1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 7/31/2012 1:05:35 PM ET 2012-07-31T17:05:35

Guests: Jeff Zeleny, Dan Balz, Susan Milligan, Sam Stein, David Maraniss

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Rambler.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

"Let Me Start" with the latest from this ridiculous Romney road show.
You got a better name for it? This odd duck odyssey that marks each day
with a mistake, whether it`s mocking the Brits for screwing up the Olympics
or standing in the midst of the Mideast and saying Arab culture isn`t up to
snuff.

Who is this klutz, this clodhopper, this lawn sprinkler of national
insult? Well, he`s Mitt Romney. Remember him, the guy who promised to
restore and upgrade the special relationship with Great Britain and has
instead barfed on the Buckingham Palace lawn? The guy who promised to
restore peace and security to the land of Israel and has instead managed to
raise the level of strife still higher, also the level of fear when his
spokesmen said just yesterday that Romney would back Bibi Netanyahu, no
matter what he did to Iran, before Romney once again had to walk back his
yet another global gaffe.

Let`s hear from tonight`s experts. We`re going to hear from, of
course, Howard Fineman, political director of the Huffington Post Media
Group, and David Corn with "Mother Jones."

I have to tell you, it is funny because it`s so ridiculous. Mitt
Romney caused a stir today, as I said, speaking at a fund-raiser in Tel
Aviv. He told Jewish donors, many from the United States, that the reason
the Iraqi per capita GDP is so much higher than the Palestinians, it had to
do mainly with the superior culture.

According to the Associated Press, Romney said, quote, "as I come here
and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the
people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few
other things."

By the way, Romney got some of his facts wrong. He said the per
capita GDP of the Palestinian territories was about one third that of
Israel. It`s actually less than one tenth.

What do you make of this, Howard? I don`t know what he`s doing on
this road trip. You can`t call it statesmanship.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, my first thought upon reading that, Chris, and in talking to people
around here is that he -- he seemed in over his head.

First of all, he terribly insulted the Palestinians, and the fact that
the true difference in GDP is more than 10 to 1 shows that he insulted
them. Most of them are poor. They live in a country -- in a territory
that isn`t recognized as a nation by most of the world, that is landlocked
in most of its territory, that has Gaza attached to it as still a U.N.
protectorate, that doesn`t have the kind of support and trade relations
that Israel has around the world.

So it was terribly insulting, and it was also condescending to the
Jews and the Israelis that he was speaking to. It was kind of, like, You
know, you people are good at this kind of thing.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Yes. There`s a sort of ludicrous factor there, I`d say.

FINEMAN: It was just ludicrous. It was ludicrous. There are
thousands of years of history. He was -- he was doing painting by the
number -- paint by numbers politics with the wrong paint and the wrong
numbers. And I just think it showed he was in over his head once again.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It was as if he
said, Some of my best friends come from your culture.

FINEMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Well, actually, Arabs are pretty good business people
themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This is -- this is kind of an odd thing to draw a
distinction. Anyway, Romney`s statement was quickly rebuked by Palestinian
negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said, quote, "It`s a racist statement, and this
man doesn`t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential
because there`s an Israeli occupation. It seems to me the man lacks
information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its
people."

He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not
heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority. For his part,
the Romney camp walked back the statement again, saying it was, quote, "not
in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians and everyone knows that."
Well, obviously, everyone doesn`t know that.

CORN: I tell you, they should call this the moonwalking tour because
any time Mitt Romney speaks, he has to then walk backwards while seeming to
go forward. You know, how many remarks, you know, can you walk back?

A couple days ago, before he left, I was talking to a Republican
strategist. And he said, you know, this is a good time for Romney to go
away, have some nice pictures taken. What could go wrong?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I know. Everything has.

CORN: Basically, everything could go wrong! And I think that what
was sort of really disconcerting about what he did in Israel was he showed
that he was just pandering again. Here was his chance to show that he
understood some of the nuances of foreign policy, diplomacy. This guy is
not a dummy. He`s not an idiot. But he just goes right into pander mode
in front of the Jewish and Israeli donors who were in that room that day.

FINEMAN: But as he does it, he stirs up trouble...

CORN: Yes.

FINEMAN: As he does it, he stirs up trouble, and he panders in a way
that I think most of the panderees don`t particularly appreciate.

CORN: Maybe Sheldon Adelson...

FINEMAN: Maybe Sheldon Adelson does, but most of the Israelis and
most supporters of Israel in the United States, both Jewish and not Jewish,
as Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian leader, said, you don`t hear Israelis
talking this way. They`re much more attuned to the reality.

And he`s doing -- what Mitt Romney was doing, it was as though he went
-- as if some foreign leader came to the United States and said, If I just
talk to Dick Cheney, I`m really going to understand America.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: It doesn`t work that way. He`s getting in the middle of
Israeli politics in a way he has no idea what he`s doing.

MATTHEWS: Well, before the day was out, the White House had weighed
in. Here`s deputy press secretary Josh Earnest. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY White HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One of the
challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when
you`re traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your
comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for
motivation. And it is clear that there are some people who have taken a
look at those comments and are scratching their heads a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Howard, let`s talk really basic about what
this means in this campaign. First impressions are important. He won`t
have another chance to do a foreign trip before the election. This is it,
this trip, and we haven`t even gotten to Poland yet. We don`t know what
that holds for us all.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: One can only -- you have to hold your breath.

CORN: Yes.

FINEMAN: I don`t know. And I -- look, do I think this is the
central, pivotal moment of the 2012 campaign? No. But Mitt Romney was
light on foreign policy experience, which after all, even in the midst of a
dismal economy, is still very important. You`re still running to be
commander-in-chief and leader of the free world.

Mitt Romney -- this is going to be a close election, Chris. Mitt
Romney can`t afford to give away points on this kind of thing. And as
David said, rather than a sort of anodyne photo op tour in which he looks
good and looks presidential and looks like a global leader, he looks like a
guy who is really in over his head, that he`s in over his...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... depth.

CORN: And the interesting...

FINEMAN: That was true in Britain and I think that`s true here.
Nuance is required. You`ve got to actually study stuff. And you have to
learn all sides of the street. You just don`t go talk to the Likudniks at
the King David Hotel...

MATTHEWS: I know.

FINEMAN: ... and think you understand the Middle East. You can`t do
that.

CORN: And the interesting thing is that, you know, the Romney
campaign for the last year, and the Republicans in general, have been
trying to make the argument -- I think it`s false -- that Barack Obama is
an amateur when it comes to foreign policy, that he doesn`t know what he`s
doing, that he -- you know, he has -- there`s no force there, no vigor.

I think that`s all, you know, complete BS. But when Romney gets out
there, it looks like, as Howard said, he doesn`t really have any sure
footing. He`s just reading talking points to, you know, pander, or -- you
know, to this particular crowd.

And it just doesn`t look like he`s a leader who can even -- who even
has sort of the basic instincts of leadership and knowing how to talk to
people in a very delicate circumstance. And Josh Ernest had it right. He
was under great scrutiny. And so far, every time he`s been in the
spotlight on this trip, he`s basically botched it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know, he looks upon the -- he looks upon the Holy Land
the way Rastafarians look upon Ethiopia. It`s kind of a notion, it`s not a
reality.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: No, I`m serious. You guys have all spent time in the Old
City. You`ve seen the complexity of life over there, how the different
religions work together. Over thousands of years, they`ve learned how to
move in that city. There`s nothing more dramatic, as an American, to go
over and see the people in the black hats going to their prayers on the
Western Wall, and at the same time hearing the call to prayer. It works
together, but it`s so intricate.

And these PR stunts, when American politicians go -- I saw Sarah Palin
go over there one time. All she did was go to that one side of the wall,
went to the Western Wall, did the appropriate thing there, and left, with
no interest in the greater city -- the Old City...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: And don`t forget about the war-mongering comments, too, about
Iran. I mean, that sort of gets people nervous even here, where you have a
war-weary public, and you have people in the region saying, God, is this --
he`s just going to stand back and let the Israelis or Bibi Netanyahu do
whatever they want to do?

MATTHEWS: That`s what he said. That`s what Dan...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But he did walk that back.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: One last thing. Here he is today walking that back. This
is very important. He walked back what his top spokesman on foreign
policy, Dan Senor, said. And he said, "I think I`ll use my own terms in
that regard." He didn`t say, I`m going just to respect whatever they want
to do. So even he, I think, was being measured there, Howard. He pulled
back. He made sure he didn`t go too far, even on the movement of the
embassy possibly down the road to Jerusalem.

FINEMAN: Well, my view -- my guess here is that however many votes of
Jews and other supporters of a hard line and Israel he may have picked up
with this kind of performance, he will more than lose in terms of other
people evaluating him as a potential leader of the free world and
commander-in-chief.

He just -- as I keep saying, he just -- he kind of looks in over his
head, that he just sees pure -- the pure outlines of things and not any
nuance. And that`s -- you can`t be that way if you`re running for
president.

MATTHEWS: I think he should have done more shaloms and less war
making. I mean, people should talk peace when they go over there, you know
what I mean? I mean that literally. "Shalom" is a wonderful word. I
think we should hear it from him once in a while.

Anyway, today the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, had some words
of praise for President Obama. Here`s what he told CNN. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: I should tell you honestly that
this administration and President Obama is doing in regard to our security
more than anything that I can remember in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Pretty powerful stuff at this point, isn`t it, David.

CORN: Oh, it is. And again, you know, we`ve seen the Republicans and
Mitt Romney try to find some daylight there to sort of get the Jewish votes
and some of the Jewish money, with Sheldon Adelson and others.

And -- but when you have statements like that -- and if you just read
the Israeli press, you read the editorials in "Ha`aretz," and they`re far
more critical of Israeli policy...

MATTHEWS: I know.

CORN: ... and you know, and far more enlightened, or at least open-
minded to what`s going on there than any part of the conversation we have
here. So I think, again...

MATTHEWS: It`s called democracy.

CORN: It`s called democracy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`ve been over there, and those debates -- debating a guy
from "The Jerusalem Post" at the University of Tel Aviv years ago. People
love a rock `em, sock `em debate over there.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: I think Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres both wanted to stress
the fact that just because Romney was over there speaking to the right wing
of Israeli politics doesn`t mean that Israel itself necessarily feels the
same way. So they were -- Romney has complicated things for the Israelis
there, too, by taking this very aggressive fund-raising, and...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... you know, approach over there at the King David Hotel,
mostly with American Jews sending him money.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let`s get aggressive here. It`s HARDBALL time.
Here`s a new issue of "Newsweek." It has a provocative cover, I`d say. It
plays off the story the magazine wrote back in 1967 (SIC) about George
Bush, Sr. "Newsweek`s" cover poses the question, "Is Mitt Romney too wimpy
to be president?"

I don`t know if that`s the right word. Howard, you start on this. Is
that the right word for Romney? I would say he`s a pander bear, using an
old expression of Paul Tsongas, on every front, not just on the Middle East
but on Norquist and every -- the religious right. He says, Yes, yes, yes,
yes, yes.

But is it fair to call him a wimp, Howard?

FINEMAN: Well, Chris, having been involved to some extent in that the
original "Newsweek" cover, which was 1987, not 1967, no, I -- by the way,
George H.W. Bush, who we alluded to as a possible wimp, was a war hero.

But be that as it may, I don`t think Mitt Romney is a wimp in the
sense that he will say -- it`s more like he`s -- I find him more cynical...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... in that he will say just about anything, it seems, in
the very cold-blooded and I would say cold-hearted pursuit of the White
House. What he did to some of the other candidates in the Republican
primaries, you know, was pretty cold. And so I don`t see him --
politically, he doesn`t -- almost doesn`t seem to care. I don`t find that
to be wimpish. I find it to be cynical.

CORN: Also, I would throw in the word "arrogant" or "distant," as
well.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: I mean, I wouldn`t -- I wouldn`t -- I don`t think wimpiness is
the problem. I think he`s -- you know, he`s detached in certain ways.
When he says, I`m not going to turn over my taxes, I`m not going to tell
you who my bundlers are, I`m not going to explain my IRA, I`m not going to
explain these tax havens I have -- I mean, that`s not being wimpy, that`s
basically having a "you people" attitude, like, I don`t have to answer to
you people.

(LAUGHTER)

CORN: I`ve given you people enough, you know? And so that`s not
really wimpy. And so I think "Newsweek" was calling in on its historical
legacy that Howard helped create to sort of sell magazines in the
summertime.

MATTHEWS: I remember the (INAUDIBLE) I remember history -- the
teacher trying to get a job down in the conservative South, in the Bible
Belt, and they wanted to know if he believed in evolution or not. And he
said, I can teach it round or I can teach it flat, whatever way you want
it.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: Chris -- Chris, Barbara Bush has still never forgiven me or
anybody else associated with that cover.

MATTHEWS: Well, we won`t, either. Anyway, thank you very much,
Howard Fineman. Thank you, David Corn.

Coming up: Bubba`s back! Bill Clinton`s going all out for President
Obama. At least he wants to appear to be doing so, and it looks like he`s
doing quite a job, with a big convention speech coming up. It looks like
he`s got the big primetime opportunity. What`s the Big Dog up to,
campaigning for Obama this year or for Hillary in 2016? Or how about both
of them?

Also, look who`s back, Dick Cheney. That`s how you say it. Picking
Sarah Palin was a mistake, he says. Picking him, of course, was brilliant.
What`s he want to be again here? Is he back to playing big-time politics
again? And what better way to influence Romney (INAUDIBLE) than to make
fun of the last one.

The anchor (ph) of a new book on President Obama, by the way, has
heard from the right wing the president is a Muslim, a foreigner, a
socialist. It never stops. Where does this hate come from?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with that news that Bubba`s going
primetime.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The former chairman of the Republican Party in Florida says
his party engaged in a systemic effort to suppress the African-American
vote in that state.

Jim Greer, who`s on trial for felony corruption charges, cited a 2009
meeting where political consultants were talking about, quote, "keeping
blacks from voting." Under Republican governor Rick Scott, Florida has
been purging its voter rolls, an effort critics say is aimed at keeping
minorities and other likely Democratic voters from casting ballots.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Who could forget Barack Obama
having to surrender the White House podium to Bill Clinton back in 2010 so
the former president could offer a full-throated defense of the president`s
economic position?

Well, now the Big Dog, as he`s called, is heading to Charlotte.
Clinton, who stands now as the permanent yet unofficial leader of the
Democratic Party, has accepted an invitation to speak the Wednesday night
of the national convention in Tampa (SIC), as well as the job of placing
the president`s name in nomination. The president wants and needs
Clinton`s support, everyone knows, but what does Bill Clinton want out of
this?

With me tonight are the two top political reporters covering this
campaign, "The New York Times`s" Jeff Zeleny, who broke this story last
night, and Dan Balz of "The Washington Post."

Gentlemen, I want to ask you about the Clinton thing, but first of
all, let`s take a look at a fund-raising appearance in June. Here`s Bill
Clinton stumping for Barack Obama and showing exactly how good he can be
when he`s on your side.

Listen to him take on Mitt Romney like nobody can do it. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His opponent,
who says that he`s got a better idea, was the governor of the state that
was 47th in the country in job growth. He promised that, if elected, he
would grow the economy and reduce the debt, and when he left office, the
debt of the state was going up. And his plan -- his plan is to go back to
the Bush program, except on steroids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Except on steroids.

By the way, that`s Charlotte the Democrats are going to. Republicans
are going to Tampa.

Jeff, congratulations on breaking this story.

Tell me what this means. What does it auger for this country in terms
of the down-the-road and near-term politics?

JEFF ZELENY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think it means that President
Obama realizes that he`s in trouble and he needs help from whoever he can
get it.

If he was in a stronger position, he would not invite the former
president to be at this convention.

MATTHEWS: The big dog.

ZELENY: I don`t think there`s much bad blood between them anymore. I
think they have come to an understanding. And I think that President Obama
generally likes the advice and counsel he gets from him.

But that`s different than having him appear at your convention, never
mind the fact the vice president was going to have a night to himself. Now
he is added on to the president`s night. More people will probably see
him, but I think it just shows that they need someone to make this
argument, to sort of draw this arc from 2000 all the way to 2012. He`s the
best person to do it.

Dan Balz, is this a projection now into 2016? Is this Bill Clinton
basically doing the positive side of what he did the negative side to
during the spring, when he basically beat up on and defeated a lot of
people who had opposed Hillary, particularly in Pennsylvania, last time to
make it clear that you`re going to have to pay for having opposed my wife.
By the way, now I`m the leader of the party and I`m going to do the
positive as well as the negative. Look out. I`m clearing the way for her
next time.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Chris, I
see this much more in the context of 2012 than 2016.

Bill Clinton has spoken I think at every Democratic Convention since
1988, when he gave that very long nomination speech for Mike Dukakis. And
I look back at what he had to say in 2004 when he spoke for John Kerry. He
made an argument that I suspect will be similar to the argument he will
make in Charlotte, which is that there are two different visions and that
the Democratic vision on economics is to share the pain and share the
sacrifice and share the effort.

And he will argue that the Republicans favor a concentration of wealth
and help for the wealthy. He did an important thing for Barack Obama four
years ago, which was, when he went to Denver -- I think the single most
important line he uttered was Barack Obama is ready to be president.

Hillary Clinton had obviously said he wasn`t ready to be president.
And I think this time he will make the economic argument, because Bill
Clinton is quite good, better probably than anybody in the Democratic
Party, at synthesizing economic arguments and making them compelling to a
big audience.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he says he spends one to two hours a day every day
trying to master the pragmatics of international economics.

Here he is by the way offering a damning critique of the Republican
economic agenda this summer. Let`s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why aren`t thing
roaring along now? Because Europe is in trouble and because the Republican
Congress has adopted the European economic policy.

Who would have thought after years and years and years, even decades,
in which the Republican right attacked old Europe, that they would embrace
the economic policies of the Eurozone, austerity and unemployment now at
all costs?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I mean, after all, their unemployment rate is 11 percent and
ours is 8 percent. We can get right up there if we just adopt their
policies.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: When I saw him at Mrs. King -- Coretta King`s funeral when
he talked about there`s a woman in that box, I knew he was the best there
ever was, when he did better than the black ministers at that funeral
oration.

Let me ask you about the down the road. Jeff, can you tell us now --
it seems to me that -- I call it Scranton to Oshkosh. It`s the working
class industrial, formerly giant industrial center of the country from
Scranton, Pennsylvania, all the way through to Wisconsin. That`s where the
Democratic Party has to hold the white vote to be blunt about it, the
working non-college vote. Can Bill Clinton, will he get out there on the
road and be the troubadour for this president?

ZELENY: I think he will be out there on the road as much as the Obama
campaign wants him to be, which I think now is a lot. I think they can`t
get enough of Bill Clinton.

The question here is, though, we saw him out there in the midterm
elections in 2010 all the time as well. And Democrats still did very
poorly. I think there`s a limit to what he can do here. But, sure, he
will be out there.

And Ohio could be the most important place. If you plant him in Ohio
and the president at least holds his own, where he was four years ago among
these white working-class voters, he will probably win reelection.

MATTHEWS: Is it your sense, Dan, and you`re as good as this guy, and
maybe better -- you may be the best guy in this business in terms of
understanding politics in this country -- can Bill Clinton find the message
that works with the guy who is one of those taverns along Friday night -- I
always think of these guys sitting in the bars talking to each about the
campaign, trying to figure out where they stand, where their interests lie.

Can he get to them in a way that Trump can and the labor guys can`t,
get to the guy in the rank and file and say you have got to vote Democrat
this time?

BALZ: I think that`s a really good question, Chris. I suspect he can
do it better than President Obama, who has certainly always struggled with
that particular part of the electorate.

But I think that that portion of the electorate is in many ways lost
to President Obama.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BALZ: I think Bill Clinton`s value not only will be to try to go
after those voters, but also to try to do something for suburban voters and
particularly suburban women, to make a compelling economic argument, to
suggest, to make the case that what Barack Obama is able to do will be
superior to what Mitt Romney is talking about.

If he can do that, he will have fulfilled the mission that I think the
Obama campaign and the president really want him to do.

MATTHEWS: It`s going to be Bill Clinton against the Giants and the
Cowboys that Wednesday night in the middle of the convention.

By the way, the latest Gallup poll on Bill Clinton is the highest it`s
ever been. This compares to back in 1993 when he was at his zenith coming
into office. He`s 66 percent favorable right now, 28 percent negative. He
may be at a zenith again.

Anyway, thank you, gentlemen, the best in the business, Jeff Zeleny of
"The New York Times," who broke this story about Bill Clinton being the big
speaker Wednesday night, and Dan Balz of the great -- well, the great
"Washington Post." Let`s just say what it is.

And, by the way, you don`t want to miss tomorrow`s HARDBALL. We have
got a couple other great guests of a different stripe, Will Ferrell and
Zach Galifianakis, star of the great new political movie "The Campaign."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And now to the "Sideshow."

Mitt Romney is still trying to forget his "Fawlty Towers" performance
over in London. The British press and government blasted him for saying
part of the preparation for the Olympic Games was disconcerting.

Well, check out what Romney said upon greeting the Palestinian
Authority prime minister in Jerusalem over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Entertaining and delightful
opening ceremony. Wasn`t it spectacular? It really was. And the march of
nations, there were many participants. And they sent women from every
country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There were many participants in the opening ceremony? And,
yes, the trees of Michigan are the perfect height. Talk about small talk.

More from politics meets Olympics. First lady Michelle Obama is
taking in the Games in London. And she`s having basically the opposite
experience of Mitt Romney, meaning it`s been controversy-free.

Anyway, Mrs. Obama was asked by ABC`s Bill Weir about her own Olympic
fantasy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: All right. Complete fantasy, I would be
a gymnast. But, come on, 5`11`` with legs -- no. I tried when I was
younger.

But I love gymnastics. I was in awe of what those women could do.
That`s really a fantasy. Now, if we get to something that is a little more
realistic, maybe it would be track.

BILL WEIR, ABC NEWS: OK.

M. OBAMA: I would like to think I was fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A realistic fantasy? Now, there`s a practical first lady.

But what`s this happening in this photo? Why`s a member of the U.S.
wrestling team posing for a photo with Mrs. Obama in a body lift? Well,
according to the wrestler, Elena Pirozhkova, she just wanted to be
original. "I hugged her and then I asked if I could pick her up. I think
she was nervous. I wanted to ask her permission. There was security all
around. And she gave it. I will only meet her once. I wanted to do
something different."

Well, at least she knew to ask if it was OK.

Back to politics. Republican Congressman Joe Walsh is in hot water
again. Back in May, Walsh proposed a bill that would help renovations of
veterans meeting halls, among other things. How do we know for sure this
one has got support on both sides of the aisle? Easy. One of Walsh`s
Democratic colleagues, Tim Bishop, actually crafted the almost exact same
bill two years ago. We`re talking almost word for word. And he never told
Bishop.

Well, according to Politico, "To take legislation from a member who is
still in office without giving them a heads-up is a big no-no."

Well, a former aide to Bishop said -- quote -- "You don`t just take
someone else`s stuff without asking."

Well, Joe Walsh does.

Up next: Dick Cheney wants back in the game. He says Sarah Palin was
a big mistake for vice president and he wants credit for getting bin Laden.
He wants it. That`s ahead. He`s unbelievable. Cheney`s back.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Accused Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes was charged
earlier with 24 counts of murder, two counts for each of those victims
killed. That gives prosecutors different options to potentially pursue the
death penalty.

A Kent State University student has been ordered to stay away from a
school after posting on Twitter that he planned to shoot up the campus.

And a lackluster day for the markets. The Dow fell two and change.
The S&P was virtually flat and the Nasdaq lost 12 -- now back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like
Governor Palin. I have met her. I know her. She`s an attractive
candidate, but, based on her background -- she`d only been governor for two
years -- I don`t think she passed that test.

QUESTION: Of being ready?

CHENEY: Of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

He`s back. Of course, Dick Cheney`s wading right back into the thick
of Republican publics today. Needless to say, Senator McClain -- Senator
McCain, rather, could have done without the input here. But let`s listen
to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I`m always glad to get comments
four years later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Monday-morning quarterback, in other words.

But what is Cheney up to right now in his own right? It`s no accident
he suddenly turned up on TV for his first interview since his heart
transplant. But what does he want?

Susan Milligan writes for "U.S. News & World Report" and Sam Stein
covers politics for The Huffington Post.

I want to start with you, Susan, because you have a sense of humor
about this. This guy is back like Freddy Krueger. I don`t understand.
Politically, he goes through -- he`s only been elected a congressman out in
Wyoming. But he`s making fun of Palin for only being a governor. He`s
never been elected to much before he was vice president. What`s he talking
about?

SUSAN MILLIGAN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, of course, he got
to be vice president because he selected himself.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He was head of the selection committee.

MILLIGAN: Yes, there you go.

I don`t know. Maybe someone needs to play him that song, how can we
miss you if you don`t go away? He doesn`t really seem to understand his
time is done. And I have to say President Bush, I have got to hand it to
the guy. I`m sure he`s had disagreements with President Obama, but he`s
kept quiet and he`s just let the man do his job.

But I think Cheney just can`t stay being out of the spotlight. But
he`s not helping his party. Clinton likes to stay in the spotlight. But
he`s useful. Cheney left office with a 13 percent approval rating.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Hey, Sam, the last thing we knew about this character was
his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who`s since been disbarred and charged
with a felony they have to get him off from and a commuted sentence on, and
he was doing the alley-oop play on "Meet the Press" after she, Judy Miller,
had swallowed this stuff and put it on the "Times" front page.

He comes in with the alley-oop, and talks about what`s in the paper
that day that his chief of staff had leaked. They pulled an alley-oop play
back then. And that`s what he`s known for and he will always be known for
with me, clever press manipulation through "The Times."

My question is, why is he back in the business? Doesn`t he pay the
price that his chief of staff has paid? No. Why?

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: No.

Well, first of all, let me say it`s not going out on a limb to say
Sarah Palin was the wrong pick for the time. McCain lost and he lost big.
He`s not exactly taking a big leap here.

As for why he`s back, I think Dick Cheney is very concerned about the
status of his reputation and his legacy in history. Remember, he did this
early on in the Obama administration when the focus was primarily on what
to do about U.S. policy toward enhanced terrorist techniques, something
that Cheney was personified with.

He likes to protect his legacy, and he likes to protect his
reputation. And he will occasionally resurface to make sure that they`re
intact. Susan`s right, though. His brand is actually much worse when you
poll it than Palin`s is. Palin polls very well among Republicans.

Cheney has a big following among Republican circles, but they`re not
going to let him even close to the Republican Convention. There`s a
reason, because he basically is unpopular.

MATTHEWS: What`s the memory loss here? Are we all suffering from ADD
or whatever?

Susan, here`s a guy that leaked -- had his people leak the name of
Valerie Wilson. You had Scooter out there, you had Karl Rove out there.
They were all in cahoots, obviously. This guy, I don`t know he beat the
judge, but he did it.

Why is he back as somewhat legitimate again? He also got us into a
war that turned out to be the worst war we ever fought, with no clear
reason why we fought it, just a lot of casualties. And there he is.

MILLIGAN: Well, and what`s remarkable is of course he`s going after
the president for the leaks in the administration and talking about --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s against leaks?

STEIN: Yes.

MILLIGAN: -- how President Obama not foreseeing that, you know,
after Mubarak was gone, that you might have something worse in its place,
as if Iraq had never happened.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILLIGAN: I just think he can -- I think, first of all, I think he
has this visceral dislike of Obama that I don`t think President Obama has.
President Bush was actually very gracious towards President Obama and has
often talked about how one of his African-American staffers brought his
boys in and the first thing they said was, where is Barack Obama? And he
seemed to understand the historic nature of his presidency even if he
disagreed with him on a lot of issues.

But I think Cheney just can`t stand him. And he can`t stand the fact
he`s president and can`t keep quiet about it.

MATTHEWS: He wants to be the next, Perle Mesta, somewhere holding
these little parties and all, for all those people.

Anyway, it`s apparent that President Obama`s success in the war on
terror rankles Cheney. Listen to him try to muzzle in on President Obama`s
success in getting bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I wouldn`t say he`s been
soft on terror, but I think he`s made a number of mistakes. Bin Laden,
fine. A lot of that intelligence that laid the ground work for what
ultimately led to the capture of bin Laden came as a result of programs we
had in place in the Bush administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And the fiscal catastrophe this president inherited
immediately had nothing to do with Cheney and Bush, of course. But they
get the responsibility for two years later catching bin Laden who they
could never catch. This is ludicrous.

Anyway, Cheney`s dislike of the president has manifested. Your
thoughts, Sam?

STEIN: Yes. And, you know, I think at the heart of it is that the
Cheney crowd thinks that the president gets a lot of credit for foreign
policy. In many respects, he`s continuing some of the policy set up by
Bush/Cheney, talking about indefinite detention, the fact that Guantanamo
remains open. Those things that were, you know, off criticized when it was
Cheney and Bush running the show are no longer so criticized with Obama.
And I think that rankles Cheney a lot.

Now, of course, it`s sort of ludicrous to say, well, we deserve
credit for catching bin Laden when there`s plenty of proof showing they
screwed up Tora Bora and so on and so forth. But I think when it comes to
specific policies that the president continued from the Bush/Cheney years,
Cheney wants credit for those and I don`t think he feels like he`s getting
it.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me talk about the situation with Iran, Susan.
Everyone has, to me, mixed feelings about what to do about Iran and when to
do it, when the trip wire is caught. And you have to do something.

Everybody is talking about -- but Cheney sort of cried wolf by saying
Iraq had nuclear weapons. He pushed that and pushed that and pushed that.
I think it`s poison the thinking of the country. You can`t think clearly
about something when you`ve been screwed over once in a debate. And used.

MILLIGAN: Well, yes.

MATTHEWS: You know what I`m talking about.

MILLIGAN: But I just think that he`s very, very bitter. I mean, he
was very, very bitter. I was stunned when I saw him say oh, he got bin
Laden, fine -- like it was this minor thing. It was their singular goal
since 2001. So he`s in the bitter barn. That`s what this is all about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. And the guy who made it tougher, too, by the way,
George W. used to say that`s not something I ever think about. Remember
that, Susan? He would say don`t even think about getting bin Laden. Then,
how did this guy think about it? He was pulling the strings.

Last thought, Sam.

STEIN: Well --

MATTHEWS: How`s he back? Do we just forgive and forget?

STEIN: Well, he would want us to, I`m assuming. But, you know, it`s
a little bit soon I think for us to go -- to just forgive and forget. And
I think this is part of the reason why he surfaces now and then to sort of
push back against the critics of his legacy. He wants history to judge him
in a better light than it currently is.

And I think he`ll continue until he feels like he`s getting proper
credit.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk a bit here about -- let`s talk about -- let`s
take look at an interview that Karl -- what`s that last guy`s -- Karl from
ABC. Jonathan Karl had with him the other day about something personal,
I`m not going to be that tough on this. Let`s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: How was Mary`s wedding?

CHENEY: I`m sure it was fine. We wished them well. She wanted to
avoid having it be a media circus. Or having it become part of the
political debate.

And so, Lynne and I were very proud and happy and congratulated them.
They`ve been an important part of the family for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Susan, how do we talk about this? It`s a family business
that came out --

MILLIGAN: It is a family business.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILLIGAN: It is a family business, but I think that it`s pretty hard
for people to hear a father say about his daughter asked about her wedding,
I`m sure it was fine. There`s something a little -- well disconcerting to
quote Governor Romney, about that. And I don`t know what to say about
that. That really jarred me when I heard it. Of course it`s their family
business.

MATTHEWS: I think he loves his daughter.

MILLIGAN: Of course he does. Of course he does.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- marriage partner. Anyway, I`m rooting for them in
that. Evolution takes awhile with some people. I root for him in that
front. I will give him that courtesy because he deserves.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Milligan and thank you, Sam Stein.

Up next, the haters that keep on hating. David Maraniss wrote a new
book about the president, accurate historic account of the president`s
upbringing. He keeps hearing from the birthers, the haters and the
doubters who still think the president is not a born American. They keep
coming at him when he has all the information in the book. They`re blaming
him now for covering up the reality?

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The U.S. Supreme Court rule 5-4 to uphold President
Obama`s health care last month. But most Americans don`t know how many
justices there are on the Supreme Court. Just 40 percent in the new
"Vanity Fair" poll correctly answered that the court has nine justices.
That means six in 10, three in five, 60 percent couldn`t answer the
question correctly. And now you know why Jay Leno has to much fun in those
jaywalking segments.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEW: We`re back.

"Washington Post" associate editor David Maraniss wrote a captivating
new biography of President Obama. Soon after its release, Maraniss became
the target for the birther crowd who misquoted and misused information from
his book to further their absurd conspiracy theories about the president.

Rather than ignore them, Maraniss responded in a scathing op-ed this
weekend in "The Washington Post." Of the birther conspiracy theorists he
wrote, "I hold them in contempt for the way they disregard facts and common
sense and undermine the role of serious history as they concoct conspiracy
theories to portray the president as dangerous, alien, and less than
American."

Well, despite all evidence to the contrary, it continues to drive.
And I ask this question, what does continue to drive the sizable number of
Americans who still believe the president isn`t really what he says.

David Maraniss is author of "Barack Obama: The Story."

David, you`ve done it again. You`ve written the book on someone.
You did it for a great job for first in its class. Now you have done at
least the first volume on the president of ours who is for some reason the
target of the strangest conspiracy theories.

I think you did a good job of saying how it -- what would it take to
have been the person who concocted the idea of him being born overseas,
somehow got the people at the time in the newspapers in Honolulu to write
stories about him being born, to come up with INS cooperation in building
this case. How do they -- how far back do they think people build these
conspiracies?

DAVID MARANISS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you`re asking me a
rational question dealing with an irrational thought. So, I can`t answer
that question for you.

I mean, obviously, they think the conspiracy started at his birth and
has continued since then in every possible way. In terms of where he was
born, what religion he is, how smart he is, whether he can write his own
book and on and on.

MATTHEWS: You know, people like Donald Trump who is obviously a
smart guy, will come up with claims like for a while he was arguing that
Barack Obama didn`t really exist. He would say he didn`t have any friends
at school. He didn`t really exist. He was a phantom.

MARANISS: Right.

MATTHEWS: What was that about? Then he would say, oh, he didn`t
have the right grades to get into Columbia. And then it would be this and
that and this -- and every time he`s knocked out, they show his birth
certificate, he falls back to some other darker theory.

It seems like the crazies out there don`t want facts at all. They
just want someone to hold their hand and say, you`re right. He really
isn`t this great president. He isn`t even the president, he isn`t even an
American.

They want someone to hold their hands, it seems.

MARANISS: They clearly dislike him to the point of hatred. So,
they`re thinking irrationally. They can`t find any major scandals to go
after Obama with, so they keep coming up with one small conspiracy theory
after another. And when it gets shot down, they move on to the next.

I mean, you`re right. Donald Trump at first said he couldn`t find
anyone who knew Barack Obama. Well, I found plenty of people who knew him
in kinder garden and every grade thereafter.

MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t go looking, did he? Anyway, you wrote
this weekend in your op-ed piece, "What drives them? Some of it can be
attributed to the give-and-take of today`s harsh ideological divide and
some of how can be explain by the way misinformation spreads virally to the
millions of like-minded people, reinforcing preconceptions. And some
arises of it, I believe, arises out of the fears of democratic changes in
the country and out of racism."

I think there is a pattern here. We looked at the polling on this.
And I think it shows an ideological prejudice against him the further right
you go. First of all, a new look alt this Pew poll, which is pretty good.
It just came out last week.

It shows less than half Americans, just 49 percent say he correctly
is who he says he is, a Christian, 17 percent say he`s a Muslim, nearly a
third say they don`t know what religion he is. If you break that down by
party and ideology, and this is where it`s fascinating. Of the
conservative Republicans, 34 percent say the believe he`s a Muslim, then it
goes further to the left, Republicans, 30 percent, independents, 16
percent, Democrats, only 8 percent.

The further left you go across the spectrum, the less people put
faith in the crazy conspiracy theories. The further right, the more they
love them.

MARANISS: And the longer President Obama has been president, the
more the conservatives thing he`s a Muslim.

You know, people believe what they want to believe. It`s pretty
disconcerting to me. My whole goal here is not to defend President Obama
but to try to defend rational thought and common sense and facts and
serious history.

MATTHEWS: How is the book doing? Which got the truth in it.

MARANISS: You know, the book should rise and fall on its own aside
from this. I`m very happy with how it`s done and how it`s been received.
And the book is not the issue, either. It`s the manipulation of fact and
truth that really disturbs me.

MATTHEWS: No, but you`ve done -- you`ve got, David, and great
tribute to you, you have gotten the story. You didn`t do what Trump did,
just trumpeted something. You went out and dug the story. You did the
reporting, you devoted your life 24/7 to this for years to get this right,
four or five years to this. So, you have gotten the story. I think people
need to look at this, especially the crazies out there. Just read one or
two --

MARANISS: Well, I hope so.

MATTHEWS: -- take a couple hours and read the history. You know,
maybe spend a weekend and maybe you won`t be as crazy. Anyway, the regular
people should read it for good reasons.

Anyway, thank you, David Maraniss, you`re a great guy.

MARANISS: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish with Bill Clinton. The big
dog himself was in with some fun tonight. He`s back. He`s back, he`s got
the bone.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: Bill Clinton, Bubba, the
big dog, Elvis -- how many names of endearment will he carry before this
love affair comes to an end? It`s gone on for 20 years now, an entire
generation of the Democratic Party and many outside have clapped in
admiration for this guy I have dared to dub "president of the world".

Well, today came word that the Lord or at least the Democratic Party
here on earth isn`t finished with the big dog. He`s going to get a big
chunk of primetime at the Democratic National Convention, a hot night in
Charlotte all to himself.

He, William Jefferson Clinton, will be the one to put the name Barack
Obama into nomination for his second presidential term. So as another big
fellow used to say: and away we go, and, oh, yes, how sweet it is.

From here on out, this can be Bill Clinton`s show. He helped the
president get re-elected. He clamps down position as head of the
Democratic Party. He continues to clear the field for his candidate in
2016, the secretary of state, the smasher of glass ceilings, Mrs. Clinton
herself.

So, the beat goes on. The future rises before us. We will do what
we have done for a quarter century, talk about the Clintons, think about
the Clintons, guess about them, wonder at them.

Bet against them? At your peril. Count on things to go smoothly at
your own risk.

But know this: they will be among us living rent-free in our
political souls. Listen even now. Somewhere high in Manhattan above park
and above the trees, you can hear the bark loud, clear, and happy. The big
dog has gotten his bone.

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

And don`t forget: tomorrow on HARDBALL, Will Farrell and Zach
Galifianakis are going to be with us.

"THE ED SHOW" with Michael Eric Dyson, in for Ed Schultz, starts
right now.

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

Copyright 2012 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>


More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    video Duchess Kate climbs into fighter jet — wearing a dress and heels!

    4/19/2014 3:42:12 PM +00:00 2014-04-19T15:42:12
  1. TODAY

    video Young heroes: Twins fight off carjacker

    4/19/2014 2:47:18 PM +00:00 2014-04-19T14:47:18
  1. Dylan Dreyer / TODAY

    The gang is back together! Prove you’re a big fan of Weekend TODAY

    4/19/2014 11:14:33 AM +00:00 2014-04-19T11:14:33
  1. Jacek Turczyk / EPA file

    Busted! 81 percent of parents steal Easter candy from their kids

    4/19/2014 3:12:08 PM +00:00 2014-04-19T15:12:08