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updated 9/18/2012 1:10:52 PM ET 2012-09-18T17:10:52

HARDBALL
September 17, 2012

Guests: Jim VandeHei, Steve McMahon, Mark McKinnon, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Jon Soltz, Ann Gerhart

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Romney`s mad men.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington, wishing everyone
celebrating Rosh Hashanah a very happy new year.

"Let Me Start" tonight with the danger of running for president
without knowing why. That appears to be Mitt Romney`s situation, or
predicament. It`s the reason his campaign is out of whack. How do you run
a coherent campaign for president when the candidate himself lacks any
coherent reason why he wants to be president?

All this focus on Romney`s inability to focus on a simple campaign
theme has a bottom line. It`s that Romney lacks a bottom line himself.
He`s shown from the beginning that he`ll say what the right wing wants him
to say, promise what they want him to do, sign the pledges they put before
him. He`s done it with the hawkish neocons, with Grover Norquist and his
"no tax" pledge, and with the religious right, of course.

Determined to get that office, to get that house, he`s shown not a
single "Sister Souljah" moment, not a moment of independence from the
people to whom he`s sworn his allegiance. Perhaps the people writing these
speeches -- writing his speeches and his TV ads should skip a step and
check with the various elements in the hard right to get the copy straight.

Why check with the mouthpiece? Romney himself is too busy trying to
get the orders straight, too scared he might offend someone or group who
could take away the prize on which he has set his heart.

I`m joined right now by Politico`s executive editor, Jim VandeHei, and
Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of TheGrio.com.

Jim VandeHei, you`ve written a piece which has caused a lot of noise
here in Washington and around the political world that the Romney`s
campaign`s missteps of the recent weeks going through the convention and
Clint Eastwood and the missteps in England and all the mistakes of the last
several weeks, almost to a month now, have their roots in what? You
explain what seems to be the dysfunction in that campaign.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: Right. The piece focuses very much on
frustration internally inside the campaign and externally among Republicans
with Stuart Stevens, and I think with Mitt Romney himself, about this lack
of having a campaign message, the lack of having a plan to use the
conventions and then use the time afterwards, this period between the
conventions and the debates, to really define Romney with specificity, to
show how he would govern differently than Barack Obama.

As you`ve talked about on your show the last week, conservative after
conservative, starting with "The Wall Street Journal," "The Weekly
Standard," Trent Lott, many others have gone on the record to say, Come on,
we want specificity. We want a war of ideas, and we`re not getting it from
you.

And I think that has had a ripple effect internally, where people who
were just sort of privately uneasy are being much more vocal about how
uneasy they are with the direction of the campaign.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at some of that criticism, and it
is mounting, of the Romney campaign from the right. Here`s what Erick
Erickson, a conservative blogger for RedState, wrote this morning. Quote,
"Team Romney seems so scared of being more unliked than he is already that
they refuse to actually pound a consistent, hard-hitting message.
Negatives be damned, his message is too muddled for voters to be anything
other than confused."

And Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger who appears in "The
Washington Post," wrote this. "The problem -- and there is one in the Mitt
Romney camp -- is not the lack of policies or the wrong policies. If a
campaign is too cautious, too afraid of a misstep, too anxious to retreat
when the mainstream media howl, too slow to utilize the stories of the day
and too intent on trimming its sails, the campaign will not succeed."

Joy, my contention -- it may not be yours -- is that the reason he`s
incoherent, the reason he`s so scared of offending the right, is that he`s
in bed with the right. He needs those supporters. He`s not a real gut
right-winger. He`s sort of a political opportunist. But his concern is
saying anything that would offend Grover Norquist on taxes, offend the far
right when he said something where the health care bill, the good parts
should be kept. That apparently got them all in a rage.

He`s so scared of offending his -- his keepers that he gets very
hesitant generally.

JOY-ANN REID, THEGRIO.COM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Chris, I call it
the endless primary. You know, this guy is constantly trying to appeal to
the right, to tell them he`s one of them.

Look, you know, Chris, and you`ll relate to this, having worked with,
you know, Tip O`Neill, like people on the Hill, the bottom line is -- I`ve
been campaign staff. I`ve been communications staff. You can do a lot for
a candidate, but you can`t give them a core. The staff can`t give you a
core. You have to come into the campaign with it.

And the problem for Mitt Romney is that the only thing that seems to
be at his core is ambition, the ambition to be president. But he didn`t
come into this race with a set of ideological principles worth fighting
for, so he`s just adopting whatever principles his base says are important.

And the base wants more than just someone to mouth the words. They
actually wanted their ideas put to the fore and debated in the public
arena. They feel like the political people constantly hide true
conservative ideas because they`re afraid they`ll be unpopular. Well, now
they`re seeing that played out in Mitt Romney`s campaign.

MATTHEWS: Talk about -- Jim, talk about the writing of the -- you
know, everybody remembers the great acceptance speeches. Nixon even had
some fabulous ones in `60 and `68, and Reagan had a dynamite one. They`re
known to be sort of -- like, Jack Kennedy introduced his New Frontier
concept in an acceptance speech.

The acceptance speech of Romney`s has already been like Chinese food.
It`s worn off quickly. We don`t feel like we know it anymore. I can`t
remember the words from it except the nice words about -- which you cite
about his father, George, leaving a rose at the bedside table of his wife
every morning for her to see when she gets up. What a -- it didn`t tell
you much about Mitt, but it told you wonderful things about his dad.

Except for that, apparently, they didn`t have a coherent message in
putting that speech together among the speech writers, in your article.

VANDEHEI: Right. Yes. And it was sort of slapped together at the
last second. They had to scrap several versions because Stuart Stevens and
the candidate himself, Romney, didn`t like what they saw.

And what they ended up with was a speech that I think at the time,
everyone thought was a pretty good speech. But in retrospect, I think it`s
been picked apart in two areas. One, it really lacked in the type of
specificity, the war of ideas stuff that conservatives are really hungry
for. And then for whatever reason, it never mentioned the troops, never
mentioned Afghanistan --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VANDEHEI: -- never mentioned al Qaeda. And to a lot of
conservatives, national security --

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI: I mean, to them it was inexplicable. It`s inexcusable.
And those two things have now been the things that are sort of -- the taste
that sticks in the mouth after that speech. And --

MATTHEWS: What`s --

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI: That`s why there really wasn`t that much of a bounce.

MATTHEWS: But what`s still there? I mean, I do think acceptance
speeches are when your party and half the country says you should be
president. You should have something really memorable to say. And I liked
it at the time. I thought it had real thunder to some extent, compared to
all his other addresses. He had some strength there.

He was comfortable with it, but it didn`t seem to leave a message. I
don`t think I can remember what the message was.

VANDEHEI: Yes. And nor, really, can I, which I think is a big issue.
And it`s not just a speech, it was the convention. I think they did a good
job of showcasing the next generation of Republican leaders. I thought
they did a good job of making the case against Barack Obama.

But the speech didn`t leave you with this sense that, Yes, this is Mr.
Fix-it, I get it, I get his theory of the case. And I get what that fix
looks like. It`s one thing to say, You know what? My tub, it`s -- you
know, it won`t drain. The water won`t drain. Well, yes, we know that, but
like, how are you going to fix it?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VANDEHEI: And that`s what I think people were looking for from Mitt
Romney. And listen, there`s still time. You know, we`re talking about
what a bad campaign people think he`s running. He`s still within a couple
percentage points against an incumbent president who has a bad economy, bad
unemployment, a lot of bad figures, from the size of the annual deficits to
the number of people on food stamps, a lot of stuff that Romney could work
with if he wants to say, Hey, you need change, and here is the change that
I`m going to give you.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, he has that, but I think things are beginning to
be a little more optimistic. I think ever since Bill Clinton`s speech at
the convention, whether that was the catalyst or not, people feel a little
better about things getting a little better.

Anyway, Romney was asked today about that Politico piece you wrote in
an interview with Telemundo`s Jose Diaz-Balart, our colleague here at the
larger MSNBC family here. Here`s what he had to say in response -- let`s
watch -- to your piece.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I`ve got a terrific campaign.
My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well
with them. Our campaign is doing well. And frankly, these process stories
take away from what`s really of concern to the American people.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART, TELEMUNDO: So no changes in your campaign --

ROMNEY: No. I`ve got a good team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let me go to -- do you want to respond? These process
pieces -- I`m just -- (INAUDIBLE) a minute with you here. It was -- to me,
that piece talked a lot more than -- there was a lot of back story there, a
lot of importance. You wrote about process, sure, about how the campaign
can`t have a coherent campaign message, doesn`t have a guy who`s trusted in
the middle, Stevens.

But the biggest message to me was it doesn`t have a clear sense of why
he`s running.

REID: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And that`s what he hasn`t been able to put together. Joy,
do you want to jump in here? Because then you (INAUDIBLE) have to defend
yourself right now, Jim. But he called it a process piece. That`s an
interesting shot. Your thoughts, Joy.

REID: Chris, it was interesting. That was a CEO talking to his board
of directors about why they had a bad quarter and explaining it away. That
was not a guy who can explain to you at his core, at his gut, why he wants
to be president and what he thinks the country should be doing differently
than it`s doing now. That`s what Romney lacks.

Look, there`s a thing that campaign staff does -- and Jim probably
knows about this, has probably written about it -- where you float an op-
ed, where you write an op-ed piece and then you find someone to sign it.
The Romney campaign is an op-ed piece finding someone to sign it, and he`s
just the signatory. He is a ride-along to his own campaign.

Romney needs to get in his gut, Why do you want to be president?
Because that`s what the American people want to know if you`re looking at
replacing the president who`s already there.

MATTHEWS: There`s a larger question here, Jim, as you cover the
campaign, that there are things he wants to do or is willing to do he
doesn`t want to share right now. For example, what he wants to cut, what
tax breaks he wants to eliminate.

VANDEHEI: Yes. I mean, it`s a predicament that he`s in. I think in
is heart of hearts -- and I`ve talked to enough people who talk to him all
the time -- that he really does believe he would be an effective leader,
would probably govern from the middle in a way that would be very offensive
to a lot of conservatives. I think he would sign something that looks like
Simpson-Bowles. I think he would try to do something on immigration
reform. I think --

MATTHEWS: How do you know he won`t be the guy he`s promised to be? I
mean, I know a lot of people who think what you think. They think he`s
further to the left, if you will, from the right-wing stances he`s taken.
But I wonder. That also says he`s so cynical that he`ll sign onto Grover
Norquist, sign onto the religious right, sign onto the neocons, and not be
controlled by them once he`s in office.

You`re saying he will fire all the people around him now, like Dan
Senor and all those people from the far right, he`ll get rid of them when
he gets in there? How will he get freedom from the people he`s bought his
ticket from?

VANDEHEI: I think you have a fair critique. I do think that -- I do
think he`ll try to govern more from the middle, just based on sort of his
pattern in Massachusetts and sort of what he`s --

MATTHEWS: But he`s disowned that.

VANDEHEI: -- talked to people about when he --

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI: It is a problem with his campaign that we have two
candidates. And you`ve to pretty much -- you`ve got to hold Barack Obama`s
feet to the fire on this one, as well. We have two candidates who really
aren`t telling us much at all about how they`ll govern.

People ask me all the time, Will President Obama govern as a liberal
or as a centrist? We get paid to figure this out, and I don`t know the
answer to it. He`s not talked with much specificity about how he`s going
to manage the government, about how he`s going to deal with all the "kick
the can" policies that expire at the end of the year --

MATTHEWS: OK --

VANDEHEI: -- the tax breaks --

REID: But Chris --

VANDEHEI: -- the spending cuts that kick in, the Medicare doc fix.
Like, this isn`t make-believe. This is real stuff, and we have two
candidates who don`t talk at all about it. And it`s on both sides.

REID: But Chris, if Jim VandeHei is correct, then you`re going to see
an eruption from the right unlike anything you`ve seen right now because if
they start to believe that Romney is just rolling them, that he`s just
saying that he`ll govern as a conservative, then he`s going to have an even
bigger rebellion on his hands because that`s not what he`s telling them.

Even with the Ryan pick, he`s promising them that once he becomes
president, their principles will be actionable in governance. And if
that`s not true, I think he`s got an even bigger problem on his hands.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think, Jim, the problem with being a fast dealer,
like you`re suggesting he might be, someone who will use the right to get
elected but then operate from the middle, is you have to have tremendous
stature on the right to pull that off, like Nixon did on going to China.

REID: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: You can`t be like George Herbert Walker Bush, who didn`t
have stature on the right. The minute he went down with that deal with
Darman and the Congress on taxes and spending, the minute he cut that deal
and violated his "Read my lips" promise from the convention, they killed
him.

REID: Yes. And then they --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- you have to be a legitimate man of the right or the
left to be trusted by them to go to the center. But if you`re a guy that
they never really trusted, and then you go, Oh, we thought he`d do that,
and there he goes, just the worst-case scenario -- Jim, your thoughts.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI: I don`t think people understand why he picked Paul Ryan.
People thought it was because he was going to have this war of ideas. He
picked Paul Ryan because he was thinking about this in the context of
governance. And he knows that if he has Paul Ryan on his ticket --

MATTHEWS: I see.

VANDEHEI: -- if he were to win the White House --

MATTHEWS: That`s his cover.

VANDEHEI: -- he has the one -- he has one conservative who has
authentic credibility with the most conservative people in the country,
which are the House Republicans, and that it would give him some capacity,
some wiggle room to cut a deal.

I`m not saying he`s going to govern as Bill Clinton. I`m just saying
I don`t think he`s going to go in there and govern from the hard right. I
think --

MATTHEWS: Well, this is --

VANDEHEI: -- he knows --

MATTHEWS: -- exciting stuff we`re talking about. This is the
reason this campaign is fascinating because --

VANDEHEI: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- a lot of people think Romney --

VANDEHEI: You wouldn`t know it.

MATTHEWS: -- is further than they think a lot of people think
Romney`s to the left than how he presents himself. Some people on the
right think that President Obama is to the left of how he presents himself.

But here`s my last question to you. If Paul Ryan is right now nagging
him to be unleashed -- he wants to go further right right now -- why do you
have any faith that he`s going to give him cover to move to the center?

VANDEHEI: Well, I think there`s -- you can do --

MATTHEWS: What gives you --

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI: Think about what you have to do -- and we could spend the
next 20 minutes on this. Think about what happens after this election.
You have all of those tax cuts that expire and you have automatic spending
cuts that kick in, which means that Congress is going to have to do some
kind of global deal, whether it`s Simpson-Bowles or something else. It has
to be done within about a four to five-month period.

As part of that, you have a real opportunity to do entitlement reform.
If you think about the Ryan plan, there are components of it that you could
put into a broader deal that`d be very appealing to conservatives, that
don`t kick in for a decade, but start to give you some semblance of
stability or possibility of stability for Medicare in the long term that
would resonate with the Ryan crowd --

MATTHEWS: Right. OK.

VANDEHEI: -- would look different from what the Ryan plan looks
like today. But there are pieces that you can piece together. It`s like
the health care plan. You could repeal the Obama health care plan, retain
some of the provisions. That`s why when Mitt Romney said he was going to
retain the provision to cover people up to the age of 26 --

MATTHEWS: OK --

VANDEHEI: -- he probably would. There are definitely piece of the
health care plan that they would want to retain and then scrap other
components of it.

MATTHEWS: OK --

VANDEHEI: You could piece it together. I`m babbling! We`re done!

MATTHEWS: Jim, you`re great. (INAUDIBLE) especially with Joy`s
allowance, I now will quote to you the words of the great Jesse Unruh of
California. He talked about how you have to be cynical and make all kinds
of deals to get elected and then do what you have to do. He said, "If you
can`t sleep with their women, drink their booze and take their money and
vote against them the next morning, you don`t belong in this business."

REID: There you go.

MATTHEWS: That`s the way politicians look at things. I`m not sure
Romney is that cynical. He might be.

Thank you, Jim VandeHei.

VANDEHEI: You`re welcome.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Joy-Ann Reid.

REID: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, the Romney campaign`s infighting and circular
firing squad -- that`s what we`re calling it -- is the kind of thing you
tend to see at the end of a losing race. Why are all these people talking
out of school? Why are they all dumping on (INAUDIBLE) not seven weeks
before the election day, and everybody`s talking about that campaign. Is
it too late for them to change? Well, not if -- well, he doesn`t even (ph)
want to change.

Also, four more Americans were killed yesterday in so-called green-on-
blue attacks in Afghanistan. That`s Afghan allies killing our guys and
women. That makes 51 coalition troops killed in just this calendar year of
2012 by their Afghan partners. How much longer will America put up with
this?

And If you can`t impress the voters, you suppress them, right? That`s
been the Republican playbook all year. We`re going to show you just how
hard Republicans have made it for Democrats to vote in Pennsylvania.

And live from New York, it`s "Saturday Night Live." "SNL" began its
new season this Saturday night with lots of politics, including a mock
anti-Bain commercial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I then got hired part-time at an Orange Julius
until Bain acquired that franchise and shut it down. Now, not the whole
company, you understand, just that one store.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s coming up in the "Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I`ve got some fresh poll numbers in the presidential race.
Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Nationwide, a new Monmouth University poll of likely voters shows a 3-
point edge for President Obama, that`s nationwide, 48 to 45. In the all-
important state of Virginia, a new PPP poll shows President Obama leading
Mitt Romney by 5 among likely voters. That`s a very good sign in that very
important state, 51-46 there in Virginia. That`s essentially the same
margin that the president had in that poll a month ago, although it dipped
in the meantime.

Now to Michigan, where a new Baydoun/Foster poll has the president up
46-44 percent. That`s too close for comfort. That`s a state he needs.
And that poll has consistently been close to other polls in Michigan.

Finally, to Pennsylvania, which looks more and more like safe ground
for Obama. A new poll from "The Philadelphia Inquirer" shows the president
with an 11-point lead -- (INAUDIBLE) heard about that today -- 50-39.

And tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern, we`re going to have the brand-new
NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, complete with the big presidential
match-up.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

He`s been running for president for five years now, but, today, the
Romney campaign is signaling a midcourse correction in messaging and
strategy.

This comes on the heels of a "New York Times"/CBS News poll -- poll
this weekend showing President Obama surpassing Mitt Romney on who will do
a better job of handling the economy and unemployment, previously a Romney
stronghold question. Romney leads -- Obama leads by one point, 47-46, but
he had been consistently behind.

So, why this need for change and new branding now?

Let`s ask our HARDBALL strategists right now tonight, former George W.
Bush and McCain adviser Mark McKinnon and Democratic strategist Steve
McMahon.

Mark, let`s go to you because you have worked on the Republican side
over the years. And I just want to ask you. I was stunned. First of all,
it looked like the only group -- the only group in that poll this Sunday
that is with Romney are people over 65.

In other words, if the only people in this country who could vote were
under 65, he`d get swamped.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You`re laughing, but it`s an amazing situation to be in for
any party, Republican or Democrat, to only own the old people.

Your thoughts? And is that one reason why they`re changed their
policy -- their advertising to try to get some demos as we call them in
this business, young people?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: At
least I have got a reliable demographic. I can count on those folks to
come out anyway.

Chris, I just remember in 2000 about this same time we called that
month black September because we came out of that convention pretty strong
and then Gore had a really good convention, and we were down suddenly three
points. Suddenly, all the guns turned at us. Everybody wanted me fired
because the ads were terrible. And so --

MATTHEWS: OK. Your guy, W., pulled it out in the debates. He won
every one of the three debates. Of course that`s why you won. That ain`t
complicated.

MCKINNON: Absolutely.

That shows why the debates are so important. And we haven`t had the
debates yet, and so the point is that Romney`s got an opportunity. I mean,
there`s still a couple of chapters left to play in this game. Now, I would
rather be the Obama --

MATTHEWS: Is there a Romney personality that will show that we
haven`t seen yet, a likable guy? I mean it. Is there a charming, debonair
Romney that will be compassionate and connect with people that we have
never met before?

MCKINNON: Well, I think people saw a side of Reagan in 1980 they
hadn`t seen in the debates. And I think a lot of people that haven`t been
paying close attention will pay attention.

The big question is does he have some core to show, does he have some
vision, does he have some humanity that we haven`t seen? And it`s been a
long campaign and we haven`t seen it yet, but there`s that opportunity,
Chris. And three points, this is a tight electorate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, smart guy, does he have an inner core that you suggest
or doesn`t he? What`s your answer?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, continue, Mark.

MCKINNON: Oh, for me. OK. Sorry.

MATTHEWS: Does he have it inside?

MCKINNON: Well, as I said, Chris, you know, we knew that George W.
Bush had it. We`d seen a lot of signs of it throughout the campaign.

We saw a lot of muscular policy speeches early on in the campaign, and
I`m surprised that there hasn`t been more specificity, more policies,
something that shows what the broader vision is. I mean, 50 days is not a
lot of time left to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, Mark, you`re a wordsmith and you have given me about
100 words, and all I want is one, yes or no. Does he have an inner core of
personality and compassion that the American people will find attractive,
but haven`t seen yet? Does he have that?

MCKINNON: Chris, I have no idea. I have no idea. I don`t work for
Romney, and I haven`t seen it yet.

MATTHEWS: OK. That was the answer --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINNON: I haven`t seen it yet. And we will see.

MATTHEWS: OK. I love your answer now.

Steve, let me go to this whole question. When a campaign in mid-
September -- this isn`t August -- it`s September. The weather has changed,
we`re into fall. This is when we have general elections now.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right.

MATTHEWS: And the question I have, can you -- Romney doesn`t fire
people. He says he likes to fire people. He doesn`t fire campaign people.
How does he turn things around to his satisfaction in the ad campaign?

MCMAHON: Well, I think today`s move wasn`t so much a change in
strategy as it was a distraction. They wanted to take attention off the
story that was written in Politico. It was all about a campaign in
disarray that was not succeeding against the president.

I don`t think you change campaign strategies and begin to argue the
case against the president on all the issues that the president is
defeating you on. He wants to talk about the middle class and who is going
to be a better president for the middle class? That`s laughable. He`s
losing that argument by 15 points --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: A majority of the American people, more than a majority, 53
percent in "The New York Times" poll this weekend, say he`s out for the
rich. Only one-fifth of the voters think Obama is out for the poor. So
it`s not symmetric. It`s overwhelming, and the ads are working, aren`t
they, the Democratic ads?

MCMAHON: It`s overwhelming. They`re totally -- they`re totally
working.

The other thing that Bill Clinton did which --

MATTHEWS: There it is.

MCMAHON: -- you correctly identified so effectively is, he took the
argument are you better off than you were four years ago --

MATTHEWS: Look at that number, 53 percent.

MCMAHON: -- and he turned it against them.

And so the president now is winning on every key measure that this
election will be about.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: And Mitt Romney is losing and he`s decided to take the case
to those measures that he`s losing most badly.

Today, he was speaking to an Hispanic audience, an audience that he`s
losing by 40 points. He needs to go back to talking about the economy if
he wants to have any hope and not talking about all the issues that the
president is defeating him soundly on.

MATTHEWS: How does -- I have to get to this. I don`t want to run
this ad.

I want to ask you, Mark, because you`re a pro. And I think your
refusal to answer my question thoroughly was probably a mark of a smart
person, because I don`t think we have any evidence to believe he is this
compassionate, wonderful guy because we wouldn`t be talking about it.

He spent his whole acceptance speech saying, I`m a human being.
That`s a hell of a marker to try to get to. Let me ask you, how do you
knock this idea that he`s the elitist candidate? Well, 53 percent -- that
includes some Republicans, apparently -- who believe he`s basically out for
the rich, how do you kill that between now and November?

MCKINNON: Well, you have got to articulate that you have got some
real policies that would really affect the middle class, and you can`t --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, will they hurt the rich? Does anything he`s going to
do hurt the rich? Does he have any --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- Sister Souljah with the elite, economic elite?

MCKINNON: I think a Sister Souljah moment would be great.

I have been advocating that for months. But let me agree with Steve
on a very important point. And that is, in the Bush campaign, this is
something that we believed. I would rather have a consistently executed
strategy that`s flawed than a strategy that changes month to month reacting
to external events and pressures. So --

MCMAHON: I`m sorry.

Mark is absolutely right. He`s absolutely right.

MATTHEWS: So don`t change if you`re Romney?

MCMAHON: Well, if you look at it, the president has a little lead on
the economy right now, but it`s one point.

So, if you`re fighting -- if you`re were prosecuting that case, it`s a
one-point case. You have a chance at the end to win. If you start to
prosecute a case that you`re losing by 15 points, you`re a loser, you`re
dumb, and you`re not going to change the dynamics of the race.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know in boxing when a guy gets a cut on his eye or
somewhere and they keep punching that spot over and over to the end, right?

That`s what they do. I`m talking about Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne
Bleeder, and all those guys. The other guy would always punch him and
punch him. Oh, he`s hurt, he`s bleeding, keep punching him there. Why
doesn`t Romney keep punching the argument Obama doesn`t know how to fix the
economy?

MCKINNON: Well, I think Steve and I both agree that`s what he ought
to be doing. That`s clearly his opportunity, clearly the spot.

And he`s got to prosecute that argument all the way to the end. And
he`s got to -- but he`s got to persuade the jury. But I think it`s
problematic to be switching arguments in the middle of a trial.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: Mark -- Mark made another great point, which is you have to
actually lay out some policy positions that convince people that you`re
going to improve the situation, whether you`re talking about the middle
class. And if people think you favor the rich, you need to talk about what
you`re going to do.

MATTHEWS: But you know who did that? Bill Clinton did that for
Obama.

MCMAHON: Bill Clinton did that for Obama.

MATTHEWS: He did.

MCMAHON: And he did it beautifully. And Mitt Romney hasn`t done that
for himself and he hasn`t had a surrogate do that for him. And that`s what
he desperately needs, some policies that people can get their arms around.

MATTHEWS: You guys are great, by the way. You`re both smart.

And I do learn a lot from -- Mark, from your silences.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Mark McKinnon.

And thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Romney liked that silence.

Anyway, Steve McMahon.

Gentlemen from two different worlds, but both brilliant.

Up next: "Saturday Night Live" is back and doing what it does best.
Boy, they`re -- look at that -- Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood next. You
can`t miss this. Don`t go away for hamburger.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

"SNL" was back this weekend with its season premiere. Here is its
take on Clint Eastwood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Not set tour dates. No predetermined theaters.

Just American legend Clint Eastwood performing one-half of a
conversation with an invisible, irritated, and foul-mouthed Barack Obama.

It`s the show audiences are giving a sitting ovation. Obama isn`t the
only politician in the hot seat. Don`t miss Clint taking it to Jimmy
Carter.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Nice work on those hostages. That turned out
great.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Just let people eat soda.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And Chris Christie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I think we`re going to need a bigger chair.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It`s Eastwood and chair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Next: the "SNL" take on what happens when Bain Capital
comes to town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: After Bain Capital shut down the mill, I was out
of work for a year.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Mitt Romney and Bain Capital bought the textile
mill where Raymond had worked for 18 years, then shut it down.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Next, I worked as a trucker, but then Bain came
along, bought the trucking company and I lost that job, too.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I then got hired part-time at an Orange Julius,
until Bain acquired that franchise and shut it down.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Now, not the whole company, you understand, just
that one store.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: At this point, I said to myself, what the hell is
going on here?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I got a job at a shoeshine stand under an assumed
name working just for tips.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But Bain somehow found out, bought the business,
and moved it to China.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Each time Raymond McCoy got a new job, Mitt
Romney and Bain Capital would buy the company, apparently for the sole
purpose of laying him off.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That is the best ever. No doubt there is much more to come
once the debates get going. But they can`t beat that one.

Next, guess what crowd of business owners has two sets of business
plans for the holiday season, one if President Obama gets reelected and one
if Mitt Romney wins the election? Well, gun retailers, responding to the
concern that President Obama will put stricter gun laws in place if he gets
a second term.

"The Wall Street Journal" talked to some people in the guns and ammo
business and found that -- quote -- "If Mr. Obama wins a second term, they
are preparing for a surge in sales from buyers fearful the president would
back policies to make buying a gun more difficult."

Well, a spokesman for one retailer got more specific, saying, "If Mitt
Romney is elected and there`s no perceived threat on the freedom to own
guns, people might decide to spend disposable income on things like
outerwear instead."

Buy outerwear instead of guns?

Anyway, the article says gun owners had the same fear in 2008, and we
have yet to see a surge in stringent policies on gun ownership, none from
Obama so far.

Up next: the rise of so-called green on blue attacks in Afghanistan.
Afghan police, the people we`re supposed to be helping and training, are
opening fire on our troops. How much longer are we going to stay over
there? Fifty-one killed this year.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Four-day rally on Wall Street hit the skids today, the Dow Jones
industrials down by 40, the S&P 500 lost close to 4.5, and Nasdaq dropped
about 5.25 points.

Apple, though, record high of $700 a share in after-hours trading.
The stock soared more than 8.5 points today after Apple said it sold a
record two million iPhone 5`s in the first 24 hours of preorder sales. How
about that?

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There was another attack this weekend in Afghanistan, where an Afghan
soldier opened fire on his military trainers. The victims on Sunday were
four American soldiers killed in a remote checkpoint in Southern
Afghanistan by a member of the of the Afghan security forces.

Since the start of this year, 51 international troops have been killed
by members of the very security forces we are trying to train. The attacks
are jeopardizing obviously one of our key goals there, leaving behind local
security forces capable of stabilizing the country after foreign combat
troops are pulled out in the year 2014.

Is that mission now at risk?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is associate editor of "The Washington Post."
He`s the author of "Little America: The War Within the War for
Afghanistan." And Jon Soltz is an Iraq war veteran and change of VoteVets.
He was embedded with the Iraqi army as an adviser for the U.S. military.

I will get to you, Jon, to talk about what this means to the morale of
our soldiers and the security of these guys and women.

But I want to get to you, Rajiv. What is causing this attack from the
soldiers standing next to you?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, NATIONAL EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well,
this is a great question, Chris, and nobody has a good, clear answer.

It`s a very effective strategy by the Taliban to go right at the heart
of the U.S. mission there, which is to get the Afghan security forces to
stand up on their own, to take charge of security in that country, so our
men and women in uniform can come home.

You know, U.S. military has sought to claim that this is a -- the
result of a whole variety of causes, sometimes personal feuds or
grievances, as well as Taliban infiltration.

That is true, but it`s certainly a tactic that`s being used more by
the Taliban, as they see it having an effect, as they see it creating
distance between U.S. troops and their Afghan counterparts, as they see it,
for instance, leading some of the NATO members to accelerate their
withdrawals from the country, particularly the French and the New
Zealanders.

And so it`s having the impact that the Taliban commanders want it to
have, unfortunately.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I just don`t buy the idea these are personal tiffs.
This is not like throwing a football at the guy that just tackled you.
This isn`t like a personal tiff. You don`t commit suicide -- and these are
murder/suicides, aren`t they most was time? -- if you are just angry at the
guy working with you. Does that sound credible?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, yes or no, Chris. I mean, look, we`re dealing
with a country that`s been involved in 30 years of warfare. People there
don`t always have traditional ways of settling disputes like we do in this
country and with guns at the ready. These guys are all armed to the teeth.
It`s a stressful environment there.

Yes, sometimes, unfortunately, these disputes between Americans and
Afghans wind up resulting in gunfire. But, you know, certainly Taliban
infiltration and coordination by the Taliban here is a big part of this.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jonathan, who served our country. Thanks for
your service, as always. I mean that, of course.

Ad what I`m struck by is the numbers here -- 51 killed by people
serving alongside them, that they -- they think they`re friends with. They
may think this guy wants to protect his country from the Taliban. It turns
out the guy turn the gun on him and that`s in that split second he knows
he`s done for at the hands of somebody he was working with.

JON SOLTZ, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: It`s hard. I remember where I was at
this time last year, which was, you know, embedded with the Iraqi army.
You know, we spent lots of time teaching our soldiers to get close.

You know, at the comment of (INAUDIBLE), I was in the Arabic side and
there was a Pashtun side, we work a lot on cultural training, language
training. Every time there`s a shooting like this, something comes down
from the command that makes it harder to get close to the people we`re
trying to advise.

You know, we want to be understanding of their faith, we want to be
understanding of their language, and the success the Taliban is having here
is specifically it`s making it harder for us to be close to the people that
we`re trying to advise and train and then the fact that that pushes us
further away from them at a time when we need to be taking the training
wheels off and letting them stand up against the Taliban is a very credible
strategy at this point.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me get to the larger issue, Rajiv. We have to
leave in 204. I don`t think any government of ours, any administration,
will keep us there much beyond that, whoever wins this next election. The
American people have war fatigue in Afghanistan.

And my question is what we leave behind. Do you see a credible army
right now that can ward off a takeover at least of the capital by the
Taliban?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, yes, I think it`s going to be messy, chaotic,
and the afghan army is going to be pretty raggedy, Chris. I think there
are going to be a lot of areas where the army is going to fold or they`re
going to desert. In other places, you know, obviously Afghanistan is made
up of a number of different ethnic groups and the non-ethnic Pashtuns,
those from the northern part of the country, may well go back up to their
home areas to reinforce those places.

But I think if there`s enough U.S. assistance, enough partnership,
they`ll probably be able to hold onto Kabul and the other major cities.
But a lot of rural villages and valleys will fall to the Taliban. But are
those areas going to be really all that strategically significant?

But there`s going to be a lot more fighting ahead. I don`t think
anybody thinks as U.S. forces leave that country at the end of 2014 -- and
I should note, Chris, that`s only conventional combat troops. The Pentagon
will likely want to keep Special Operations troops and military trainers
there beyond 2014 but I don`t think anybody thinks as we get to 2015 or
2016 the situation is going to be all that much better.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the troops that you can imagine, you
have to do a little projection, Jon, since you`re in Iraq not Afghanistan.
But it seems to me when you`re facing the end of a deployment and you can
see we`re almost in `13, we`ll be in `14 fairly soon, you`re fighting
basically at the tail end of the war where the conclusion looks kind of
murky. It`s not like we`re going to go to Tokyo and take over Japan or
we`re going to take over Berlin. We`re not going to have that kind of
triumph at the end.

How does a soldier feel in this situation, given people next to them
shooting at them?

SOLTZ: Yes, this is the story of the war. The same soldiers have
gone and Marines have two and three times and the rest of the country
hasn`t. So, a lot of these troops are like, hey, this is the end date and
that just means I don`t have to deploy as much anymore.

There`s very little focus on the overall end state of Afghanistan.
Rajiv has some very strong points. The McChrystal plan was to go into the
populated areas, the 75 percent of the population zone and that`s sort of
where the policy right now is murky.

We should be retracting in Afghanistan. We should be focused more on
the highest population centers, because the decisive battles will be in
2014 when we cut down on troop levels. And we`re still in the maneuver
period, we`re actually imbedded with the Afghan forces, which is why the
casualties are high.

Despite the fact a lot of people, and I certainly would support this,
want to transition quicker to an advise, train, assist mission which was in
the mission I was in Iraq, which was on the base with the Afghan forces so
we can evaluate them. Because these decisive battles in 2014 after we
leave, you know, the Afghan army could lose some if we push them out too
far to terrain they can`t hold on their own. We really haven`t been able
to evaluate them yet on their own.

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to the larger question. I get you on,
Rajiv, I love talking to people that know what they`re talking about.

This insult that the Islamic world who has faced from these crack
pots like out of L.A. or Terry Jones down in Jackson, Florida, who seem to
get a kick out of insulting Islam at a safe distance, are we ever going to
be able to explain to the Arab and the Islamic world that we do have a free
society? Is there any we can say we disown and we discredit and really
don`t like -- in fact, we take as an insult this kind of insult to religion
without debasing ourselves in the process?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Look, Chris, U.S. commanders and U.S. diplomats are
trying to do that in places like Afghanistan every day in their
interactions with the local population. It`s just so hard for many of
those local residents though to believe it. They just see this as
something that had to have been sanctioned by the U.S. government.

They don`t get the concept of freedom of speech that exists in our
country and freedom of religion. And so, it`s a tough sell, and what it
does is it fundamentally puts the Americans who are serving there in
uniform, out of uniform in such a difficult position because they`re trying
to convince the people that they`re not enemies of Islam, yet at the same
time they see these web videos and hear about protests happening in other
parts of the world and they feel compelled to react.

MATTHEWS: Well, the dangerous thing is they believe we believe in
freedom and they don`t believe in freedom, because they see some of our
movies are dirty movies by their standards, by a lot of people`s standards
get made in this country. They get circulated around the world. They say,
why should any country allow those movies to be made that degrade women?
And we said, well, that`s one of the prices of freedom. And they`ll say,
well, it`s not a price we`re willing to pay. That seems to be their
attitude.

Are we ever going to get common ground on this?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, here are fundamental cultural
incompatibilities and just basic lack of understanding. I mean, look,
trying to achieve that is going to be a much longer term process, much
harder --

MATTHEWS: OK.

CHANDRASEKARAN: -- than anything we face between here and 2014,
Chris.

MATTHEWS: Maybe we need people -- maybe international transmission
of students back and forth will get the word out.

Anyway, thank you, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and, Jon Soltz. Both of you
gentlemen, so helpful tonight.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Good to talk to you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, that new voter photo ID law in Pennsylvania,
we`re learning just how difficult Republicans are making it for people --
actually, many of them Democrats, most of Democrats to vote in the Keystone
State.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we got new polling in that key Senate race up in
Massachusetts. Wait until you check this. We`re checking the HARDBALL
scoreboard.

According to a new PPP poll, Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren
now has a two-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown, 48-
46. That`s a month ago, Brown was up by five. She`s moving.

And in a new Western New England University poll, Warren`s lead over
Brown is six points, 50 percent to 44 percent. She`s got something going
up there.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

We`ve done a lot of stories on voter suppression. I think it`s an
important subject, particularly the new photo ID requirements up in
Pennsylvania. Well, today, we bring you a report from the front lines of
that fight.

"Washington Post" reporter Ann Gerhart went out and did the job. She
went to the busiest DMV office in Philly and talked with people there, not
for a new license. They were not there to get a new driver`s license.
They were there to get a photo ID, which has been dubbed the -- I love this
phrase -- the card of last resort, people are calling it, so they can
simply vote in November.

These are registered voters, by the way. It`s stories of people who
took time off from work, waited hours in sometime days and filled endless
forms so they could the same things they`ve been doing for years, voting.

Ann Gerhart, thank you for this enterprise reporting.

Tell me -- I`m going to give you more time than I give most people on
my show. Just walk us through the person -- you found a 50-year-old woman
and what it took for her to simply get to be able to vote like she had
always had?

ANN GERHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, they didn`t
have a dedicated line for people who are trying to get their voter ID. So
they are in there with everybody`s trying to get their permits and license
and take a test and fill out all kinds of other paperwork, and sort of in
there with the masses.

And she came in there to try to get a photo ID. Her daughter had
told her that she needed something. She had heard about it, so she came
in.

First, she had to fill out a form that is a request for a non-
driver`s license, which requires Homeland Security documentation, like
birth certificate, Social Security card. Then you fill that out, then you
take it to a clerk who then looks at it and says, do you have your birth
certificate, do you have your Social Security card, do you have two forms
of address? You say no.

They say, well, then you have to fill out this other form for the
State Department to secure ID for voting purposes only. And take that, go
off again to another clipboard, fill it out, come back, then they call the
board of elections.

They call the board of elections. They can`t check it in the
database online, even though you can check your registration online, which
I know because I though, I better make sure I`m not still registered in
Philadelphia, which I wasn`t. And so, they call on the telephone, they
wait, then she gets to affirm that she has no other way of getting the ID,
that she doesn`t have the other documents, they finally let her sign, check
her pay stub, make sure she has an address, has her picture taken, she
emerges finally four hours later.

MATTHEWS: So, this is like going to a DMV. We`ve all done it.
There`s 200 people, you wait for your number to be called like a butcher
shop in the old days. You wait and wait until B-38 or B-240 shows up. You
wait and wait and wait and have to give it a weekday generally.

GERHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: You probably can`t do this -- Saturday closing around
noon, what`s the deal?

GERHART: Saturday -- they are only there Tuesday through Saturday
and they close around -- they might have the same regular hours on
Saturday. They are going to finally have evening hours only in
Philadelphia, only on Thursdays, and not until the end of the month because
a lot of working people can`t go.

MATTHEWS: Here`s my concern. Philadelphia is a city of a million
and a half people, right?

GERHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: There`s only 300 people have gotten cards so far.

GERHART: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That`s scary.

GERHART: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That means the great majority -- not great, an
overwhelming number of people don`t have the ability to vote and they are
going to find out when? When are they going to find out this they can`t
vote?

GERHART: Well, they`ll find out when they go to the polls and they
can`t vote.

Now, 3,700 people, I think, that`s about right, have gotten the non-
driver`s license because you can do more things with that any way. You
actually have a government ID or anything you need to do. So in
Philadelphia County. So that`s something.

MATTHEWS: But Philly is a city with the least number of drivers.

GERHART: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: I`ve red that -- I`m reading from -- it`s amazing. It`s
row house people that own their homes, they are not wealthy homes, but they
live in the homes. They live in the row, they take the subway to the bus
and that`s how they get around.

GERHART: Yes. You know, there`s also a pretty big creative class of
young people under the age of 30 in Philadelphia and they bike. I mean,
you`ll see them biking out for work. They don`t have a driver`s license.

MATTHEWS: Rent cars when they don`t need one. Otherwise --

(CROSSTALK)

GERHART: Right. So they have licenses. You`re right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ann Gerhart. A very important
enterprise reporting. We`ve heard a lot about this problem. You`ve
explored how difficult it is for one person, 54, who`s always voted, simply
wanted to vote again.

When we return, let me finish with what you`re really getting with a
vote for Mitt Romney.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: Do not ask what Mitt
Romney stands for. Simply check with chthonian (ph) of right wing pressure
groups to which he has given his allegiance to, those whom he now stands as
the political equivalent of an indentured servant. Check with the neocons,
with Grover Norquist, the religious right, they are the power players.

Romney is merely the adopted son. He`s not there to decide. The
decisions have been made for him to the people whom he`s given the
political troth. Elect him, you get them. Why pay attention to anything
else?

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


END

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