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updated 3/29/2012 1:35:21 PM ET 2012-03-29T17:35:21

Guests: Pete Williams, Ezra Klein, John Heilemann, Tyler
Mathisen, Reid Cherlin, Leonard Curry, Joe Klein, Judith Browne-Dianis, Frank
Rich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Supreme importance.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington. Leading off
tonight: Another 5-4 decision? What if the Supreme Court votes 5-4 on the
individual mandate? Well, either way the vote goes, people will look at
the Court and conclude that this is has been a partisan, as partisan as
Congress, decision. Where`s the public decision making these days?

Liberals especially are worried after the law`s tough day yesterday.
And the Justices signals that they -- that if the mandate goes down, as it
looks like it might, the rest of the law would go with it.

Voting rights and wrongs -- we`ve reported on how Republican-led state
legislatures have made it tougher for people who traditionally vote
Democratic to simply register and vote. Now in Florida, we`re seeing the
results. New laws are so onerous down there that both the League of Women
Voters and Rock the Vote have abandoned efforts to register voters in
Florida. That`s bad news.

Plus, more evidence of the huge toll the Republican primary race is
taking. President Obama has opened up a double-digit lead now over both
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in one national poll. And another survey has
Mr. Obama leading both Republicans in three big swing states -- catch these
-- Florida, Ohio, and not so much in Pennsylvania.

And mind the gender gap. The great Frank Rich joins us tonight. He
says the GOP has turned into a stag party.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the staggering prospect that a 5-4
Supreme Court could demolish health care after all that this country has
put into making it law.

We begin at the Supreme Court itself, at the building, and NBC News
Justice correspondent Pete Williams. Now the third day. Is this another
bad day for "Obama care," if you will?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think it is, Chris. It does seem
that all the Justices agree that if the insurance requirement is found
unconstitutional, some parts of the law have to go.

And they probably all agree that two things would go. One is the ban
on insurance companies refusing to give coverage for preexisting
conditions, and the other is a set of rules on when companies -- how they
can set their rates.

Now, beyond that, I think the safest parts of the law are those
furthest away from the core of the law, sort of peripheral stuff that
Congress put on at the end -- black lung benefits, rules for covering
Indian tribes, that kind of -- those sorts of peripheral things that got
stuck onto the bill that were never part of the main mission. They can
probably survive.

But as you move in closer to the core of the bill, that`s where the
trouble is. Now, there was a party breakdown -- or by party of
appointment, I should say, among the Justices on how they view it. The
Court`s more liberal Justices said, you know, It`s not for the Court to
decide what else should survive. Send this wounded critter back to
Congress and let them decide what to do with it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: But the more conservative Justices said, you know, That`s a
very hard thing to do, to draw the line. We probably should strike most of
it down, even though I think they concede that parts of it could be
maintained.

What bothers the conservative, I think, is two points, Chris. One is,
how do you decide which of the thousands of regulations should survive?

But the second thing is, at least two of the Justices, Alito and
Kennedy, said if we keep the other requirements on insurance companies to
broaden coverage but we take away the mandate that would give the insurance
companies more money, that would put the insurance companies in a very
difficult position. Justice Kennedy even said that would be some kind of
judicial activism if the Court were to put insurance companies in that kind
of a position.

One other thing here. The expanded Medicaid requirements that are in
the health care law, that requirements that the states broaden their
coverage to give much broader Medicaid coverage to single individuals under
65 or just above the poverty level -- that may be in trouble, as well.

MATTHEWS: One small point important to people who have young adult
children. Would the provision requiring insurance companies to keep their
young adult children on their plans survive if the individual mandate goes
down?

WILLIAMS: Probably not, would be my guess.

MATTHEWS: And the other point...

WILLIAMS: That would be considered so close to the mandate that I
think, if the conservatives get their way, it would go down, too.

Now, Chris, there`s a big asterisk here. It could be -- and I think
the -- frankly, the best hope for the Obama administration is this, that
Justice Kennedy, and perhaps Justice Roberts, will look at this chore of
trying to decide, Well, which parts of the law do we strike down, which
parts do we save if we strike down the mandate -- will look at it and find
it so daunting that that will pull them back from their thoughts about
whether the Court should strike down the mandate, and perhaps salvage the
law.

But I think that`s -- that`s a hope, but it`s a dim hope tonight.

MATTHEWS: Do you think, along those lines, that the daunting nature
of a 5-4 Court striking down something that has involved this country in
debate for all these presidencies, which has been consummated in this long
fight between -- among the first two years of the president`s presidency
and has had so much heat in it, so much effort to try to get something
through, with 60 senators on one side, and then the majority in the House
and the president all finally reaching agreement -- that to take that all
apart and just demolish it in a narrow 5-4 decision -- does that itself
daunt or perhaps intimidate people like Justice Kennedy from acting?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think that`s a very good question. And I
don`t know the answer, but here`s a possible scenario. If Justice Kennedy,
who I think is the pivotal vote here, decides that the individual mandate
is unconstitutional, if he could be persuaded by the liberals maybe to
uphold the law, then the question is -- that would be a 5-4 decision.

Might Justice Roberts join him in that and make it 6-3 to try to keep
it as narrow as possible, then you might have 6-3 vote instead of 5-4 vote.
If it goes the other way, I can`t see any of the liberals joining on...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: ... with conservatives to make it anything other than 5-4.
So it all -- as is so often true, it`s up to Justice Kennedy, I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s going to do one thing, Pete. This isn`t your
bailiwick. It`s going to focus the people to focus a lot more on the
presidential power to appoint members of the Supreme Court. The power of
this -- we saw it in 2000. Now we`re seeing it again. It is so powerful,
what you`re covering there. Thank you so much...

WILLIAMS: You bet.

MATTHEWS: ... Pete Williams, Justice correspondent for NBC News.

Now we`re joined by "Washington Post" columnist Ezra Klein, who`s also
an MSNBC political analyst, and Reid Cherlin, who is a former spokesman for
the president. He`s now a contributor to "GQ."

Let me ask you both -- let`s go to Ezra for analysis here. You`re one
of the most brilliant guys floating around here these days. This -- let`s
go back to yesterday, which I think is probably if not a bad day at Black
Rock in cinematic terms, certainly a dusty day as to what happened.

It looks to me -- let`s take a look at this. Reporting on yesterday`s
argument, "The New York Times" cast it in dire terms for the president.
Quote, "Predicting the result in any Supreme Court case, much less in that
one -- in one that will define the legacies of a president and a Chief
Justice, is nothing like a science and the case could still turn on various
directions -- in various directions. But the available evidence indicated
that the heart of the Affordable Care Act is in peril."

Is that your view?

EZRA KLEIN, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.
I don`t think you can look at what happened yesterday and not think that,
although I do think it`s been -- we are too focused on "what happened,"
quote, unquote, yesterday, right? Don Verrilli, the solicitor general,
went in, made arguments that were not received very well. He himself had a
tough time mustering a lot of force or passion in his presentation.

But I thought what really mattered, the place where you saw trouble,
wasn`t really in what Verrilli said but what the Justices asked, right?
When Anthony Kennedy came out in his second question and said, Take as a
premise of this question that what you are doing is completely, completely
unprecedented, that you`re radically revising the relationship between the
citizen and the government -- that right there, I mean, that was sort of,
like, When did the Affordable Care Act stop beating its wife. There wasn`t
a really great way for Verrilli to respond once you`ve given away that
premise, you`ve given it all away.

Now, one place where I`m not sure I completely agree with the Supreme
Court reporter a moment ago -- a lot of folks do think that if they
overturn the mandate, they might not overturn the rest of the bill or might
only overturn a small set of insurance regulations.

If they did that, Congress would be faced with a health care bill in
which all the money that is going to give people health care insurance is
still there, right? All the $900 billion is still there, but there aren`t
the regulations meant to keep premiums down in the insurance market.

That`ll be quite a mess, and the insure industry and other health care
providers are going to be pretty aggressive in Congress in trying to get
them to fix it somehow, which would be possible to do if Republicans were
willing to do so.

MATTHEWS: In you scratch the mandate and insist on the -- denying
people the right to reject someone before -- because of a preexisting
condition, couldn`t somebody with a stage four horrific health care threat
walk into a hospital and say, Here, I want to buy the insurance, you got to
sell it to me? I mean, maybe that carries it to a ridiculous extent, but
wouldn`t that be the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... what would happen here?

KLEIN: That is exactly what could -- what could and would happen, to
some degree.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go -- let me go to Reid. You`re still pretty
pro-Obama, so I`m going to assume that`s your position here, sir. So tell
me what you think would happen if the president picked up the newspaper and
got the word from Pete Williams or someone else during midday report from
the Supreme Court that on the thing he put everything on, where he pushed
aside other matters to focus on this, his main achievement, he`s told by
Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling, based on partisan lines in terms of the
appointed judges, what would he do?

REID CHERLIN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: You know, I think the
strange thing is, Chris, I don`t think they`re planning to wage much of the
campaign on health care. Despite the fact that they`ve just...

MATTHEWS: You mean -- now -- what -- answer my question, please. If
it goes down...

CHERLIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... if the thing he ran on...

CHERLIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... the thing he worked on for so hard, got 60 votes in the
Senate for...

CHERLIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... got to his desk and he signed so proudly...

CHERLIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... with everyone, from...

CHERLIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... you know, Caroline Kennedy to -- everybody was there --
and then to have that erased from history...

CHERLIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... you say he wouldn`t focus on that?

CHERLIN: Well, I mean, I don`t think he`d be pleased. But I think
any way you slice it -- look, two weeks ago, one week ago, four days ago,
you`d ask anyone coming on the show today, What`s the election going to be
about, everyone would say this is about the economy, jobs, jobs, jobs.

Somehow, I just think by the time we get to election day, no matter
what, that`s what we`re going to be talking about. So I think for Obama --
you know, listen, did he pour a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this?
Absolutely. The bottom line is, it`s an incredibly complex piece of
legislation. It`s hard to explain. It`s a tough job for Don Verrilli or
anyone else to get up there and sort of distinguish between, you know,
buying health care or buying burial insurance or however you want it put
it.

But you know, I think the interesting thing is, Chris -- I just met
someone downstairs here at 30 Rock, who asked what I was going to be
talking about today, and she said, I hate them all. I hate doctors. I
hate hospitals. I hate the whole health care system. I don`t want to
think about it. I don`t believe they`re in it for me. People just don`t
like talking about it. And that`s one of the...

MATTHEWS: Well, I want you to talk about it, and you`re giving me a
desultory answer, sir.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know you well, and you`re a young guy. I want to
give you a chance to try that one more time.

CHERLIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Will the president rally the country against this thing,
we`ve got to go back into the trenches, into the breach and try one more
time?

CHERLIN: OK...

MATTHEWS: Do we have to go now with single-payer? We tried the
middle road. Will he say the Supreme Court was totally partisan in this
calling (ph)? Will he go after the Court? Will he go after a more
dramatic solution, like the progressives have wanted him to? What will he
do? Can you tell me? If you don`t know, it`s fair enough.

CHERLIN: Yes. I mean, listen, I doubt they run against the Court
because what do you get from there? But I do think either way -- I think
if it does go down -- I mean, in terms of -- your question is how does he
kind of orient himself and does he rally people? I think the answer is
yes. And I think it becomes...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CHERLIN: You know, they`ll feel wounded, but I think he`ll go out
there and say -- and by the way, we just don`t know that this is going to
happen, but if it does, I think you go out there and say, Look, I heard
from you guys, you know, X, Y, Z that you wanted me to do this. I mean, We
all remember it was a big applause line in 2008 at every single event all
the way up to election day. And I think he goes out there and says, Look,
I did it, we`re going to do it again. And...

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go -- let me go -- let me take that tack and
go back to Ezra, who I really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`ve got to get to Ezra. I`ve got to go to Ezra. Ezra, it
seems to me -- this is where your mind takes place, where I love your
brilliant mind. Let`s think grandly. Let`s think universal here or
cosmically.

Maybe this a break, in a strange way. I`m trying this out now. You
know what? Ted Kennedy tried single-payer. It works in Europe. It works
in Germany, works in Canada. You know, I tried this other route, this more
sort of Republican Heritage Foundation effort here, the candidate -- the
Massachusetts method.

Let`s go the other way now. Let`s try -- the Supreme Court has ruled
to my benefit now on that issue. It says it would be constitutional to
have a single-payer system. Let`s go.

KLEIN: I think there`s a real irony here in this, right? I`ve spoken
to the guy who came up with the individual mandate. Stewart Butler (ph),
Mark Pauly (ph)...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: ... depending on who you believe. Both of them are
conservatives. Both of them brought it up as an alternative to single-
payer.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: So you`re right. If the Supreme Court takes this off the
table, pretty much all that is left as a way to deal with the free rider
problem in health care, where sick people come and get insurance and
healthy people stay out...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: ... is some form of single-payer. Now, it won`t be easy. It
won`t come in one big bite. It won`t come any time soon, I don`t believe.
People who think this would sort of flip to the other side and you would
have Medicare for all -- I think there`ll be 10, 20, 30, 40 -- we`ve been
able to have a bad health care system for a long time.

But what would happen is Democrats who just went through this would
say, OK, what we do now is you begin expanding Medicare, Medicaid and the
children`s health insurance program through budget reconciliation. You do
that year by year, 5 million people here, 10 million people here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: And over time, you have the government covering 50, 60, 70,
75, 80, 85 percent of the system (ph). You know have a de facto single-
payer system, which eventually becomes...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KLEIN: ... a full single-payer system. It`s not a great way to move
forward. It`s not quick, and a lot of people are going to hurt in the
meantime. But in the end, this could be the worst possible thing to happen
to conservatives, who wanted to have a free-market private sector health
care system in this country in the long run.

MATTHEWS: So all you need is a bold Senate leader, 51 votes, or the
50 plus the vice president and a House majority and a president, and you
get it done. Those are the ingredients of greatness.

Thank you, Ezra Klein, as always. You`re one step ahead of me
thinking of reconciliation. Thank you so much. Reid Cherlin, thank you.
Please come back again.

Coming up now...

CHERLIN: You bet.

MATTHEWS: ... we`re going to see the real world results of that
Republican effort to restrict voting, which they`re doing everywhere,
especially now in the swing state of Florida. The laws down there are so
burdensome that even mainstream groups like the great League of Women
Voters and the great group like Rock the Vote are pretty much giving up
efforts to even register votes down there. It looks like the progressives,
even centrist side has given up in the wake of this really big push by the
right to limit voting in one of our most swing states, Florida.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Rick Santorum`s lost his big lead in his home state of
Pennsylvania. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard." According to the new
Franklin and Marshall poll, Santorum`s lead is down to 2 over Mitt Romney,
30-28, not a good sign. Last month, Santorum led by 15 over Romney.

Pennsylvania votes on April 24th, along with New York, Connecticut,
Delaware and Rhode Island -- little Rhodie -- all of which are favorable
territory for Romney. They`re in the Northeast now, and looks like Rick
can`t even hold Pennsylvania.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to -- I was going to say welcome back to
Florida -- but welcome back to Florida. Voter rights advocates are up in
arms over new restrictions put in place in Florida that say -- they say
will lead to significant drop-offs in new voter registrations. Among other
things, the new law dramatically narrows the window that third party groups
are given to submit completed voter registration forms -- without facing a
fine, that is. Before the law, they had 10 days. Now we have 48 hours to
bring those forms back in.

Groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have outright
suspended their voter registration efforts down in Florida. What`s been
the consequence? Well, "The New York Times" looked at the number of new
voters registered since the law was put into place and compared to the same
period before the 2008 election.

They found nearly 81,500 fewer Floridians were registered to vote this
time. So does the law go too far?

Leonard Curry`s the chair of the Florida Republican Party. Thank you
for joining us. And Judith Browne-Dianis is the co-director the
Advancement Project, a voter rights organization.

I want to ask you, Mr. Curry, right off the bat, do you think it`s
good for America that we have fewer people voting? It seems like these new
rules have had one effect, to reduce the number of Florida votes.

Isn`t that itself a prima facie case you`re getting a little tough
down there on the process of registering and doing what you have a right to
do, vote?

LEONARD CURRY, FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN: We want people to vote. Look, I
come from a business background. I was in the jobs business, staffing and
executive recruiting. And in my company, we had a governance program in
place that made sure that there were no errors, there were no omissions, no
mistakes and no fraud. And that would be unacceptable in the -- in the --
in voting. So that`s simply what this law does. It`s good governance.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me -- let me ask Judith to get the back and forth
on this. Forty-eight hours now to bring in a form. I`ve grown up, you
know, during the Vietnam war period, you had people out in front of -- out
in front of Safeways. You signed up to vote.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS, CO-DIRECTOR, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Now, under this new law, you have to have that form in
within two days. And if you don`t, you pay a $10,000 fine in Florida,
which means if you register somebody at this -- what is it?

It`s a $50 -- why did I hear $10,000?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNE-DIANIS: It`s $50 per for the first few applications and then
it goes up to $10,000.

MATTHEWS: Oh, it`s up to $10,000.

Well, let me get to the point here. If you don`t turn it in on time,
you get fined. That would certainly discourage people from picking up on
the job of registering voters, if you can`t get it in two days, by the way,
Saturday -- when do you get it in?

BROWNE-DIANIS: That`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Sunday night?

BROWNE-DIANIS: Right.

You can imagine volunteers who are volunteering for the League of
Women Voters, who has been doing voter registration for about 75 years in
Florida, saying we don`t want to be subject to those kinds of fines just
because we didn`t turn it in. And literally they are counting it down to
the minute. And really what we need to do is think about how this fits
into the larger context of voter suppression that has been carried out by
the GOP this year.

MATTHEWS: Commission Curry, respond to that. Is it reasonable to
expect a person to show up within 48 hours with registration forms that
they just had filled out say over a weekend?

CURRY: Absolutely. Again, it`s good governance.

Before this law, any group could go out anywhere, register voters, sit
on the voter registration forms for unlimited amount of time. The
individual that registered to vote would have no idea whether or not, A.,
their voter registration was submitted, and if the right party was
submitted.

This comes back to it is just good governance to make sure that people
that register to vote know that their vote is there and they can got vote
and that their vote will count.

MATTHEWS: Well, it still seems to be a problem that if you have 48
hours to get something in just mechanically, say it is 10:00 Saturday
morning in front of a Safeway.

BROWNE-DIANIS: Right.

MATTHEWS: You get the person`s signature down. You`re ready to
register. If you don`t show up by Monday morning at 10:00, right?

BROWNE-DIANIS: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: You have got a fine facing you.

BROWNE-DIANIS: Right. And the story in "The New York Times"
highlighted the NAACP being hit by this and getting a letter from the
secretary of state. And that was over the weekend of Martin Luther King`s
Birthday.

But again it is important to put this in context. Not only did the
Republican Party in Florida roll back in terms of voter registration. They
also cut back on early voting. So this is part of the bigger scheme of
what is happening across the country.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to that.

Mr. Curry, why is it important to reduce the number of days you can
early vote from 14 to eight? How does that reduce corruption or in any way
take away from the integrity of the progress?

(CROSSTALK)

CURRY: Well, a couple of things, a couple of things. Republicans are
in fact the ones in Florida that gave us early voting. The Democrats when
they had control did nothing to make voting easier.

The other thing is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, no, respond to my question, why is it important to
close the window of opportunity to vote?

CURRY: The supervisors of elections, Republicans and Democrats, have
said that that Sunday before the Tuesday election, that they needed
adequate time to get ready for Tuesday. That`s the feedback that the
legislature got in crafting this law.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it true that a lot of African-Americans go to
register on Sunday after going to church and that`s a pattern that the
Republican Party would like to squash?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... partisan concern?

BROWNE-DIANIS: It`s called take your souls to the polls.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Explain how it works.

BROWNE-DIANIS: On the last Sunday before Election Day, black churches
throughout the state of Florida had a campaign where they would go and
caravan to the polling place after church.

It is that one Sunday that was cut out by the Florida legislature
which again targets -- these laws we have to understand impact black and
Latino voters and young voters, those who turned out in record numbers in
2008. And now they have rolled it back so that it is cutting off the
participation of that group.

MATTHEWS: Do you think your party had any role in that decision to
try to get rid of that Sunday voting opportunity, Mr. Curry?

CURRY: The supervisor of elections again from both parties indicated
that they needed the time two days before that Tuesday.

Look, I want to see everyone that is registered to vote given the
opportunity to vote. There`s plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to
vote.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You didn`t answer my question, sir. And I don`t want to
grill you here, except to ask an obvious question that everybody watching
can hear me ask.

You had an opportunity under the law before that you had 14 days for
early voting down there. And we all know the pattern of early voting has
changed over the years. It used to be used for people who had money and
traveled a lot. And then Republicans benefited from that.

Later on, when minorities began to vote early because they had
transportation challenges facing them -- and we all know that -- they can`t
just get in a car in many cases. They need help to do it. And they needed
that opportunity, that two-week window. The minute your party saw this
benefiting the Democrats, you got rid of what was an opportunity for
vacationing and well-traveled Republicans, wealthy people.

Why did you change the law simply because Democrats voters were
starting to utilize it, the 14-day opportunity?

CURRY: I just don`t buy that premise, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You said a minute ago that people -- you like to have more
people voting. Then why did you close the window?

CURRY: I just explained why on that Sunday...

MATTHEWS: No, why the two weeks? Why reducing from 14 to eight?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNE-DIANIS: And election officials -- I have to say, election
officials do not like that part of reducing the number of hours because --
in fact, the number of days -- because they now have to pay overtime to
people. So this is really about this partisan effort. It`s nothing but
that.

MATTHEWS: OK. I only want to get one answer. You said you want to
increase the amount of voting in your state. I`m sure you believe in that
in principle. My question to you is why in practice are you reducing the
number of days from 14 to eight for early voting?

CURRY: If you look at -- the law requires the total hours that the
offices have to be open for early voting are the same. It gives different
counties flexibility in terms of what those hours are.

So actual total hour access to voting is exactly the same. There`s no
change.

(CROSSTALK)

CURRY: And, Chris, I know you really don`t believe that we want to
suppress minorities from voting.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m trying to find out because the trouble is, Mr.
Curry, I look at the pattern in every state legislation, and inevitably
it`s Republicans who want to reduce the opportunity to vote in every state.
It`s always the same pattern.

And I will throw it back at you for a quick response. Why is it your
party that always wants to raise the barrier to voting consistently across
the country in this particular period of time, maybe not 20 years ago? But
right now, you want to make it harder for poor people, harder for
minorities to vote. Why is that?

CURRY: Yes, I just don`t buy that premise. We want good governance.
We want to sure that people -- every -- every vote counts and that people
are properly registered.

MATTHEWS: I think Abraham Lincoln agreed with that principle.

And I thank you for coming on.

CURRY: Always a pleasure.

MATTHEWS: We will continue arguing this because this is always an
issue.

BROWNE-DIANIS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Judith, thank you, Judith Browne-Dianis.

And, Leonard Curry, thank you, sir, for coming in, chairman of the
Republican Party in Florida.

We`re coming back with the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, V.P. Joe Biden has been launched into campaign mode in
recent weeks. Today was no exception. Here he is in Davenport, Iowa, with
a few zingers for the Republican field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitt Romney has
been remarkably consistent...

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: ... as an investor businessman, as the governor of
Massachusetts, and now as candidate for president, remarkably consistent
and, I respectfully suggest, consistently wrong.

Governor Romney has called the president of the United States out of
touch -- that`s a quote, out of touch -- for encouraging young people to
try to get manufacturing jobs. Out of touch? Romney?

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: Conventional wisdom that manufacturing is dead in this country
is dead wrong. One thing that could bring this momentum to a screeching
halt is turning over the keys of the White House to Santorum or Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow, noticeably missing from that speech, any mention of
Newtster, the Newt Gingrich candidacy forgotten. The former speaker has
begun to look like a former candidate.

And, finally, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is looking for some
star power to provide a boost to a new casino in Atlantic City. By the
way, all they need is a new casino. And he`s got his sights set on New
Jersey native Bruce Springsteen. Republican Christie knows all about
Bruce`s blue-collar progressive politics, but he still made a pitch to the
rock `n` roll legend anyway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I would make a direct plea to
Bruce right now. I think, you know, he has missed out on the opportunity
to open this place because Beyonce has picked up the mats on that.

But I really think, I know, when he gets off of the summer part of his
tour, he doesn`t have anything announced yet for Labor Day weekend. I
think Labor Day weekend at Revel for Bruce Springsteen would be an
incredible show of support by Bruce for his home state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Springsteen has yet to RSVP to the invitation.

Up next, President Obama is opening up big leads in the polls against
Romney and Santorum in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and
Pennsylvania. Of course, whoever wins those three wins it all.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow off 71 today, the S&P 500 lower by seven and the Nasdaq shed
15. Stocks weighed down by falling commodity prices. Crude futures
slipped to $105 a barrel after reports showed that stockpiles of oil were
surging more than expected.

Another factor in the selling, durable goods orders, which came in
weaker than expected. One stock bucking the trend, though, the organic
food maker Annie`s, which soared nearly 90 percent on its first day of
trading. Can you say mac and cheese?

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We have been saying for some time that the contentious Republican
primary race is taking its toll on the candidates, the Republican
candidates. And now we have more evidence of that. President Obama is
looking much stronger in the 2012 matchups against Mitt Romney and Rick
Santorum, if that matters.

Let`s go to the HARDBALL scoreboard. According to the CNN/ORC poll,
among registered voters nationwide, the president leads Mitt Romney by 11.
Look at that number, 54-43. That`s about as good as it`s ever been, 11
points there. And against Rick Santorum, 13, as if that is going to
matter, 55-42. That race will never occur.

And now look at some of the key states where Obama is building his
lead. In Florida, a key state, the president beats Romney 49-42. That`s a
little dicey. He also wins against Santorum, of course, 50-37. And here`s
a key one, a regularly Republican state, Obama beats Romney 47-41. If he
wins there, he probably wins it all right from that.

It`s a similar margin Rick Santorum, 47-40 in Ohio. But key race
here, Pennsylvania, tighter, but Obama still leads. He tops Romney 45-42.
That is margin or error stuff, 45-42, very close. He bests Rick Santorum,
who is from Pennsylvania, there 48-41, by seven.

We have got two pros now to assess the state of the race right now
here as we go into April.

John Heilemann is national affairs editor for "New York" magazine, as
well as an MSNBC analyst. And Joe Klein, the great Joe Klein, is "TIME"
magazine`s political columnist of record.

Joe, I want to start with you. Look at these numbers. I guess all of
the numbers look good for Obama, though I am somewhat chastened by the
Pennsylvania number. That looks like within the margin of error. I do
think Romney does have some appeal in those Philly and Pittsburgh suburbs.

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": Yes. And he probably has appeal in the
center of the state too in those smaller communities. And I think James
Carville once said that Pennsylvania was Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
separated by Alabama.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: So, you know, it`s interesting that that`s closer than the
other two.

But I got to remind you that at this point in 1992, I think Bill
Clinton was running behind Ross Perot. These are certainly great numbers
across the board for Obama and they certainly reflect how dismayed the
public are -- the public is with the Republican Party at this point and
that ridiculous race they have been running. But this could change in a
heartbeat.

MATTHEWS: So, you`re taking or showing a wiser view here, our expert
here at NBC, view that it is too early to call this national election?

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: I think we got at least,-- you know, Romney has two or three
more opportunities to introduce himself to the public, you know, when he
names a vice...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s interesting. Is that your view generally? Is
that your sort of overall view as well, John Heilemann, that it is too
early to call? That`s what I think, for what it`s worth.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course.

MATTHEWS: I just think this election could go all kind of directions
based on the economy, based on gas prices, based on Iran, things like that.

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: Sure. Of course it`s too early to call.

And Mitt Romney, as much as we have made fun of the Etch A Sketch
comments from last week, he will get to reboot his campaign a couple of
times in the future, as Joe said, certainly as he gets out of this
nomination and secures it, as he goes to his convention, as he makes his
choice of a running mate.

But there are some things in these polls that if you look a little
more deeply that are things that the Romney campaign is concerned about and
should be concerned about. What is driving the situation in Florida and
Ohio in particular, all of Barack Obama`s margin is among female voters.
He`s ahead by about 14 points I believe in both those states.

That`s a concern that the Romney campaign has. That`s one of the
things that has happened in this nomination fight is that he has been hurt
with that constituency. And we have seen polling previous to this that
shows just how wide the margin is between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney now
with Hispanics.

It`s yawning, right? There was FOX News a couple of weeks ago that --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: -- had Obama at 70 and Romney at 14. Now, those numbers
will not stay the same. But it`s the damage he suffered with key
constituencies that are things he can fix, but he`s going to have to fix
because you can`t win if you lead with women by 14 and Hispanics by 66.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to get more with the women issue, which is
obviously (INAUDIBLE) as we get later in the show.

But look at this point here, Joe. More bad news for Mitt Romney,
along the lines John mentioned. Look at this "The Washington Post"/ABC
poll, this is a national poll among registered voters, not likely but
registered. Look at this -- 52 have unfavorable impression of Mitt Romney.
Fifty-two, just 36 percent are favorable.

That low number there, just about a third of voters feel good about
him. Not so good. The president is in much better shape, he`s at 53
percent positive, favorable, 45 unfavorable.

Let`s talk about that 36 favorable for Romney. How does he get it to
50? Is it doable?

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Well, he`s got to redefine himself. I think that -
- and the one obvious way for him to go. You know, I mentioned Ross Perot
before, that`s the way for him to go -- to emphasize the things he`s good
at, like management, say that federal government is a mess -- which it is.
Talk about things like the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which is a
mess. And promise to run a tighter ship and a more humane one than the
president`s doing.

I think that that`s the only direction he can go in at this point.

MATTHEWS: Is it possible -- I want it start with John and back to
you on that, Joe. Joe raised a powerful point. Can a challenger like,
say, Kennedy did back in the `60 in this time, where there`s so much
cacophony going, or so much cable, some with super PAC money -- can he
define a them like Kennedy did, where he said we got to get this country
moving again, we`re drifting, we got to get going again, we`re losing our
step from World War II? Can Romney say the issue now is competence on the
economy? That`s all that is.

HEILEMANN: Well, I think a lot of it depends, Chris, on what happens
in the actual economy. I mean, certainly that is what they wanted it run
on. And for all of 2011, when the economy was still in shambles, Mitt
Romney made that argument.

All he did all last year was talk about Barack Obama. He didn`t talk
about his Republican rivals much. He talked about his business experience.
He talked about the ways in which he`d be a better manager on the economy.

And if the economy falters and it`s still not exactly booming right
now, but if it falters over the summer and into fall, he`s going to be in a
good position to make that argument. I think coupled with the reform
argument of the kind that Joe is talking about, he can craft something.
But he`s going to have to find some themes.

That`s one of the things that he has not done in this Republican
nomination fight, is find some big themes that define his candidacy --

MATTHEWS: OK.

HEILEMANN: -- and bury it up to his biography in a powerful way.

MATTHEWS: I got one for him, Joe. If the Supreme Court rules the
individual mandate is unconstitutional, don`t attack him the usual way that
he`s the devil or he`s unconstitutional, he violated his oath of office.
That`s too extreme.

Say he wasted us a year and a half of time we need to focus on the
economy with this wild goose chase. He couldn`t even come up with a bill,
a measure that could pass mustard with a divided court. He wasted our
time. The guy is not up to the job.

Can Romney make that case if he does it just that way?

KLEIN: Well, I think the best way for Romney to make that case is to
say, OK, Obama blew it. And now, we got to figure out a way to manage this
runaway system.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: We`re just going it drive ourselves into debt.

You know, the thing about Romney is when he came out of the chute,
emphasizing his managerial capabilities and economy, he was a pretty damn
good candidate. The amazing thing about Romney is that his stump speech
and his whole persona have gotten worse as he`s gone on.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Why doesn`t he hire a Jim Baker, or somebody that
knows how to discipline him?

Anyway, thank you, John Heilemann, and thank you, Joe Klein. I think
we have sized up. This election is too early to call no matter how
passionate you are.

Up next, the gender gap. Frank Rich is going to be here to talk
about how the Republican Party has made a serious problem for itself with
women. It`s what Heilemann just mentioned, he`s going into depth in this.
Frank Rich joins us next on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Politico" is the first to report on the latest fall of
Newt Gingrich. Last night, their headline: "Newt Gingrich cut staff, aims
for Tampa."

And Chris Cillizza wrote this today: "Make no mistake, this is the
end of the Gingrich campaign. He is out of money, or close to it, with few
prospects to raise more. Polling suggests he will finish behind Texas Rep
Ron Paul in April 3rd Wisconsin primary.

He already placed fourth in the Illinois primary last week. He lacks
any obvious, regional or ideological base in the party. This is what the
end looks like."

Wow for Chris Cillizza.

We`ll be right back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Beginning in 1980 with the Reagan/Carter presidential race, we stared
to hear a new term in American politics: gender gap. Simply put, women
began to vote more for Democrats then and men for Republicans. Democrats
have counted on women`s votes ever since. In 2010, for example, the gender
gap disappeared and so did Democrats in all those races across the country.
They were swept out of office in the House.

And this year, Democrats are eager for a return at the gap, hoping
that the controversy over contraception, for instance, will bring women
back into the fold.

Frank Rich is a great writer and residence. In fact, his title was
writer-at-large for "New York Magazine" now. He writes in his latest
piece, the GOP has a serious problem with women.

Well, that`s no surprise, Frank. But you`re the best at this. I
want you to look at this history and explain it.

FRANK RICH, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Because I think your piece does it.

Let`s take a look now. We`ve done the work to back up your piece.
Look at this -- how women have voted in recent presidential elections.
This graphic shows how over the past four decades, the Democrats share the
women`s votes, shown here in blue, as generally increased at the same time
the percentage of women voting for Republicans, those are the bars in red,
has decreased.

Of course, the opposite is true for men. They`ve been voting more
and more Republican over the same period.

Frank, explain.

RICH: Well, what`s happened is that there really has been a
Republican war on women that began in the early 1970s. We first saw it
towards the tail end of the Nixon administration, before Roe v. Wade was
decided or abortion was an issue. And Nixon, who was generally progressive
about women`s issues, suddenly vetoed a childcare bill in part on the
grounds that women shouldn`t be working, that they were sort of -- should
stay at home with their guy.

And it was, I think a deliberate attempt in those days of the GOP to
exploit the backlash against the feminist movement the same way they used
the Southern strategy at the same time to exploit the backlash against the
African-American civil rights movement.

Ever since then --

MATTHEWS: Well, that was kind of dumb, wasn`t it?

Let me ask you about Reagan --

RICH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- because I know, I think we both agree that Reagan was
really the first one to really display the way people reacted to him.
Something like eight-point differential between how women voters reacted to
Reagan`s candidacy and how men did. What do you think was there?

RICH: Well, you know, it`s sort of counterintuitive because Reagan
was such a genial guy and seemed to, we think would appeal to both genders
equally. But I think that by then, the religious right was beginning to
get a stranglehold, abortion and choice was becoming more and more of an
issue, and that would escalate throughout the 1980s.

And as you know, Chris, reaching its culmination in the 1992 Houston
convention which was really kind of a freak show for the anti-feminist,
anti-choice right.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Marilyn Quayle played a big part in that, basically
arguing the old matter of how women are related to men, obviously.

RICH: Right, and Dan Quayle who was, after all, the sitting vice
president, ran against Murphy Brown, a fictional CBS sitcom character
because she was --

MATTHEWS: That was smart.

RICH: -- too independent, remember that?

MATTHEWS: I remember it now that you bring it back, you regurgitated
it.

RICH: It was nightmare.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me try something on you.

RICH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let me try some nuance here, because not everything is
simple.

RICH: Of course.

MATTHEWS: There seemed to be sensibility the way mean acted
differently to different women. I mean, not to get into the viva la
difference or anything here, but it seems like certain male candidates
haven`t been offensive to women, even if they`re from the right side of the
tracks. I mean, for example, George Herbert Walker Bush, he didn`t do
badly in `92 against Bill Clinton among women voters.

I was thinking -- I was thinking -- there are some other examples of
this. It didn`t seem to strike me as a big differential on every time,
every case.

RICH: Maybe so. I mean, George H.W. Bush was, again, a genial guy,
although you remember the gag at the time was he reminded American women of
their first husband.

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s not a good memory.

He also said something offensive about his debate with Geraldine
Ferraro, didn`t he say I kicked her butt or something afterwards?

RICH: Exactly. Actually, you know, he knew better than that. I
don`t know why he was behaving that way. But the truth --

MATTHEWS: He was trying to act like a Reagan Republican, I think.

RICH: (INAUDIBLE) and all the rest of it.

But in `92, it was 20 years ago, the year of the woman, and the key
thing there is that women took all these Democratic seats in the Senate,
and they were all Democrats. And that was something that Bush could not
overcome. There was a tide following the Anita Hill hearings and following
the rise of Hillary Clinton who would then become first lady and who
attracted all sorts of vitriolic attacks, a lot of them misogynist from the
right.

MATTHEWS: OK. You were a great liberal, and I mean that in the most
positive way. I think you`re accepted that way. You`re very good on gay
rights. You`re ahead of me on that one, I think, although I think I`ve
caught up.

RICH: Oh, good. Good.

MATTHEWS: I`m getting these rewards from HRC and things like that
these days.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So is my wife. And I must say that.

But do you think -- let`s talk about women and the glass ceiling,
where it`s going to break. Hillary Clinton came very close, obviously with
all these incredible number of votes she got in 2000, rather, in 2008.
This time around, who are you looking for? Anybody, Claire McCaskill, Amy
Klobuchar? Is there anybody coming up that really can break? Or is
Hillary Clinton going to be the candidate in 2016?

RICH: I wouldn`t predict who`s going to be the candidate in 2016.
And all the Hillary speculation, I don`t know what to make of it.

Look, the examples like Claire McCaskill that you mentioned, there`s
some incredibly talented and brilliant women politicians, almost all of
them in the Democratic Party, at least at the high level, and I`m sure one
will break through. I don`t -- I think the glass ceiling is far from
permanent in the presidential race in this country.

MATTHEWS: Good for you, Frank. You`re a great writer. We love it.
You`re now with "New York Magazine".

RICH: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thanks for this piece.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the prospect that the Supreme
Court could actually overturn health care by one vote. Imagine what that`s
going to do if that happens. One person deciding something we`ve all been
fighting about for centuries it seems.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

The Supreme Court stands on the verge of changing American political
history. The fate of what the president proposed, what the Congress
debated, what was written into law is now to be decided by a single
justice. This will be hard to take.

We the American people have invested an extraordinary amount of
argument in this matter. On the left, the fight has been waged between
those who wanted a public option and were willing to risk the whole health
care measure for it, and those who thought it better to get what was
gettable and not risk getting nothing.

Well, now, the prospect of getting just that looms over the horizon.
By June, we may get a rule from the court across the lawn that all this
"sturm und drang" has been wasted.

The reaction on the right could take two courses. One -- this would
be the nastiest and also perhaps the most defective -- it would be an out
and out charge against the president that he violated the Constitution,
that he resorted to a terrible historic abuse of his office by shoving
through a measure which violates his oath of office. It is not only
unconstitutional, they would say, he is.

It would be seized upon like FDR`s court packing as a historic
presidential overreach, an act unworthy of a historic rejection of the
American people, actually worthy of one.

A far kind of reaction would be for a Republican presidential nominee
Mitt Romney would be perfect for this role, to accuse Obama wasting a year
and a half of his early presidency on a wild goose chase, wasting those
valuable early months of the country`s history to work a bipartisan
challenge to the country`s economic crisis.

Either way, it will be hard for the president to view a rejection of
his number one legislative achievement as anything less than a body blow to
his work since being elected, and that historic balloting of 2008.

So here we go, into a brutal period of deliberation. By June, we
will know whether Justice Kennedy, Justice Anthony Kennedy has given
approval to the Affordable Healthcare Bill or not. We`ll know what the
fight is going to be like between June and November.

It will be far better for the president if the Supreme Court approves
what he`s done, far better for the country. We`ll have to see what comes
of it and what does not. This is a daunting situation.

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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