t want to sell it like Republicans.

TANDEN: No. A dozen Republican senators have supported the mandate
in one form or another.

CORN: It was a response to the idea that they`re pushing forward on
the left, which was single payer.

MATTHEWS: I want to give -- I want to give you a real hard argument
in your favor. And I heard the president in a briefing, when he`s in an
off-the-record briefings make the same case. So, now, we get it on the
record. One reason why health care is not selling, the Obama program is
not sold to the public in big numbers -- it`s about 50-50 -- is this:
opponents, critics of the law dumped $204 million out there, thrashing it.
Look at that number, and all supporters were able to pull together was
about $60 million, something less than $60 million.

So, all the cacophony is all about the negatives. And that`s what`s
been a problem.

TANDEN: And it`s not only that. I mean, let`s remember what they
were saying. Death panels, Krauthammer today has lies about the cost. You
know, I think we have real challenges here when on one side you can
demagogue it very easily and the other, you have to call (INAUDIBLE) to
explain. That`s a great book.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Please come back on the show. You`re a great guest. You
know what you`re talking, I like when you say we took it from him. I love
that historically.

This book is available. Can somebody show this? Now, he`s my
friend. This guy is one of the best about politics. David was on my side
of every great issue of our time.

And this is the book to buy and it`s not expensive.

Anyway, up next, the fifth season of TV`s "Mad Men" -- there`s a show
we all love -- comes back Sunday night. Two hours of it Sunday night.

When we return, we`re going to meet some of the real madmen who
brought Madison Avenue to presidential politics back when this show was on
actually in the `60s when it`s describing that era. This is HARDBALL, only
on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Abraham Lincoln, move over. The 16th president has now
been surpassed in favorability according to a new polling by PPP. Drew
Brees, the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, scored the highest
favorability number ever recorded by the polling firm, 94 percent, and
Lincoln was the previous holder by 91 percent. He`s beat him by three
points.

One caveat here and a good one -- Lincoln`s 91 percent was in a
national poll while Brees` 94 percent was just in Louisiana.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MATTHEWS: Oh, God. Roger back. I love that show.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After 17 months, "Mad Men" return Sunday night with a two-hour
program with Don Draper back in action.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MATTHEWS: Wow, and there`s a political angle, too, to the "Mad
Men`s" return. The actual mad men of their day, the team of Doyle Dane
Bernbach bridged the divide between Madison Avenue and Washington to create
an ad campaign for Lyndon Johnson`s 1964 election campaign. The new ads
raised the bar for political advertising and started a new era in which it
became commonplace for candidates to be marketed like soap.

Mark McKinnon is vice chair of Hill & Knowlton Strategies and was
advertising director for Bush`s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.

Dan Rather is anchor, never been in the ad business, managing editor
of "Dan Rather Reports" on HDNet.

So, let`s start with a critic perhaps, let`s start with Mark
McKinnon.

The history of this, let`s take a look for this 1964 ad, the DDB team
makes the case for Lyndon Johnson by pointing out all the moderate
Republicans who had criticized Barry Goldwater, Republican nominee, at the
convention. We picked up the ad with a familiar name. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Governor Romney, in June, he said Goldwater`s nomination
would lead to the, quote, "suicidal destruction of the Republican Party."
So even if you are a Republican with serious doubts about Barry Goldwater,
you`re in good company.

Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high
for you to stay home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Boy, that was gothic. That was so direct. There are
something wrong with Goldwater, Mark. It didn`t have to say too much about
it because everybody sort of knew there was something wrong with Goldwater.

MARK MCKINNON, VP OF HILL & KNOWLTON: Yes, they even had a study
where they had about 2,000 psychiatrists polled and they came out, you
know, 1,500 or 1,300 psychiatrists said that Goldwater is not fit. You
know, whenever anybody asked me about negative campaigns as some sort of
recent novelty, I said go back to 1964 and check out the Johnson campaign
and the "Daisy" ad.

MATTHEWS: So, they didn`t even examine Goldwater. They just got a
bunch of liberal psychiatrists to thrash the guy and everybody said, yes,
that`s probably true if that many thought it.

Dan Rather, your memories perhaps of the -- I know you`re reporting
nationally already by then. Your memories this -- well, rather dramatic
kind of campaign, and gothic I`m calling it, where it`s just really about
that guy is no good for the job.

DAN RATHER, ANCHOR, "DAN RATHER REPORTS": Right. Well, first of
all, Chris, not all that well-known, it was President Kennedy and his staff
looking forward to the 1964 election that in the summer of 1963 said,
listen, we need to get a marriage with Wall Street, and it was they have
came into the decision of bringing in Doyle Dane and Bernbach, the mad men,
if you will, the original marriage of Wall Street -- of Madison Avenue with
the White House.

Number two, when Johnson came in after Kennedy`s assassination, his
staff, including Bill Moyers and Jack Valenti said, yes, let`s take it on,
that President Kennedy was right.

President Kennedy was attracted to this advertising agency, it is
said, because of their very effective campaign for Volkswagen. So, the
Johnson people picked it up. What they wanted to do was they wanted to
demonize Goldwater as quickly as they could. It was the scare campaign.
That`s what the "Daisy" ad which only ran once in prime time television.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to get to that one.

RATHER: But it turned out to be a great multiplier because every
newscast in the country picked it up, local and national. It was on the
cover of "Time" magazine. And we learned a lot from that campaign, modern
campaigners have taken it.

It was in many ways, Chris, among the most negative campaigns ever,
perhaps the most negative, because what you had in this ad with the little
girl was a combination of daisy petals and a mushroom cloud.

And basically the question being asked is: whom do you want in the
White House making decisions on nuclear power? This was the Johnson them.
Do you want Lyndon Johnson, or do you want, quote, "trigger happy" Barry
Goldwater?

The Democrats followed up with campaign`s bumper stickers and
everything else. You remember the Goldwater basic campaign slogan was "In
your heart, you know he`s right." Well, the Democrats took that and said,
you know, "In your heart, you know he might." He might, what?

MATTHEWS: Ha!

RATHER: He might pull the trigger on the nuclear device.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at the "Daisy" ad. It`s only played once for
advertising, what has been played, as you pointed out, at the time by the
news networks news programs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine, eight, seven, sixth, five, four, three,
two, one -- zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the stakes. To make a world in which
all of God`s children live, or to go into the dark. We must either love
each other, or we must die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And that played on NBC`s Monday night at the movies. It
only had to play once. And what an impact.

We`ll be right back with Mark McKinnon and Dan Rather to talk about
the real mad men, the ones who came to politics.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with Mark McKinnon, of course, and Dan Rather.

"Mad Men," as I said, returns this Sunday. And we`re talking about
the real mad men who brought Madison Avenue to politics back 1964, making
the point that voters need a president who will protect them in an
uncertain world. The DDB ad makers back then used the ringing hotline
phone to add urgency.

Let`s listen to the 1964 political advertising.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: This particular phone only rings in a serious crisis. Is
it in the hands of a man who`s proven himself responsible?

Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That urgent phone call imagery first used in 1964,
reappeared as we all remember in 2008. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: It`s 3:00 a.m. and your children are asleep, who do you
want answering the phone?

HILLARY CLINTON (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m Hillary
Clinton and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Quickly, Mark, and then, Dan, what`s so hot about 3:00 in
the morning? Why do these ads all talk about how terror, it`s about
dreaming and everything and nightmares?\

RATHER: Well, it`s playing to emotion. Go ahead please?

MATTHEWS: Mark, first.

MCKINNON: It played to emotions -- that`s right, it played to
emotion, and character and experience and really in `64 was the first time
that advertising had actually been about more than just about products.
Before that in 1960s, they`ve been like selling soap. But the reality is,
by `64, when DDB come aboard, they understood that advertising was much
more contextual and need to go to emotions.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MCKINNON: You asked a thousand political consultants what the best
ad in America is, political ad, and a thousand will say the "Daisy" ad.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Dan, last though, 10 seconds, 15 seconds.

RATHER: Well, I think it`s important to remember that 1964 was when
politicians recognized the new machine, the new communications was
television. They got in bed with advertising and it`s never been the same
since.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Mark McKinnon, and the great Dan
Rather. Thank you, Dan, so much, my buddy.

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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