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updated 4/9/2012 2:27:23 PM ET 2012-04-09T18:27:23

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Milissa Rehberger, Joan Walsh, John Heilemann,
David Corn, Ron Christie, Joan Walsh, Jim Abbott, Evan Thomas, Mike Allen

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Unemployment is down, so why are the
Republicans smiling?

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Michael Smerconish in New York, and in for Chris
Matthews. Leading off tonight: It`s the economy, stupid. It was true in
the 1992 campaign and it`s true today. Take all the factors that will
determine who wins in November, combine them all, and they still won`t be
as important as the economy and the unemployment rate.

The economy created 120,000 jobs last month, well below the last few
months and below expectations, while unemployment`s rate dropped by a tenth
of a point to 8.2 percent. Republicans will point to the lower than
expected jobs numbers, Democrats will point to a falling unemployment rate.
So who`s going to win this fight? We`ll break it down at the top of the
show.

Also, Mitt Romney`s people know he has an image problem, they love
going negative, and Romney blew his chance for a timely Jeb endorsement.
Those are just a few of the nuggets from the new e-book, and we`ll dish
some campaign gossip with the authors, of "Inside the Circus."

Plus, is there really a GOP war on women? Democrats are dining out on
that idea. Republicans -- they say it`s all nonsense. So we`ll have that
debate.

And did you ever wonder what it might be like to text with Hillary
Clinton? That fantasy has gone viral, and it`s in the "Sideshow."

And finally, "Let Me Finish" with the best thing of all that happened
this week.

We begin with the economy and the presidential race. John Heilemann
is the national political correspondent for "New York" magazine. David
Corn is the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" magazine and is
author of the new book called "Showdown." Both are MSNBC political
analysts.

Guys, as I mentioned today, the unemployment rate notched down just a
hair and total jobs added, 120,000. Although those numbers are headed in
the right direction, the jobs numbers fell short of expectations.

This morning, President Obama expressed cautious optimism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We welcome today`s news
that our businesses created another 121,000 jobs last month and the
unemployment rate ticked down. But it`s clear to every American that there
will still be ups and downs along the way and that we`ve got a lot more
work to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Republican reaction to the jobs numbers was far less
charitable. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a statement saying,
"This is a weak and very troubling jobs report." House speaker John
Boehner`s statement said, "Families and small businesses are still
struggling to get by because of President Obama`s failed economic
policies."

John Heilemann, do we make too much of these numbers? In other words,
is there something visceral, some kind of a feeling out there amongst the
electorate that is more important than whether it`s 8.2 percent as an
unemployment rate or 7.4 percent?

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Michael, I
think the most important thing is the economy, and the most important
reflection of the economy is the picture on job growth. And the most
important thing about both of those things is the trend.

So if the economy`s improving, even if it`s improving just a little
bit, people get a sense from the numbers that we`re making progress.
That`s good for President Obama, bad for Mitt Romney.

If we`re backing up, if the gains of the last couple -- few months are
suddenly heading in the opposite direction, as the numbers today suggested,
which is to say much below expectations, half of what people had expected,
and there`s a lot of private sector forecasters who think that Q3 could be
very bad, the third quarter of the year heading into the election, high gas
prices almost inevitable this summer -- if the trend is in the wrong
direction, very bad news for President Obama and very good news for Mitt
Romney.

SMERCONISH: I`m going to come back to trends in just a moment because
we have an interesting analysis to share with you. But let me ask David
Corn first. Is it the subjective or is it the objective that matters most
relative to these figures and the economy generally?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you`re
talking about voters, it`s the subjective that`s most important. It`s how
people feel. You go back to the `92 campaign, and you know, people argue
that the recovery -- that the recession -- the George H.W. Bush recession
was already over, but people still felt it wasn`t.

So it`s really how people feel that`s going to dictate the voting in
November, not what`s actually happening on the ground, which is hard to
capture sometimes with these statistics.

We`re going to have, you know, several months of these reports between
now and November. And really it`ll be what happens in September/October
that gives people the final sense of whether the economy is moving in the
right direction or not.

And that can all be determined also, don`t forget, by external
circumstances. The Japanese tsunami, the Greek financial crisis -- there`s
a lot of stuff outside the president`s control that could buffet the
economy and thus buffet our political stability.

SMERCONISH: I guess what I`m saying is it`s hard for folks at home to
follow along some of the time. You`re going to hear from one side, Well,
the unemployment rate is still high at 8.2 percent, and then the other side
is going to say, Yes, but we`ve had 25 straight months of job growth.

Let me turn to John Heilemann`s thought about trends because this is
really interesting. Conventional wisdom, you both know, holds that it`s
the unemployment rate on election day that determines a president`s fate.
No U.S. president has won reelection with a jobless rate above 6 percent,
except for Ronald Reagan. It was 7.2 percent when he won reelection. That
was November of 1984.

But NBC "Wall street Journal" pollster Bill McInturff, who`s a
Republican, says that voters` impressions of the economy are locked in in
the late spring of an election year, and it`s that mindset that they take
into the November booth.

And here are three good examples of what he`s referring to. In
president George H.W. Bush`s first and only term, the unemployment rate was
trending downward, a good thing, leading into election day. So logic holds
that voters would have been willing to give him four more years with the
jobs outlook then improving.

But in the crucial late spring months that we`ve highlighted here, the
unemployment rate was rising. And according to McInturff`s theory, it was
that impression that voters took to the polls.

Same pattern for President Jimmy Carter. The unemployment rate was
headed down in the lead-up to the November election, but in that April,
May, June spring timeframe, unemployment was rising. And we all know that
Carter lost his reelection bid despite an improving jobs picture.

One more. Now let`s look at a trend line for a president who won a
second term -- that would be Ronald Reagan -- despite a punishing
unemployment rate that topped 10 percent during his first term. Because it
was heading in the right direction, downward, voters gave him four more
years.

David Corn, sounds like an SAT question, I know. Does it make sense
to you? Because logic then dictates that right now, we`re in the time
sequence that matters most, not post-Labor Day.

CORN: You know, I -- I -- I take that point. But also, I think we
live in a different world where information is absorbed and chewed up and
spit out faster than back in those days. So people`s impressions, I think,
are more subject to change back and forth between now and the election.

And also, I do think that the weakness that Mitt Romney has shown as a
candidate is, you know, I`d say strategically important and can overturn a
lot of these other trend issues. Now, he has time to find his footing
between now and November. But if he can`t, I mean, people still are going
to be judging these two men against this backdrop of what they think may or
may not be happening with the economy.

SMERCONISH: John Heilemann, does it make sense to you? Mr. McInturff
says, Look, it`s been this way since `52.

HEILEMANN: Yes. It does actually make sense to me, Michael, and it
makes sense to me for kind of an odd reason. I had a conversation a few
months ago with Doug Sosnick, who was the political director for Bill
Clinton in 1996. And Doug has done a similar kind of analysis, only he`s
looked at approval ratings for presidents and found that the trend lines
and what`s happening with the presidential approval in the winter and
spring of an election year matters more than what`s happening toward the
end of the year.

So this kind of jibes with that. And I`m sure there`s actually some
connection, some causality, or at least some correlation between those two
numbers. And I think it is true.

I think David is right. There`s no question that in the media
environment we live in now, people do absorb things more quickly. But at
the same time, people are, especially now, thinking hard about the economy
for four years of Barack Obama or for 3-and-a-half years of Barack Obama`s
presidency.

I think they have -- their views about where things are headed right
now are being shaped. They are being formed. That`s why the White House
right now is hammering on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan so hard, because they
know that the springtime leading into the summer -- where the summer`s
going to be quiet. We have the Olympics. There`s a lot of other things
going on in the summer.

This is the time where impressions do get formed not maybe decisively,
but they get formed importantly, and that`s why both sides are trying to
frame each other up right now.

SMERCONISH: David, how about if things are headed in the right
direction but not as quickly as anyone would like? And you know that`s the
Romney argument thus far, that even if the economy is improving, it should
have been improving at a more rapid pace.

CORN: Well, you know, Romney has the benefit of -- when he makes that
statement, of having it not subjected to any fact checking. You know, he
keeps -- you know, he keeps implying that if he had been in charge in the
last three years, we`d be in a much better place, even though he was
against the auto rescue plan the president had, and God knows what he would
have done differently.

So I mean, he can make the argument. That really will -- that
argument will register depending on what people think of Barack Obama and
whether they feel he has a grip on the economy and on what to do in the
months and years ahead.

If they think he doesn`t, then they`ll be more susceptible to Mitt
Romney`s "I could have done it better, I will do it better" argument. But
if they see things going a better way and if they`re not really impressed
by Romney, who so far has turned off, as we`ve been talking about this for
weeks now -- women voters and independent voters, particularly in swing
states, then they may give Obama a second shot.

I think this election could turn over -- could upturn some of our
assumptions about how things work because of the particulars of the
candidate.

SMERCONISH: John Heilemann, you wonder if in Boston, at the Romney
headquarters, they`re hoping, as Americans, that those numbers come down as
quickly as they can, or as Romneyites anxious to elect their man, if their
reaction is something different when they look at those numbers this
morning.

HEILEMANN: Well, I expect that their reactions are probably both. I
mean, I don`t -- I wouldn`t accuse any of those people in Boston of being
unpatriotic, and I think that they -- they want to see the country in a
better place. They obviously think that Mitt Romney would be the person
who would help the country get to a better place faster.

Again, as David said, that`s hard to test empirically. It`s testing a
hypothesis. But there`s no question that they see political advantage in
the economy turning downward and there`s -- and they`re ready to capitalize
on that. It is the best -- given all the damage that Romney has suffered
or has inflicted on himself the last few months, it`s the best way for him
to win, is if this economy does turn south over the course of the next six
months.

SMERCONISH: Guys, have a great holiday weekend. Thank you for being
with us, John Heilemann and David Corn.

HEILEMANN: Thanks, Michael.

CORN: You, too, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, inside the Romney campaign. Turns out his top
advisers know he has an image problem, and they love going negative. Lots
of gossip from the Republican campaigns.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: No surprise here, blacks and whites are dramatically
divided over the question of George Zimmerman`s innocence in the Trayvon
Martin shooting case. A new Gallup poll finds African-Americans are five
times more likely to say that Zimmerman is definitely guilty of a crime
than non-blacks. And they`re twice as likely to say that Zimmerman would
have been arrested if the person he shot were white.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It`s been a long primary
season for Republican voters, who`ve watched about half dozen front-runners
come and go. And yet still standing, Mitt Romney, an unnatural politician
who`s run a tight ship of operatives, many of whom love to take down
opponents standing in their way.

The incredible story of Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and the rest
-- it`s all condensed into a very readable e-book called "Inside the
Circus," the second in a series from Politico covering the 2012 election.
And with me are the co-authors, Evan Thomas and Politico`s Mike Allen.

Gentlemen, you talk about the image issue that has surrounded the
Romney campaign, and an outside Romney campaign adviser told you in the
book, quote, "They haven`t been able to grapple with the central issue and
central challenge they face as a campaign. That is, that in the absence of
a candidate who has any poetry, who has any ability to connect on an
emotional level, how do you create a bond? If you`re a super-charismatic
candidate like George W. Bush or John McCain, they both ran without a real
bold agenda. They had more emotional level, values-level ways to connect
with voters. This guy just doesn`t have it. He has all the warmth of a
Wall Street CEO."

Evan, is it essential that at some point, he connect, or can voters
simply say, Look, you know, I can`t have a beer with him, but I think he
can turn the economy around?

EVAN THOMAS, CO-AUTHOR, "INSIDE THE CIRCUS": Well, as you were saying
at the top of the show, if the economy tanks and if unemployment goes way
up, he can win by default.

But sure, I mean, he`s got to do -- he`s got to do better than he`s
done. He`s been a bad politician. He`s got to find some way to be -- I
don`t like this word, but relatable, some way to relate to voters. And
they haven`t figured it out. I mean, they`re going to try. You`re going
to see a lot more of Romney telling his life story and how he`s helped
people. I`m sure of that.

SMERCONISH: Mike, on David -- pardon me -- on Jay Leno the other
night, David Gregory was talking about what he thinks really drives Romney.
And he said at his core is his faith, and yet he seems reluctant to talk
about it.

What`s been said behind closed doors as to how much he should openly
embrace his faith and use it as a means of allowing people see what`s at
his core?

MIKE ALLEN, CO-AUTHOR, "INSIDE THE CIRCUS": Well, Michael, one of the
first things that we learned when we went behind the scenes of these
campaigns to do this series of e-books for Random House was that they knew
from the beginning that Mormonism was going to be a tough issue for him.

He lives his faith. We know that before a debate, he and Mrs. Romney
will step aside and say a little prayer. But they know that if they get
into teaching theology in a campaign that they`re going to be way off their
message.

So from the beginning, they`ve said that for people who attacked
Mormonism, that they were going to be very tough on them, that they were
going to label it bigotry, that they were not going to let any attacks on
Mormonism slide, but they also weren`t going to talk about it any more than
necessary.

And this is part of the dilemma that Evan and I discovered, that they
can`t really decide how much, as one adviser said, to open up the kimono,
how much to show of Mitt Romney. There`s a debate. Is he too scripted, or
is he not scripted enough?

So as Evan mentioned, I think in the coming days, we`re going to see
him doing more. We`re going to see a sort of "This is your life" for Mitt
Romney, going around the country, showing his life experiences in an effort
to get people to relate to him because in the end, we vote for people we
like.

SMERCONISH: Here`s another of your revelations, speaking of, I guess
I should say hardball tactics, used to destroy opponents. A senior Romney
adviser told you, quote, "So their view is he`s dead, but wait a minute.
Let`s dig up the casket. Open it up. We got more bullets in our gun.
Let`s keep shooting because you never know."

Evan, they relish going negative.

THOMAS: They do. One of them talked about -- his wife had been
reading a book about vampires, and you have to dig them up, burn them, and
scatter their ashes. I mean, it`s -- look, I mean, part of the problem is
that if they don`t have a very winning candidate, they have to go negative.
What else are they going to do?

They`re good at it. They ran some very effective negative ads. They
way outspent their opponents and they basically buried them in negative
ads.

I`m not so sure that`s going to work against Obama, but look for it.
You`re going to see a lot of negative stuff come this fall.

SMERCONISH: There are a lot of great nuggets in the book, including
this. Mike Allen, you report that there was no Romney research on Santorum
just a couple of days out from Iowa. In other words, he completely took
them by surprise.

ALLEN: Well, he took everybody by surprise. I don`t think you and I
thought that Rick Santorum was exactly going to be the Republican redeemer.
But he came out of Iowa with this head of steam, and the Romney campaign
had to adapt to that quickly.

Also, with Gingrich, they didn`t think that he was going to be the
threat that he was, either. And so they took their foot off his throat, as
one adviser said to me, as he came out of New Hampshire, and they got beat
in South Carolina.

So the night of Mitt Romney`s big win in Florida, I said to one of his
folks outside the victory speech, I said, So are we done with Newt
Gingrich? Are you going to be able to let go of him? They said, No. He`s
been dead before. So they were going to make sure this time that he was
good and dead.

SMERCONISH: Here`s another one from "Inside the Circus." Who can
forget this night in late October that had everybody wondering what was up
with Rick Perry? Let`s take a look as a refresher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRES. CANDIDATE: We`re kind of into those
slogans, man. It`s, like, "Live free or die"! "Victory or death"! Bring
it!

They print any more money over there in Washington, the goal`s (ph)
going to be good.

Twenty percent flat tax, put it on there, take your deductions off,
send it in.

The good news is that little plan that I just shared with you doesn`t
force the Granite state to expand your tax footprint, if you know what I
mean.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: Like 9 percent expansion.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Evan, is there an explanation as to that behavior?

THOMAS: Well, I`m not sure.

We did -- we talked to somebody who before the debate was down in the
men`s room there in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Perry came through the door
singing "I have been working on the railroad."

And the guy -- and he was still singing away, "I have been working on
the railroad."

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: So who knows?

The story was that he -- he had a bad back, a really bad back, and he
was on pain medication, as anybody would be. Two hours is a long time to
stand at a podium and, you know, he may have been -- just had a little bit
too much pain medication.

ALLEN: And, Michael, the campaign says that back medication was not a
factor in the campaign, but his back pain surely was.

And he got into the race late. He hadn`t been planning to. Some of
his advisers became free after they`d worked for Newt Gingrich. And so
after this very tough surgery, he was on the road. And one of the
fascinating things that Evan and I have discovered as we dug in to these
campaigns was the physical rigor of the campaign.

One thing that Evan always asks these guys about is, he says to the
candidate, there`s only a couple of people in the world who know what it is
really like. And as we talk to these guys about what it`s really like, we
always think of the physical or psychic toll. But it`s a very physical job
as well.

And so when Rick Perry has to stand at a fund-raiser and take pictures
with 100 donors and has a bad back, one of his first fund-raisers told us
that they could only schedule 50 when they wanted to do 100. And so when
you get into a debate that`s in two hours, you can imagine if you have
screaming back pain, well, that`s going to have a big effect.

SMERCONISH: In your book "Inside the Circus," you also portray
Callista Gingrich as being, I don`t know if controlling is the right word.
How about exhibiting a lot of influence in that campaign and being
concerned about the way in which she`s represented or depicted.

Evan, can you speak to that?

THOMAS: Well, one of the people we talked to, Mike and I had dinner
with, talked about maintenance, a lot of Callista maintenance that goes on
in the campaign, you know, taking care of her.

She likes to travel first class, she likes to come home on the
weekend. One of these key weekends, she was smelling the cherry blossoms
with Newt instead of campaigning. The next week, she wanted to -- she
plays an instrument in the -- at the one of the cathedrals here. You know,
they cater to her.

Now, that`s not such a bad thing because you have got -- you know, you
have got to help the candidate`s wife. But I think as candidate`s wife
goes, she`s pretty controlling.

SMERCONISH: Did she also Photoshop or play a role in the
Photoshopping of her own paragraphs? Isn`t that contained in the book as
well?

ALLEN: Yes.

Michael, that was an unusual duty for one of the Gingrich aides. They
sad that no campaign resources went to it. But there was some work done on
the photos. And it was a sign of the very candidate-focused control. They
told us that all the orders in that campaign come not from the campaign
manager, not from headquarters, but from the bus.

Speaker Gingrich calls in on his cell phone and tells them what he
wants. We`re told that at one point he was even calling in -- and this is
any former campaign operative`s nightmare, the candidate calling in saying
he wanted more yard signs in Michigan.

It`s such an unusual campaign that one of the people who works for us
told us that it was like a think tank with yard signs. Somebody had to
explain to Speaker Gingrich, we can`t get more yard signs. We didn`t pay
for the last shipment yet.

And one of the few times that we really see Newt Gingrich exploding,
we hear him in anger in a meeting with his staff just a couple weeks ago,
and that`s the miracle of these e-books, that something that happened just
a couple of weeks ago, we could have. We made changes to the last moment.

He found out that he was far in debt. And he was saying, this isn`t
my fault. Whose fault is this? And that was what he called a halftime
meeting. I think the chances that last week are -- halftime for the
Gingrich campaign now pretty low.

SMERCONISH: The e-book is called "Inside the Circle."

Thank you, Mike Allen and thank you, Evan Thomas, for being here.
Good luck with it.

ALLEN: Michael, thank you. Have a happy holiday weekend. Thanks for
having us on.

SMERCONISH: You, too.

Up next, ever wonder what it would be like to text with Hillary
Clinton? Well, stick around for the "Sideshow."

And, by the way, follow me on Twitter if you can figure out how to
spell Smerconish.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow."

First up, now that most everyone is convinced that Mitt Romney has
clinched the nomination, some of the focus has turned to the veepstakes.
The game-changer herself, Sarah Palin, suggested that Romney should --
quote -- "go rogue" and choose outspoken Tea Partier Allen West of Florida.

Well, do you think the congressman dodged the question, as tradition
demands?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: If someone were to make that call to
me, which I really doubt is ever going to happen, you would have to make
sure that it is something that God would ordain for you and you would have
to talk to your wife. And if it`s the right fit, then I would do so.

QUESTION: Do you like Mitt Romney? Do you support his views? Would
you feel comfortable on a ticket with him?

WEST: Well, you know, I have never been out on a dinner date with
him, if that`s what you`re asking me.

(LAUGHTER)

WEST: So, I don`t know if I would like him, but I think that we would
have to sit down and discuss things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Maybe Romney should check with John McCain about that
whole going rogue thing.

And here`s one that can get women reeling when they head to the dry
cleaners. It`s more expensive to bring in a blouse than a man`s Oxford
shirt. Aren`t they the same thing? Well, earlier today, Barack Obama
acknowledged that little wrinkle in the gender wars at a White House forum
on women and the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we`ve got a lot
more to do, but there`s no doubt we`ve made progress.

Soon, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage
based on preexisting conditions like breast cancer, or charge women more
just because they`re women.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We haven`t gotten on the dry cleaning thing yet, though. I
mean, I know that that`s still...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: That`s still frustrating, I`m sure.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And now for a bit of Friday fun.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to text with Hillary Clinton
or at least read what she`s texting to other people? Well, that`s the
focus of a new Tumblr account that`s gone viral in the past couple of days.

The idea was hatched when two D.C. communications professionals caught
sight of this photo and got creative. Take a look.

From President Obama: "Hey, Hill, what you doing?"

Her response: "Running the world."

Then Condoleezza Rice talking to former President Bush: "So then I
sent her a text saying I think I left my favorite sunglasses in the desk."

And from Clinton: "Sorry, Condi, haven`t seen them."

And, finally, an adaption from the movie "Mean Girls." From Sarah
Palin: "I`m not a regular mom. I`m a cool mom, right, Hillary?"

And the response: "Please stop talking."

Up next, Democrats are pushing the idea of a Republican-led war on
women. Republicans, they say it`s fiction. What`s really going on here?
We`re going to have that debate.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
what`s happening.

As reported earlier, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.2 percent in
March, but the total number of jobs added, 120,000 of them, fell short of
analyst expectations.

A fiery scene in Virginia Beach after a Navy fighter jet crashed into
an apartment complex. Seven people were hurt. Amazingly, nobody was
killed.

And the Maryland woman who claims she held one of the winning tickets
to the $656 million jackpot now says she lost it -- back to HARDBALL.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Women`s issues have dominated the news over the past few months,
contraception, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood, even
Rush Limbaugh`s comments about a Georgetown law student. Democrats have
attempted to seize the moment, portraying Republicans as being at war
against women, a charge the GOP strongly denies.

Here was the president speaking at a women`s event just this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There`s been a lot of talk about women and women`s issues
lately, as there should be. But I do think that the conversation`s been
oversimplified.

Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You shouldn`t be treated that way.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Joan Walsh is editor at large for Salon.com and an MSNBC
political analyst. And Ron Christie is a Republican strategist who worked
in the Bush 43 White House.

Joan, a skeptic or critic might say that the president is treating
women as a monolithic group when standing in that forum he makes those
comments. Your thoughts?

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president -- this
president has made women`s issues a priority.

Michael, it`s not just an election-year thing. It goes back to 2009.
His very first act, I believe, was signing the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay
Act, which Republicans have blocked. And today I find it so ironic the
president is having this wonderful forum for women, and in Wisconsin poster
boy -- Republican poster boy Scott Walker is actually signing a bill that
reduces equal pay protection for women.

So it`s not just about contraception. That`s really the funny part.
You have got a Republican Party that is behind the Ryan budget, which
slashes Medicaid, slashes Medicare, which disproportionately help women.
So there`s so many issues beyond contraception, and it`s not Democrats
making Republicans do these things that women perceive as hurting their
interests.

SMERCONISH: Ron Christie, is it a media creation, this whole notion
that the GOP is at war with women?

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Of course
it is, Michael. Good evening.

I find it ironic. Here we are in April of an election year and the
Democrats have nothing to say whatsoever about the president`s record. And
instead they go ahead and they manufacture crises. In this particular
case, I think it`s very offensive. We have brave men and women on the
battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq in an actual war, and yet you hear
Democratic propaganda saying that the Republicans are against women.

One bit of fact here. Since President Obama has come into office, you
have had 683,000 women who have lost their jobs. The unemployment rate for
women has gone up from 7 percent to 8.1 percent. So if we look at the
president`s policies and what the Democrats have done, they have
disproportionately impacted women in a negative way. And as opposed to
looking at the real facts, the Democrats want to take us on a propaganda
tour.

SMERCONISH: Well, here`s Mitt Romney in an interview this week. He`s
trying to explain how Democrats have taken hold of this issue.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s no question that
over the past several weeks that any discussion about religious liberty was
distorted into a discussion of contraceptives.

And there was the perception that somehow the Republicans are opposed
to contraceptives. I think it was a most unfortunate twist by our Democrat
friends. I think this will pass as an issue as people understand our real
position.

I, for instance, have made it very clear I do not oppose
contraception. But the women I speak with and the women that my wife
speaks with tell her that their number one issue is the economy.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Joan Walsh, he says religious liberty is at stake here,
not a battle over contraception.

WALSH: It`s just not true, Michael.

I mean, the Democrats weren`t the ones who took the House a year ago
and made one of their first crusades the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Now, I know Republicans like to demonize Planned Parenthood, but one in
five women goes there in her lifetime.

Republicans missed the opportunity to repudiate Rush Limbaugh when he
said those horrible things about Sandra Fluke. And Republicans have been
proposing personhood amendments. All of the candidates have signed on to
these ridiculous personhood amendments that would criminalize certain forms
of contraception.

So Democrats didn`t do those things. Democrats didn`t make
Republicans do those things. These are their positions. They don`t like
to having their positions pointed out to them. But women are seeing it.
And that`s why there`s a huge gender gap, and it`s only getting wider.

SMERCONISH: Ron, you will certainly have the chance to respond to
that, but let me put it in the context of Alaska Republican Senator Lisa
Murkowski and what she recently said.

She took a tough line against her own party when she told a radio
station she couldn`t believe the GOP has been making an issue out of
contraception.

And here`s the quote. "It makes no sense to make this attack on
women. If you don`t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk
to your wife and your daughters."

Your thoughts?

CHRISTIE: I like Senator Murkowski, but she`s dead wrong on this.

It`s President Obama and Obamacare that has made religious freedom the
issue here. The fact of the matter is, the president came out with a
unilateral proclamation and said, if you are an institution of faith and
you`re providing services, you have to provide contraception, even if
that`s against your religious tenets. That was offensive to the Catholic
Church.

President Obama came out with a phony compromise. It`s President
Obama who is doing this, Michael. And the thing that I would point out is
that the president doesn`t want to actually talk about his single-handedly
trying to force institutions of faith and providers to provide something
against their religion, and instead make this a phony war on contraception.

Republicans should be on the attack on this. We`re right on the
facts. We`re right on the policy. But the Democrats want to demagogue and
make this an issue about gender. They`re so obsessed with gender and race
in society, and Republicans are very interested in policy solutions by
looking at people as individuals.

SMERCONISH: I hear what you say, but even when the president offered
a compromise, a compromise that was such that a religious institution would
not have been providing or I should say paying for contraception, the
Catholic bishops balked at that. And then raises the question, who is then
being intolerable, right?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Right.

CHRISTIE: Well, again, I would say that the Catholic bishops have
looked at this, they`ve read it very carefully. They said it was still
forced them to provide these services that are against their religious
faith.

Why are we forcing as a government institutions of faith to do
something that`s against --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: If I`m a Presbyterian working as an E.R. nurse, I`m now
going to be denied contraception that the church wouldn`t be paying for?
It would be paid for by the insurance company.

CHRISTIE: This whole notion that Republicans are trying to deny
people contraception is ridiculous. They can go to pharmacies.

This is in the president`s health care bill. This is nothing the
Republicans did.

SMERCONISH: Joan Walsh?

WALSH: First of all, the Catholic Health Association and Association
of Jesuit Universities came out for the compromise. They like what
President Obama did.

Second of all, it is merely regulating insurance companies and saying
they should provide contraception without a co-pay, frankly because it
saves them money. It`s been ridiculous that all of these years we`ve had
to pay steep costs for contraception because it actually saves the insurer
money and then saves the employer money.

And there was always a religious exemption. Churches were always
carved out of this. So they are -- I`m sorry, Ron, I like you, you are the
ones who have made this an issue. The president brought it out --
immediately came to a compromise when he saw that there was some objection.
Everyone has moved on. Everyone likes the compromise except the bishops
and the Republican Party.

SMERCONISH: Ron, may I ask this because whatever might be driving
it, I think that it`s undeniable that there`s a gender divide thus far in
this campaign. There`s always, you could say, to a certain extent a gender
divide. But it seems pronounced, 18 points in that "USA Today"/Gallup
survey.

If you were whispering in the ear of the Romney campaign, what would
you be telling them to do about it?

CHRISTIE: What I`d say to Governor Romney is go out and talk about
why your vision for the country is strong, why your vision will increase
the economy and economic productivity. And when it comes to looking at
people as individuals, we recognize that men and women have certain
different health needs that need to be addressed and the government will
not inhibit those institutions of faith that will provide services. But at
the same time we need to look at people not based on their race, gender,
but looking at people as individuals.

That`s what I`d say to the Governor Romney camp.

SMERCONISH: Joan Walsh, Ron Christie -- have a great holiday
weekend. Thank you for being with us.

CHRISTIE: Thanks, Michael.

WALSH: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Up next, the incredible story, great story of Jim
Abbott, a pitcher who found much success in the Major Leagues despite
having been born with only one hand. Jim Abbott joins us next.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: A United States marine who criticized President Obama on
his Facebook page is facing dismissal from the corps and a less-than-
honorable discharge. A three-member administrative board found that 26-
year-old Sergeant Gary Stein committed misconduct by posting what it called
contemptuous comments about the president. Among them, calling the
president a, quote, "coward" and also the economic and religious enemy.

The recommendation came after a day long hearing during which
Sergeant Stein`s attorneys argued that he was exercising his right to free
speech. But the military has had a policy since the Civil War limiting the
free speech of service members, including criticism of the commander in
chief.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, we`re back.

When my next guest was a high school pitcher, this is what a Major
League scout wrote about him in a notebook, "Abbott, Jim, left-handed
pitcher, 6-3, 180, great arm, good change-up, makings of a breaking ball,
natural cutter, big competitor, good athlete, plays football, good hitter,"
and then added a final line, "has no right hand." If it were up to Jim
Abbott, there would be no mention of the fact he had no right hand.

Jim Abbott has written a new memoir. It`s called "Imperfect: An
Improbable Life." It`s a riveting read. And he joins me now from Los
Angeles.

You never wanted to be known that way. That`s not something you
would have put in your own personnel file.

JIM ABBOTT, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER: Well, I wanted to prove
myself. You know, I chose to play baseball, and it was my way of fighting
back. And when I walked on that baseball field, I wanted to be seen like
every other competitor out there. I didn`t want any quarter given. So I
would rather be judged for how I pitched, you know, rather than, you know,
how well I pitched.

SMERCONISH: My executive producer said before I welcomed you, Jim.
He said, played football, what position? Go ahead, tell him.

ABBOTT: I was a quarterback in high school.

SMERCONISH: Of course.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Everybody wants to know, how were you able to do it?
Relative to pitching, how were you able to manage the glove placement?
What`s the short version of that?

ABBOTT: Well, you know, my dad bought me a baseball glove when I was
4 or 5 years old and we went out in the front yard and started learning how
to play catch. I had to throw and catch with the same hand. So, I used to
wear the right-handers` glove on my left hand, I would twirl it cord
towards my body, cradle the glove, pull the ball out, finish the rotation,
let the glove rest on my right hand, throw the ball, and have it ready to
put right back on.

SMERCONISH: And some -- at all different stages of your career,
because you`ve had success -- I mean all-American at the University of
Michigan, a gold medalist for our Olympic team, and I`m going to get to
your big moment playing for the Yankees. But all through the stages,
different hitters tried to take advantage of you by bunting, true?

ABBOTT: They did. You know, but I chose to play baseball. I didn`t
expect -- I didn`t expect anybody to take it easy on me. If they -- if
that`s why you play, and that`s what I expected.

When I went out there on the pitchers mound, if they saw -- they
thought my fielding was going to be a weakness, I expected that bunt. And
I was ready for it. I worked hard on it.

You know, I realize that I had to field my position well if I wanted
to be as good as everybody else.

SMERCONISH: Opening day was yesterday. Jim Abbott, you lived every
American kid`s dream. You pitched a no-hitter as a New York Yankee, maybe
that`s not every Boston kid`s dream, but at Yankee Stadium.

Will you take us back to that final inning? First of all, during the
course of the game, at what point did you realize, hey, you know, this
could happen?

ABBOTT: I think it was about the sixth innings. I was sitting in
the dugout, Yankees Stadium, I had that my jacket on, had my water next to
me, and my buddies -- my pitching buddies, Scott Kamieniecki and Jimmy Key.
I looked up at the score board, Indians, four or -- Yankees 4, Indians,
nothing, and I saw that they didn`t have any hits yet.

And you start doing that mental countdown in your mind. Three more
innings, nine more outs, this could happen. You know, that`s a doable
thing. You could make it happen.

SMERCONISH: And is it true that -- you know, the protocol is, nobody
ever acknowledges that. I mean, nobody ever says, hey, Jim Abbott, you
have a no hitter going here, man.

ABBOTT: Baseball is stupid superstition, right? When you`re doing
something well, your teammates quit talking to you. So with every inning
that I would come back to the dugout, I would be, say, six outs away, and
my teammates would be three feet away. With three outs away, they were
five feet away.

SMERCONISH: In the book, which is tremendous, "Imperfect: An
Improbable Life," you tell the story about how the grounds crew at Yankee
Stadium -- they dug up the pitching rubber to present to you.

ABBOTT: Incredible. The next day, after the no-hitter, Sunday, day
game, I got to the clubhouse, Yankees Stadium, feeling great, you know,
trying still -- you know, the game keeps going, but I was reliving the
moment. And they called me out on the field and the entire grounds crew
had dug out the pitching rubber of the mound there at Yankee Stadium. They
had everybody on the team sign it, including the home umpire, Ted Henry,
they presented it to me.

And it was such a great gesture. I thought about how hard it must
have been to dig all that out, put a new one back in and completely rebuild
the mound. And that`s most cherished memorabilia from the game.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Jim, you`re such a gracious guy and I had a
privilege of meeting you earlier in the week. There was one instance where
you said, no, that`s an autograph I just can`t give. Can you tell that
story? It`s late out in the book.

ABBOTT: Well, you know, Michael, I always wanted -- I wanted to
spend my life moving past the label. And, you know, there are times you
come up against the label and you can`t move past it. One time I was asked
for an autograph on a baseball with the only other autograph on it was from
the gentleman named Pete Gray, a great ball player who made the Major
Leagues during World War II, who`s also missing a limb.

And this gentleman wanted the ball with only our signatures on it.
And I guess I understand that, but I was reluctant to sign it. I told him
I`d sign anything else and I hope that he would understand that it just
seemed to me like a piece of memorabilia that might be trying to exploit a
physical difference. And I didn`t want to be known for that. And I hope
Pete Gray would understand that.

SMERCONISH: And while you don`t want to exploit it, you do recognize
that you`re an inspiration, not only for those with all their limbs but for
those who don`t. Our mutual friend, Bruce Piskas (ph), told me that he was
at the Barnes and Noble on the Upper West Side the other night, and was
quite overwhelmed by the number of individuals with disabilities who want
to come out and they want to greet you and some even want to have you
signed a prosthetic limb.

ABBOTT: Well, Michael, since my career ended, I have been amazed at
how many cards and letters, and e-mails I still get from parents, moms and
dads, and little boys, little girls, facing challenges of every kind. It
seems that baseball has an incredible reach in that way.

And I would always try to respond to each and every one of those
requests. I would send a letter. I would send a photo, but I always felt
like that page-long response was somehow inadequate, that there was no way
to summarize the experiences and inspiration that I had from the people I
had in my hometown and my parents.

And so, in a lot of ways my book, "Imperfect," written with Tim
Brown, is my response in the long form. This is what I went through. This
is what I experienced. And I hope you can relate to this and I hope you
can find inspiration in it.

SMERCONISH: The book is tremendous, "Imperfect: An Improbable Life,"
by Jim Abbott, a man who through a no hitter with one hand and did a heck
of a lot of other things and still do in a lot of inspirational things with
his life. We really appreciate you being here. Have a great Easter and
thank you.

ABBOTT: Michael, thank you very much for having me. I appreciate
it.

SMERCONISH: All right.

And when we return, allow me to finish with a few thoughts about
baseball and the much-needed break that it provides.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I`m sure I speak for many when I say I`m happy it`s Friday and that a
holiday weekend is here, because by this point in my week, I`m all e-mailed
out, got iPhone overload, and I`ll even be happy to take a breather from
social media. Don`t get me wrong, I love al the technology that makes
communication easier.

But it leaves nowhere to hide. When we`re all connected 24/7,
there`s no room for a respite.

Last summer, I was speaking to a business associate, he heard waves
crashing around me, and he asked, where are you? And I said, I`m on
vacation. And he said, you`re not on vacation, you`re just working in a
bathing suit -- and he was right.

Well, help arrived yesterday in a form of opening day. Major League
Baseball is back and not a moment too soon. This is what the doctor
ordered, we can all use this sort of breather, all three hours of it. "The
Star-Spangled Banner," a beer, a hot dog, some meaningless statistics, a
pause at the plate while a batter looks for a sign from the third base
coach, some guy grabbing his crotch and other spitting tobacco, the 7th
inning stretch and the foul ball that never comes my way, maybe an argument
at home plate -- all the traditions, the rules, the unwritten protocols,
and a scratchy A.M. radio signal transmitting unmistakable, immortal voices
like Vince Scully (ph), Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Bob Uecker, and Harry
Kalas. They`re all part of the Major League Baseball experience. It`s
nice to know it`s going to last six months.

Sure, there will be texting between innings, but baseball`s slow,
deliberate tempo provides relaxing relief, a welcome change up for the fast
pace of life.

Happy Passover and happy Easter and play ball.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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