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updated 5/18/2012 10:53:16 AM ET 2012-05-18T14:53:16

Guests: Howard Fineman, Alex Wagner, E.J. Dionne, Jackie DeAngelis, Chuck Todd, Major Garrett, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Jeremiah was a bullfrog.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Bad men with "Dirty Angry Money." Have Republican money men, the
billionaires funding pro-Romney super-PACs, decided the way to beat
President Obama is to get as dirty as possible, as soon as possible?

Well, today`s "New York Times" front page reported that Ameritrade
billionaire Joe Ricketts was looking at running adds linking Mr. Obama with
the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Well, today Ricketts disavowed any such
campaign. He says it was only a suggestion. Perhaps, but that mere
suggestion came in a 54-page professionally bound campaign plan illustrated
with color photos. Who`s fooling who?

Mitt Romney meanwhile says he repudiates this ad campaign, and then --
Etch-a-Sketch moment -- accuses President Obama of character assassination,
this from the guy who systematically destroyed each of his primary
opponents with negative personal ads.

Plus, Mitt Romney hearts Bill Clinton? Romney says he has more in
common with Bill Clinton than President Obama does. Really? Well, Clinton
supports the health care law, supports financial reform, and he championed
tax rates that Romney insists will destroy the economy. Let`s face it, the
only thing Clinton and Romney have in common is that Clinton once had the
job that Clinton wants.

And there`s a major effort to prevent HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius
from speaking tomorrow at Georgetown University here in Washington. Are
Catholic conservatives trying to drive liberal Catholics off of Catholic
college campuses?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with what we should do if we really
want to reduce the number of abortions in this country.

We begin with "Dirty Angry Money" and the plot to bring back the
Reverend Jeremiah Wright as a campaign issue. Chuck Todd`s NBC political
director and chief White House correspondent. Major Garrett covers the
White House for "National Journal" -- the (INAUDIBLE)

Anyway, "The New York Times" reported on a proposal from a Republican
strategist to a wealthy super-PAC backer to dredge up Jeremiah Wright. The
point was to show President Obama really is a radical after all.

Here`s some language from the plan. "Our plan is to do exactly what
John McCain would not let us do, show the world how Barack Obama`s opinions
of America and the world were formed and why the influence of that
misguided mentor and our president`s formative years among left-wing
intellectuals has brought our country to its knees."

Chuck Todd, front page placement, left side of the paper. "The Times"
played this baby big today.

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: They did.
And look, let`s look at it as political strategy. Just watch how it
consumed a day of the campaign, of the Romney campaign, the idea that this
might come up as a potential ad.

And it just shows you why, as simple political strategy, this was a
bad idea and this wasn`t good advice. The idea that somehow Mitt Romney or
the Republican message machine should go off on another tangent and not be
talking about the issues of the day, not be talking about the economy, is
simply bad political strategy, and it threw Romney off all day today.

It`s, I think, clearly, turned into bad business for Mr. Ricketts, who
owns the Chicago Cubs, clearly has to do business with the city of Chicago,
which, oh, by the way, whose mayor is Rahn Emanuel, whose most famous
citizen is the president of the United States.

I think watching all of this -- how it got as far as it did is mind-
boggling because, number one, it seems like bad political strategy, and
number two, it seemed like bad business for Mr. Ricketts.

MATTHEWS: Yes, also here`s Mitt Romney today saying he repudiated
that proposed campaign, as you said, Chuck. But he also took the
opportunity to hit President Obama`s campaign. Let`s watch. He`s in this
thick (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I read the
article on the aircraft. As I read the article, I want to make it very
clear I repudiate that -- that effort. I think it`s the wrong course for a
PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the
future and about issues and about a vision for America.

I -- I`ve been disappointed in the president`s campaign to date, which
is focused on character assassination.

We can talk about a lot of things, but the centerpiece of his campaign
is quite clearly character assassination, and the centerpiece of my
campaign is going to be my vision to get America working again and provide
a brighter future for our kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Before we go on here, Major, what were the -- what`s with
the conehead talk here? I read that newspaper "on the aircraft."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Is this guy trying to learn earthling language here?
What`s going on here, "the aircraft"?

MAJOR GARRETT, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Look -- look...

MATTHEWS: Anyway, there`s no need to discuss this, it`s just funny.
But go ahead.

GARRETT: Right. Look, let`s decode what Mitt Romney was saying when
he said two things. This campaign should be about the future, meaning,
Don`t talk about my past. What does the past mean? The past means what?
Bain Capital. "Character assassination" -- what does that mean? It also
means Bain Capital, but it might also mean, My religious heritage also.

So what Romney is trying to communicate in that very short sound bit
answer is, Let us take religion for both of us off the -- the stage
entirely, your religion, my religion. Let`s call that equal or non-
discussable. And let`s focus on the future because if you talk about Bain,
that hurts me more, I`m afraid, then your past might hurt you or...

MATTHEWS: What are you allowed to talk about?

GARRETT: ... I might only be able to fight you to a draw.

MATTHEWS: What are you allowed to talk about, about Romney now?
What`s left?

GARRETT: Well, that -- look, every campaign...

MATTHEWS: Can you talk about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He is running to be our president of the United States.
Can we talk about him?

GARRETT: No, I understand, Chris, but you understand also that every
candidate tries to fence off that which they can. And also, look, I was
there when the Jeremiah Wright story broke. I was one of three people who
interviewed then-candidate Obama about this. Keith Olbermann was another
and Anderson Cooper was another. And then candidate Obama gave a speech in
Philadelphia. He fenced off to the best of his ability the Jeremiah Wright
story.

Every candidate does that to one degree or another. Here`s what we`re
going to discuss, here`s what we`re not going to discuss. And all I`m
saying is, in Romney`s own way, whether you agree with it or disagree with
it or buy it or don`t buy it, he was trying to fence of or redirect that
which is discussable and that which isn`t discussable. And the context to
the story, which I think Chuck would agree with me completely obliterated
the best news for Romney today...

TODD: Right.

GARRETT: ... which is that he raised $40 million to run against Obama
in the general election campaign.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to Chuck and the regular tenor of this
campaign. It looks to me like, Chuck -- and you study this all the time --
we`ve got a campaign coming. We`re only in the pre-season, according to
Nate Silver of "The New York Times." We`re just getting started here.

And yet the pre -- the pre-season so far, the training program we`ve
watched of Romney, was very tough negative campaigning...

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... basically Dresden-style bombing of his opponents -- he
erased them as issues of the -- as opponents. And yet he says, Don`t talk
about me, don`t engage in character assassination. Is that some way of
cauterizing himself, of saying, Look, any attack on my background, any
attack on my business career is character assassination, and meanwhile, I`m
going to unleash the super-PACs?

TODD: Well, it was an interesting strawman that he was trying to
create with Bain. I would say the difference between Reverend Wright and
Bain is that, basically, you had the president as a candidate that decided
to repudiate the things that Reverend Wright said, try to put distance to
himself.

Is that what Mitt Romney`s trying to do with Bain? Is he going to
repudiate some of Bain`s practices? You know, to sort of get the
equivalent treatment, he would also have to do the equivalent of what the -
- of what then candidate Obama did with Reverend Wright and the distance
that he -- that he wanted to put between himself and Reverend Wright with
the church itself, with Reverend Wright and some of the things that he
said.

So does that -- is that what -- is that the message that Mitt Romney`s
trying to send? I think that he`s putting -- setting himself up. I get
the strawman. And I think that they thought, Well, hey, let`s repudiate,
but at the same time, let`s try to reemphasize the fact that, Look, the
Obama campaign is -- is throwing negative ads our way. Let`s at least see
if some of this mud will stick to them.

I think that`s a tougher argument to make, that somehow -- I agree
with Major. I think you can get away with that and he can sort of bully
opponents and the media to not touch the religion issue. I think Bain`s...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s -- let`s put this...

TODD: ... another story. It`s part of his...

MATTHEWS: ... in perspective...

TODD: It`s part of the story he`s trying to sell.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I`m sorry, Scott -- Chuck. Let`s take a look
at what he said, Romney said on Sean Hannity. Let`s put his record, the
way he talks this year. Here he is in February of this year, talking about
this thing. Let`s go back through the Sean Hannity performance, when he`s
in that theater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I think, again, that the president takes his philosophical
leanings in this regard not from those who are ardent believers in various
faiths, but instead, from those who would like to see America more secular.
And I`m not sure which is worse, him listening to Reverend Wright or him
saying that -- that we -- we must be a less Christian nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that, that commentary there,
Major? I mean, there he is saying, I don`t know what`s worse, whether he`s
listened to Jeremiah Wright, who he doesn`t want to bring up, of course,
but he just did...

GARRETT: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... or he`s listening to these lefties out there that don`t
believe in God. I mean, he`s now (INAUDIBLE) both being a believer and a
non-believer, whacking him personally on his religious beliefs, his
philosophy, and then saying, Let`s not get personal about my religion.
What do you mean here? What`s the deal?

GARRETT: Right. That was then, this is now. That`s a cliche in
politics. It`s a cliche in culture. It`s a cliche in a lot of American
life. That was then. What was then? A primary context when Romney is
trying to communicate certain values, certain core beliefs or certain core
attack lines to whom, Republican or likely Republican primary voters. When
was that Sean Hannity episode taped? February. Where are we know? We`re
in mid to late May, and it`s a different context.

And here`s the other thing that I think is worth pointing out, Chris,
just for a second. The implicit premise of this Tom Ricketts proposal is
that John McCain made some catastrophic political blunder not attacking...

MATTHEWS: So that was Romney`s...

GARRETT: ... then candidate Obama...

MATTHEWS: ... tribute to Black History Month -- no, wait a minute
here. I`m not going to move on here from February. That was his tribute
to Black History Month, whacking at the guy for his minister, whacking at
him for his philosophy and his religion? He was allowed to do it in
February and now he`s declaring this, Oh, we don`t attack each other`s
religions in May?

Why do you so loosely let him skip away from the standard he set?
Trash the guy`s religion.

GARRETT: I`m -- I`m...

MATTHEWS: And his race, perhaps, in this regard. Who knows what the
number there was. Why`d he bring up Reverend Wright? What`s he up to?

GARRETT: He -- I`m saying -- I`m saying...

MATTHEWS: No wonder this guy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... brought the ad campaign to him. He brought the ad
campaign to this guy because he saw this guy`s willing to play this card.
He saw that -- you know, John McCain was the man of honor. He said, I`m
not going to play this card. Then he sees, Oh, oh, this new guy is
desperate to get the job. He`ll use the campaign. So why don`t I do a 54-
page proposal for the guy, get prior approval at a New York meeting, come
back for further approval. It hits "The New York Times," and wait a
minute, Oh, now "The New York Times" finds out about it, he says he`s not
going to do it.

But he indicated before a couple times he was going to do it. Romney
said personally, I`m going to go after Wright. We saw it on Sean Hannity.
Then we see a little note that says, With your preliminary approval at the
New York meeting. Well, here they go again, and then they get caught red-
handed here, and all of a sudden, they`re all saying, Oh, we`re not going
to do this. You know why? "The Times" caught them.

That`s my thought. Your thought, Major?

GARRETT: It`s all part of the public record, as you described, Chris,
as I described. I said that was then, this is now. Everything is public
record. Everyone can evaluate Romney about what he said in February, why
he said it then, and why he`s repudiating it now. I`m not disinviting
scrutiny. I`m inviting scrutiny of what Romney said. And...

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: ... laying it down in February, OK?

TODD: Yes, but this is an important...

GARRETT: Everything you say in politics in the course of a campaign
not only invites scrutiny but deserves scrutiny. I`m not saying Romney
doesn`t deserve scrutiny. I`m saying it`s all part of the public record.

TODD: Well, you know...

GARRETT: And you can evaluate it then against the -- the -- the
objectives of his campaign now, which are different then. And if you don`t
like them now or you don`t like them then, then you don`t vote for him.

MATTHEWS: I just want consistency and transparency. Chuck, I`m
sorry. I`m shorting you tonight.

TODD: No, no, no...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think this is the kind of campaign we`re going to
see this year, Reverend Wright against the Mormon -- is this going to be
that level of dirt, take him in the ditch kind of fighting?

TODD: Well, I`ve had this theory that the next 60 days are going to
be a lot of these stories, where one and two-day things that pop up that
aren`t about the picture, and then, suddenly, the debates are going to
happen and it`s going to recenter the conversation one final time.

But there`s one point about Reverend Wright that I think that viewers
here need to understand, which is for -- on conservative media outlets,
Reverend Wright`s never has gone away as an issue.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: You know, even last night, before this story hit, on Hannity,
they talked about Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright is brought up -- it is
-- whatever you want to describe it, a dogwhistle, a talking point.

MATTHEWS: OK...

TODD: It is a regular conservative sledgehammer, if you will, on the
president. It gets brought up in passing. His name has very high ID among
conservatives. That`s why I question this as political strategy. I think
it does not play well with swing voters, and that`s why you just sit there
-- and I am very surprised by the people involved with this, that they
actually thought this was good...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... just simply good politics.

MATTHEWS: Well, they get touched with it tonight.

GARRETT: Hey, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Anyway...

GARRETT: Chris...

MATTHEWS: I have to go. I`m sorry, Major. More the next time you`re
on.

GARRETT: OK.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, as always. Chuck, my man, thank you,
from the White House.

TODD: You got it. See you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, we`re going to ask the HARDBALL "Strategists"
about reviving the Reverend Wright issue. Why is it back? Why are we
talking about it? Well, Romney was talking bout it in February. Now they
got an ad, a 54-page ad campaign based on -- well, hint, hint, maybe he
wants to talk about it, since he has been.

Plus Romney`s charge that he`s a victim of character assassination.
Well, that`s interesting.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Got some new polling out of Wisconsin, and it`s a number
that should have the White House worried, actually. Let`s check the
HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Here it is. A new Marquette Law School finds the -- poll finds the
presidential race between Obama and -- 46 all. Boy, is that close.
Wisconsin`s a state Democrats have carried in every presidential election
since `88, but it`s a state Romney probably needs to carry to have a chance
to win. Boy, this is a hot one, 46 all. You can`t beat that for a tight
win.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Our HARDBALL "Strategists" are
here tonight to discuss the two big fights brewing right now. First, how
do you talking that proposed attack campaign on President Obama using the
Reverend Wright? Well, they`ll advise both campaigns tonight very
carefully and fairly, of course.

And second, Mitt Romney calls it character assassination, the Obama
attacks on his Bain record, that is. Has he already forgotten how personal
he got with Gingrich and Santorum? He blew those guys away personally,
talking about their "baggage."

And with me now are our "Strategists," Democrat Steve McMahon and
Republican Todd Harris. Thank you very much. It`s great to have you on.

What do you make of this front page of "The Washington" -- "The New
York Times" today, right at the top of the fold here? And then Romney`s
sort of usually kind of odd language coming back, saying, Yes, I read that
on the aircraft? I mean, is he a conehead? Anyway, go on.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Why does he talk like that? Nobody says -- I just got off
the plane. That`s how people talk, I just got off the plane. He says, I
just got off the aircraft.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, most people read on the
airplane.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: On the aircraft.

HARRIS: It`s also an aircraft.

MATTHEWS: What`s this, a flying saucer he got off of?

HARRIS: I don`t think he lost any votes calling it an aircraft.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

HARRIS: I think it`s much ado about nothing. It`s a...

MATTHEWS: Oh, there`s nothing here.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: It`s a plan that`s not going anywhere, that -- that the guy
who`s putting up the money said he`s not going to do, that Romney has
disavowed.

MATTHEWS: Plus, he got caught.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: It wasn`t a good idea in the first place.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s go on. Let`s look at this. At the end of the 2008
campaign, when John McCain trailed Barack Obama, McCain refused to run ads
attacking Obama`s connection with the Reverend Wright, a storyline
featured, by the way, in the great film on HBO "Game Change." Let`s watch
that scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, I mean, these numbers do show it. We`ve got
to make this about Obama. We`ve got to get tough and we`ve got to get
negative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we go this way, Reverend Wright is still the
best play we have.

ED HARRIS, ACTOR: Any of you ever been accused of having a Negro
child out of wedlock because your adopted daughter was born in Bangladesh?
And then, when she was 16 and Googled her name, I had to explain to her why
President Bush`s henchmen called her a bastard when she was 10 years old.

PETER MACNICOL, ACTOR: Yes, listen, South Carolina, that was an ugly
primary. But this isn`t the same thing. I mean, Reverend Wright really
did say those things.

E. HARRIS: That may be true, but there is a dark side to American
populism. Some people win elections by tapping into it. I`m not one of
those people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, how are you going to spin this thing, Todd, because,
you know, your candidate, Romney, uses the references to Wright. We just
caught him doing it in February. And he`s obviously, this ad campaign guy,
Fred Davis, trying to sell him on a 54-page proposal.

He thought that was what Romney would bite on, they would like that.

T. HARRIS: Well, not Romney.

MATTHEWS: His people. OK. We can be cute. Go ahead.

T. HARRIS: Look, it`s a bad strategy for two reasons.

Number one, Obama is most vulnerable on economic issues. Something
like this -- look at what`s happening today. We are not talking about the
president`s failed promises to turn the economy around. That`s what the
Romney campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So why were they giving preliminary approval at the New
York meeting? Why were they doing it?

T. HARRIS: Look, I have had preliminary approval for all kinds of
proposals.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did they approve it if it`s a lousy idea?

T. HARRIS: It doesn`t mean that they actually agree with the
strategy.

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: The second thing is most voters think that this has
already been prosecuted, in that this came up in 2008 and Obama was
elected. To bring it up now, it`s going to feel like old news.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Obama people going to exploit this? How are you guys
going to exploit this?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Actually, you know what? I
don`t think the president benefits from an extended conversation about
Reverend Wright.

I think most voters think not only has it been litigated, but I think
they think it`s racist. And they reject it. And independent voters in
particular, the people who are going to make the decision about this
election, wouldn`t be persuaded by this, they would be offended by this.

The this it was seriously considered is because it`s a bunch of rich
fools sitting there trying to figure out what can they do that would be
fun. How can we swift boat Barack Obama?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

Let`s take a look. Here`s the afternoon -- this afternoon, while
repudiating while the proposed attacks involving Jeremiah Wright, Mitt
Romney criticized the president for using character assassination.

I want you to defend this. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been disappointed in
the president`s campaign to date, which has focused on character
assassination. I just think that we`re wiser to talk about the issues of
the day, what we do to get America working again, and talk about our
respective records.

And so, with that, I certainly hope that you get a chance to see our
first ad. That will come up I think in a couple of days. It will a
positive ad about the things I would do if I were president. It is
contrasting with the president`s ad which came out again as a character
assassination ad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is talking points.

Do you want to defend those talking points.

T. HARRIS: He`s absolutely right.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Oh, come on.

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: Look, the Obama campaign even telegraphed this to the
Politico late last year when they said our strategy to go against Romney is
going to be to destroy him. We`re going to undercut his credibility.
We`re going to make him not likable, not credible. We`re going to call him
what -- these are their words -- weird, which is code for talking about
Mormonism.

MATTHEWS: Who said that? Who said they were going to use the word
weird to make him a Mormon?

T. HARRIS: Senior Obama campaign advisers. There`s an entire article
in Politico about it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

T. HARRIS: By Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin. I think it`s pretty
incredible.

MCMAHON: OK, so can we go back to the question? And that is Mitt
Romney`s record, a record of creating great wealth, but not creating any
jobs. When he became governor of Massachusetts...

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re not supposed to talk about Bain. That`s
character assassination.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is it character assassination to talk about his Bain
record?

MCMAHON: If he wants to talk about job creation job, it`s perfectly
legitimate to say, let`s look at Mitt Romney`s record on jobs. He`s got a
record destroying jobs, laying people off, taking away benefits, taking
away pensions.

He doesn`t have a record of creating jobs. He had the fourth worst
job creation record in the country when he was governor of Massachusetts.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me get it straight. What are you allowed to talk about
-- he wants to be president of the United States, the most important job in
the world. He doesn`t want us talking about his entire business career,
which is most of his life. Not supposed to -- shouldn`t talk about his
family, shouldn`t talk about religion. What`s left?

T. HARRIS: You can talk about his business record.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh, he says it`s character assassination.

T. HARRIS: It`s character assassination to distort his business
record.

MATTHEWS: Oh, to distort.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Not to sell it his way. This isn`t the business press.

Anyway, we got a statement just off the wires here about the Wright
issue from the Obama campaign just now -- quote -- "Today, Mitt Romney had
the opportunity to distance himself from his previous attempts to inject
the device of politics of character assassination in the presidential race.
It was a moment that required moral leadership and once again he didn`t
rise to the occasion. Throughout the course oft campaign, he has
repeatedly refused to stand up to most extreme voices in the Republican
Party.

"If this is the `leadership` he has shown on the campaign trail, what
can the American people expect of him as president of the United States?"

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: You know how much moral leadership we`re getting out of
the Obama campaign on this? They have already sent out an e-mail
solicitation trying to raise money on this issue.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t you?

MCMAHON: Yes, he would.

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: Yes. It`s a political issue, but don`t be all, oh...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Just tell me right now. Your guy, Romney, is not going to
talk about Reverend Wright this whole campaign?

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: No, I don`t think he will.

MCMAHON: Not after today.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He just already did. We got the tape. We showed him in
February doing it.

T. HARRIS: Look, he said today this is going to be a campaign...

MATTHEWS: Oh, he is going to stop doing it?

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: Is the left going to stop talking about Romney being a
Mormon?

MATTHEWS: I`m just asking you.

T. HARRIS: I`m asking you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think they ever talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: Is Lawrence O`Donnell going to do a rant about Mormonism?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Lawrence works for their campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

MCMAHON: You`re a baseball fan. The White House just threw a very
hard high pitch at Mitt Romney. Don`t be talking about this because we
will squash you with it.

Mitt Romney has squirmed away from it after being afraid to talk about
it. He squirmed away, repudiated it. He is not going to go near this
issue for the rest of the campaign. That doesn`t mean these crazy, rich
fools won`t, but it will backfire.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Reverend Wright?

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: I don`t think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, I`m still waiting for your answer. Will he use
Reverend Wright?

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: No. I don`t think he will.

MATTHEWS: It will not leave his lips again?

T. HARRIS: It would be a mistake.

MCMAHON: I don`t think he will.

(CROSSTALK)

T. HARRIS: He ought to be talking about jobs and the president`s
failed record.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s already done it.

Anyway, thank you, Steve McMahon.

Thank you, Todd Harris. He doesn`t listen to your advice.

MCMAHON: He should.

MATTHEWS: Up next, the late-night comics have some advice for Mitt
Romney. That`s next in the "Sideshow." I`m sure it will be positive.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First off, is believe in America the best slogan or the best campaign
slogan for team Romney? He`s had plenty of other notable quotes. Just ask
the folks at "Conan."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN")

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Mitt Romney is also trying out new
campaign slogans, but he`s getting mixed results.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am offering a real choice,
a new beginning. We believe in ourselves. Our greatest days are ahead.

The other guys are talking about everything but the economy, and I`m
going to talk about nothing.

If you have got a shirt on, as you -- the guys in the room at least
do, and the gals have tops, I guess you would call them.

I`m allowed to say what I`m not allowed to say, that`s very important
to me.

I`m over 13 now.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, the late-night crowd has been having a good time with
Romney.

Here`s David Letterman with what happened when George W. Bush endorsed
Romney as the elevator doors were closing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": We have a
simulation. We don`t have actual footage. So we have put together a
simulation of what George W. Bush must have looked like endorsing Mitt
Romney from the elevator. Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I strongly
stand with Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was his tie going up the elevator.

Anyway, also, have you noticed that President Obama sometimes avoids
mentioning Mitt Romney by name during speeches, like when he recently
criticized the policies of -- quote -- "some people running for a certain
offices should not be named"?

Well, Vice President Biden has been on a campaign blitz in Ohio the
last couple days and he wasn`t so coy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Romney talks about
restructuring the economy. It`s fundamentally about making money.

Here`s the crux of Governor Romney`s argument. Romney`s partners came
in, his fellow investors, and eight years later the company was bankrupt.
Romney`s investors walked away with $12 million. That`s Romney economics.
The president did not take Governor Romney`s advice.

Governor Romney seems to want it both ways. Governor Romney. Romney.
Romney. Governor Romney. Governor Romney, he said -- quote -- "I will
take a lot of credit for the fact that the industry`s come back." Whoa.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: And by the way, I will take a lot of credit for man having
landed on the moon, because although I was in school, I rooted for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, see what I mean? Nineteen direct shots in today`s
speech alone.

Well, finally, why are Republicans digging up four-year-old attack
lines against President Obama? We have got the Jeremiah Wright situation
we talked about earlier. And the birthers have yet to put bed that issue.

Here`s the latest. This is U.S. Congressman from Colorado Mike
Coffman at a fund-raiser last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: I don`t know whether Barack Obama
was born in the United States or not. I don`t know that. But I do know
this, that, in his heart, he`s not an American. He`s just not an American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh.

Coffman found himself backpedaling that one this week -- or actually
last night -- in a quote, he said, "I have confidence in President Obama`s
citizenship and legitimacy as president of the United States. However, I
don`t believe the president shares my belief in American exceptionalism.
His policies reflect a philosophy that America is but one nation among many
equals."

So, this congressman, he says the president is an undocumented alien.
Then he says he`s outright un-American. Who votes for these odd ducks,
these political quacks?

Anyway, up next: Mitt Romney wants you to believe that he has got
more in common with Bill Clinton politically than President Obama does. Is
he fooling anyone, except himself?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JACKIE DEANGELIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Jackie DeAngelis with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow plummeting 156 points, the S&P falling 20, and the Nasdaq
sliding 60 points today. And some investors are already looking past
today`s selling and ahead to Facebook`s Friday debut. Shares have priced
at $38 each. Meantime, Apple fell nearly $16 today. It`s off more than 8
percent over the last month. And J.P. Morgan slipping another 4 percent.
The Senate Banking Committee wants CEO Jamie Dimon to testify as early as
next month.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Mitt Romney has been testing out a new strategy aimed at driving a
wedge between President Obama and centrist Democrats and independents who
embraced Bill Clinton. There are many problems with the strategy,
beginning with this. Mitt Romney opposes almost everything Bill Clinton
supports.

Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and the Huffington Post
Media Group editorial director. And my colleague Alex Wagner from our
network is the host of the "Now," the highly successful program that comes
on earlier than this.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, here`s Mitt Romney. You`re laughing, but it`s all
true. Here`s Mitt Romney stirring the pot in Des Moines this Tuesday, two
days ago. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: President Clinton was signaling to his own party that
Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for
every problem.

President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer
of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: It`s enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal
beef with the Clintons, but probably that -- it runs much deeper than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, who writes this? He`s reading off a
teleprompter, Howard, and he`s reading crap.

I don`t use the word very often, but here`s a guy who says that this
president of the United States, who, whatever you think of him, boldly came
out for health care reform, boldly came out for a stimulus platform, in the
face of the worst economic danger since the Great Depression, did all this
stuff, and he`s saying he did all that out of a personal beef or tiff with
Bill Clinton.

How can you say something? Is it just meant to be overstatement or
understatement or what?

(CROSSTALK)

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, if
he were speaking to a Democratic audience there, where he was seriously
trying to get people who adored Bill Clinton, I might take it a little more
seriously as a political tactic, although even then I wouldn`t.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: But here he`s just -- it`s just parlor talk for a bunch of
Republicans. It doesn`t mean anything. And I will say a couple other
things.

MATTHEWS: OK. Translate the meaning. Does it have any meaning at
all?

FINEMAN: No, not really. First of all, I would not -- I would let
the sleeping big dog lie here. Don`t give Bill Clinton...

MATTHEWS: They hate Clinton.

FINEMAN: I know, but don`t give Bill Clinton an excuse to be
righteously indignant in public and campaign for Barack Obama at the same
time, number one.

Also, people generally don`t these days, given how divided we are,
take seriously praise of people in the other party. They just don`t. So I
don`t know what he was trying to do. He thought he was trying to be clever
and stir mischief among the Democrats. It won`t work and nobody was
listening.

MATTHEWS: Alex, what do you make of that? It was a sarcastic line
obviously aimed at stirring trouble, but what`s it about? Is this a theme
that is coming here?

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it`s not surprising.

And, actually, Sam Stein in Howard`s paper, The Huffington Post, had a
great analysis of this, which is that a lot of presidential candidates try
and do this. McCain tried to do this to some degree. Bill Clinton remains
an incredibly powerful figure in American politics.

He reminds people of halcyon days when things got done in Washington,
to a degree. And Romney is trying to exploit that. He`s been tossing
around the word liberal like nobody`s business. And he`s clearly trying to
paint President Obama as an extremist, which obviously is not going to
work.

The other problem with this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They impeached him.

FINEMAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. They impeached him.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: How can anybody forget that? Two presidents in history got
impeached, probably for political reasons. And he`s one of them. And now
go, his guy is great. He`s great. He`s the best thing since sliced bread.

They impeached him. How can they go on? Does even Romney have any
history in that head of his or just talking points?

Anyway, go ahead. I interrupted you. But I did interrupt you with
something important. He was impeached by Republicans.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: He was. But institutional memory is a
thing of the past. Let`s not forget. Now, if this was Mitt Romney
speaking in 1994, perhaps he would have more in common with Bill Clinton
and he could sort of align himself better with him.

But Mitt Romney these days, you know, we call him Governor Romney.
His record as the governor of Massachusetts has effectively been
whitewashed. It would be much more appropriate to introduce him as
chairman or CEO Romney at this point. I mean, Governor Romney had common
than Bill Clinton than candidate Romney.

(CROSSTALK)

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: My point is nobody is going
to take -- no Democrat is going to take Mitt Romney`s praise of bill
Clinton seriously. And if he somehow thought he was going to lure
Democratic votes by exposing a historical fissure in the Democratic Party,
it`s a waste of his time.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank God we have videotape like Warner Wolf. Here
we go -- Romney`s new line of attack might have you thinking he was once a
Clinton fan if you don`t pay attention.

So, here he is in a debate this January trying to explain why he
didn`t vote in the 1993 Republican presidential primary in Massachusetts
and sticking it to Bill Clinton in the process. Here he is explaining who
he is in January. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In my state of
Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in
whichever primary happens to be interesting. Any chance I got to vote
against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Any chance -- there we have it, Alex Wagner. We just like
to report here we do have a videotape machine here, we can show what he
says. I don`t talk about Jeremiah Wright, we caught him doing it in
February. I love Bill Clinton.

Here we have trashing him in January. Thank God for tape. It`s not
a good friend of this guy, though.

WAGNER: Chris, are we surprised? I mean, Mitt Romney, the flip-
flopping thing is the truth. He has slipped up on every major issue. It
is very hard to understand what Mitt Romney is all about.

The other thing, and Howard mentioned this, don`t wake the sleeping
giant. Bill Clinton is still alive. He is still the kingmaker, like he
will disprove whatever Romney is saying about him. And the Clintons, if we
know anything about them, they`ve got institutional memory. They remember
who their enemies are, they remember what was said about them years ago,
months ago, weeks ago.

Bill Clinton is around and he will be out there on the campaign trail
not for Mitt Romney but for Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Well, for all Romney`s talk, he`s no true believer in
President Clinton`s policies. Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, up to
37 percent, however. And the president want to return the top rates to
Clinton era levels. Mitt Romney wants to lower taxes on the wealthy
further.

Clinton supports Obama`s health care reform. Romney has vowed to
repeal it. And while Clinton backs the Dodd/Frank financial reform, Mitt
Romney opposes it. So, just about every issue you think of.

By the way, let`s talk politics for a second, Bill Clinton, you`re so
good, I`m looking at the deep, at one of my smartest colleagues here. Bill
Clinton wants this guy to win, I believe, because somewhere in the back of
his head, he would like his wife to be president, Hillary Clinton, and I
don`t think what she thinks.

If this president gets beaten, it`s going to be harder for her to be
an incumbent because the business cycle is going to turn up eventually.

FINEMAN: A couple things. First of all, Bill Clinton`s version of
health care was more government oriented, actually, than the Obama one.

MATTHEWS: So was Nixon`s.

FINEMAN: Yes, exactly. OK. So, the Romney makes no sense on that
level.

On another level, I think Bill Clinton wants to be the guy, short of
Hillary being elected, Bill Clinton being the guy --

MATTHEWS: Who`d bring this guy in.

FINEMAN: Yes. Bill Clinton wants to be the guy who`s called on to
help, in a great statesmanship to bring in Obama.

MATTHEWS: He wants to be a St. Bernard who goes out and gets this
guy in the snow, brings him home.

FINEMAN: Brings him home, exactly.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. The big dog, he`s St. Bernard. Thank you.

I got to laugh, Alex. That makes it all worthwhile.

Thank you, Howard. And thank you, Alex. Good luck with your show.
You`re doing great.

WAGNER: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius is scheduled to speak in this city, in Georgetown, tomorrow. But
a lot of right wing Catholics are out trying to keep her from talking.
Well, that`s liberty. You can`t talk. And that`s head.

This is HARDALL -- the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has ruled out
running for Congress in Washington state, a decision that end his career on
Capitol Hill. Kucinich`s district was withdrawn and he lost a primary
fight against fellow Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur early this year.

He considered moving west actually to the Seattle area and running
for Congress there, but instead he now says his 16 years of service in
Congress will end when his current term is up.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As citizens of a
vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How
does each of us remain firm in our principles and fight for what we
consider rights without, as Father John said, demonizing those are just as
strong convictions on the other side? And of course nowhere do these
questions come up more powerful than on the issue of abortion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In 2009, you saw him, President Obama received an honorary and gave
the commencement address at Notre Dame. But because he said he supports
the woman`s right to choose an abortion, the president`s selection as
speaker was criticized by some well, many Catholic bishops and conservative
church members.

Now, Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, there she
is, is facing similar scrutiny and attack. She`s a featured speaker
tomorrow, at an award ceremony at Georgetown University here at their
Public Policy Institution -- at the invitation of the students, I must say.

But a statement from the archdiocese of Washington calls her work on
the Affordable Care Act the most direct challenge to religious liberty in
recent history.

Well, despite the criticism, Georgetown University President Jack
DeGoia supports her appearance.

E.J. Dionne, by the way, is a columnist. He`s with me now. He`s
with "The Washington Post." He is a senior fellow at Brookings Institution
and a tenured professor at Georgetown, at its Public Policy Institute,
where Secretary Sebelius is speaking tomorrow.

She will speak, right?

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: She will.

MATTHEWS: And the invitation came from the students?

DIONNE: Well, the students` came up -- I think the invitation
formally came from the Public Policy Institute, it was the student`s idea.
We have a committee of students who makes this decision, and she is
perfectly typical of a kind of speakers --

MATTHEWS: And you had Paul Ryan a few weeks ago.

DIONNE: And we had probably our most lecture is (INAUDIBLE) lectern
after someone who died in 9/11, a faculty member. And he gave that lecture
a few weeks ago.

And one of the things I know -- I was one of the people on the
faculty who signed the letter disagreeing with Congressman Ryan. But the
first words --

MATTHEWS: You didn`t want him to speak?

DIONNE: The first letters were welcome to Georgetown.

MATTHEWS: OK.

DIONNE: And that was the whole idea. I wouldn`t have signed the
letter if it had said we don`t want him to come up to speak. And that`s
the point. I think what you`re seeing here is an effort to keep only, if
you will, liberal Catholics off --

MATTHEWS: The issue at hand here is not so much her general position
which is pro-choice, and I understand that long debate. The way they put
it up is they don`t her to speak because she supports contraceptive
services as part of health care.

DIONNE: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s her problem.

DIONNE: And what they said is that somehow Georgetown was slapping
the bishops in the face. Of course, this invitation went out before that
final decision was made. Secondly, she has since compromised on the issue
and I were critical of HHS before the compromise, and then we were for the
compromise. So yes.

So they have a disagreement with her on this. But they don`t apply
this rule, saying when someone disagrees with the church on the death
penalty, they don`t say we shouldn`t have invited Paul Ryan when the
bishops have been very critical of the Ryan budget.

MATTHEWS: By the way, does the Catholic Church view the Iraq war as
a just war? Did it meet the standard?

(CROSSTALK)

DIONNE: The church and the Vatican were very critical of the Iraq
war. To me, if a Catholic university is Catholic and it`s a university.
And a university should be a place where a people of a variety of views,
including Catholics of variety of views, get to present their positions. I
invite people who disagree with me to my classes in Georgetown a lot.

MATTHEWS: OK. Is the role of Catholic education inquiry or
indoctrination?

DIONNE: I think it`s inquiry and I think it`s spreading the fate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DIONNE: But, you know, my favorite example how to do this is the
cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Martini regularly invited atheists into his
cathedral to discuss all kinds of questions including questions about God.
If belief in God is not more fundamental to Catholicism than anything else,
I don`t know what it is.

Martini said, the purpose of the session was always the same, to help
people think. And that`s what a Catholic university should be.

MATTHEW: The funny thing is, and I said to liberal and conservative
people of every religion, you know, when I was growing up, one of the
things we really valued was the great church thinkers of history, were able
to make arguments, have great arguments in the middle of the night, and
they would argue all night their religious and they were confident doing
it.

DIONNE: John Murray, great American Catholic, Jesuit, who really was
the architect of the reforms in the Vatican II, some of them -- the Vatican
wanted to silence him in 1954, and then he became a hero of the church and
we got to keep the debate open.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, E.J. You`re a good guy. Thank you.

When we return, let me finish with what we should do to reduce
abortions in this country.

You`re watching HARDBALL -- the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this. It`s a subtle
recommendation for me protesting the appearance tomorrow by HHS Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius at Georgetown University.

You oppose her speaking because of her support on abortion right
rights. So, let me propose a thought to you, who like me, value life.
Will protesting the secretary`s appearance radically reduce the number of
millions of abortions in this county each year? Will it reduce by one?
What would? What practical workable step would radically reduce the number
of abortions in this free country of ours?

I would suggest that it`s radically reducing the number of unwanted
pregnancies. Get the young man having sex with young women to stop having
unwanted pregnancies, stop protesting government officials and start
talking to the people involved in having these millions of unwanted
pregnancies. Tell them, get word to them as parents, teachers, loved ones.

And if they`re going to have sex, and that`s a decision they ought to
accept for responsibility for, please use birth control, just stop having
unwanted pregnancies. It`s how we do things in a free society that values
life, not with dictatorial laws but with persuasion. I say this as someone
that accepts the moral teaching of my church, but also as someone who
accepts the practical need here for effective action, not more protests.

And now, word about Secretary Sebelius. It could be argued that this
person has done more to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies than
anyone in our country. She`s behind the policy of requiring insurance
companies to cover birth control, making birth control free, which is what
she`s done or do more to reduce unwanted pregnancies than anything I can
imagine. Certainly getting people to stop having sex is another way.

Her way will have a more dramatic result. It could actually work.

I know what the protesters believe. They believe they can stop it by
protest, by rallies, by stopping people from speaking at graduation
ceremonies.

Common sense tells me that the way to stop unwarranted pregnancies
and about is not a graduation ceremony, but on what we used to call dates.
It`s when a young man and woman are together. We can argue against them
having sex, but we can also suggest that when relationship becomes closer
and respectful, birth control is far better than an unwanted pregnancy.

So, here in my role as a secular adviser, I suggest those of us that
think this country would be better off with radically fewer abortions
actually begin doing something about it. Kathleen Sebelius deserves
credit. Again, it could certainly be argued for her doing her part.
Rather than protesting what she`s doing, pro-lifers and pro-choicers might
just think about giving her a little credit, or at least let her speak.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
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