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updated 3/5/2014 11:16:47 AM ET 2014-03-05T16:16:47

HARDBALL
March 4, 2014

Guests: Stephen Cohen, Dana Milbank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Keeping the cold war cold.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. I`ve never heard so many right-wingers
screeching for a new cold war. The same right-wing hawks who hauled this
country into Iraq for no good reason are up to their old jingoism. Bret
Stephens (ph) of "The Wall Street Journal" ends his call to battle with
this piece of incendiary hell. Quote, "Only a president as inept as Barack
Obama could fail to seize the opportunity to win or even wage the new cold
war all over again."

Well, this guy wants us waging a cold war with Russia. Listen to Bill
Kristol, that old five-star general of the cold war. He says we need to,
quote -- catch this word -- "humiliate Vladimir Putin, humiliate him, rub
his face in it." Stephen Hadley says he wants to put Ukraine in NATO.
Great idea. Then we could fight the Russians ourselves, which NATO
membership would require.

Are all these people crazy? Weren`t they thrilled like the rest of us when
Mikhail Gorbachev decided to end the cold war? Don`t they brag about how
Ronald Reagan did it, the part he played? And if so, why do they yearn to
get things fired up again? Why do they positively pine for the fighting to
get going?

My answer, remember that the way we got through the cold war was for 44
years, from 1947 to 1991, we -- and this included every president from
Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan -- we avoided all the opportunities for the
U.S. and the USSR to go to battle with each other. That`s what we did. So
why are the crazies on the right trying to do just the opposite?

Stephen Cohen is a professor of Russian studies at New York University.
And Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The
Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Professor, thank you for joining us. Why would -- let`s get to Putin here.
What do you think he wants to do? What price is he willing to pay to do
it?

STEPHEN COHEN, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: We crossed his red line. We`ve been
crossing red lines ever since we began to move NATO toward Russia in the
1990s. Clinton began it. Bush continued it. Obama rhetorically has
continued it.

The ultimate red line -- and unlike perhaps Obama, Putin really believes in
red lines -- was Ukraine. What Putin saw happening in Ukraine, for him --
and we can argue whether it is or isn`t -- it was a direct threat to
Russian national security in the form of Crimea. And so he reacted.

MATTHEWS: Why would Stephen Hadley, who was a big shot in the Bush
administration, be now pushing for NATO membership for Ukraine, which, as I
said in the opening, would mean we would have to fight the Russians
personally and directly if they interfered in Ukraine, if that were the
case? If we put them in NATO, then we`re all the way on the front lines
ourselves.

Why would this country want to bring our front all the way to the border
between Ukraine and Russia? What would be the national interest in doing
that?

COHEN: I have to make a generalization. What we`re witnessing in this
crisis in Ukraine -- and essentially, it`s moving the old metaphorical iron
curtain in Berlin right up to Russia`s borders. That`s what`s happened.

MATTHEWS: Right.

COHEN: And if it stays there, my kids, grandkids are going to have to live
with it, and it`s going to be more dangerous than the last cold war.

What this represents is a collapse of bipartisan American policy towards
Russia. And therefore, everyone, Hadley and all the rest, who were
centrally involved in implementing this policy, are trying to make it go
away by doing one of two things -- blame only Putin. Only Putin is
responsible. He may be Hitler or even worse -- and saying, Let`s fight.
And you can`t bring Ukraine into NATO unless you change the rules because
no country that doesn`t control its own territory can be in NATO.

MATTHEWS: Right. Let me go back to Gene. You wrote a beautiful column
today. And I -- and I -- I don`t understand these people.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They`re like the -- remember that old character on "Arsenic and
Old Lace" running up and down the stairs, thinking he was Teddy Roosevelt
on San Juan Hill? That`s what these guys remind me of! They`re going
through some kind of weird flashback.

ROBINSON: Yes. Keep in mind as you`re kind of pointing out, they never go
fight wars themselves.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s --

ROBINSON: They want to send other people.

MATTHEWS: That`s the obvious.

ROBINSON: This is an unimaginable war, right? There is no such thing as a
hot war with Russia. I mean, that --

MATTHEWS: There never was from `47 to `91, by the way.

ROBINSON: Exactly. And you know, that can only happen by accident.
Accidents are much more likely to happen when you wage the sort of cold war
right up against the Russian border, which they seem to want to do. It
absolutely makes no sense.

MATTHEWS: Why do they want to rouse up the Ukrainians, who are already a
passionate people, and Russian-hating people, in many cases -- rouse them
up to the point of what they pulled last week, of outlawing Russian as the
second language, then of course, getting it vetoed, but rubbing it in their
noses? And what does Kristol mean when we have to humiliate?

ROBINSON: Well --

MATTHEWS: When did that become in our national interest, to humiliate a
Russian leader?

ROBINSON: It is -- it is -- that is never in our national interest when
it`s a crisis like this. Of course --

MATTHEWS: We did it once to Khrushchev.

ROBINSON: Well --

MATTHEWS: That was great! We got Brezhnev.

ROBINSON: That worked out really well. Yes, what you want to do is
provide an exit ramp. But you know, I`m not sure that the Ukrainians are
buying into the Bill Kristol -- in fact, they`re not. For example, I heard
the ambassador to the U.S. from the Ukraine today say that Russia is a
strategic partner of Ukraine. They`re -- you know, they understand the
ramifications of ramping this up to a hot level.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at this, Professor. Conservatives have
taken issue with the president`s diplomatic stance, of course, saying it`s
too weak. They want us to get tough with Putin. But what would that be?
And what be the result of a diplomatic policy that revolves around calling
Putin names?

For example, John Boehner was interviewed by "The Cincinnati Inquirer
(ph)." Quote -- here`s what he said -- "It`s time to stand up to Putin,"
Boehner said, "calling the Russian leader a thug." Well, that helps.
Meanwhile, this weekend, Lindsey Graham -- I said the Seeb Cooley of our
times -- talked about creating a democratic noose -- a noose! If I were a
Southerner, I wouldn`t use that word -- around Russia.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He very much cares about
democracy on his borders. I would like to create a democratic noose around
Putin`s Russia. Poland and the Czech Republic -- we abandoned our missile
defense agreements with them to protect Europe from a rogue missile attack
coming out of the Mideast. Russia backed Obama down.

If I were President Obama, I would reengage Poland and the Czech Republic
regarding missile defense. I would admit Georgia to NATO. I would have a
larger military presence in the Balkans to NATO members who are threatened
by Russia. I would fly the NATO flag as strongly as I could around Putin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So there he`s rubbing his face. By the way, it was Franklin
Roosevelt who once said, Don`t mention the word "rope" in a family where
there`s been a hanging. Anyway, just (INAUDIBLE) here`s a thought here.

This morning, "The Weekly Standard`s" Bill Kristol explained that
humiliation was the way to go when it comes to the Russian leader. Let`s
listen to Bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL KRISTOL, "WEEKLY STANDARD": We are too quick to say -- to proclaim
our own helplessness. And I`m not as fatalistic as Jeffrey, I don`t think.
I mean, if America sort of got its back up and got serious, I think the
Europeans would follow. I don`t expect them to lead in this respect. We
could make life pretty miserable for Putin in an awful lot of ways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But there has to be a way also to find a face-saving
solution or some way for President Putin to actually back out of this --

KRISTOL: I totally disagree. You want him to be humiliated. He needs to
be weakened at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Steve Cohen, we want him to be humiliated. No off ramp. No
reason for diplomacy here. We want to rub in his -- I don`t -- what is --
what is Kristol`s problem? What is this neocon brain soup that encourages
them to think like this?

COHEN: Well, you`ve got two things going on at once. You`ve got Putin
bashing and Obama bashing coming from these people.

MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s it.

COHEN: And they`re not exactly clear which one they want to bash more.

Give me one personal note. I grew up in the segregated South. I voted
twice for Obama as an act of historic justice. But he hasn`t conducted
himself well on the Russian matter. We need to find a way to stop this
because the next step that`s being pushed by people like Kristol and the
others is to move NATO forces to the western border of Poland --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COHEN: -- the Polish -- excuse me, the Polish-Ukrainian border. If they
do that, Russia will cross into eastern Ukraine. And pack your bags.

MATTHEWS: I`m worried about the sequence of events just watching it from
here. I may have missed a couple of these. The professor can add some of
them to it. But you know, the Russian -- first of all, the new government,
the previous government in Kiev, killed its idea to join the EU. They
considered that in Ukraine a double cross. Then of course, they dumped
that guy. And then the Russians did their thing with the un-uniformed guys
coming into Crimea.

What`s the next step? That`s what I -- the professor makes the point. I
worry about the next step. Will it be Russian or Ukrainian?

ROBINSON: We all worry about the next step. I mean, you know, Putin said
today there`s no need for further military action. He backed his troops
away from the Ukrainian border. He`s got control of Crimea. He secured
his base there. Crimea he sees as a vital Russian interest.

And so I think he kind of lets it lie there, and he`ll see what sort of
accommodation can be reached with this new regime in Ukraine, which he
considers illegitimate, but he`ll talk to them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, play God Stephen. Play God here. What is the answer here?
Is it an accommodation by both sides, an accommodation by Moscow that Kiev
is an independent country with a practicing democracy, even though it`s
been uneven in it, and they`re going to have to have some kind of Western
ties.

We don`t want them in NATO, clearly. We don`t want them necessarily
exclusively in EU. We`d like them to participate with the Eurasian
community, economic community we`re developing. Is there a middle ground
here that both sides, Kiev and Moscow, can live with, so that they can
withdraw the troops and live with some kind of, you know, easement, which
fully recognizes Russia`s interests in Crimea?

COHEN: There are so many questions. I think it`s yes, yes, no, no, maybe.
But look, here`s the problem. Your mentor -- your mentor used to say all
politics is local.

MATTHEWS: Right.

COHEN: What`s driving this crisis now, whatever you think of Putin, is the
insurrectionary, revolutionary extreme politics in Ukraine. Now, Kerry is
there today. Formerly, it said that he`s there to find out what they need.
But they could say that in an e-mail. We know what they need. They want
money and military.

He`s there to try to chill this government out because they`ve been doing
provocative things that have been provoking the Russians. If this is going
to be our government, this so-called government in Kiev -- which was not
elected, which overthrow the constitution, which deposed the president and
is a rump parliament -- it at least has to behave decently, or America and
Europe can`t rally around it.

And I think that`s what Kerry`s trying to do. Can he do it? I don`t know
because all politics are local.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, my thought, Gene, is I think -- I think the
president went too far on Friday. I think the president played his part in
this escalation on Friday. But what do you think?

ROBINSON: Well, I --

MATTHEWS: Has he been calm enough?

ROBINSON: I don`t think the president did anything particularly wrong, you
know, because what Putin did was an aggressive move. I think the professor
is right. I think the government in Kiev has to figure a way to live with
Russia, which, after all, is going to be next door.

MATTHEWS: Right.

ROBINSON: It`s next door. And --

MATTHEWS: That`s what Kerry`s saying, apparently.

ROBINSON: -- this idea that we can cost Putin popularity in Russia,
when, in fact, he is playing on national sentiment in Russia and the sense
in Russia that Ukraine is really part of Russia --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: -- certainly Crimea -- it`s just crazy. It`s just crazy.
It`s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, the hardest thing for us to realize is other people`s
nationalism, is their patriotism, as well. Thank you, Stephen Cohen, and
thank you, Gene Robinson.

Coming up: Before the crisis in Ukraine, the hard right called President
Obama a tyrant and accused him of abusing power. But if you listen to them
now, they`re calling the president weak and impotent and cautious and
timid, all the words they love to use. Is it possible they`re right in
both cases, or in none?

Plus, poll after poll shows Americans say they trust Democrats on all the
big issue, the minimum wage, helping the middle class, even health care.
So why do the 2014 midterms look like, well, a big, steep climb for the Ds?

And why did we did it -- why did we do it? Rachel Maddow, a great
question. We`re going to preview tonight with her her documentary on why
the Bush administration sent hundreds of thousands of Americans to war in
Iraq. Why did we do that war?

And why were Bush and Cheney fixated from day one when they got in power on
a country that had nothing to do later on with the attacks on 9/11? Why?
Great question. Rachel Maddow, my colleague, answers it and begins to do
that tonight here on HARDBALL.


And look who`s taken the wheel of the right-wing clown car, Iowa
congressman Steve King, of course. He`s got a wild theory about gays now
and why someone -- well, why some people out there, especially down in
Arizona, might want to pretend to be gay. That`s a new one. Steve King,
the perfect author (ph).

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, today`s primary day down in Texas, where Republican
senator John Cornyn is facing a rather anemic Tea Party challenge from U.S.
Congressman Steve Stockman. Stockman got into the race in December to much
ballyhoo. But since then, he`s been almost not seen.

Stockman comfortably sits in the fringes -- to the fringe right, of course.
And to prove it, he says he`s considering impeaching President Obama. Why
not? He even drew up articles of impeachment and handed them out to every
member of Congress last fall. All the polls in Texas will be closed at
9:00 Eastern tonight.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. When talking points collide -- that`s
what`s happening on the right as conservatives try to balance two competing
narratives about this president, Barack Obama. One is he`s a dictator,
lawless and imperialistic. The other is that he`s weak and feckless and
impotent and all that stuff, unable to get his way when dealing with
situations like Ukraine, of course.

Well, here are conservatives criticizing that first President Obama, the
lawless wannabe king.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), FMR. PRES. CANDIDATE: He said that, Let`s
make this a year of action. And then he declared himself King Obama
shortly thereafter. So he said, Do it, but if you don`t do it, if you
don`t do what I say, I`m going to do it anyway. He really doesn`t see
himself restricted in any way by Article 2 under the Constitution. That`s
his limitations in powers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He fully intends to trash the Constitution of the
United States, to ignore Congress, the balance of power, and simply seize
control and do whatever he wants to do. This was the State of the Union
where our president declared he would become America`s first dictator!

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He might have a pen, and he might
have a phone, but what he does not have is the constitutional power to run
this country like a dictator!

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We don`t have kings in this country. I
know this president thinks he can just interpret the Constitution, apply
the laws when and how he wants them. He thinks he can go around Congress.
We don`t have kings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama administration has ignored laws, failed to
enforce laws, undermined laws. But neither the president nor the attorney
general had the constitutional right to make or change laws themselves.
That is what happens in a dictatorship or a totalitarian government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, U.S. Congressman Randy Weber called the president
"kommandant-in-chief" -- of course, with a "K" -- and a "socialistic
dictator." U.S. Congressman Tim Huelskamp about the State of the Union --
here`s what he said -- "First release of Obama`s speech reads like dictates
from a king." So he`s a king and a dictator.

And yet as we`ve seen this past week, he is also totally powerless in
dealing with Vladimir Putin. Let`s watch the other side of the coin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: Every time the president goes on national television and threatens
Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody`s eyes roll, including mine. We have
a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: I think Putin is playing chess, and I
think we`re playing marbles.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Why do we care? Because this is the
ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in
America`s strength anymore!

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Putin decides what he wants
to do, and he does it in half a day. He makes a decision and he executes
it -- quickly. Then everybody reacts. That`s what you call a leader.
President Obama -- I got to think about it. He`s got to go over it again.
He`s got to talk to more people about it.

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FOX CONTRIBUTOR: The perception of him and
his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, I --
lookit, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills
for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and
equivocates and bloviates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: She is actually starting to look like Tina Fey, which is a
compliment.

So, anyway -- so, apparently, he is a lawless dictator who also wears mom
jeans. And he is impotent and all these other things.

Anyway, "The Washington Post"`s Dana Milbank here wrote today -- quote --
"With Russia`s invasion of Ukraine, Obama`s critics pivoted seamlessly from
complaining about his overreach to fretting that he is being too cautious.
Call it Operation Oxymoron."

Well done.

Dana Milbank joins us right now, along with Alex Wagner, my colleague from
"NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER" weekdays at 4:00 on MSNBC.

I`m going to start with the visitor here today, Alex, before we start with
you, because you wrote the column.

You know, what is he, Mussolini at home, but Don Knotts on the road?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, who is this guy? He goes home and kicks the dog because
he gets fired? What -- who is he?

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It`s
very difficult to be a timid dictator. It takes a lot of practice and
skill.

Now, look, I guess it`s theoretically possible this guy could be an
absolute tyrant to his domestic critics and suddenly be just this pushover
with everybody overseas, and the conservatives would say the unifying
principle is that Obama just hates America --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: -- and he wants to do whatever he can to disrupt this country.
I think a more rational explanation would be these guys are just opposed to
whatever Obama is doing, and they will come up with whatever -- whatever
criticism is convenient at the time.

These are often the same people four weeks ago calling him a dictator and a
ruthless tyrant --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: -- who are now calling him a weakling. It`s not different
people. These are the same people.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting, Alex, because I -- I grew up in the
Cold War, of course. And I -- I watched Reagan, who was, in many ways, in
goods ways, legitimately given credit for beginning that relationship with
Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the whole thing.

And then, of course, it was finally ended with Yeltsin standing up to the
tanks in August of 1991. It makes -- give credit to everybody, but also to
give most of the credit to Harry Truman for beginning it and figuring out
how to fight with containment. But containment is very important. You
don`t go to the war with the Russians. That was the whole idea of the Cold
War. Don`t get into a fighting match with them.

Don`t put -- don`t rub them into a corner where they have to start shooting
at us, because then the world blows up. And I don`t know if this crowd
around the right wing now has that same grown-up attitude about the end of
the world. Maybe we would never go to nuclear war with them again. But
we`re both nuclear-armed nations --

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh.

MATTHEWS: And we`re both very nationalistic.

WAGNER: Chris, I see --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And I -- I don`t know about what they`re trying to do, but they
don`t mind jumping along that cliff. They don`t mind risking it, it looks
like, people like Kristol.

WAGNER: I think you do know the answer to that question.

I mean, they -- there is -- this -- this Republican Party, the modern
conservative movement, is exactly -- it is a party of oxymorons, I mean,
and I really mean actually more emphasis on moron than oxy here --

(LAUGHTER)

WAGNER: -- because on every single issue on the agenda, whether it`s
foreign policy, whether it`s domestic, whether it`s the economy, there is
no consistency.

This is the party that says, jobs, they`re our number one concern. And
then they completely abandon any job-creating measures. They hijack or
they just stall unemployment insurance and give not a whit of care to the
working and the unemployed. They talk about obsessions with deficits and
debt, and then they refuse to raise revenue in any -- in any form or
fashion.

MATTHEWS: Or even back the president on entitlement reform with the
chained CPI last year.

WAGNER: There`s -- there --

MATTHEWS: They don`t back him when he is trying to do what they say they
want to do, do they?

WAGNER: They are -- they predicate their position on ignorance and nobody
actually calling them out. I mean, that piece -- those -- the sound that
you played at the beginning of this -- this segment, that`s the Republican
-- that`s all you need to know about the Republican Party, on the one hand,
on the other hand.

And, in the meantime, if you ever ask them for a meaningful piece of
policy, of governable policy, they have nothing.

MATTHEWS: You know the guys running -- and women -- the guys running
around a big arena, trying to get to the hard -- farthest right rail. They
always want to be the hardest rail to the right.

MILBANK: Right.

MATTHEWS: Take a look at Lindsey Graham here, who seems oftentimes like a
reasonable guy, but he is so scared of looking reasonable because it will
get him killed in South Carolina.

Anyway, on Twitter, he wrote today -- isn`t this original? "It started
with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite
this type of aggression."

So, somehow, in the middle of the night in Benghazi, in that horrible
moment when we lost a great guy, Chris Stevens, and nobody could be there,
he went out there to Benghazi to that facility and got killed by people
that you couldn`t predict their behavior, and it happened and it was hell,
somehow, that ignited the Ukrainian situation, the fight over -- over
joining E.U. and the whole mess.

How do they -- can they relate?

MATTHEWS: Lindsey is --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know the connection.

MILBANK: He is under a great deal of pressure and stress these days.
Let`s -- let`s give Lindsey Graham a little slack as he -- as he fights his
primary battle.

But, you know, look, let`s do a little thought experiment and say suppose
Obama had reacted in a very bellicose way, committing us to, God forbid,
American troops on the ground in Ukraine or some bombing campaign or
something.

They`d, of course, be saying, this is strictly being done to distract from
Obamacare and from Benghazi.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: So, you know, what -- what option would he have prevailed without
having some level of criticism?

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to this.

What is the alternative again here? I hate to ask the obvious question,
Alex, but I`m pinning you with it. And that is, what is the Republican
policy towards ending the problem with the Ukraine and the Russian people
having a fight with each other? What is it? Is it the total, utter
humiliation of Vladimir Putin? He doesn`t look like the kind of guy that
likes being humiliated. So it`s, in other words, getting him into a fight.

Is that their goal, get him into a fight?

WAGNER: I mean, I --

MATTHEWS: Because, if you listen to them, that`s what it sounds like their
goal is, some kind of fight with Moscow.

WAGNER: And if you listen to what Bill Kristol is saying, that seems some
kind of fight and humiliation is what is necessary.

But, in the process, keep in mind that you are then throwing to the trash -
- the trash bin of history any movement on Iran`s nuclear program or any
cooperation from the Russians on Syria, which, if you hear other
conservatives say, are big priorities and things we should be really
focused on in terms of our foreign policy and national security.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WAGNER: It all goes back to your original point, Chris, the "on the one
hand, on the other hand" strategy. There is no actual policy here. It is
a vacuum. In space, no one can hear you scream.

MATTHEWS: OK.

I think you guys figured out the only way to talk about Obama, if you`re a
Republican, is to trash whatever he does at the moment he does it, and
don`t worry about the logic.

Thank you, Dana Milbank.

And, by the way, if Ronald Reagan was great because he found a way to end
the Cold War, and that`s the basis of his greatness, why do they want to go
back to it? That doesn`t make any sense.

Anyway, up next, the U.S. Congressman Steve King, of course, from Iowa,
strikes again. He is worried that that veto out in Arizona of that anti-
gay law out there will just make people pretend to be gay, so that they can
sue the local business of their choice. Think about that and how his mind
works.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": You are sweating a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

KIMMEL: Let me get you some tissues here.

ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO, CANADA: No.

(LAUGHTER)

FORD: We`re good. We`re good.

KIMMEL: Do you mind if I dab you, Mr. Mayor?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

FORD: All right, no problem.

KIMMEL: We`re going to auction this off on eBay afterwards.

FORD: Very good.

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: Actually, I`m going to take the DNA from this tissue. I`m going
to clone you, and we are going to have a whole army of you here in L.A.

FORD: Good.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow."

That was Jimmy Kimmel, of course,sharing an intimate moment with Toronto
Mayor Rob Ford on his show last night. While their interview was funny, it
was also awkward. No topics were off-limits, including the mayor`s past
drug use. Hmm.

Next up: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed that bill to allow businesses
to discriminate against gays on the basis of religion.

But Iowa Congressman Steve King is still defending that law. Why? King
says that sexual orientation is what he calls self-professed behavior.
And, therefore, he says business owners might not know just who they can or
cannot discriminate against.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: It`s clear in the civil rights section of the
code that -- that you -- you can`t discriminate against people based upon -
- I`m not sure I got the list right -- but race, creed, religion, color of
skin, those kind of things.

And there is nothing mentioned in there on self-professed behavior. The
one thing that I -- I reference when I say self-professed is, how do you
know who to discriminate against? They about have to tell you. And, you
know, are they then setting up a case? Is this about bringing a grievance?
Or is it actually about a service that they would like to have?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So, what Mr. King is saying there is that customers could claim
to be gay just to entrap business owners into discriminating against them,
so they could then seek reparations, legal reparations.

Here is a further question. Is religion not, by his wording, also self-
professed?

Finally, "12 Years a Slave" got the Oscar for best picture on Sunday night.
And while conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh didn`t actually see the
movie, he still has a theory explaining why it won.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: There is no way that movie was not
going to win. If it was the only thing that movie won, it was going to be
win best picture. There was no way. It didn`t matter if it was good or
bad. I haven`t seen it. It was going to win. It had the magic word in
the title: slave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Slavery. Hmm.

Anyway, up next -- that`s Rushbo. Isn`t he perfect?

Up next: Democrats have an advantage over Republicans on some of the
biggest issues around. Look at the polls. So why are they not -- these
advantages not translating into a lead in the upcoming midterm elections?
The polls don`t match, but the issues, now just nine -- well, it`s only
eight months away, these elections.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

President Obama unveiled his 2015 budget, calling it a road map for
creating jobs and expanding opportunity for all Americans. House Speaker
John Boehner called it irresponsible.

Michelle Obama is heading to China later this month. Earlier today, she
visited a Chinese immersion school, where she asked students about Chinese
language, food and culture.

And stocks rallied after tensions in Ukraine eased. The Dow surged 227
points, its best showing of the year. The S&P hit a new record -- back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s hard to say "Trust me" when you threaten to blow up the economy by
government default, or when you follow a wacko bird like Ted Cruz into
battle and shut down the government, or when you -- your best prospect for
the White House bullies his way into two criminal probes.

So, Republicans couldn`t have been too surprised when they picked up "The
Washington Post" this morning and saw this. Pollsters for "The Post" and
ABC News asked people, which party do you trust more? And the result was a
near Democratic sweep. Dems have a 13-point edge over Republicans when it
comes to helping the middle class. They have an eight-point margin over
Republicans on health care, immigration and energy.

They even have a one-point lead over Republicans when it comes to taxes --
taxes. And it`s an even playing field when it comes to the economy. But
the only major issue where people trust Republicans more than Democrats is
on the budget deficit, and there only by two points.

Yet, despite all that, things look bleak for Democrats in this year`s
midterm elections. We all know that. They don`t stand a chance to regain
the House. And according to an elections expert Charlie Cook, they`re
losing their grip on the all-important U.S. Senate, where Republicans need
to pick up a net six seats to retake the majority.

Charlie Cook put it bluntly today, saying -- quote -- "Democrats` chances
of holding onto their majority in the Senate is looking increasingly
tenuous. There are now at least 10 and potentially as many as 13
Democratic-held seats in jeopardy, 10 to 13. By contrast, only two GOP
seats are in any meaningful danger. And that number hasn`t changed in six
months. Things are starting to look grisly for Senate Democrats."

That`s Charlie Cook.

Another blunt way of putting it would be Jon Lovitz`s classic betrayal of a
bewildered Michael Dukakis on "Saturday Night Live" back in 1998, when
Lovitz quipped, "I can`t believe I`m losing to this guy."

Well, it all boils down to a simple question. If people trust Democrats,
why would they vote for these guys in the Republican Party?

David Axelrod is a Democratic strategist and former senior White House
adviser, and Michael Steele was chair of the RNC. Both are MSNBC political
analysts. And we`re lucky for that.

David, let me ask you, who do you -- how come this doesn`t crosswalk? How
come there is a consistent pattern here of people supporting one party on
the issues and supporting their reelection? Why isn`t it consistent? Why
is there a contradiction between who you want to vote for and who you agree
with?

DAVID AXELROD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if this were a national
election , perhaps these numbers would correspond.

But we have got structural issues here, Chris, that Charlie Cook hinted at.

First of all, the sixth year of a president`s term historically cuts
against the party that has the White House. Secondly, we have got seven
Democratic senators who are currently running from states that Mitt Romney
carried in 19 -- in 2012. Three of them are retiring. So we have got
three seats up in South Dakota, in West Virginia and Montana it`s going to
be very hard to keep, and four others who are in very tough races.

We have got popular long-term incumbents in Michigan and Iowa who are
retiring. And those states should be in the Democratic column, but they`re
going to be tough, close races. And, as Charlie points out, we only have a
couple of pickup opportunities on the other side.

And then the last problem we have is, we have historically been bad as a
party in motivating our base in midterm elections. And that`s going to be
the big challenge for a lot of these candidates. Can you make the
electorate look more like it does in a presidential race? If we do, I
think we can do pretty well.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take all three of these things. He says, most of the hot
race for the Senate, or a lot of them are down in the red states which have
voted for Romney strongly, strongly Republican. Secondly, you have got
this sixth year of a presidency.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: It`s always a great year to say --

STEELE: It`s tough.

MATTHEWS: -- enough of this guy.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take those two things, and, of course, minorities and
young people that don`t tend to show up every election.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: They show up in presidential years. So all three, aren`t they
all cards stacked against the Democrats, no matter if people do agree with
them?

STEELE: Well, yes, they are stacked against the Democrats.

And the question the Democrats -- and, you know, Mr. Axelrod has put it
just very bluntly -- a national election vs. a local election. When I`m
voting for my senator, yes, there are big national issues, but that`s still
more of a personal, local flare, you know, he is a homegrown guy and all of
that, vs. the national subjects that everyone is talking about, which is
why you see the disparity between the polls saying, we`re with the
Democrats on the issues, but I`m going to vote for the Republican because I
like him, or he`s -- I know him, or there is -- there is much more of a
connection.

So that`s what is going to get played out over the next few months.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: The challenge for the Democrats is, how do we poison the well for
that local election --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: -- for that U.S. Senate seat?

And that`s going to be the real challenge, because the -- the deck is
stacked against them, because if you want to talk about Obama --

MATTHEWS: Who wants to poison the well?

STEELE: The Democrats have to poison the well for the Republicans at the -
- at the -- quote -- "local level."

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK.

Well, let me tell you --

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: -- Senate races.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to David, because I see a couple problems that
don`t have anything to do with these patterns especially.

I`m looking at Michigan. That`s a tough one. I`m looking at Oregon.
That`s a tough one.

I think Al Franken, who I believe has done everything right that last seven
or eight years of his life, everything right -- three years of living out
there, doing the job, keeping his head down, no national interviews, being
a great senator, attentive to all the issues, it`s not going to be easy in
Minnesota. It`s certainly not going to be easy in Michigan. Oregon is not
going to be easy. Eddie Markey has to fight for reelection. Everybody has
to fight for reelection.

I don`t know who is safe besides your friend Durbin. There is not many
that actually you can say, yes, that guy is probably going to get
reelected. Isn`t that the case? Isn`t that the way you`re looking at it,
David?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SR. ADVISOR: I think that`s right. I think we
should approach it that way. I`ve been a little dismayed, and I`ve talked
about it, that some folks are already focused on 2016.

We`ve got the fight of our lives in 2014. And each of these candidates is
going to have to treat it that way. On Michael`s point, I do think that we
need to localize some of these national elections when congressmen and
senators vote against infrastructure for their states. That affects local
jobs. The minimum wage in this poll that you mentioned is a huge winner
for Democrats. And people should run on that.

And I`m one who believes that we should sail right into the wind. I`m with
President Clinton on the Affordable Care Act. This is the only issue the
Republicans are running on around the country.

MATTHEWS: That`s true.

AXELROD: I think we neutralize that at worse and turn it to our advantage
at best.

MATTHEWS: Don`t try to hide, don`t try to change the subject, right?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree with him?

STEELE: I do.

MATTHEWS: Head-on, meet it head-on?

STEELE: No, I agree with him. Look, that`s what I had to do in 2010 was
to meet the challenge head-on, to look at even those races that everyone
was going now, we`re not going to win there, and say there is a pathway.
So, I think that`s what the Dems are going to have to do. But the
challenge still remains, and that one is for the Republicans, to not get
too cocky about this thing.

I mean, you know, we`re talking here in February and March about winning an
election in November. And as we have seen in the past, foot-and-mouth
disease is not something we`re a stranger to.

MATTHEWS: We`ve got a few crazy whackos that might get in here.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: -- are very, very smart about that.

MATTHEWS: David, to your point -- President Obama and the Democrats have
thrown the kitchen sink at raising the minimum wage, and there are signs
it`s working to their political advantage right now. According to "The
Washington Post"/ABC poll I just mentioned today, half the people say
they`re more likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the
minimum wage versus only 19 percent who said they would be less likely to
vote for that candidate.

I guess compare that to the same question about the federal health care
law, 34 percent said they`d be more likely to vote for somebody who
supports the law, compared to 36 percent they`d like to have -- less likely
to vote for that candidate. In other words, it`s not the kiss of death.
It`s kind of a wash for affordable care.

I guess these are going -- you`re the expert on this, David. It goes back
to passion and whether you really care. People or gun people think about
guns almost every day. People think about Ukraine probably one or two days
in their lifetimes, they`ll think about Ukraine. Your thoughts?

AXELROD: I really think that`s an important point, Chris. What dominates
the news isn`t always what dominates the talk around the kitchen table or
at water coolers. Pocketbook issues dominate that water cooler discussion.

Actually, I think the minimum wage has some power. And I thought that
number on the Affordable Care Act was interesting.

You know, the Republicans are pouring tens of millions ultimately hundreds
of millions of dollars into that one issue. They don`t have a positive
program. And that is their message. We`re against the Affordable Care
Act.

I think that`s going to end up being a dry hole for them in November. That
doesn`t obviate all the other problems that I`ve talked about earlier. But
I do believe Democrats have some good issues and ought to be hitting them
hard.

MATTHEWS: Yes, the one thing that concerns me about health care, and you
may be right. You`re optimistic for the Democrats. I`m afraid, what I
think is going to happen, you know when you hear the movie sucks, you don`t
go see it?

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: They`re creating word of mouth. Health care sucks. Don`t get
involved with it. It sucks.

That becomes viral. Even if you have no problems with health care, you
think, I`m lucky, everybody is getting screwed by it.

I`m worried about the word of mouth, this nasty, nasty, nasty constant
attack on it. I think it has an impact.

STEELE: But the word of mouth is backed up by experience. And that`s
going to be the problem going forward.

MATTHEWS: Apparently according to this polling, not in every case.
Probably 50-50.

Thank you, David Axelrod. Thank you, Michael Steele. You have a good
pointed a you made it.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Up next, why we did it. Why did this country get hoodwinked by
Bush, Cheney and the rest of them to go hell bent into that war in Iraq?
Rachel Maddow joins me right now to talk about what she has discovered and
she is presenting in her new documentary. She is coming here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

And as we see the conflict between Ukraine and Russia escalate, America`s
response to international conflicts is now viewed to the lens of our past
national security decisions, of course. Chief among them, the unnecessary
war in Iraq. We already know that the claims that Bush, Cheney and the
others, the neocons gave us for going to war were untrue.

But there still remains the question of why? Why the war? What was behind
Bush and Cheney`s laser focus on Iraq from nearly their first day in the
White House?

My colleague Rachel Maddow seeks to answer that question in her brand-new
one-hour documentary that airs this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. on MSNBC. It`s
called "Why We Did It." What a great question.

Here is a piece from Rachel`s work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC`S "TRMS" HOST (voice-over): Eleven days into office,
Bush assembles his national security team for the first time. Along with
the vice president and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the
principals include Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, and Treasury Secretary Paul O`Neill.

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR: Paul O`Neill opened up everything for the book I
wrote about him in the Bush administration, including 19,000 documents.
And in the first National Security Council meeting of the Bush presidency,
January 30th of 2001, O`Neill arrives with Colin Powell.

MADDOW: According to Suskind, the central focus of the National Security
Council`s meeting that day is the Middle East, Iraq.

SUSKIND: Immediately, there is talk of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And
then Bush says, "Well, you know, I don`t think much is going to be done
over there." And then Bush says, "Well, what do you think the big issue in
the region is, Condi?," to Condi Rice.

At which point, she says, "I think Iraq is the big issue, the destabilizing
force and that`s going to be our focus."

The reaction of both O`Neill and Powell is startling. O`Neill sort of
summed it up. Bush basically saying, "I want to overthrow Saddam, find me
a way to do it. Not if, how?"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Rachel Maddow is host of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW." She joins us
right now.

Rachel, I`ve never understood the advantage of this country of going to war
in Iraq. I think it was better to have them as a buffer with Iran. I was
a super hawk about the Middle East. I still think it was a mistake.

What was your first indication in doing the research on this that we had
this penchant, all around the president -- with no real opposition. That`s
another thing that scares me. We got to go to Iraq.

MADDOW: It was actually when I did the documentary "Hubris" on this last
year, Chris. We did this documentary based on Michael Isikoff and David
Corn`s reporting about what was false about the case they made to the
public.

The way we talk about that, now, at least in the last few years, some
people still try to make the case, oh, the administration didn`t know it
was a false case or they were only inadvertently telling lies about what
was going on in Iraq. I think we really proved in "Hubris" that they
knowingly made a false case.

So, for me, then it was the obvious next question. And maybe the more
strategically important question, which is, well, if it wasn`t what they
told us, why did we have to go? We had the reporting from Ron Suskind,
that said they wanted to go regardless of 9/11, they wanted to go before
the 9/11. The case they made to us obviously was all about 9/11, but we
know that wasn`t it.

And if we`re ever going to reckon with the legacy of that war, and what
happened to us as a people, when the government did that to us, when they
sold us that false case, we`ve got to answer that next question.

MATTHEWS: Bush, George W. Bush. I thought he was a common sense guy
running in 2000. Never thought he was a genius, but I thought he was
common sense. Somehow he became some kind of new kind of -- I couldn`t
call him an ideological because that would make him too deep. But he
somehow got this mission, this obsession.

Was it because his father was -- they tried to knock off his father?
Somehow, I can outdo my father? We`ve gone through this stuff, the
Freudian stuff, trying to figure him out. Was it -- was it the old patch,
was he and Cheney in that regard, was a way of thinking, going back to the
days of, you know, Zapata oil?

I just don`t get it. I can figure out Cheney because I have a whole theory
about him. But Bush, what was his story in this? What`s his role in this
going in early?

MADDOW: What happened here is that they believed the United States
military was a magic wand. We had obviously been spending more on our
military than every other conceivable competitor combined for more than a
generation. We were the last remaining superpower. We had this mega-
capacity when it came to the military. And so, why not use it to rearrange
the world in a way that will be more convenient for the United States on a
number of grounds?

In this new documentary, we can get really specific and I think scarily
specific in terms of what exactly they thought they were going to be able
to get out after rearranged world with Iraq off the chess board. But I
think they thought they could do anything they wanted. So, why not do it?

And they were sort of wanton in the idea that they would use American force
in a way that couldn`t cost anything.

MATTHEWS: This is the infantile part of it, and I mean, this carefully.
Winston Churchill said there`s two kinds of success, initial and ultimate.
Sure, we can go into any country of the world, except for us, knock them
over, take over the country.

But holding it, converting it, leading it, what made them think they could
do that to Iraq? What ideology led them to believe once we went in with a
cake walk would end up being popular?

MADDOW: In some ways I think the answer we`ve come up to, to why we did it
helps us understand that. Because part of what they wanted to do was get
into Iraq in the first place. They wanted Saddam out of the way. They
wanted structural changes in the way that Iraq`s economy was organized.

And they didn`t much care what happened to Iraq in the long run. I mean,
anybody thinking strategically, you`re totally right, Chris. Anybody
thinking strategically is going to say, ah, in terms of us and Iran, better
for them to have Iraq on their neighbor -- as their neighbor rather than a
Shiite-led government that`s, you know, at this point allegedly buying arms
from Iran.

Strategically thinking in those ways, thinking in national security terms
made no sense to get rid of Saddam. But in economic terms, in the way they
wanted to rearrange the world, all that mattered was Saddam was gone and
the rest they figured they`d sort out later if they sorted it out at all.
That is, in fact, the way that the war went. They planned for the
invasion, not what would happen after.

MATTHEWS: Well, Rachel, I said this because I mean it and everybody who
watches this network who cares about public affairs and the war in Iraq
must watch Thursday night at 9:00. Your usual time spot, perfect time to
put it on. Everybody should watch who watches any show on this network.

Anyway, thank you, Rachel Maddow.

MADDOW: Thank you. Thank you so much, Chris. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: "Why We Did It." That`s the name. It premiers Thursday, 9:00
Eastern, right here where it belongs, on MSNBC. And we`ll be right back
after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

I`ve been watching a screener of Rachel Maddow`s documentary on the Iraq
war and why we did it.

And two realities come out of that title, itself. One, it`s been an open
question. Does anyone still believe the reasons for that U.S. invasion and
government overthrow, that the Bush/Cheney team threw down in the first
place, that Iraq was going to bomb us over here were a nuclear weapon, that
there would be a mushroom cloud over this country? That Saddam Hussein
would somehow build and fly a nuclear weapon to the United States and then
drop it here so that we could obliterate him and his country?

I never believed that argument. I never believed that the Bush/Cheney
crowd believed it. It was a selling piece.

I believe the war was fought because Bush and Cheney and the neocons wanted
to fight it, wanted to overthrow and kill Hussein. Just as they have
wanted us knocking off every other leader in the region from Iran, to
Libya, to Syria, who didn`t play ball with us.

I think knocking off opponents is in Dick Cheney`s brain suit, how he
thinks. Bush agreed with the way Cheney thinks.

The second reality that comes out of Rachel Maddow`s title for Thursday
night`s documentary is the Iraq war was this country`s war. We decided to
fight it. We decided to invade another sovereign country. We decided to
go in and knock off the government and kill anyone who got in our way. It
was us, all the way.

And now, the same people who blew the bugles for us to invade that country,
Iraq, are blowing the bugle because some other country, Russia, did
something a little bit like it. Well, the big difference is, need I say,
that tens of thousands of bodies the Bush/Cheney crowd left in their trail.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

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