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updated 5/9/2012 2:19:36 PM ET 2012-05-09T18:19:36

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Chris Cillizza, Bertha Coombs, John Heilemann, David Corn, Chris Cillizza, Robert Draper, Jon Lovett, Nia-Malika Henderson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Angry money.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. And leading off
tonight: Enemies of democracy. Each of you watching tonight has a single
vote. But what about the right-wing billionaires? What about the moneyed
dictators who can direct millions of dollars to elect or destroy whoever
they wish? The Koch brothers -- Koch brothers` group, Americans for
Prosperity, is dumping $6 million-plus in eight battleground states this
summer to take down President Obama. And what about the power of these
interests to control House and Senate races?

Plus, back in the USSR. Are Mitt Romney and his ideologues of the
right looking to reignite the cold war? One ally said we aren`t doing
enough to stop the Soviets -- the Soviets! -- While another said we`ve
abandoned Czechoslovakia, which hasn`t existed since 1993. Romney himself
infamously said that Russia was now America`s number one political foe.

Well, they can`t wait to get back into power and can`t wait to get
back to the cold war, it seems. These people always seem to have their eye
on yet another war to fight.

Also, we know Republicans have made it their goal to destroy Barack
Obama, but did you know they started planning to sabotage him the very day
of the inauguration?

And it`s an old Hollywood adage, "Funny as money." So try making a
buck when the audience is the White House correspondents dinner this
Saturday night. It`s a tough crowd, but tonight we`ve got a comedy writer
who once came up with gags like this one for President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Others say that I`m
arrogant, but I`ve found a really great self-help tool for this -- my poll
numbers.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to look back at some of the best moments from
past dinners as Washington gets ready for tomorrow nights the big night,
which you can actually watch here on MSNBC.

But "Let Me Finish" tonight with my deepest concern about the
influence, subversive influence of angry right-wing money on what we still
treasure as our democracy.

We begin with that angry money. John Heilemann is national affairs
editor for "New York" magazine and David Corn is Washington bureau chief
for "Mother Jones." Both men are MSNBC political analysts.

I was struck this morning by a small item, gentlemen, in "The
Washington Examiner," which I try to read every day. It`s a shopper with
lots of interesting news. Americans for Prosperity, it turns out -- that`s
the group been funded in part by billionaire brothers Charles and David
Koch. They`re also -- they`ve also spent a $6 million ad buy in eight
battleground states attacking the president right now.

So let`s watch what they`re up to, these ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $1.2 billion to a solar company that`s building a
plant in Mexico, half a billion to an electric car company that created
hundreds of jobs in Finland, and tens of millions of dollars to build
traffic lights in China.

President Obama wasted $34 billion on risky investments. The result?
Failure. American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign
countries. Tell President Obama American tax dollars should help American
taxpayers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Think Progress, a progressive organization, disputes
the facts in this. Among other complaints, it says two of the ad`s claims
about the jobs in Mexico and Finland are based on simply false stories by
conservative bloggers.

By the way, gentlemen, these Koch brothers, these two guys that make
all their money in oil and gas, don`t like any green industry, period.
They don`t like alternative fuels. So they`re out spending millions and
millions of dollars to trash any effort to get us an escape route down the
road in the future from oil and gas.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is a
two-fer for the Koch brothers because they don`t -- they don`t like the
president, they don`t like Democrats, they support Republicans. And they
really hate Democrats who talk about alternatives to fossil fuels.

So here they are attacking Obama falsely, with false information,
based on blogs that don`t -- you know, that haven`t been fact-checked. And
at the same time, they`re making it sound like it`s kind of crazy and nutty
to care about green jobs. All this talk by Obama about green jobs, it`s
really helping China and Mexico. So you get some xenophobia mixed in. I
mean, it`s a wonderful -- right out of Karl Rove`s playbook.

MATTHEWS: And guess what -- and guess where it comes from, Citizens
United. John, I want to talk tonight -- probably, I`m going to keep
talking about it. Everybody goes to vote treasures their vote. I don`t
care if you`re left or you`re center left or you`re someone on the right,
you treasure your vote. But you only get one. And you only get to vote in
one place.

People like these Koch brothers with their billions of dollars can go
into any community in the world, a small congressional race, they can drop
-- like they`re going to do, apparently, all over the country -- they did
it out there for Lungren -- dump tons of money and just switch a race
around.

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They
can, and they will. And you know, it`s -- look, we`ve had a series of
decisions made, starting with the Supreme Court back in Buckley-Vallejo
(ph) in 1972. We have progressively seen the system of campaign finance
destroyed by the influence and the raging (ph) (INAUDIBLE) We have this --
every cycle, it gets worse.

The Supreme Court says -- Citizens United is the last in a string of
bad decisions, regulations, dock (ph) of regulations. It`s gotten worse
and worse and worse and worse, and now we have reached a point where it`s
hard to imagine it could get worse in terms of the way in which unregulated
private money is getting involved in our election cycle.

MATTHEWS: I know.

HEILEMANN: But I`ll tell you, as a strategic matter, it`s a huge
problem for the president because right now, although there are a lot of
rich people who like Barack Obama and who supported him in 20080 -- he is
in danger of getting not just outspent in this election, but getting
dramatically outspent in this election.

MATTHEWS: Because of the -- and what`s driving this huge amount of
spending by these corporations and rich people, angry.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They hate Obama.

HEILEMANN: Well, they hate Obama. And David pointed out that they
have -- that a lot of them are not ideological. Some of them are just
businessmen who want...

MATTHEWS: Who want tax breaks.

HEILEMANN: ... who want tax breaks, or regulations repealed or
regulations that have been repealed not reinstated. They have specific
business interests. And then there are others who ideologically just
detest the president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did you read Ezra Klein today? He was brilliant. He said
all these groups have to do it, and anybody watching can understand this --
they simply go to some local congressman or woman who may be moderately
popular in the district, doing the job, and they say, Look, if you don`t
vote for this creepy little deal for corporations that gives them some tax
break on debt, that nobody in your district`s ever heard of -- if you don`t
vote for it, we`re dumping a half billion bucks against you and we`re going
to blow you away.

CORN: And what does...

MATTHEWS: And the congressman says, Well, people won`t pay attention
to this, I guess I`ll do it.

CORN: They don`t even have to say it. The thing is, these ads can
happen at a moment`s notice, with a week left, when the candidate himself
or herself doesn`t have the ability...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: ... to put an ad together, to get it up. They can come in and
buy all the TV time in your district or the last weekend. So people are
running scared and are preemptively looking out for what not to do because
they don`t want to become the target...

MATTHEWS: So they kiss the butt of these right-wingers. Let`s take a
look. Bloomberg News this morning reporting on the staggering difference
in fund-raising between the two sides when it comes to these super-PACS.

Quote, "While Obama had a 10-to-1 campaign cash advantage over Romney
at the start of the month, that ratio drops to almost 2-to-1 when the
Republican super-PACs are added to Romney`s arsenal, according to campaign
finance reports. When you look at just the super-PAC money, the pro-Obama
super-PAC, Priorities USA, raised just $9 million, while the conservative
super-PACs American Crossroads" -- that`s the Rove operation -- "and
Restore Our Future," which is Romney`s, "$80 million. When all is said and
done, both sides are expect to raise in excess of three quarters of a
billion dollars."

Back to you, John. You`re writing "Game Change" again. You`re
writing the sequel, I assume. I know you`re working on it all the time.
Is this -- I mean, how do people keep the morale up when they go to vote,
knowing they`re up against this -- this crapola of money thrown at them?

HEILEMANN: Well, you know, look, I mean, I just said that it`s --
this has been a progressively degenerating system over the course of the
last 30 years, 40 years in American life.

It has not been -- and we`ve seen it, again, cycle by cycle, gotten
worse. Voters so far look at this as a process issue. It has not yet --
now, maybe we`re at a tipping point...

MATTHEWS: OK...

HEILEMANN: ... but so far...

MATTHEWS: OK...

HEILEMANN: ... voters have...

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: ... politics is dirty and corrupt.

MATTHEWS: OK...

HEILEMANN: There`s a lot of money. I don`t care. Both sides are
guilty.

MATTHEWS: I don`t carry -- I don`t carry a torch for Santorum,
although I think he ran a gutsy campaign, and Newt Gingrich`s interesting
to watch. I`ll say this.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I didn`t root for either of these guys, but they went up
against this guy Romney and his money machine. And all of us watched this
in places like Iowa and Florida and Michigan and Ohio. They weren`t even
in the race because of this money.

CORN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Money ran those primaries.

CORN: Well -- well, the election is -- is becoming -- and I -- and
John is right. It`s been going on...

MATTHEWS: This`ll happen in November.

CORN: Yes. It`s been going on for decades. But I think we may be
getting to, like, the curve when it starts going to hyper-speed, if you
remember "Star Wars." And you have what -- you have these angry
billionaires -- I call them "venting billionaires," call them zillionaires
(ph) -- who can come in and tilt the...

MATTHEWS: The Koch brothers.

CORN: The Koch brothers. But there are others, as well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Sheldon Adelson.

CORN: I mean, there are a whole bunch of others. At a moment`s
notice, they saved -- you know, Romney`s super-PAC friends saved his butt.
Sheldon Adelson kept new Newt in the game longer than he otherwise would
have been. They`re having real impact. And this is before we get to the
general election.

Remember, in the general election (INAUDIBLE) six, eight, ten state
elections, not nationally. So you take $6 billion, $10 billion, $20
billion, and put them in those key states, and that`s a lot of influence at
those tipping points.

HEILEMANN: But look, let`s been clear. The fact that the Democrats
have raised only $9 million -- Priorities USA has only raised $9 million in
the last year is not because they`re not trying to do this. This is -- I
mean, there are -- right now, it`s dominated by right-wing venting
billionaires, right? It`s not like Democrats wouldn`t take that money.
They`d be overjoyed...

MATTHEWS: But they don`t do what those guys want.

HEILEMANN: Well, so far...

MATTHEWS: Why would they give to Democrats?

HEILEMANN: So far, the reason, it seems -- if you ask the guys at
Priorities USA, the reason they think they`ve not gotten big checks -- and
again, they are out trying to get those big checks. It`s not like their
hands are clean. They just haven`t been successful so far -- is that
Democratic billionaires are not scared enough. They`ve looked at this
right-wing...

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: They`ve looked at the nomination fight, and they don`t
think Romney can beat Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... number of ads that can be -- look, let me get back to
what -- real people. People who watch programs like this pay attention and
care. Most -- or not most voters, but those 20 percent in the middle, we
all know that decide elections, pay attention to elections near the end,
the last couple weeks an months. That`s when they focus...

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: But if you do it like that...

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... and you begin to watch television the last couple
months, which people do...

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... primetime TV...

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... you can`t turn on even a non-political show like, I
say, "Entertainment Tonight."

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s saturated with this negativity paid for by -- look at
this -- the Karl Rove-led group, American Crossroads, released this video
attacking the president for being cool. Now, to a non-attentive voter who
doesn`t pay a lot of attention, this can be a turn-off to Obama.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look, see if it is. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY KIMMEL": Preezy of the
United Steezy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (SINGING) I`m so in
love with you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) jackass. (INAUDIBLE) jackass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I can see some regular voter in Scranton, anywhere I grew
up, northeast Philly, anywhere I grew up, watching this, going, That guy`s
screwing around as president, he`s not taking it seriously, thinks he`s
cooler than we are, screw him. I`m voting for the other guy.

CORN: Well...

MATTHEWS: And if you don`t pay a lot of attention, that is Obama.

CORN: Well, you have to...

MATTHEWS: That`s the way he`s portrayed.

CORN: You have to believe that before they put $6 million into this,
they did the focus groups. They`ve showed this to people (INAUDIBLE) and
they polled them before and after, and they got the sense that this sort of
cheap shot might work with a certain type of voter in a certain place.

MATTHEWS: You know -- you know what kind of voter.

CORN: Yes. I know, and listen...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... voter, perhaps a white voter, not necessarily, but a
person who`s, like, turned off to what looks like too cool.

CORN: Yes. I mean, to me, there is a hint of race in this, when they
have the Barry White (ph), "Oh, yes"...

MATTHEWS: I know.

CORN: ... over and over again. And you know, it`s hard to know what
is in someone`s heart when they`re making that or what they`re trying to
play on. But it`s ugly politics one way or the other.

HEILEMANN: It`s very -- it`s very interesting, though. Republicans
are always really good at running at a candidate`s strength and turning it
into a weakness. They do that all the time...

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: Here it is. He`s cool. He`s likable. Those are...

MATTHEWS: He`s got a sense of humor.

HEILEMANN: Those are the things that give Obama advantages and
personality attributes over Romney. And they want to say, No, this is --
he`s above you and he`s weak, weak leader. Romney is strong, Obama is
weak. They`re going to try to turn hip into he`s frilly, he`s frothy.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: He`s not serious. He`s not out working for you. And
they`re going to do this over and over again. The economy is an issue that
works to the Republicans` advantage. What Obama has right now is personal
attributes. Republicans are going to hammer...

MATTHEWS: I know.

HEILEMANN: ... and these personal attributes for the next six months.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I still think my son, Michael, raised this really
well. He said, You know -- he said, If you look at this election seriously
and you look at what this president confronted when he came into office,
how difficult the times and how scary they were, and what he was able to do
to move this country out of that horror pit we were in, and able to do the
things he did with our economy and move us to where we are today, you vote
for him.

If you look at it very facilely and lightly, with low -- not much
attention, look at this kind of idiot ad, you go, Oh, I`ll try the other
guy.

CORN: I mean, where`s...

MATTHEWS: That`s what they`re thinking. Anyway...

CORN: Where`s -- where`s Libya, Egypt, the bin Laden raid...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: You know, it`s not in that ad.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. And thank you, John Heilemann and thank
you Paulson (ph) and all those guys were (ph) new (ph) -- bailing out the
auto industry, real jobs. How`s that one?

Anyway, thank you, gentlemen. Thank you, Heilemann, and thank you,
Corn.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: John Heilemann and David Corn.

Coming up...

HEILEMANN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) save time here. Coming up: Is Mitt Romney
still fighting the cold war? Apparently. If you listen to him, he`s
talking about the free world. They`re talking about the Soviet Union.
They`re talking about Czechoslovakia. They got the old lingo. And his
advisers are out there talking this up. Well, do you really want to go
back to the days of "duck and cover"?

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Just 10 days after John Boehner endorsed Mitt Romney, he`s
became Romney`s number one ally on Capitol Hill and spokesman, apparently.
The House speaker has escalated his attacks on President Obama now, saying
the president is AWOL and on a constant campaign and that he`s failed to
lead on the economy and a host of other issues.

Well, the Democratic National Committee responded in kind. I`d say.
The DNC`s Brad Woodhouse hit back on Twitter, calling Boehner, quote, "The
most useless, feckless, weak and failed speaker of the House perhaps in
American history." Wow. This guy knows how to talk!

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Americans know --
Americans know that we can`t go back to the future and see the world
through a cold war prism that is totally out of touch with the realities of
the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Does Mitt Romney want to re-fight the
cold war? Well, Vice President Biden left no doubt that he thinks Mitt
Romney is out of his depth, out of touch at -- wrong, actually, in foreign
policy.

But before Biden`s speech yesterday, the Romney campaign set up a call
with reporters to serve as a -- what they call a "prebuttal" to Biden`s
speech, to get him before he talks. The problem is, Romney`s foreign
policy advisers wound up making Biden`s points about being -- actually
being old-time cold warriors without even Biden making it. Let`s listen to
them.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER, ROMNEY FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Russia -- give
you another example of where we give, Russia gets, and we get nothing in
return. We -- the United States abandoned its missile defense sites in
Poland and Czechoslovakia.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Czechoslovakia, as everybody knows, has not existed
as a country since the early `90s. We have the Czech Republic and the
Slovakia when it split into those two countries.

Another of Romney`s foreign policy advisers said Obama`s making the
United States weak and revived an old cold war word. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN F. LEHMAN, ROMNEY FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: The reality is, it`s
opening up huge new vulnerabilities. We`re seeing the Soviets pushing into
the Arctic with no response from us.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s John Lehman of the "600 ship Navy." He did a
good job then. But the Soviets -- they`re gone.

With foreign policy advisers like these, Romney doesn`t need enemies.

Anyway, Nia-Malika Henderson covers politics for "The Washington
Post." Chris Cillizza`s managing editor of Postpolitics.com and author of
"The Fix" on Washingtonpost.com. He`s also an MSNBC contributor. And I
read him all the time.

Look, this -- this -- you guys are both young, but I have to tell you,
this lingo is familiar to my ears. You know, the free world, the Soviets,
Czechoslovakia. I understand how -- my grandpop used to call Connie Mack
Stadium, the old baseball stadium in Philly, Shibe Park because 100 years
before, that`s what it was called.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: But you begin to sound like a geezer and a little out of
it.

HENDERSON: No, it`s true.

And I think a lot of the folks who are surrounding Mitt Romney are
from George H.W. Bush`s foreign policy team. And in some ways, you feel
like they can`t quite run on the rhetoric of George W. Bush. So they are
sort of hearkening back to this Reagan era and Bush era of the Cold War.

MATTHEWS: Oh, interesting.

HENDERSON: Yes.

But I also think obviously this is the Democrats making this argument
that this is a throwback. But you also see Romney trying to make the
argument that in some ways, Obama embodies the old soft Democrats who are
soft when it comes to defense policy and national security.

MATTHEWS: Well, Chris, it almost seems more dangerous than comical to
me, because it always seems like neoconservatives, of which this group is
largely made up of we`re talking about, they always have a war they want to
fight.

They were randy to get into Iraq and into Afghanistan. They always
want to fight a war. Now it`s Iran that -- I read Krauthammer wants us to
be more aggressive in the arming the rebels in Syria. They always want to
push us to another war over there. It`s not like a comedy team here.

These people are always pushing. They`re always war hawks. And they
always have in their little PEZ dispenser the next little -- the next war
is always waiting its turn. And it`s always like that. They never say,
let`s hold back and see what happens. It`s always, let`s get in there and
fight.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I agree this is
serious stuff.

I think, Chris, that sometimes in the political dialogue we go down
these rabbit holes of misstatements and things that don`t matter. This
stuff, how you articulate America`s role in the world does matter in a very
real way. And I was struck -- I talked to Norm Coleman, who is another --
a former Minnesota senator and an adviser, a foreign policy adviser to
Romney.

I talked to him yesterday. And he said essentially that Barack Obama
represents a break with how America has presented itself to the world since
basically World War II, this peace through strength idea, the idea that
Obama, well, he bows to foreign dictators and he wants to weaken America in
the world. It`s an interesting thread that they`re trying to draw, that
Obama is anomalous -- I think the Obama team would argue -- and I`m no
foreign policy expert, but I think with some justification -- that the
world has changed since the Cold War.

It`s no longer just us and Russia. It`s us and Afghanistan and Syria.
There is a huge number of threats that exist out there. That older
approach doesn`t work as well. But it`s a fascinating sort of a line of
argument on foreign policy that, if not Romney is making, all of his
advisers are trying to craft.

MATTHEWS: Well, our presidents who have been popular in the world
like Kennedy and Eisenhower and all, they were smart about restraint in
U.S. power. They were not hawks.

Anyway, the Obama campaign is out with a new Web ad today narrated by
Bill Clinton that actually plays up Obama`s courage in taking out Osama bin
Laden last year and questions whether Romney would have done the same.
Let`s listen to President Clinton here, at least part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That`s one thing
George Bush said that was right. The president is the decider in chief.
Nobody can make that decision for you.

Look, he knew what would happen. Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in
there and it hadn`t been bin Laden. Suppose they had been captured or
killed. The downside would have been horrible for him.

But he reasoned, I cannot in good conscience do nothing. He took the
harder and the more honorable path and the one that produced in my opinion
the best result.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. You can`t do better than that. Bill Clinton giving
you the testimony like that is just for real.

HENDERSON: And, as always, this was the rejoinder to this ad that
they came out with that showed Obama singing and all that sort of stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: But I think one of the things that is apparent here is
that Romney hasn`t necessarily articulated yet what his foreign policy
vision is.

He gave one major speech in October.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re being kind. He made wild statements about going to
war with Iran.

HENDERSON: He gave one major speech in October. I`m told from his
campaign that at some point in May, he`s going to start ramping...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What about his rejoinder to Biden? Biden says he wants to
get tougher with Iran. How can you get tougher with Iran without going to
war right off the bat?

HENDERSON: No, that`s true.

I think his criticism of Obama is that he would really have tougher
sanctions.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do these guys have to bring a war with every new president?
The Bushes all have a war. The first Bush had the Gulf War. The second
Bush had a couple more wars. These guys do like to have something on deck
in the on-deck circle.

HENRY: And they`re out of synch with Americans when they talk about
it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, you had a thought there, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Chris, I would say take one step back.

I think even what Romney has said -- and I think Nia is right --
there`s been generally a lack of specificity, though he has made some
statements, but a broad lack of specificity on what his foreign policy
vision would be.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Why? Why, Chris? Because Mitt Romney served as the
governor of Massachusetts for four years.

This is someone who has -- he`s at least as inexperienced in foreign
policy as Barack Obama was when Barack Obama was elected president of the
United States. And that was the main Republican -- if you remember back,
John McCain`s main attack was, is this guy ready to lead in a complicated
world?

Mitt Romney is not someone with deep knowledge when it comes to
foreign policy. I`m interested to see how they flesh this out if Nia is
right, because he can`t lose -- part of being commander in chief is that
people think you can stand up in the world and represent U.S. interests.

So while I don`t think a lot of people will vote on foreign policy in
this election, Chris, if you can`t pass that test, if you can`t clear that
hurdle, all the economic stuff may not matter.

MATTHEWS: Well, just remember Barack Obama made his bones, if you
will, in politics and actually beat Senator Clinton at the time because he
came out as a state senator opposing the Iraq war.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This guy Romney is interested in making money. He would
like to be president now. He`s made a lot of money. It`s time to do
something different.

But he`s never expressed any interest in the world, any interest in
the foreign policy, never written anything about it. And now he comes out
and says, I think I`m going to develop a foreign policy. Well, he`s going
to do is sit-down with a bunch right-wingers and neocons and he`s going to
do what they want to do. And that`s the scary part.

He doesn`t have a gut interest in foreign policy, and that`s the scary
part, or we would know what it was by now. He`s a grownup, by the way. We
should know where he stands.

Anyway, Nia? Right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Nia-Malika Henderson of "The Washington Post" and
Chris Cillizza of "The Washington Post," have a nice weekend, guys. Enjoy
the big festivities this weekend which I say everybody here can watch on
television.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Newt Gingrich, by the way, lost his Secret Service
protection, but he`s still going to zoos. Now, this will be one of the
strangest things in history. People are going to say, what did this guy
have to do with running for president and going to zoos all the time?
That`s what he does. You can`t beat it.

He`s created the sideshow, and he`s in it tonight. We will be right
back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, a slip-up that says it all. We see it time and time again,
Republicans dancing around questions on President Obama`s religion and
whether he was born in the United States or not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president says
he`s a Christian. I accept him at his word.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I think the faith that
most Americans are questioning is the president`s faith in the government.
The president says he`s a Christian. I take him at his word.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I take him at his word.

BOEHNER: The American people have the right to think what they want
to think.

GINGRICH: I think it is very bizarre that he is desperately concerned
to apologize to Muslim religious fanatics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is an avowed Muslim. Why isn`t something
being done to get him out of the government? He has no legal right to be
calling himself president.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Yes. Well, I`m doing my best
to try to get him out of the government.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, Santorum had no problem with that.

Well, it came full circle this week. Dave Spence, a Republican
candidate for governor in Missouri, got caught facing backlash when he said
he didn`t know if the president was a Muslim. Well, one of the candidate`s
aides then put together a list of go-to responses for Spence in case his
blunder came up at an event this week.

Well, the snafu? The aide actually e-mailed her pointers to a group
of reporters. So what he was Spence supposed to say if was asked about his
earlier comment? Plan A, "This is not an issue that I felt was pertinent
to my candidacy for governor and expressed those sentiments."

Well, if that one doesn`t do the trick, there`s plan B for the
candidate -- quote -- "I will be clear. President Obama says he`s a
Christian, and I take him at his word."

And if all else fails, here was his pivot point, if needed: "Return to
jobs plan."

My question to the staffer and to the consultant and to the candidate,
why not just say, I believe President Obama is a Christian? That`s pretty
simple and it gets it behind you.

And while the real face-off between Mitt Romney and President Obama is
taking place at center stage, we will be counting on their "Saturday Night
Live" imitations to give us some laughs along the way.

NBC`s David Gregory caught up with Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen and
asked them for their in-character pitch for the presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON SUDEIKIS, ACTOR: I go across this country and I see so many
happy and unhappy, you know, men and women and grandmothers.

FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR: Let me take an applause break. Thank you.
Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

SUDEIKIS: How do you compete with this guy?

I could buy the White House. I could flip it.

ARMISEN: Take it. Move it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I still miss Darrell Hammond doing Bill Clinton.
That was the very best.

And, yesterday, we looked back at some of Newt Gingrich`s greatest
hits and misses for the campaign trail. But there`s more. Guess where he
opted to kick off the final weekend of his run for presidency?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I have been to about 100 zoos. When I was here, they fed
the meerkats. It was unbelievable. I never fully understood before, but
the speed and the alertness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-Rex, that was also what the Secret Service
called you, right?

GINGRICH: Yes. That`s because I used to have a T-Rex skull in the
office when I was speaker. It`s now at the Smithsonian. I don`t mind
petting a rhino. I just don`t want to be one.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I wonder if he got his animal crackers. Anyway, that was
Newt going to the zoo.

But next, we know the Republicans vowed to make President Obama a
failure. We know that from the beginning. But now we have learned they
started hatching their plan on the very day he took office. They had a
dinner that night to plan his demise.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The stocks all end on a positive note, the Dow Jones industrials
gaining 24, the S&P 500 up three, and the Nasdaq ending at 18 to be the
best index of the week. Economic growth slowing to 2.2 percent in the
first quarter. That`s down from 3 percent at the end of last year. But
consumer sentiment increased slightly in April to its highest level since
February of 2011.

Meantime, earnings from Ford came in ahead of expectations. And Merck
also turning in a better-than-expected profit report.

That`s it from CNBC. We`re first and worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If you have thought Republicans are plotting to kill the president`s
agenda, you`re right. But do you know a group of influential House members
and senators met to start their planning just hours after President Obama
was inaugurated here in this city?

A terrific new book about the 112th Congress details the gutsy GOP
agenda from that cold night in 2009 all the way through the debt talks,
when Speaker John Boehner faced a revolt from many members of his own party
as he tried to compromise with President Obama.

Well, the book is called, "Do Not Ask What Good We Do."

It`s author is Robert Draper. And he`s with us now along with
"Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson.

Robert, congratulations on the book.

Explain, if you will, a couple things, but start with the title, "Do
Not Ask What Good We Do."

ROBERT DRAPER, AUTHOR, "DO NOT ASK WHAT GOOD WE DO": Sure.

Yes, the title actually comes from the one of the first federal
congressmen, Chris, Fisher Ames from Dedham, Massachusetts. He was the
author of the final language of the First Amendment and the first great
orator of Congress.

But after serving first four terms in the House, he quit in disgust,
upset by partisan factions. And he wrote a friend, and said, do not ask
what good we do. That is not a fair question in these days of faction.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look.

You wrote about a meeting held by many top Republicans in 2009,
including Cantor, McCarthy, Paul Ryan, a handful of Republican senators,
Newt Gingrich, and the pollster Frank Luntz.

You say in part: "The Republicans had agreed on a way forward. Go
after Geithner. Show united and unyielding opposition to the president`s
economic policies. Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves.
Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011.
Win the White House and the Senate in 2012."

"`And you will remember this day,` Newt Gingrich proclaimed to the
others, as they said goodbye. `You will remember this as the day the seeds
of 2012 were sown.`"

Well, that`s kind of grandiose. But, anyway -- grandiloquent.

This decision to destroy Obama, which was also echoed by Mitch
McConnell in the Senate, how significant was that early decision; we, the
Republican leadership, we, the Republican right wing, we, the Tea Partiers,
will destroy this president before he gets started?

DRAPER: Well, basically, Chris, they had -- that meeting, by the way,
was called originally just really to drown their sorrows.

It was orchestrated by the pollster Frank Luntz. But it evolved from
guys sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, to them talking about
what had gone wrong with the Republican Party, to then strategizing on how
to retake power.

And, by the way, one person who was not there was the ranking head of
the -- of the Republicans in the House, John Boehner, who would later
become the speaker of the House. He was not invited because he and Frank
Luntz didn`t get along.

But in the course of this, they decided Obama at that point had a
stratospheric popularity. In fact, a lot of those guys had gone to the
inauguration and seen the 1.8 million people out there on the Mall. But
they figure instead to go after his legislative agenda, to show unity, to
vote lockstep, you know, unanimously against the stimulus, to attack his
cabinet members, and as well to attack every freshman, Democrat, and others
with the intent, then, of regaining the House, using that as the spear
point.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: OK.

Gene, there`s something about this, it seems, for all the attack on
President Obama as being European, this is very European. This absolute
discipline, like the British Labour Party, you know all about, you`ve
covered it.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS: Where they all vote in lockstep, they don`t wear uniforms,
exactly, but they act like they do. Everything is absolutely we vote the
party leaders, and we destroy the other party.

ROBINSON: Right. That`s why the party in power in Britain gets to
do whatever it wants to do, essentially.

MATTHEWS: Because there`s no room to compromise.

ROBINSON: And that`s what I find so fascinating about what they
accomplish. I`d love to hear Robert Draper speak on this point. How do
they enforce this discipline? You spent time on Capitol Hill.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I did. You couldn`t enforce it.

ROBINSON: And the idea that you can get unanimity in a caucus on
anything, really, that no member has a special reason in his or her
district why they have to buck the leadership and vote a different way,
that didn`t happen this time. They managed to keep --

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Boehner. Boehner seems like a
regular Republican, the kind I grew up with who makes deals, who
compromised, who has an ideology, but he`s willing to accept the fact that
the goal was to govern the country, not just to protest. I get the sense
that these Tea Partiers came to Congress not participate in government but
to protest it.

DRAPER: No, I think --

MATTHEWS: Yes?

DRAPER: Yes, I think that`s an acute point. I mean, I`m -- and
Speaker Boehner would say, I take him at his word, that he wants to
legislate, that he wants to govern, but, you know, he became speaker of the
House because of these freshmen who rode into town in a Tea Party way. And
these guys were -- not of them willing (ph) to compromise.

As Raul Labrador, the Tea Party freshman Idaho put it to me, "I
didn`t come to Washington to join a team." He came to represent his
constituents. His constituents and a lot of others believed there was too
much spending going on, that Obamacare needed to be rolled back, and that`s
where they planted their flag. You know, it was not let`s figure out a way
to legislate with the Democrats and the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but this is all nonsense. Let me tell you, Robert,
I`m just going to make a statement here. It`s all nonsense, because you
can`t just vote against spending. Most of the government spending is in
the entitlement programs. Most of it grows naturally because of
demographic, races, people are getting older, getting sicker, and they grow
these programs naturally.

The trick is to pass changes and modifications and restraints. And
the only way to do that is to get a deal from the other side, right?

DRAPER: Of course.

MATTHEWS: You don`t just sit there. If you just sit there, the tree
keeps growing, government keeps getting bigger.

DRAPER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So, this is a lie to go back to your people in the rural
areas and say, we Tea Partiers won`t vote for spending. No, unless you get
a deal with the Democratic side to reduce government spending and race a
little revenue, the government will keep growing. You`re not doing a job.

DRAPER: Right. Well, but, Chris --

MATTHEWS: I don`t think they know that.

DRAPER: Yes. Well, to give Republicans their due, I mean, they
passed the Ryan budget plan and the Senate refused to act on it. They
basically tabled it.

MATTHEWS: That didn`t do anything. That didn`t reduce the size of
government, did it?

DRAPER: What it addressed was entitlement reform and the Democrats
didn`t show an appetite for doing that.

MATTHEWS: So, it didn`t get done.

DRAPER: Yes. Well, that`s --

MATTHEWS: Therefore, the Tea Partiers got nothing done. That`s what
I`m asking.

DRAPER: Sure. No.

MATTHEWS: Eugene, this is the problem. If you want to cut the
government spending, you have to get both sides to agree to it, you got to
get the president to sign it, and that means you got to compromise. Or
else you`re just protesting.

ROBINSON: When you`re working on a bill, do you want policy or do
you want an issue? They wanted an issue. They wanted to make a stand.
And so, in that sense, the way the Tea Party freshmen have been voting is a
protest. It`s a statement rather than an actual, honest attempt to enact
policy, because they know that`s -- they know what they want is not going
to happen.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think people should be paid $170,000 a year to
hold a placard in the air. These are not a protest. They get a staff,
they a get allowances to go back and forth. They get fed. Everything for
them to participate in government and all these Tea Partiers do is hold
placards in the air and it doesn`t get anything done.

Anyway, great book. Anyway, the book is called "Do Not Ask What Good
We Do."

Thank you very much, Robert Draper. You`re going to make news with
this book.

DRAPER: My pleasure.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Eugene Robinson.

Coming up on Monday, by the way, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed
Rendell is going to be on this show. We`re going to talk about the
Clintons and how Big Bill, that`s President Clinton, is already paving the
way for a possible run. In fact, to begin to look a plausible run for
Hillary Clinton four years from now.

Up next, comedy and Washington don`t always mix, but tomorrow night`s
White House Correspondent dinner, which you can watch in this network, is
the exception. We look back over President Obama`s funnier moments from
past dinners and we got a writer to join us.

And this is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Boy, Americans down on the federal government. Check out
the numbers on the new Pew poll. Sixty-one percent say they`re satisfied
with their local government, 52 percent say they`re satisfied with their
state government, but only 33 percent say the same thing about the federal
government. And that`s the lowest level of favorability for the federal
government in 15 years. That would be going back to 1997, back to Clinton.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Others say that I`m
arrogant, but I found a really great self-help tool for this. My poll
numbers.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. We`re back.

That was President Obama poking fun at fun at himself at last year`s
White House correspondent dinner, the annual event that brings a bevy of
journalists, politicos and Hollywood celebrities to the Capitol here. And
this year, it`s going to be held tomorrow night, the big one. You can
watch it right here on MSNBC.

So, up until six months ago, Jon Lovett was a speechwriter for
President Obama. He helped craft the president`s speech for last year`s
dinner and he has a hand in this year`s as well. He`s now worked as a
comedy writer now.

Congratulations. You got a lot of nerve to be doing that.

We have to look at a couple of them, let`s look at some of the
president`s jokes from last year, without saying exactly who wrote them.
Just days before last year`s White House correspondent dinner, of course,
President Obama released his long form birth certificate, putting a lid on
the birther movement for most and providing fodder for the following
Saturday`s speech.

Here`s some birther humor. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

OBAMA: My fellow, Americans.

Tonight, for the first time, I am releasing my official birth video.

Call Disney if you don`t believe me, they have the original long form
version.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: And, now, this is the richest thing I have ever seen in
White House correspondents. Here he is sticking it to the guy who was the
leader birther at the time, because one tried to ride the discredit birther
movement or harder than Donald Trump.

Here, President Obama didn`t get mad at last year`s dinner. He did
better. He got even. You get to watch this whole thing and watch the
reaction now from the Donald.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: No one is happier. No one is prouder to put this birth
certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that`s because he can
finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter.

Seriously, just recently, in an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice," at
the steak house, the men`s cooking team did not impress the judges from
Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr.
Trump, recognized the problem was a lack of leadership, and so, ultimately
you didn`t blame Lil Jon or Meat Loaf, you fired Gary Busey. And these are
the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m watching Trump. He can`t stand it. He`s basically
being shown up here with a slow build up to -- you`re a horse`s ass, which
is basically for raising this issue.

JON LOVETT, FORMER OBAMA SPEECHWRITER: That`s what you said. That`s
your characterization of what we said, but --

MATTHEWS: Right. What was your characterization?

LOVETT: I think we got him pretty well.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about the jokes and how you work these things up?
How you go after, put something a little like that.

LOVETT: Well, we meet, and there`s a few of us, Jon Favreau,
director of speechwriting, David Axelrod, one of the president`s advisors,
and a few others, and we get together and we start talking about topics.
The president sometimes will have ideas about the kind of things he wants
to talk about. And we get a list of all of the things we want to make fun
of and all things we want to make fun of about ourselves, because there`s a
great chance to, you know, the president is not afraid to poke fun of
himself, and I think you have to do that if you`re going to make fun of a
lot of other people, too.

MATTHEWS: How important is it that he has a good night? Does he
get the stakes if he has a flat night?

LOVETT: You know, I don`t know what the stakes are. You know, I
don`t know how much things like this matter on a night in the sense that,
you know, presidents have good nights at these things and bad nights at
these things, I don`t know how much they matter. But what really matter is
if you do a great job or if you make some points that are important and not
just at a night like this.

I mean, I think that there`s always room for a good joke that makes a
substantive argument that will breakthrough in a way that, you know, a dry
policy speech, not that the president gives those, would ever breakthrough.
So --

MATTHEWS: The thing is, Jon, that great presidents like Roosevelt
and Kennedy and Reagan, were always really good at this, and they used it,
like the president did there with Trump, to really win the fight with their
rivals.

LOVETT: Yes, I mean, I think this president does that, too. He`s
often used humor on the trail and in the White House to make a point here.

MATTHEWS: Well, I respect you a lot for what you`ve done as a White
House speechwriter. But most importantly, trying to make it in Hollywood
as a writer.

LOVETT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Good for you.

Anyway, I want to send my wishes to my good friend, Rick Hertzberg,
who was a top speechwriter when I work for President Carter. He`s
recovering right now from some surgery. Go, Rick. I told you I`d do this.

When we return, "Let Me Finish," with why the subversive influence of
angry, right wing money in this election is just bad for the country.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I fear, I really do, the evil influence of big bad money in politics.
Democracy isn`t a joke, it shouldn`t be anyway. And when a few guys with
billions of dollars or influence with big money people can throw enormous
amounts of money into a political race, they can destroy democracy. Yes,
they can.

Just think about what a million dollars in TV advertising really
nasty stuff can do to a race for Congress somewhere. All of a sudden, the
airwaves are saturated with negative TV ads. They`re all over the place on
entertainment tonight, on sports, wherever you go, you can`t escape the
relentless, nasty assault on some candidates.

Well, you think this doesn`t matter, good luck.

We saw what Willie Horton did, the one Democratic candidate for
president, so was swift boating did to another. Just imagine someone out
there saying what a bad person you are, telling everyone you know what a
bad person you are.

OK, imagine someone spending tens of millions of dollars buying TV
time to say what an evil SOB you are. Don`t think that will change some
opinions about you? Think again.

Not everybody pays attention to politics like the people who watch
this show, some hardworking people just have time to check in around
election time. And what do they see on TV? Endless streams of bad news
about some guy they once thought was OK, but now can`t hear a good word
about him or her, just this endless spew of negativity.

I don`t know how we`re going to live with this stuff. We`re still
calling ourselves a democracy out there. I don`t know when the Supreme
Court is going to look again at that monster they created in Citizens
United and kill it before it destroys the very democracy on which the
Congress, and presidency, and yes, the courts now precariously rest.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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