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updated 3/27/2012 12:23:23 PM ET 2012-03-27T16:23:23

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The Supreme game changer.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in Boston. Leading off tonight:
The health care games. When the health care law passed, Democrats were
confident that the more people learned about it, the more popular it would
become. Wrong. Today only 36 percent of Americans approve of the law,
compared to 47 percent who disapprove, according to a "New York Times"/CBS
poll.

The law was one of the main reasons for the Republican landslide in
2010, and today amid crowds of supporters and opponents, the Supreme Court
began three days of arguments that will determine the fate of the law, and
to some extent the presidential election. We`ll hear from both sides.

Plus, could it actually be better politically to lose this case? Some
believe that a loss would inspire their side, either Democrats or
Republicans, to work that much harder in this election.

Plus, Rick Santorum has it out with a "New York Times" reporter for
the way he asked a question, then brags to the right wing about how tough
he was with "The New York Times."

And we`re now getting George Zimmerman`s account about what happened
that fatal night in Sanford, Florida. Tonight, a close friend of Zimmerman
backs up the initial police report.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the high stakes action in the Supreme
Court this week.

We begin with the Supreme Court, with NBC News justice correspondent
Pete Williams. Pete, what got done today, from an observer like yourself?
What could you see the Court decide this first day of arguments?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Very important piece of underbrush
was cleared away, Chris. If any of the Justices were reluctant to decide
this case in an election year and didn`t want to get involved in that, they
had an off-ramp today. And it`s this question. Can the case be argued
now, or do the challengers have to come back in a couple of years?

Here`s why it`s an issue. A hundred and fifty ears ago, Congress
passed a law that says you cannot challenge a federal tax before it goes
into effect.

Now, in the health care law, if you don`t buy insurance, as it
requires, you have to pay a penalty. It`s reported on your income tax
form. It`s collected by the IRS. It`s based on your income. And some of
the lower courts have said, Aha, this is a tax. Come back in two years.

But today the Supreme Court -- it seemed quite clear that none of the
Justices think this is a showstopper. I didn`t hear a single Justice who
thinks that this is a federal tax. So they`re going to go on, it seems
quite clear, and get to the main event, which is tomorrow, on the
constitutionality of the core of the law, the so-called individual mandate,
the requirement that everyone buy health insurance.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about that individual mandate. If
that is portrayed as a tax, isn`t the great irony here that that would give
the Court a tremendous amount of scope in allowing its constitutionality?

WILLIAMS: Yes, there`s no doubt that the government is, to a certain
extent, arguing both sides of this issue. Today, they said for the
purposes of this federal law, this isn`t a tax. But tomorrow, they`ll be
back here arguing not only is it allowed under the commerce clause, but
also the law was passed under the broad congressional taxing authority.

That seems like a bit of a head snapper. It`s a very nuanced argument
the government is making here, that the penalty itself isn`t a tax, but
that the law was passed under the broad taxing authority.

Now, that didn`t go down well very well today with the only Justice
who asked about it, Samuel Alito, who suggested that it was hypocritical
for the government to make that argument. None of the other Justices
jumped in to make that claim. I think -- I guess that means that they`re
just going to wait until tomorrow.

Now -- but of course, tomorrow the main argument the government is
making is that Congress has this commerce clause power to do this under the
Constitution`s grant, quote, "to regulate commerce," but the government
does also make this sort of fallback argument that it has the power under
the broad taxing authority, as well.

MATTHEWS: We`ll have you on tomorrow night, I hope, Pete. You`re the
best. By the way, it begins to sound like Etch-a-Sketch.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK, yesterday, it was a penalty. Today, it`s a tax.
Thanks, Pete, from courthouse...

WILLIAMS: You bet.

MATTHEWS: ... from the Supreme Court building.

Although the arguments today were inside the Court, the action was
outside. Let`s look at the scene there just this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a reminder I`m only giving out tickets for
today`s argument only. Today`s argument only. And I`m giving out tickets
for the first 60 seats for regular seating to hear the entire argument.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots,
and she was among the protesters in front of the Court today. Dr. Ezekiel
Emanuel is chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at
the University of Pennsylvania. He served the Obama administration as
special adviser for health policy and helped craft the Affordable Care Act,
which is in the Court today. He was inside the courtroom, as well.

Let me ask you, first of all -- let me go to Jenny Beth. What do you
want the Court to rule?

JENNY BETH MARTIN, CO-FOUNDER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: We want them to
find that the rule is unconstitutional. And we want them to rule based on
the Constitution. The government has no business mandating, forcing every
single person to purchase a product simply because we live and breathe.

MATTHEWS: So if they do rule that it is constitutional, what would
that say to you?

MARTIN: That would say that we have a lot more work to do and we`ve
got to make sure that we educate our fellow voters as to exactly what`s in
this bill, so that when November comes, they vote and realize that the
government now controls our health care.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Ezekiel Emanuel. Thank you, sir, Doctor,
for joining us.

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA BIOETHICIST: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It seems to be the heart of the fight is tomorrow, and it`s
the individual mandate.

EMANUEL: Right.

MATTHEWS: Tell us about how you think that will stand up before at
least five of the nine judges.

EMANUEL: I think the Justices are going to uphold the individual
mandate as constitutional. I think there`s very little argument about
that. And let`s just cite two conservative experts, Professor Charles
Freed, who was solicitor general under President Reagan, and Judge
Silberman of the D.C. circuit. Both said that there`s no constitutional
basis for the claim that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

And they make the very clear argument under the commerce clause,
Congress can regulate interstate commerce. There`s no doubt health
insurance is part of interstate commerce. And Article 1, Section 8 says
Congress can do whatever is necessary and proper to implement its
regulatory powers, and part of that is the mandate.

And the idea that the mandate violates some inherent freedom is just
belied by the fact that Congress has done a lot of things that restrict
what people can do in the name of the good of the population and the good
of individuals.

George Washington required people to have a gun at home to defend the
country. In the heart (ph) of Atlanta case, the Justices said you can be a
racist and own a motel, but you still have to rent the room to a black
person. If you own a restaurant, you still have to serve a black person in
the restaurant.

That violates people`s freedom, but it`s still constitutionally --
constitutional to do that. And this requirement...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask...

EMANUEL: ... is part of that same pattern.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Jenny Beth Martin. Do you think it was
constitutional for Governor Romney to pass a law in Massachusetts to
require people to have health insurance?

MARTIN: It was at his state level, rather than at the federal
government. If that`s what the people want in his state, I understand
their right to choose to do that. I think the reason we`re seeing that
he`s not the clear nominee at this point is because he passed that law in
Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS: But what about if the United States Congress wants
something done? You just said if the people of Massachusetts want it --
suppose the United States Congress, with 60 senators and a majority of the
House members and the president`s signature -- they said they want health
insurance for the country.

You say no matter how they vote, we can`t have a health insurance
policy. It`s not a democratic issue, you say.

MARTIN: I say that we need to limit the powers...

MATTHEWS: But even if the Congress voted...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m asking you a principled question. If 90 percent of
both houses of Congress and a president approve something like this, if a
Republican president approved something like this, you say still it`s
unconstitutional?

MARTIN: Chris, I`ve been on MSNBC and I`ve complained about what
Republicans do. I`m not in this for either party.

MATTHEWS: OK...

MARTIN: The majority of Americans don`t want this law! The majority
of Americans...

MATTHEWS: I know.

MARTIN: ... don`t want it, and 70 percent of Americans think that the
individual mandate is unconstitutional. The Congress passed it against the
will of the American people! We do not want the government controlling our
health care!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to something here. Do you think the
Congress of 1964 was within its rights to pass a law requiring that people
who open up a business, a hotel or restaurant, that they must serve blacks
as well as whites? Do you think that`s a stretch of the Constitution?

MARTIN: No, I think that that is -- is within the bounds of the
Constitution.

MATTHEWS: But they`re forcing people to sell somebody a Coke or a
hamburger they don`t want to sell. Isn`t that telling them what to do?
You say they don`t like the government telling you what to do.

MARTIN: I don`t want the government to force me to make a purchase
simply because I`m alive and breathing. It`s much different when you
choose to own something. If you choose to own a car, the government says
you have to own -- you have to have to have health (sic) insurance...

MATTHEWS: How about if you own...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why can the government force you to sell it?

MARTIN: You don`t have to...

MATTHEWS: To somebody.

MARTIN: ... own a health -- you don`t have to own a hamburger just
because you`re alive and breathing. But this is saying that just because
we`re alive and just because we`re breathing, we must purchase health
insurance.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me get tough with you, Zeke. I was tough with
her. Is there anything that you see under the Constitution that wouldn`t
be permitted under the interstate commerce clause? Is it as flexible as a
very long rubber band that can stretch forever? What do you think the
government couldn`t make you do under the interstate commerce clause?

EMANUEL: Well, look, the argument that the government -- if the
government can make you buy health insurance, the government can make you
buy broccoli, I think, is a fallacious argument. And so let me unpack
why...

MATTHEWS: If the government can make you sell broccoli -- it can make
you sell broccoli. If you open a grocery store, you got to sell it to
everybody.

EMANUEL: But it can`t make you...

MATTHEWS: That`s under the law.

EMANUEL: It can`t make you eat the broccoli.

MATTHEWS: No.

EMANUEL: And that`s a very important distinction. And let`s just get
to that distinction. The reason the government can make you buy health
insurance is because we cannot have a health insurance market that works
without everyone being part of it.

We have tried in this country to have a number of insurance exchanges,
where everyone could buy insurance. And the problem is, if they`re
voluntary, they always collapse and fail. They go into a downward spiral,
with prices going up and people exiting.

The only stable insurance market we have is the one in Massachusetts,
and that has a mandate. Broccoli`s not the same thing.

MATTHEWS: OK.

EMANUEL: We have a broccoli market. Everyone can go and buy
broccoli, if they want...

MATTHEWS: Don`t bring up broccoli!

EMANUEL: It`s voluntary...

MATTHEWS: Don`t bring up broccoli again!

EMANUEL: Well, I can bring up...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Don`t do this to me! Belgian -- Belgian endives I think
was his problem.

Let me go back to Mary Beth, one last shot at you. This whole
question -- if you were in a motorcycle accident -- I always argue this
with my kids, by the way. If you`re in a car accident, a motorcycle
accident, you expect that from somewhere, an ambulance will come with
emergency people on board who will take care of you, first responders.
They will get you in a gurney, into a hospital emergency room. There will
be first class doctors and nurses ready to attend you. You will be taken
care of.

Who`s supposed to pay for that, if you don`t? That`s interstate
commerce.

MARTIN: Look, if you want to force this to happen, take it back to
the state level. Right now...

MATTHEWS: No, I`m asking you.

MARTIN: ... the majority of Americans don`t want it, Chris!

MATTHEWS: What do you think? You`re driving through Oklahoma and you
get in an accident. Who do you -- or driving through Alaska. Who do you
expect to take care of you if have a heart attack or an accident or a bad
health condition? You`re expecting the hospital to do it for free.

MARTIN: I am not expecting...

MATTHEWS: If you don`t pay for it.

MARTIN: ... the hospital to do it for free! I`m not expecting that.
And the thing is, even if you don`t have insurance, you still have access
to health care. The argument that if you don`t have insurance, you can`t
get health care is not a valid argument.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you...

EMANUEL: It`s actually quite...

MATTHEWS: ... get the health care if you don`t have insurance?

EMANUEL: Chris, this is...

MARTIN: The doctors will take care of patients!

EMANUEL: ... an important point.

MARTIN: They take the Hippocratic oath and they take care of
patients!

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: ... for a while, and...

MATTHEWS: Let her finish. I`m sorry, Zeke.

MARTIN: ... I still was able to get -- I was still able to get care.
Doctors will work with you because they care about the patients.

MATTHEWS: OK.

EMANUEL: So let`s make two points. First, doctors and hospitals will
take care of patients, but then you`re just shifting the cost to them
because they, in the end, have to pay for it, and they typically pay for it
by charging other people more.

The second point I would make...

MATTHEWS: That`s interstate commerce.

EMANUEL: Exactly. And the second point I would make is that we all
expect the health care system to be there for us. And when people don`t
have health insurance and then go in and use the health system, they`re
actually getting bad care. We`re not able to give them coordinated,
integrated care. It ends up costing more and costing the rest of us more.

So if we actually give them insurance, we can give them better care,
more organized care, more integrated care, prevention that they typically
don`t do. So we actually can save more money and be much more efficient
about the care we provide them.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: It`s the worst of both worlds under her scheme.

MATTHEWS: OK...

EMANUEL: Someone else is paying and they`re getting bad health care.

MATTHEWS: OK, Mary (sic) Beth, thank you. Please come back. It`s a
good argument. Half the country may agree with you. We`ll see. Jenny
Beth Martin, thank you. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel...

MARTIN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: This is the American argument. It`ll be before the Supreme
Court tomorrow. Again, the big issue, individual mandate, because that`s
what we`re fighting about.

Coming up: Let`s get into the politics of this case politically.
Let`s see who it helps. Is it actually better politically to lose this
fight? Then you get your side riled up and they want to change things in
the election. Is it worse to win and then you got to play defense? This
is interesting, and it`s firing up the reporters -- the supporters out
there in November.

You`re watching HARDBALL, on for MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, despite Rick Santorum`s big win in Louisiana on
Saturday, Republicans are beginning to coalesce around Mitt Romney, and you
can see it in the polls. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to the Gallup`s daily tracking poll, Romney has a 15-point
lead over Santorum. Among Republican primary voters nationwide, it`s
Romney 41, Santorum down at 26.

And those numbers look a whole lot like the newest polling out of
California. A new "LA Times"/USC poll has Romney up 19 points out there
over Santorum, 42-23. California votes in early June.

Fast forward to November, to President Obama with a 10-point lead over
Romney in a new Suffolk poll of voters nationwide. Obama`s at 47, Romney
down at 37. That`s a good lead for Obama.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Make no mistake, the health care case
the Supreme Court is hearing this weekend is -- this week is a political
blockbuster that could shake up the November elections. At stake is the
president`s signature legislative accomplishment.

What would it mean for the president and his opponents if the Court
decides this summer, this June perhaps, that "Obama care," if you will, is
simply unconstitutional? Could Mitt Romney take advantage of a legal
defeat for the president in the courts? Obama`s advisers opened up a new
line of attack against the Republican front-runner this weekend, calling
him the "godfather" of the plan.

Mark Halperin is editor-at-large for "Time" magazine and senior
political analyst for MSNBC and Chris Cillizza is managing editor for
Postpolitics.com. He`s also an MSNBC contributor.

Gentlemen, let me try what I think is the worst case scenario and the
worst case for a particular person. Mark, I think the worst of the four
sets of consequences that could can out of this thing -- defeat or victory
on either side -- would be for the president to have this declared
unconstitutional for the following reason.

There`s been an undercurrent in the Republican right, especially the
far right, the birther right, that he`s not quite legitimate. Would they
be able to take this hammer and say, And now the Supreme Court says he
violated our Constitution?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME," MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, the
country is closely enough divided over this that I think the real answer to
who will benefit politically is who`s more adept at taking the result and
putting their best spin on it and driving a message off of it.

I will say, though, that if it`s struck down, I think it helps the
Republicans potentially in a number of ways. One, the way you said, which
is the strongest message I think right now, at least, against the
president, is he`s not up to the job. He doesn`t know what he`s doing.
He`s in over his head.

That`s an argument that Mitt Romney has made and will make if he`s the
nominee. I think that`s an argument they can make. He spent a year-plus
of his presidency working on this thing that proved to be unconstitutional.

But I also think a stronger argument will be, at least to get the base
inspired and to reach some independents, will be to say, This thing`s been
struck down. It needs to be replaced. Most of the country -- not a lot by
a big majority, but a majority of the country, at least a large plurality,
want this -- wanted this replaced. Who do you want to be in charge of
replacing it, the guy who spent a year-and-a-half -- a year-plus wasting
his time, or a guy who was opposed to it and will try to replace it with
something different?
MATTHEWS: Yes. So, in both instances, you think it helps Romney
well, is a good help to Romney?

HALPERIN: I do. I think right now the basics of it -- leaving aside
how they handle it, the basics of it are in the Republicans` favor.

MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, your quick look at this just to start off
the politics of this.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Just to start off the politics of this, is there any way
Obama wins if it gets struck down, or is it as simple as it seems, winner
is a winner, loser is a loser?

CILLIZZA: I think it`s as simple as it seems.

I have and will continue to take criticism for treating politics like
sports, Chris, but, look, the reality of the situation is if you lose in
sports, you can say, well, it`s a moral victory, we will be more motivated
to come out and win the next time, but you would rather win.

That`s just how these things work.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I have heard the argument that a loss really focuses -- by
a loss, I mean that the court declares it unconstitutional, really focuses
Obama`s base and gets them energized, but wouldn`t a win, that it`s
constitutional, that everything Mark just talked about, with the president
dedicating 18 months of his first term to it, is justified, see, we were
right, this is right, it is constitutional? Wouldn`t that excite the base,
too?

They`re going to -- Whoever comes up on the losing end of this is
going to make a case for why it`s a good thing. I just don`t think you
should believe them.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think as David hadn`t -- as Lee Atwater told me
years ago, David is still getting good P.R. for beating Goliath.

But if he hadn`t beaten him, we wouldn`t be talking about him. He
would be just another bully beating a little guy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, on "Meet the Press" yesterday, Obama`s senior
supervisor David Plouffe argued that in a few years, just in a few years,
the public will be more supportive of the president`s health care
initiative.

Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID PLOUFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: By the end of this decade,
we`re going to be glad the Republicans call this Obama care because when
the reality of health care is in place -- we are all health care consumers.
What people like you and I say about it it`s not going to matter in a few
years. It`s going to be what people`s experience is. It`s going to be
very positive and not what people fear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s not really at stake in this election because we
won`t know how we feel about it. As Plouffe brilliantly just laid out, by
the way, time will show that we`re on the right side. He doesn`t have to
deliver before November, does he, in terms of public attitudes?

HALPERIN: He doesn`t. He really doesn`t. What he was doing there
was putting a horse head in Mitt Romney`s bed and making clear to him...

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN: ... making clear to him that if he is the nominee, that
they`re going to hang health care around his neck regardless of what the
Supreme Court decides.

They`re going to claim -- and a lot of conservatives are going to
agree and a lot of people in the media are going to agree -- that Mitt
Romney`s passage of an individual mandate in Massachusetts paved the way
practically and intellectually for Obamacare, whether it`s struck down or
whether it`s the law of the land come Election Day.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

CILLIZZA: Yes, go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You said go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You said go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I`m going ahead.

CILLIZZA: You`re the host. You talk.

MATTHEWS: On "Meet the Press" David Plouffe called Romney the
godfather of the president`s plan. Let`s watch and you respond, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PLOUFFE: Mitt Romney is the godfather of our health care plan. OK?
If he`s president, remarkably, he`s running away from that path and he`s
going to say we`re going to try and throw all this away. We`re going to
have a big fight about health care again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There you go, Chris, your opening. That`s quite a moniker
to throw around. Godfather of the health care plan? That`s going to
stick.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I was going to say, it`s going to stick and it`s not
going to be the only time you are going to hear that, would be my guess,
Chris.

Look, what I don`t know the answer to, the White House seems to
believe and has believed for quite some time, all the way back to the
signing of this bill, that they can convince people who currently do not
look favorably upon the bill that once some of these provisions start
setting in, that opinions are going to change, that there are persuadables
in the electorate who may like it now, but can be made to like it by
November, that they don`t have to run away from health care, they can
embrace it, they can embrace Obamacare, they can win on the issue.

I look at polling that basically shows -- you look at the broad swathe
of polling somewhere in the low 40 percent of people like the bill, high
40s to low 50s dislike the bill. Those numbers really have not changed all
that much in the past two years when, remember, go back two years ago. It
wasn`t David Plouffe but someone like David Plouffe for the administration
saying, just wait until people learn more about this. They are going to
like it.

Well, we`re now two years along and the numbers really haven`t moved.
Can they move the numbers by starting a fight with Mitt Romney over health
care?

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

Well, tomorrow the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments over the
case, over the constitutionality of the individual mandate. And the Web
site ThinkProgress put together a few examples of Mitt Romney vigorously
and effectively defending that very principle that you have to buy
insurance. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, in this country, people
that don`t have health insurance go to the hospital if they get a serious
illness and they get treated for free by government.

You get picked up by an EMS vehicle. You get taken to the hospital.
Let`s say someone has had a heart attack. Taken to the hospital, you put
in a stent, you do a surgery. They aren`t paying for it because they don`t
have insurance. The people who are paying for it are you that do have
insurance, you are having to have in your insurance premiums the cost of
people that don`t have insurance.

We`re giving to people based upon the premise that government owes
these people health care for free. That doesn`t make sense. Personally
responsibility makes more sense.

So I said this. If you can afford to buy insurance, then buy it. You
don`t have to if you don`t want to buy it, but then you have to put enough
money aside that you can pay your own way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I have got an idea. How about Obama wins the election and
appoints this guy the secretary of HHS and says you go out and sell it?
Because he does a pretty good job?

Mark Halperin.

HALPERIN: Look, let me see if I can get this. Mitt Romney was for
the individual mandate before he was against it, but Barack Obama was
against it before he was for it.

The individual mandate is a complicated thing. Now, Romney`s argument
is fine in Massachusetts on the state level, shouldn`t be imposed from
Washington. That is a legitimate argument to make, but it`s a difficult
one to make, particularly since he`s made -- said some other statements
suggesting it should be a national, if not a federal, model.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he has.

HALPERIN: He`s going to be talking about this regardless of what the
Supreme Court does because the Obama administration will not let him off
the hook.

And Rick Santorum is right, even though he doesn`t say it particularly
well most of the time. Mitt Romney is less equipped to run on the health
care issue than anyone else the Republicans could have nominated because of
the legacy of Massachusetts, even though he`s got a way to talk about it
that is diffused in the nomination process.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to talk about that in just a minute when we
come from a couple of things like the "Sideshow." We`re going to talk
about the trouble that Rick Santorum is in because of this -- rather, the
problem that he says that Romney is in, because Santorum makes the point,
he`s the worst possible Republican candidate to run against Obamacare.

Anyway, thank you so much, Mark Halperin, thank you, Chris Cillizza.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: what "Mad Men" might like if it were about
President Obama -- what it would be like. Look at it. There it is. Look
at that ad executive, Don Draper. But he`s actually Barack Obama.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

Wait until you see this coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for a great "Sideshow."

First up, back in business. Last night kicked off a new season of
AMC`s "Mad Men." And "Mad Men" fever got an early start on this week`s
"Chris Matthews Show." We featured President Obama as the leading man here
than Don Draper, the factional 1960s ad agency head whose success comes
with more than a few entanglements. Meet President Obama, chief exec.

There is so much in that little cartoon. Anyway, not exactly a smooth
sail for the president or for Don Draper.

Back to reality, cold reality, President Obama was in South Korea this
weekend up on the 37th Parallel, and he spoke some university students and
answered questions submitted through a social media site. One person
wanted to know if the president had ever gone to extremes to beef up his
own favorability. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of you -- maybe it
was you, maybe it was somebody else -- this is true -- asked this question:
Have you posted yourself a supportive opinion on a Web site under a
disguised name pretending you are one of the supporters of President Obama?

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I hadn`t thought of this.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But the truth is, I have not done this. Maybe my daughters
have.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But I haven`t done that myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was 38th Parallel, of course.

Well, there is something you wouldn`t want to be caught doing, and
that`s what campaigns do for presidents. They make them look good online.

And, finally, keeping score? Rick Santorum may not fare so well in
head-to-head polls against President Obama, but apparently he has a leg up
when it comes to something less political: bowling. The president
famously, of course, our president famously ended up with a whole round of
gutter balls when he tried his hand at bowling back in 2008.

But apparently Santorum brought in an A-game to a campaign stop at a
bowling alley this weekend. Well, what does Santorum`s high score at the
bowling alley have to do with his election prospects? Here`s what he said
-- this is what he said on "Face the Nation" yesterday. Let`s listen to
Rick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was bowling in Sheboygan
yesterday with a bunch of folks at a tournament and threw three strikes in
a row. That`s a turkey. That tells you that you`ve got someone here that
can relate to the voters in Wisconsin just like those of us in western
Pennsylvania who grew up in the bowling lanes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, actually, three in a row is damn good. Anyway, I
guess three strikes is good for him.

Up next: Despite his win in Louisiana, Rick Santorum may be
unraveling, actually. The latest example, he cursed at a "New York Times"
reporter, or at least used a bad word. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow continuing to surgery up ahead, up 161. The S&P gained 19 and
the Nasdaq up a sizable 54 points. Stocks rallied after Fed Chairman Ben
Bernanke said the Central Bank policy should help bring down long-term
unemployment.

Pending home sales fell 0.5 percent last month. That was below
estimates.

And shares of Lionsgate rose more than 4 percent after its hit, "The
Hunger Games," took in $214 million at the box office. And that easily
whipped forecasts.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Rick Santorum scored a big win in Louisiana this Saturday night, but
you wouldn`t know it from his attitude. Yesterday on the trail in
Wisconsin, he lashed out at a "New York Times" reporter for asking about a
line in his speech, calling it B.S., though he used the full word itself.

Anyway, could it be time for Santorum to pack it in?

Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The
Washington Post" and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother
Jones" and author of a smashing new book, "Showdown." Both are MSNBC
political experts.

Anyway, last night in Wisconsin, guys, when talking about health care,
Rick Santorum called Mitt Romney the worst Republican in the country to run
against Obama. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt Romney agreed with
Barack Obama on every single thing that he did, because he put it in place
in Massachusetts. It`s the blueprint for Obamacare. Don`t believe me.
Ask Obama. Why would we put someone up who is uniquely -- pick any other
Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to
put up against Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, when asked about that comment on the rope line by
"New York Times" reporter Jeff Zeleny, Santorum went off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the
country. Is that true?

SANTORUM: What speech did you listen to?

QUESTION: I have it right here. You said he is the worst
Republican...

SANTORUM: Stop lying. I said he was the worst Republican to run on
the issue of Obamacare. Would you guys quit distorting what I`m saying?

QUESTION: Do you think he is the worst Republican to run on those
issues?

SANTORUM: To run against Barack Obama on the issue of health care,
because he fashioned the blueprint. I have been saying it in every speech.
Quit distorting our words. If I see it, it`s bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Come on, man. What are you doing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, by this morning, Santorum was actually championing
his tactics of yelling at a member of the media, especially "The New York
Times."

Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: If you haven`t cursed out a New York Times reporter during
the course of a campaign, you`re not really a real Republican, is the way I
look at it.

I just said, OK, I have had enough of this you know what. And so I
just -- that`s what I did. And, look, we`re out there -- we`re out there
slugging away. We`re the candidates out there that -- that is mixing it
up, and we`re mixing it up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think he had a pretty good argument there, Eugene and
David, until he started dancing in the end zone. That`s what they always
do.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He didn`t -- because Zeleny didn`t exactly ask him the
right way. And he jumped on him, and then he started dancing about how
great he was taking on "The Times," Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Rick goes
rogue, right, Chris?

I`m a longtime "Washington Post" guy. So who hasn`t cursed out a "New
York Times" reporter?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: I -- I got no problem with it, a candidate being real on
the campaign trail.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

And, actually, David, cursing out was his phrase.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I misused it. It`s really just using gross language.
First when he said "damn you" or something like that.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Yes.

MATTHEWS: There`s a certain theological aspect to it.

But he was -- you know, was he right? Was Zeleny right or was he
right?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Maybe in the Santorum household, that`s cursing out. But,
listen, I do think that it was quite clear that Rick Santorum was talking
about in the context of health care. But it was very excessive language.

MATTHEWS: Right.

CORN: The interesting thing is how the Romney campaign has pounced
on this. I was on a campaign call this morning with our good friend,
Governor Sununu, who was working for the Romney campaign, who there is --
said ominously there is now an issue involving Rick Santorum`s temperament?
Does he have the temperament?

MATTHEWS: Ha! Is this Sununu talking?

CORN: He lacks all personal discipline.

MATTHEWS: Is this Sununu talking, of all people? I mean, he`s the
enforcer of that hockey game.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Chris, you understand it.

MATTHEWS: I get the irony.

Let`s take a look at this. Here`s Santorum talking about how scary
it`s going to be.

Speaking over the top, Gene, you respond to this. This reminds me
almost of the old good ad, Johnson ad on Goldwater. Let`s take a look at
this. It`s an ad called Obamaville, and it`s the Santorum campaign
painting a bleak picture of next years under President Obama should he get
reelected. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Imagine a small American town two years from now if Obama
is reelected. Small businesses are struggling and families are worried
about their jobs and their future. The wait to see a doctor is ever
increasing. Gas prices through the roof. And their freedom of religion
under attack.

And every day, the residents of this town must come to grips with the
harsh reality, that a rogue nation and sworn American enemy has become a
nuclear threat.

Welcome to a place where one president`s failed policies really hit
home. Welcome to Obamaville. More than a town, a cautionary tale --
coming soon to RickSantorum.com.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is that strong enough, Gene?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: It`s like a trailer for a slasher movie. Expect, you
know, Freddie Krueger or something to come into the frame and take
everybody out. It`s hard to take that as seriously as maybe we should take
it because the imagery really is pretty outrageous, the sort of morphing of
President Obama and Ahmadinejad in this flickering TV image in the ad. It
is really pretty offensive.

CORN: You know, it`s everything but --

MATTHEWS: What is this about? I mean, what does it -- what does it
mean, though, David, when they paint this bleak sort of post-Holocaust
world, global Holocaust scene? What do they think he`s going to do this
president who they say is so weak? How can you wreak such havoc if you`re
so weak?

CORN: It`s everything but "The Hunger Games."

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: And this is all going to happen in the next two years. So
Obama is going to be very, very, very busy. I mean, it`s right wing,
paranoid, apocalyptic view of the world that they`ve been pressing, you
know, since Obama got the nomination.

They always run these against Democrats, anyway. They just now have
the ability to make it more graphic, as if it`s an HBO film that`s coming
out next year.

But the important thing to remember is, this is done by the campaign,
not by the super PAC, and they have no money to air this campaign -- air
this ad, which is why you get to see this on shows like HARDBALL. But you
won`t be seeing this where you usually see political ads.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re showing it in the right context, so that we
can have a laugh.

Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson, sir.

And thank you, David Corn. The name of your book, "Showdown."

Up next, new details about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Tonight, we`re hearing from the other side about what happened that night.
We`ll talk to a close friend of Zimmerman`s who backs up the initial police
report based on the interview with Zimmerman.

And this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Actually, doctors now are saying former Vice President
Dick Cheney is doing exceedingly well after a heart transplant this
Saturday. Cheney`s longtime cardiologist saw him yesterday and reports
that Cheney, as he said, doing terrific. Cheney`s transplant on Saturday
ended what was a 20-month waiting period for a cardiac transplant list
actually.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

What really happened one month ago when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
was shot and killed in a suburban backyard in Sanford, Florida? Well, for
the first time, we`re beginning to hear details about George Zimmerman`s
side of the story.

Joe Oliver is a close friend of George Zimmerman. He joins us right
now.

Thank you so much, Joe, for joining us.

This is such a tricky question. What can you tell us that most
people listening right now don`t know about what -- at least Zimmerman told
you what happened that terrible night?

JOE OLIVER, FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Well, I can`t tell you much
more than what`s been published, especially today. This is information
we`ve had all along but have not been able to bring forth because George
has been told not to say anything about it. And because this is George`s
life, we`ve honored that as well.

But the latest information that was released today shows that Trayvon
Martin was actually the aggressor in this.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about that.

From -- we know from listening to the 911 when he called in, we know
that he was pursuing him at some point that evening. We know that he was
told not to. We know he was armed, we know he had made many calls of this
nature, 911 calls for whatever reason. Obviously he`s very much devoted to
is obviously devoted to this sort of pastime of looking out for possible
burglars or whatever, robbers.

Do you know what -- did he had it in his personality to say something
to this young man that would have caused him to attack him as he said he
did?

OLIVER: No, not at all.

MATTHEWS: What trigger this incident?

OLIVER: Not --

MATTHEWS: Why would the guy attack him?

OLIVER: That`s more of the information that is yet to come out as
part of the investigation. You know, one of the things that came out in
the release of some of the details in the police report today was that
George was not acting as a watch captain at that time. He was on his way
home from the grocery store, and he saw a suspicious individual in his
neighborhood that had been victimized by numerous burglaries very recently.
And --

MATTHEWS: But he was in hot pursuit of him, he went racing after
him.

OLIVER: I mean, hot pursuit is relative and racing is relative. But
the evidence --

MATTHEWS: You can hear him huffing and puffing on the tape. You can
hear the fact that he --

OLIVER: You can hear him huffing and puffing on the tape. No
question about that. But what we don`t hear is after that tape stops what
happened, and how did he eventually met up with Trayvon.

MATTHEWS: We don`t know.

OLIVER: And the report that was released today indicates that
Trayvon came up to George and was the aggressor. And there are witness
accounts to verify that.

MATTHEWS: Did you see George in the immediate aftermath to see what
his injuries look like? Did he have a broken nose? Did he have bleeding
on the back of his head? That sort of thing, that was in the report?

OLIVER: I have not seen George since the week before this happened.
And I have spoken to him just for the first time this past Saturday and
spoke to him earlier today. But I have not seen any of the pictures, which
raises another question about this case, Chris. Historically in Florida,
the law enforcement has very forthcoming with the evidence that they have,
particularly in high profile cases -- Casey Anthony being the perfect
example.

And one of the reasons why we have gotten to this point in the
discussion of race, is first of all that information that was put out that
George is white, when indeed he is Hispanic and of multicultural
background. And also, this information that George was not the aggressor
as far as the actual contact between Trayvon and George.

MATTHEWS: Were you surprised when he heard that he had used the
racial slur? The F-ing word the way he was picked on the tape? Were you
surprised he used a term like that?

OLIVER: Well, I was surprised -- I mean, that`s a term that I listen
to over and over on there, and to me it`s a matter of interpretation if he
is saying coon or goon. There are a lot of parts of this country where
people proudly call themselves coon asses, in Louisiana in particular.

MATTHEWS: OK.

OLIVER: All right? So, on the other hand, you know, I`m a 53-year-
old man, and I don`t know too many people, younger than 40, who use that
term as a racial slur. As far as the other word, goon, I`ve been informed
by my 17-year-old daughter that that, among her peers, is a term of
endearment.

(CROSSTALK)

OLIVER: So there`s a lot of interpretation.

MATTHEWS: Let me -- yes. So -- well, let`s go on. Here is Reverend
Al Sharpton today, an interview about Trayvon with his parents this
afternoon -- Trayvon Martin`s parents this afternoon. They responded to
George Zimmerman`s claims as reported in the "Orlando Sentinel" today. And
that was Trayvon -- that Trayvon was the aggressor in the incident.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN`S MOTHER: What Trayvon would have
done is defended himself. If he felt afraid, yes, I believe he would have
defended himself.

TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN`S FATHER: I think he was confronted and
I think that he was doing his best to try to get home. And if that meant
defending himself, then he had to defend himself. But as far as being the
aggressor -- no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Boy, this is not getting to be a dispute over facts at
some point. It looks it`s getting to be a dispute over just the way you
look at this thing, isn`t it right? Isn`t it the way you look at it?
There`s so much different perspective. Obviously, race is the dividing
line in many cases.

But, you know, if he did -- who threw the first punch is what I`d
like to know, and who attacked who? Do you know?

OLIVER: From the accounts I heard --

MATTHEWS: Do you know?

OLIVER: Yes, from the accounts that I`ve heard, it was Trayvon who
threw the first punch that actually knocked George down and broke his nose.
There are not details that have not been released of what happened after
that that validate the fact that this was a life and death struggle.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I got to push on it. I got to push.

Was he afraid for his life? Your friend?

OLIVER: Yes, that`s why we`re here, because he got to the point that
he had to decide, OK, there`s no turning back on this.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming, Joe Oliver. Thanks for coming on
HARDBALL tonight.

When we return, we`re going to finish with the high stakes action of
the Supreme Court this week.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I can`t think of a more important Supreme Court verdict on an act of
Congress since they`ve upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than this one.
The issue before it now, the power of the United States government to
regulate interstate commerce is along the same lines as the Civil Rights
Act, although it seems harder to argue, I must say, that the federal
government can make you buy something you don`t want to buy, than it does
to argue that once you open a business, you can`t discriminate against a
customer on a basis on race.

Well, there`s a harder way to decide on this case. Does the federal
government, great question, have a right under the justices` reading of the
Constitution to make you buy something that you would not otherwise buy?
Well, this is high stakes. High stakes action with a variety of possible
consequences.

Let`s look at the possible worst from the president`s point of view.
The court strikes down the president`s health care bill -- Obamacare, if
you will -- as unconstitutional, think how the Republicans from Romney on
down will run with that one. The president, quote, "acted
unconstitutionally." He violated his oath to the Constitution, the promise
to protect it for the country.

Well, this will play without even saying something to the hands of
the right who deny the president the legitimacy to begin with. They will
say that he was not legitimate to begin with, shouldn`t have been allowed
to take the office and now stands exposed as a breaker of the Constitution.

Well, I believe there`s a good chance the court will rule in the
other direction, will give the president the victory, the hard work that
was done by him and the Congress deserves. He will granted the elevated
stature in history as the American who delivered on a promise made
throughout the 20th century, but delivered primarily because of him in the
21st. Heavy stakes, very heavy.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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