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updated 7/17/2012 1:24:09 PM ET 2012-07-17T17:24:09

Guests: Rick Tyler, Nia-Malika Henderson, Steve McMahon, Andy Staples

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Bain, Bain, go away.

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia for Chris
Matthews.

Leading off tonight: When you`re explaining, you`re losing. And right
now, Mitt Romney is explaining. Did he really leave Bain in 1999? Why
does his name appear on Bain documents subsequent to that? And why does it
matter? Because accurate or not, the Bain mess casts doubt on Romney`s
principal argument that it`s his business experience that most qualifies
him to be president.

The Obama campaign has dented Romney`s strength. Karl Rove couldn`t
have done a better job. Perhaps it was because the Romney camp was so
eager to change that subject that they let slip to Drudge that Condoleezza
Rice has emerged as a top VP pick. There are lots of reasons to believe
this is nothing more than a shiny bright object to take our attention off
of Bain, but she would help Romney plug a number of holes.

Plus, President Obama says his biggest mistake has been putting policy
over storytelling. I talked about that just two nights ago right here.
Why doesn`t the president do a better job of telling people what he`s
accomplished?

And what happens now to Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky report?
Will it be given the NAACP`s (SIC) death penalty, a ban from playing
football for at least a year?

Finally, courtesy of the HuffingtonPost, politicians who look like
Disney characters. Take Ron Paul. Does he remind you of anyone? How
about Claude Frollo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"? How great is that?
Much more where that came from on the "Sideshow."

We begin with Mitt Romney`s record at Bain. MSNBC political analyst
David Corn is Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones" magazine and the
author of "Showdown." Rick Tyler was a spokesman for Newt Gingrich and the
pro-Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future.

Gentlemen, new details about Romney`s role at Bain post-1999 continued
to drip out today. Various news organizations reported that according to
the testimony he gave to the Massachusetts Ballot Commission in 2002,
Romney continued to attend board meetings for businesses acquired by Bain,
including Staples.

This comes after reports from David Corn in "Mother Jones," and
yesterday, "The Boston Globe" showed that Romney was still the CEO of Bain
through 2002, according to SEC filings.

Now, why is this important? Well, it was beginning in 1999 that Bain
invested heavily in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing, according
to "The Washington Post."

There`s some evidence that Romney`s standing has taken a hit recently.
Take a look at the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls. Obama has a
2.5 point lead over Romney now. And today, the Romney campaign hastily
arranged interviews with all the major networks.

Rick, your campaign, your guy, Newt Gingrich, brought this up in
primary season, and he was criticized -- Gingrich was. Maybe Romney would
have been better served if this was fully litigated in the primaries and
not the general election.

RICK TYLER, FORMER GINGRICH SPOKESMAN: I think that`s probably right.
It was not fully litigated. In fact, it wasn`t really fully understood.
And I give the Romney campaign an enormous amount of credit. They actually
won the argument. They basically said by attacking Mitt Romney, we were
attacking free enterprise. That certainly was never true, but that was the
dominant narrative and it won the day.

But there`s still those same questions that are out there, and
obviously, this -- these questions have taken Romney off his message, which
is jobs and Barack Obama`s economy. Barack Obama`s story is that we`re
stuck at 8.2 percent. There`s a $15 trillion debt. And just today, he --
we were -- the HHS is reversing Welfare reform, which was a signature
achievement of my boss, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton.

SMERCONISH: David Corn, you`ve been all over this story. Explain to
someone who`s been half paying attention the significance of 1999 versus
2002.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: In some ways,
it`s a phony distinction. But in some ways, it isn`t. That`s why we`re
litigating and fighting over it.

After `99, Bain made some investments in certain companies that were
involved in outsourcing jobs to China, India and Mexico. And so Mitt
Romney is trying to basically claim that he wasn`t involved with those sort
of decisions.

Even though he still owned the company, even though he still benefited
from that company, even though he put the company on that path, he`s trying
to separate himself from those particular deals. And there were some
bankruptcies, too, in companies that happened after that stage. So that`s
why he`s trying to make February `99 this bright line.

But I had a story out just yesterday, Michael, that had Bain in `98,
when Romney was the head of it, investing in a Chinese manufacturing
company that was making money off U.S. companies outsourcing jobs to them.

So even prior to this `99 bright line, there are lots of problems at
Bain. There are lots of problems with his own personal finances, with
offshore companies. It`s turning into a big mess. And that`s why I think
we`re not going to see much in terms of tax returns because I can tell you
this -- I`m getting, you know, stuff in from over the transom, tips here
and there.

There is just a wealth -- pun intended -- a wealth of material to keep
looking at in terms of Bain deals and Romney`s personal finances. And
there are questions about whether he even, you know, didn`t tell the full
truth on many of the disclosure forms he has filled out.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, on CBS this morning, President Obama said
attacks on Romney`s record at Bain were entirely appropriate. Here`s what
he said, in part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not think at all
it disqualifies him. But I also think it`s important, if that`s his main
calling card, if his basic premise is that, I`m Mr. Fix-It on the economy
because I made a lot of money, I think it is entirely appropriate to look
at that record and see whether, in fact, his focus was creating jobs and he
successfully did that. And when you look at the record, there are
questions there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Hey, Rick, do you think that this is all opposition
research-oriented, that it`s coming from Chicago, that the Obama campaign
has been sitting on these things for quite some time? Asked in a different
manner, do you think had your candidate, Newt Gingrich, continued down the
path he was headed in the primary, that you, too, would have gotten here?

TYLER: Well, again, I think we lost the argument about attacking free
enterprise, and so that`s what -- that`s what -- but these things were
known back in January of -- 15th. I went on one of the Sunday shows and
talked about the SEC filings and the inconsistencies then. And you know,
it seemed a lot to do about nothing then. This may seem to be a lot to do
about nothing now.

But let`s just talk pure politics here because what the president is
successfully doing, obviously, is he does not want to talk about his
record. He doesn`t have a record to run on. So they are going with this
thing with Bain, and it`s got the media`s attention and they`re winning the
game.

The problem with the Romney campaign is they have to find -- and I
hope he does. He`s supposed to come out at 6:00 o`clock tonight and he`s
supposed address this. And I hope he does in a way that he can put this
finally once and all behind him.

Ultimately, the voters will have to decide whether this is a lot to do
about nothing or whether it means something. But I think if Mitt Romney
gets this behind him, he can then shift back to the president`s dismal
record on the economy and jobs.

CORN: Michael, I can tell you...

SMERCONISH: Well, I mean, look, the reality is, as you`re pointing
out, the president got a terrible jobs report recently, and we`ve not spent
the last 10 days focused on that. The narrative has been driven by the
Bain issue.

Let me show David Corn something. Yesterday, a Romney campaign
adviser gave this explanation to Politico for what his boss`s role at Bain
was between 1999 and 2002.

Quote, "Romney was on the SEC filings because he was still technically
the owner but hadn`t transferred ownership to other partners." He
described him as "technically the owner."

Well, one of "The Boston Globe" reporters who worked on the story
yesterday explained the contradiction between what the Romney camp is
saying and what the reporting by a number of outlets has uncovered. Here
it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER ROWLAND, "BOSTON GLOBE" D.C. BUREAU CHIEF: "The Globe"
and other reporting is not saying that he was in the boardroom on a daily
basis at Bain calling the shots. But certainly, these records show that he
was in charge. He had legal responsibility. He was the man with oversight
responsibility for the company. How can you retire from a company in 1999
but then remain as president, CEO and chairman?

So I think that`s one of the discrepancies that, I mean, we`re
reporting, and that`s really the crux of our story. And the Romney people,
they did ask for a correction. They`re not getting one because, I mean,
they haven`t been able to show that any of our reporting was inaccurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: David, it`s an explanation here on behalf of Governor
Romney that he had to go solve a crisis, you know, that it was unexpected,
unforeseen that he would have to go and invest himself -- probably a bad
word choice -- but get active in the Olympics when they were in distress.
And therefore, you know, some details like this became secondary.

CORN: Well, you know, he has the option of saying, I departed, it was
chaotic, and it took us two or three years to sort things out.

That`s not what he`s saying. He`s saying that he had nothing to do,
when, you know, I was the first to report that he signed documents. He
signed them. It wasn`t just that his name was there. He signed documents
that enabled a $75 million deal to go through, and this is months after he
supposedly left the company.

He declared on his financial disclosure form -- I`ll have a story up
about this in about an hour or so and I`ll put the link on my Twitter feed.

But he signed a financial disclosure statement saying that in no way -
- not in any way was he involved in Bain operations after February `99.
But yet there are these examples again and again of him signing records.

Now, that`s being involved. I`m not saying he`s running things day-
to-day, as "The Boston Globe" guy said, but he was involved.

But the big thing, again, is that, you know, he`s not going to be able
to put this behind him. You know, my story yesterday about his Chinese
deal, investing in a Chinese company that`s benefiting from U.S.
outsourcing., There are going to be lots of these other deals that are
going to be investigated.

And I got to tell you, Mike, a lot of this is not coming from Chicago.
I got that story in over the transom from somebody who is just, you know,
interested in looking at SEC filings about Mitt Romney, and then I
developed it myself.

So you know, the Obama campaign certainly wants to gin this up, but
you could keep 100 reporters busy from now until election day just going
over Mitt Romney`s financial records and Bain deals.

And I think, you know, Rick is right, and Newt Gingrich was right back
then. There`s a tremendous liability for the Republican Party here that
was never fully explored back when they had a chance.

SMERCONISH: Rick Tyler, I want to ask you about the permanence of the
Bain attacks. Allow me to show you what Paul Begala, who`s an adviser to
the super-PAC backing Obama, says they are. He told Politico, quote, "Bain
will never go away. Never. We may even run ads against Bain after the
election."

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: "Whitewater didn`t define Clinton. He was running on
other issues. Barack Obama didn`t run for president as the Jeremiah Wright
candidate, and George W. Bush didn`t run on his service in the National
Guard. But Romney is a one-trick pony. The only calling card Romney has
for the presidency is his time in business."

Has his chief asset, that meaning Governor Romney, now turned into a
liability?

TYLER: Well, clearly, it`s a liability in the last 48 hours. But I
disagree with my friend, David Corn, here because I do think Romney can put
this behind him. And my hope is that at 6:00 o`clock tonight that he will
put it behind him, that his surrogates, his campaign and he will be able to
answer questions about this in a way that`s satisfactory to the American
people.

I think once that`s done, then Obama has no way to go to retread it.
This sort of narrative that Obama wants is fit (ph) for them, but most
voters may not care about this. They want to know that whoever their next
president is does have a real plan for prosperity, a real plan to return
jobs, and all this other stuff is sort of a sideshow.

The president has been successful in creating a big question mark
about Romney on this issue. And all he has to do, frankly, is have that
question mark at the margins in a few swing states. What Romney`s job is
to do, and what it`s going to be from now to the campaign (SIC), because,
obviously, Barack Obama has nothing to run on except Mitt Romney`s record -
- is that he can`t run on his own record, so he`s got to continue to
distract.

The challenge for the -- Mitt Romney`s campaign...

SMERCONISH: Rick Tyler, thank you...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Rick Tyler. Thank you, David Corn.

Coming up: Condoleezza Rice for vice president? There`s a lot of buzz
that Romney is considering Rice, but is the Romney campaign just looking to
change the subject away from Bain? That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Here`s a surprising number from that Pew poll that came
out yesterday, the one that gave President Obama a 7-point lead over Mitt
Romney. When asked which candidate would do a better job handling the
economy, 48 percent said President Obama versus just 42 percent who said
Romney. And that may be more evidence that the Obama campaign`s attacks on
Romney`s record at Bain may be working.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The DrudgeReport had an
eyebrow-raising headline last night. The conservative Web site, which is
known to have close ties to the Romney campaign, reported that a surprise
veep choice had emerged as a front-runner, former secretary of state
Condoleezza Rice.

A few weeks ago, Rice delivered a rousing speech at a gathering of big
money donors that was greeted very enthusiastically by people in the
audience, but she carries a truckload of political risks. Most significant
is her time in the Bush White House and some of her views on social issues
that don`t jibe with the conservative base of the Republican Party. For
example, she`s pro-choice.

Still, the fact that this is coming out now, and the fact that it`s
coming from Drudge, has led many to wonder what`s going on here exactly.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for "The Washington
Post." Robert Costa a political reporter for "National Review."

Nia-Malika, let me begin with you. Is this all a diversion to take
attention away from Bain, where that issue appears to have gathered
traction in the last couple of weeks?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, it`s certainly turned
out to be. Here we are, talking about this story that the Romney campaign
pretty easily knocked down that -- and drew lots of suspicion from folks
here in Washington and skepticism. So it certainly seems that this is a
way to divert attention from what everyone has been talking about this
week, Bain revelations, Mitt Romney`s tax returns. So it certainly has
worked out that way, too.

And I think another point to be made is here was a week where Mitt
Romney went before the National Association of Colored People and was
booed. And in some ways, it`s not necessarily coincidental that days
later, he comes out with a story, or his campaign comes out with a story
where it seems to be that they are vetting a very high-profile African-
American, and in some ways, sending the signal that the Republican Party is
an inclusive one, which is a message they certainly need to send to
independent voters.

SMERCONISH: Robert, conservative blogger Erick Erickson was quick to
dampen the speculation last night when he wrote, "I don`t know who`s
hitting the crack rock tonight in the rumor mill, but bull shitake
mushrooms. Condoleezza Rice is pro-abortion. She worked for George Bush
for eight years."

Could conservatives look past the social positions that she has, most
notably on the choice issue, because they`d be thrilled to have a
legitimate neocon sharing that ticket?

ROBERT COSTA, "NATIONAL REVIEW," CNBC CONTRIBUTOR: First, I think
Erick`s right. Beyond those Drudge references, every single Romney source
I`ve spoken with today has thrown cold water on top of this rumor. They
say that Romney`s running his veep search like it`s a consulting project.
He`s very meticulous. He has names like Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Paul
Ryan that are part of that final list.

Condi`s the one that`s being floated by those people who went to that
Utah retreat, people who really had -- found her speech to be fantastic,
and they`re buzzing to reporters. But inside of that Boston high command,
I don`t think Condi`s a short-lister.

But let`s say she was an outside pick, like you said. I think social
conservatives would have some concerns. They may make a stink at the
convention in Tampa. They could cause a stir on the floor.

But I think the frustration towards the president is so strong that
even though Romney promised he would pick a pro-life candidate for VP, if
he picks someone who is, quote, "mildly pro-choice," as Rice describes
herself, I think the anger towards the president would still get social
conservatives out to the polls in November.

SMERCONISH: Well, Nia-Malika, maybe here`s an indication of what
social conservatives would do. Dr. Rice found a surprising supporter last
night on Fox. Sarah Palin said she likes the idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FOX CONTRIBUTOR: I think that
Condoleezza Rice would be a wonderful vice president, and she certainly has
more experience than our sitting president does today.

I would certainly prefer a presidential and vice presidential
candidate who had that respect for all innocent, precious, purposeful human
life and showed that respect via being a pro-life candidate.

We need to remember, though, that it`s not the vice president that
would legislate abortion, and that would be Congress`s role. And we`ll
keep that in mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Nia-Malika, this would be interpreted as throwing the
long ball, don`t you think? This would be like a Palin pick in the 2012
cycle, and if anything, I`ve been anticipating that Mitt Romney will do
something very conservative, not politically conservative but very
conservative in terms of the selection.

HENDERSON: That`s right, a safe choice, and nothing certainly to
ostracize the evangelical base, which is so important in terms of energy.

I talked to some top evangelicals today and they were apoplectic with
this idea that it could be Condoleezza Rice, because of her stance on life.
And it`s not even to say that they wouldn`t necessarily show up at the
polls. But there wouldn`t be energy, there wouldn`t be that fire in the
belly among evangelicals.

And it would send a signal to them and sort of remind them of some of
the reservations they have already had about Romney around the issue of
abortion. So, I just think it`s very, very unlikely. And I think
evangelicals in some ways have been in touch with the Romney campaign
expressing their disappointment with this idea. But, again, I do think...

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: Michael, real quick...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: This might be an indication -- this might be an
indication of what you`re talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Hang on a second, because I want you to see this.

Governor Mike Huckabee today said that it would be a big mistake for
Romney to pick Condoleezza Rice. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: I think Romney would
have a real problem because of her weakness on the issues, such as sanctity
of life.

Romney has promised that he will have a pro-life vice president. That
was a promise that he made during the campaign, because it was expressly
asked. And anything less than that, and I think you`re going to see a lot
of conservatives...

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: So it would reaffirm their doubts about...

HUCKABEE: Exactly.

CAVUTO: .. how committed he is to that.

HUCKABEE: It would be a disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Hey, Rob, this creates a lot of buzz. Does an eventual
selection of a Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman then look boring by comparison?

COSTA: Sure.

Of course, it`s boring compared to Condoleezza Rice.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTA: But I think Romney is comfortable with boring. He`s running a
very steady campaign, not excitable at all.

But I think the initial response to Condoleezza Rice`s pro-choice
views is not entirely accurate about how the conservative base would
respond. If you read her memoir, first of all, she`s a Notre Dame
graduate. She went to a Catholic university, one of the best in the
country.

At the same time, she`s very family-oriented. Though she does not
have a family of her own, she grew up in a strong household, strong
parents, taught her well. She has a great story to tell. And I spoke to
Republican operatives today. They like Condi`s story. They don`t think
she is going to be picked, but they like her story.

And they think they could -- she could craft a narrative that would
appeal to social conservatives. But I think you`re right, Romney is the
kind of guy who is looking at someone who is Midwestern, evangelical,
someone who is comfortable with the base.

SMERCONISH: Right.

COSTA: So you have Pawlenty. The only thing going against Portman is
his Bush experience. But Pawlenty and Portman bring the same kind of
political persona to the ticket.

SMERCONISH: I think you`re right.

Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you.

Robert Costa, good to have you back.

Up next: separated at birth? Politicians who look like Disney
characters. That`s next in the "Sideshow."

By the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you know the rules.
You just need to figure out how to spell Smerconish.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First off, there was no shortage of outrage last week when the
Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, blasted President Obama`s health
care plan, saying -- quote -- "You must buy health insurance or pay the new
Gestapo, the IRS." That`s right, the Gestapo, Hitler`s secret police
during the Holocaust.

LePage later apologized, but talking with to local reporter Paul
Heintz yesterday, he swiveled from backing off his comments to doubling
down.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: What I`m trying to say is the Holocaust
was a horrific crime against humanity. And, frankly, I would never want to
see that repeated. Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad yet.

QUESTION: So you`re saying the IRS is headed in the direction of the
Gestapo? Do you have a sense of what the Gestapo actually did during World
War II?

LEPAGE: Yes. They killed a lot of people.

QUESTION: And so the IRS is heading in that direction?

LEPAGE: Yes.

QUESTION: They`re headed in the direction of killing a lot of people?

LEPAGE: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you serious?

LEPAGE: Yes, very serious.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: I`m just as incredulous as that radio host. No surprise
the do-over caused more uproar. And the governor has now issued a new
apology for his -- quote -- "insensitivity" to the word Gestapo.

Insensitivity would seem like one heck of an understatement, don`t you
think?

Next, just as soon as these words came out of Rick Santorum`s mouth
back in March regarding Mitt Romney and health care reform, we knew it
would come back to bite him down the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Why would we put someone up
who is uniquely -- pick any other Republican in the country. He is the
worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Well, Santorum was in Iowa this week. And a local
reporter asked him about the whole worst Republican argument.

And here`s what he said. "Just because I said he would be the worst
person to square up against Barack Obama in an election doesn`t mean that
he wouldn`t be far better than Barack Obama if he was elected."

There`s a head-scratcher for you. What a way to set the stage for
Santorum`s first campaign event for Mitt Romney, which is scheduled to take
place in Pennsylvania this weekend.

And team Romney may be floating the name Condi in their search for a
V.P., but it was another member of the Bush 43 team that had Romney`s back
last night. Dick Cheney hosted a fund-raiser for the candidate in his home
state of Wyoming. In addition to the contingent of donors, there were also
some protesters on the scene.

According to "The L.A. Times" -- quote -- "One man wearing a Darth
Vader mask held a sign with an arrow pointing in the direction of Cheney`s
House that said `Dinner on the Titanic.` Another protester`s sign pointed
the 1 percent toward the golf complex and the 99 percent toward an entrance
the Grand Teton National Park."

Any pictures to commemorate the evening? Well, no, the event was
closed to the press, and one possible reason is that Cheney left office
with a 13 percent approval rating. A snapshot of the duo might not be the
best selling point.

Finally, ever watched one of those classic Disney movies and said,
hey, that character reminds me of someone? Well, the folks at The
Huffington Post did some matchups. Let`s look at some highlights, all
personalities aside.

Barney Frank, look for his look-alike, think Goofy, but loyal
companion? How about Mr. Smee from "Peter Pan"? All the congressman needs
is that hat and it`s a done deal.

Then there`s Sarah Palin. We have seen this snapshot before. The
hint? Her Disney twin transitions from ladylike to the wild ways of her
husband when they get married. It`s Jane Porter from "Tarzan." I guess we
could say they both went rogue.

Next, it`s Charlie Rangel, Democrat from New York. Hint, his best
friend is literally the light of his life. Give it up for Cogsworth from
"Beauty and the Beast," best buddy to Lumiere.

Lastly, Ron Paul, his Disney doppelganger is anything but fun-loving.
He hid the story`s main church bell tower for years after being tasked with
raising him. It`s Claude Frollo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." I
think that one takes the cake.

All right, up next, President Obama says he needs to do a better job
selling what he`s done, telling the American people a story that helps us
understand where he`s leading us.

That`s ahead. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow jumps up big 204 points, the S&P higher by 22. Nasdaq gained
42. Financials led today`s rally following J.P. Morgan`s better-than-
expected earnings report despite more than $4 billion in losses for the
quarter. The company turned in a $5 billion profit. How would you like to
be able to do that?

Wells Fargo also rallied thanks to earnings that beat estimates for
that company. But consumers are not feeling so confident. The University
of Michigan says sentiment slipped to its lowest level since December.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide. Have a great
weekend, everybody -- now back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama took an opportunity to pass judgment on his own record
in an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS. The president spoke about where
he`s fallen short during his first term in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The mistake of my first
couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the
policy right. And that`s important.

But, you know, the nature of this office is also to tell a story to
the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and
optimism, especially during tough times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Mitt Romney then hit Obama with this statement -- quote -
- "President Obama believes that millions of Americans have lost their
homes, their jobs and their livelihood because he failed to tell a good
story. Being president is not about telling stories. Being president is
about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead. No wonder Americans
are losing face -- faith in his presidency."

Joining me now is Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and MSNBC
political analyst and author of "My Father at 100," Ron Reagan.

Ron, there was nobody better than the Gipper who was able to do that
which the president acknowledges he`s been unable to do in his first couple
of years in office. Your thoughts?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there might be a variety of
reasons why he`s been less than successful at telling his story, as he put
it.

And you can always blame the staff, of course. I think there also
might be some personal reticence on his part. George H.W. Bush was
famously averse to using the I-word. So there may be a little of that. It
also might be that the Republicans have put the White House a bit on the
defensive. You will remember when he made the call on Osama bin Laden and
announced that we had gotten bin Laden in a rather low-key kind , Way. The
Republicans immediately jumped on him and accused him of taking a victory
lap and doing unseemly things and politicizing all that sort of thing.

It might also be that the media is not giving him enough credit for
telling the story that he has told. And I don`t disagree that he hasn`t
done a good enough job, but has not given him enough credit for telling a
story, because when a president comes out and says we passed this bill and
here are a lot of the good things it is going to do, it doesn`t make the
news the way the president is a communist and he`s going to give us all
death panels, and, by the way, I`m wearing a funny hat -- that tends to
lead the news.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Steve McMahon, he did a good job telling stories in 2008
and then seems to have lost the mojo on some substantive matters.

Let`s go through a couple of them. Health care, where was the mistake
in communication relative to health care?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think the Republicans
got out and framed it pretty effectively pretty quickly.

And what the administration didn`t do quite as well is explain to the
American people all the benefits of health care reform. And, frankly, one
of the other things that they probably should have done is explained how
health care reform is actually partly about health care reform, but it`s
also partly getting America on a better track financially and economically,
because health care costs were dragging down our economy, and our economy
can`t be strong and successful in the future if that were to continue.

So, one of the things that I think they didn`t do enough of is
connecting the dots. But they`re starting to connect the dots now. They
did a lot of telling people what they did. They didn`t do quite as much
telling people why they did it and why it was important and why it mattered
to everyone.

And I think that`s a lesson that...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Ron Reagan, would you -- would you put the auto bailout
on this list of substantive matters where the president could be taking
some credit and selling better?

REAGAN: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

He needs to -- he needs to talk about it. Would we rather not have a
GM or Chrysler here in the United States? Would we rather those jobs just
didn`t exist anymore? Yes, he needs to blow his horn about this.

But he also needs to not just talk about his story and where he wants
to take the country and the good things that he has managed to do. He also
needs to tell the opposition`s story. The Republican Party now has
thoroughly jumped the shark. They are ripe for ridicule and satire.

Barack Obama ought to hire some guys from "The Harvard Lampoon," stick
them down in the basement of the White House and have them doing nothing
but writing jokes about Republicans and Mitt Romney, because you couldn`t
make this stuff up.

SMERCONISH: Steve McMahon, the president doesn`t get credit for a tax
cut that he was responsible for. I think another great example, I
mentioned it here on HARDBALL a couple of nights ago, of where he`s just
not sold it.

MCMAHON: Right. Well, he hasn`t sold it.

And Republicans are blocking it. And they don`t seem to be paying a
price at all. You`re absolutely right. The economic things that he`s
done, to some degree, people are aware of, but they don`t always have a
positive impression of those things because he hasn`t been as effective as
he`d like to be in telling a story of why those things matter.

In Detroit, for instance, they have gotten GM today and they have got
an auto industry. And it`s important for America to make things. People
understand that. It`s important for manufacturing jobs to be in this
country and not just in China and India. People understand that.

But connecting those dots is something that politicians, not just
Barack Obama, but many politicians have trouble doing. They`re very good
at saying what they did. They`re very bad at sometimes articulating why it
matters to folks and why folks should care about it and appreciate it more.

SMERCONISH: President Obama acknowledged his oratory prowess during
the 2008 campaign and how things have changed since then. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When I ran, everybody said, well, he can give a great speech,
but can he actually manage the job?

And then in my first two years, I think the notion was, well, you
know, he`s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but, you know, where
is the -- the story that tells us where -- where he`s going? And I think
that was a legitimate criticism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Ron Reagan, is part of the problem for the president
that it`s easier to control the message when you`re the candidate?
Everyone looks to you. But now, when you`re in office, you have portfolio.
With portfolio, come lots of surrogates, now both in the White House and
outside the White House that it`s hard to manage the message?

REAGAN: To some extent that is correct. But you`ve got the bully
pulpit also. The president doesn`t seem to have understood from the get-go
that you have to be a salesman, too. Telling the story as he seems to
indicate in this interview is part of the job.

I mean, it isn`t just being a technocrat and getting the policy
right. I mean, you can kind of hire people to do that. But you`re the
leader. You need to lead. You need to tell the story. You need to
inspire.

I think he gets that now. And I hope we`ve see more of it during the
campaign.

SMERCONISH: What could he have learned from your father in this
regard? Getting his message out, telling his story? Your father was so
effective in this regard.

REAGAN: Again, you have to be the salesman, you have to keep being
the salesman.

Take the health care bill, you have to pre-sell it. You have say
this is what we`re going to do and this is why. Then you have to sell it
while it`s happening. OK, this is what we`re doing and why.

But after the legislation passes, you can`t stop. You have to
continue telling people, this is why it was a good idea because the other
side is going to be trying to undo it the whole time. So, he hasn`t been
as aggressive as he needs to be in that regard.

SMERCONISH: Steve McMahon, a quick final question if I might. Is
there a political downside to the president acknowledging to Charlie Rose
that he`s been ineffective in this regard? You heard the response from
Mitt Romney.

MCMAHON: I actually don`t think there is a political downside.
There may be a political up side.

One of the things you see with the president right now is his
personal approval rating, the way people feel about him as a person is much
higher, frankly, than his job approval rating. One of the reasons is
because of what you just saw.

He`s not somebody like our previous president who`s unwilling to
admit a mistake or ever reconsider a position. He`s somebody who is
thoughtful and somebody who thinks about these things and learns from them
and hopefully tries to improve and be a better person and better president
tomorrow than he was yesterday.

I think that`s a sign of maturity and it`s one of the reasons that
people really, really want Barack Obama to succeed. Even those people he
disagrees --

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Steve McMahon.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Ron Reagan.

Up next, what`s next for Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky
report? Should the football team get the death penalty? That would be a
ban from playing for at least a season. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: If you want to know why President Obama is spending
today and tomorrow in Virginia, consider this -- an Obama victory there
means he can reach 270 electoral votes without winning Florida, Ohio, Iowa
or Nevada. But if Obama loses in Virginia, he would need to win either
Florida or Ohio or both Iowa and Nevada to reach that magic number of 270.
That`s assuming that he hangs on to all the states John Kerry won eight
years ago.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

The investigation into the Penn State sex abuse scandal provided
answers yesterday about who knew what and when. But it also prompts
further questions, including will more charges be filed and on the minds of
every student, staffer and fan of Penn State, could the NAACP punish the
school by banning football for a year or more?

Michael Isikoff is NBC`s national investigative correspondent and
Andy Staples is a senior writer for SI.com, the "Sports Illustrated" Web
site.

Michael, there`s quite a funk in State College. I hear from
listeners on the radio, people who idolized Joe Paterno for decades having
a very difficult time now understanding this latest news.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATL. INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:
Absolutely, Michael. The disclosures relating to Paterno were the news in
this Freeh report. "Paterno knew" is the headline there.

He knew about 1998, he followed the investigation into 1998, he was
kept apprised of it. And then when it comes to 2001, he was more involved
than he had acknowledged. So it was a significance of 1998 is it cast a
whole new light on the events that McQueary initiated in 2001 when he goes
to see Paterno and tells him about what he had seen in the shower.

It`s the second huge red flag and in both cases, Penn State
officials, including Paterno, covered it up and I think that`s what`s so
disturbing here and so problematic for Paterno`s legacy.

SMERCONISH: And there`s also, Michael Isikoff, anxiety, I`m sure, as
to the future of the football program?

ISIKOFF: Absolutely. And that really is the next shoe that could
drop here. You go back and look at the letter that the NCAA sent to Penn
State back in November when this first -- when Sandusky was arrested and
it`s very strong and pointed and asked very tough questions about what kind
of institutional controls that Penn State had over the figures of the
football program and also whether Penn State officials involved adhered to
all NCAA by-laws, including those requiring ethics and honesty. And
there`s one that specifically cited in that letter about moral values, and
the need to uphold moral values when you are teaching young people.

Now, you know, there`s been a lot of back-and-forth about whether the
NCAA would be straying outside its lane here because of the transgressions
didn`t specifically involve the athletic program or people participating in
the athletic program. But when you look at the broader context of those
people that the NCAA posts to Penn State in back in November, it`s clear
the direction they`re heading.

Now, Penn State at the time said, we need time to answer because
we`re waiting for the results of our internal investigation. The internal
investigation --

SMERCONISH: And that`s over.

ISIKOFF: -- the Freeh report is now in. That`s right.

And Penn State confirmed to me today that they are now going to
prepare a formal response. In fact, the NCAA said yesterday they want a
formal response. They now expect one. And they`re also going to be hiring
a special council to deal with this issue. So, there`s no doubt about how
huge this is for Penn State, $53 million a year for the football program.

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF: Yes, sure. Go ahead.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask Andy Staples. In fact, Andy, I want to show
you what Buzz Bissinger wrote in "The Daily Beast" today. Quote, "The
board should have announced yesterday that the upcoming season of football
would be canceled. It would have been a sincere and needed message to the
world that the football cultures will no longer be sustained. For the
innocent players caught up in this monstrosity, the answer is easy.
Release them from their scholarship commitments to Penn State and let them
go elsewhere without the normal period of having to sit out for a year.
That way they would not be punished for the sins of others."

Andy Staples, does that make sense to you?

ANDY STAPLES, SI.COM : No, because Penn State is not the only place
this could have happened. Football is a huge multibillion dollar business
at the top level of college athletics. It is a monstrous business. Penn
State`s last reporting period, the 2010 to 2011 academic year, football
program made $72.7 million in revenue. That doesn`t count other millions
that may have come in donations that weren`t necessarily earmarked for
football.

That`s a huge business. So they`re not going to do that. Let`s just
get that out of the way. They`re not going to voluntarily dismantle the
football program.

But remember, this could have happened at a place like Alabama. This
could have happened at a place like Auburn. This could have happened any
place where football is king. And football is king in a lot of places.

This also could have happened in corporate America. This would have
happened anywhere where you have millions of dollars floating around,
because people get into power and they want to keep their positions.

I always ask people to tell me if Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary
Schultz, Graham Spanier, any of those guys had gone to police in 2001,
would Penn State have played football in 2001? Yes, they would have. They
weren`t doing it to protect the football program, they were doing it to
protect their own jobs, because while Penn State would have played football
in 2001, there was a very good chance some of those guys would have been
out of a job after that scandal.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I`m not sure, though. I mean, if Joe Paterno had
gone in 2001, he would not have been without a job.

Michael Isikoff, my take is slightly different. I come on the same
side of the fence as Staples. But, look, Paterno has passed. Sandusky is
in the slammer. Curley and Schultz are being prosecuted. Arguably,
Spanier soon will be prosecuted.

And, you know, those who were culpable in this are getting their just
due. I don`t want to see the merchant and State College who makes money
because he does well on Saturdays because of football suffer because that
would seem fundamentally unfair.

ISIKOFF: And I think that`s exactly the issue that supporters of
Penn State are going to be raising here. But on the other side of the
coin, you`re going to get people saying if the NCAA doesn`t act in a
situation like this, after specifically citing, remember, its bylaws about
ethics and integrity and moral values -- when is it going to act in
enforcing those bylaws?

Here you have the most senior officials in charge of Penn State
program by their own internal reports findings clearly major lapses there.

SMERCONISH: Understood. All caught up on it.

ISIKOFF: So --

SMERCONISH: No doubt about it. Michael Isikoff, thank you as
always.

ISIKOFF: So, I think that`s the question. If they don`t adhere,
when will they? Sure.

SMERCONISH: Understood.

Andy Staples, thank you for your contribution.

When we return, allow me to finish why I`d be a hypocrite to get
upset over those made in China Olympic uniforms for team USA.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this. Opening ceremonies of
the London Olympics are just 14 days away. As you probably heard,
controversy now surrounds the Ralph Lauren uniforms of team USA. It seems
that like much of our clothing, the uniforms were made in China. And that
has caused quite a reaction especially from politicians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Today there are 600,000 vacant
manufacturing jobs in this country and the Olympic Committee is outsourcing
the manufacturing of uniforms to China? That is not just outrageous, it`s
just plain dumb. And I`m calling on the Olympic Committee to reverse this
decision and make sure that American athletes competing in the Olympics are
competing with labels that say "made in America".

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think they should take
all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them, and start all over
again.

All -- if they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it
painted by hand, that`s what they should wear. We have people in the
textile industry who are desperate for jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SMERCONISH: In the blogosphere, the majority leader`s words are
drawing support while Ralph Lauren and the U.S. Olympic Committee are
drawing flack on Facebook and Twitter. On the Ralph Lauren Web site, the
company says it is a privilege to be the outfitter of Team USA for the 2012
Olympic Games. Ralph Lauren has designed uniforms for the 2010 Winter
Games in Vancouver and the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. And both times,
portions of the clothing were manufactured in China.

Look, I get the emotional pull of what Leader Reid says. But I`d be
a hypocrite to join in. See, all this talk caused me to look at my own
labels today. Earlier today, I was wearing a Lacoste shirt. It said
designed in France and made in Peru. My pants right now, Romania. The
shoes I`m wearing, made in Italy. My sport coat, Canada. Same as my t-
shirt. And heaving forbid, my tie is from France. My boxers were made in
the same place as the U.S. uniforms, China.

In fact, the only thing I`m wearing that`s made in America is my
shirt. That and my pocket square which was made in Manhattan.

So, unless my sartorial selections are unusual, I`d suggest if we
want the team to truly represent America, we let them wear clothing like
the rest of us -- made all over the global economy. For any who disagree,
they can toss their iPads in the fire that Senator Reid wishes to set for
the clothing.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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