tv Hardball With Chris Matthews MSNBC November 29, 2011 2:00pm-3:00pm PST
lower budget reality. if that means recalibrating our strategic missions, so be it. guess what? it probably isn't that bad. close a few of our bases in germany, end the failed v-22 tilt rotor flying windmill, end the failed navy littoral landing craft, i don't know you, but i'm feeling safe at bed at night. at a time where every schoolteacher is learning how to do more with less, the bloated pentagon can damn well do the same thing. >> hear, hear. i am dylan ratigan, that'll do it for us. and "hardball's" up right now. president cain? nah. citizen cain. let's play "hardball." good evening. i'm chris matthews down in washington. again, leading out of tonight,
is cain still able? yes, this might be the end for herman cain. national review online broke the store that cain told a campaign conference call that he again denies unequivocally the claim by a woman that they carried on a long-term affair, but cain also said that he was re-assessing his campaign. when candidates say they're re-assessing, it usually translates to, i'm out. and that's our top story tonight. if cain does drop out, and it looks good he will, who stands to pick up his support? it could be the current gop poster boy, newt gingrich. but with so many republicans saying anyone but mitt, isn't newt the logical choice? so the obama campaign right now is focusing its energy and charges at mitt romney. it's a win-win strategy for them. help newt knock him out now or finish him off yourself in november. the dnc has put out a second anti-mitt video in two days. and wait until you see stephen colbert's takedown of that romney ad. it's in the sideshow.
finally, let me finish tonight with this exit of barney frank and this rising of newt. talk about bad tidings of the season. we start with the possible end to the herman cain campaign. dana milbank is a "washington post" columnist and satirist, and jim vandehei is editor in chief for politico. it's very hard -- let me go to the hard news reporter now for the entire organ of politico. jim, thank you for joining us. you've got the entire resources of politico working this story, i assume. yesterday cain said he would not drop out of the race as long as his wife remained behind him. but this morning in a conference call with his staff, herman cain said he would be re-assessing his campaign. according to "national review" online, cain said, "now with this latest one, we have to do an assessment, as to whether or not this is going to in some pes minds as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth." that was well stated, but what a mess for him. jim? is he out or what?
>> don't know. i think we should know probably, if not in the next 24 hours, by the end of the week. my understanding is he'll be on fox tomorrow and is going to address some of this and probably address his viability and willingness to stay into the race. his biggest problem is you've got conservatives now who are openly saying, hey, enough. this is really problematic. you saw this from former governor huckabee, a presidential candidate last time around. you even saw some backtracking from sean hannity last night and a lot of conservatives today talking about how what a distraction this is. jon huntsman, one of his fellow gop competitors saying, you know what, this just might be too much and he has to come out and address this and maybe get out, because it's such a distraction. and that's the big problem for him, because until today, he's been able to survive, i think much worse allegations. what we're talking about here is having an affair, a consensual affair. we're not talking about sexual harassment, which to me is a whole different category and much more problematic and certainly troublesome for his campaign long-term. but for some reason, this woman
coming public, saying that they had a 13-year consensual affair seems to have pushed a lot of people over the edge that were wobbly on whether or not they could be with him and could suspend belief to believe him. >> yeah. of course, dana, there were different standards of different occasions here. one was workplace behavior, which involves inappropriate behavior as well as bad behavior. and people in the workplace think about those things. human resource departments deal with them all the time. here you have a case, though, that the wife has a role in. you find out that somebody in your marriage has had -- well, the other person in the marriage has had at least the charge of a 13-year affair, you go, wait a minute, what's going on here? this is a reassessment time for everybody. >> oh, my goodness with yes. the joke out there is he's going to have to swap the 9-9-9 plan for a 911 plan right now, because this thing is going down in a hurry. and i mean, all indications are -- first of all, this was over before the latest allegations came out -- >> but this seems to have ended, if you believe the woman, and she seems credible, this thing ended just in time for the campaign to begin. like, break a leg, herman. you're starting a presidential
campaign. >> but it's not any one of these things. it's the cumulative effect of him not being able to answer all the questions of the sexual harassment and all this. he's still talking about a cloud over him, this is a typhoon. >> can i ask the question we all ask about politicians -- what was he thinking? back to you, vandehei. he begins a campaign, you usually are told by your people, hire an op to go in and do some opposition on you, and you pay the guy $50,000 and say, find out everything you can about me, because they will. he didn't have to ask anybody to do that. he was his own expert. right? >> it beats the heck out of me. we scratch our head every single time, like thinking about the john edwards episode, like what in the hell are they thinking, that they think they can get away from this stuff. it involves a huge amount of hubris. to run to the president of the united states, you think you're bigger and better than others. and it creates blinders. he was told the stuff was going to come out. he knew the sexual harassment charges were out there swirling about from the past and they
would become an issue. and he reassured everyone saying, it's not a big thing. >> jim, you tweak something with me with this fox thing. usually you're a conservative, you go over there for a somewhat softer landing on a tricky day. but tomorrow, i would expect that he's going to get tough handling over there, because he's now a problem for conservatives. he's not their champion anymore. he's getting in the way of finding a champion. i wouldn't expect he'll get any nicer treatment over there in this environment than he'd get anywhere else, right? he's going to get pounded tomorrow afternoon. >> he's going to get pounded no matter where he goes tomorrow. and i think dana was right before. this was over yesterday. if you look at how much his unfavorable numbers shot up after hour reporting and others it was clear the dam was breaking. this one push eed it over the edge. and it's hard, because he's asking voters to suspend belief in so many areas.
that the woman yesterday was a liar, reporters are liars, everybody on the record are liars. >> that's a lot to ask. maybe they're trying to help their party. republican strategist ed rollins told reuters this week that the new allegation was, quote, the final nail in the coffin. here is, by the way, somebody who is on the religious right, the christian conservative movement, michele bachmann today an conservative radio show. and by the way, i do trust her on these issues. i think she knows what she believes, and she believes what's right and wrong, from her perspective. let's listen. >> when it came out yesterday, everyone said, this is it. he's done. and so people just don't see that there's an ability for him to be able to come back after that. and i think that now the field is narrowing considerably. >> wow. and here's mike huckabee on fox news. by the way, he's a protestant minister, mike huckabee. let's listen to him last night. let's watch. >> it's a serious charge, the allegation is one that could upend his presidential campaign. and i think the reaction that he's had to it, when he said
that unlike the harassment charges, which he denied, he said this was a private matter. in essence, he may have given an answer that will be very difficult for him to work himself out of. i think this is the most damaging allegation that has been made to date, no get about it. >> well, mike huckabee just made it more damaging by saying he said something he didn't. it wasn't he, herman cain, who said that it was a private matter, it was his lawyer. he said it was an't a matter at all, it didn't happen. he put the knife in. >> and mike huckabee carries a lot of weight with the christian conservatives and in iowa. and you have this cumulative effect. and whatever the few stragglers still sticking around with herman cain are going to have doubts. and certainly, you know, there may be ideological bias that might make fox pre-disposed to herman cain, but much more important than that is the combative bias. you know, there's blood in the water now. and this is just not going to stop until he ends it. >> jim, let's talk about this as journalists. generally, i don't think journalists go looking around
for somebody having an affair, if it has nothing to do with public business, nothing to do with your office, not a lobbyist or a staffer, not an hr issue. i don't think people go looking for that stuff. but once confronted with it, it becomes a reality. we're talking here about the christian right. they do take this, as most people in this country watching take it very seriously. we're talking about an affair here of long-standing. it seems to me that now all eyes are on mrs. cain, right? she's got to make a call here. >> right, and she's very forceful. >> and she's going to say, i don't want more of this stuff. and i may not want more of you, buddy. i have no idea how the personal part of this breaks out, but that has become the theater we're watching right now unfortunately for the people involved. >> and she offered a very, i thought, convincing and powerful defense of herman cain during a few weeks back when she was on fox talking about these allegations and that she didn't believe any of them. so no doubt that he factors more importantly than anybody else in how she responds to this.
there is an irony here, in what you just played from mike huckabee and from others, in that they're lamenting the sexual affair, the con ssensual affair, well, that support in all likelihood will go to newt gingrich, who has admitted to engaging in -- >> but not this week. there is a statue of limitations on these things. >> and there's no doubt that i think most voters are forgiving voters, and i think newt gingrich probably can overcome it. but there was an iowa conservative who yesterday did this straw poll of a small number in iowa, and every single one of those conservatives said that newt gingrich's affairs in the past are a huge problem for him in the state. so i don't think you can dismiss it in the minds of evangelical voters. it is an important element. is not a killer, not a deal killer for newt gingrich, but undoubtedly something that sort of factors in to the equation when people are thinking, can i go with him or can i not go with
him? >> we'll go that that segment right after the break, talk about who wince here. while you're on this subject of newt, it does seem interesting. what they're really looking for, the republican party right now is not some head of state, someone to represent the american people and make us proud to be americans. right now they have a particularly lethal goal. they want a hired gun, they want somebody to go out there on that debate stage next summer and fall and kill, basically, obama rhetorically. they want somebody who goes in there and is smarter than him, at least as smart as him, and takes him apart. and they don't think romney necessarily has the goods to go in there, the chops to do it on that stage. where has newt does. >> well, romney has proven himself to be an excellent debater. but i think that is what's behind mcquaid and the new hampshire -- >> fixed piece debater. often fixed pieces. >> yes, he is. but the other problem is newt can get in a debate and become the professor. we all thought al gore was a terrific debater, until he actually got on the presidential -- >> he beat ross perot.
>> well -- >> on larry king, he sure did. he talked into the back of his head for about half an hour. it was a great debate. jim vandehei, thank you, we love politico here. we love "the washington post." coming up, the big question, who gains and who loses if herman cain drops out? we really like this politically, it's our bread and butter. who wins right now? it looks like the newtster, because nobody likes the other candidates, and it's all about who can beat president obama and they don't seem to like mitt romney in the conservative world at all. the dog doesn't like the dog food. you're watching "hardball," only on msnbc.
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welcome back to "hardball." with herman cain on the ropes, let's take a look at what i call the eastern and western conferences of the gop presidential race. from the western conference come the hard right social conservatives, plus the libertarian ron paul. at various times, michele bachmann, rick perry, and cain have all been front-runners there. in the eastern conference are the more traditional republican conservatives, many of them more socially moderate. two of them are already gone. tim pawlenty has already dropped out and chris christie never jumped into the race. so if herman cain exits the race, where are his supporters likely to go? chris cillizza is an msnbc contributor and managing editor
of postpolitics.com. and susan page is washington bureau chief for "usa today." chris cillizza, i guess i have to ask you, quite simply, who wins if cain loses? if he has to drop out and become, for the rest of his life, as we call him, citizen cain, not president cain? >> i think the obvious and probably right answer, chris, is newt gingrich. because as you point out in your western conference, there's a lot of people over there who are trying to get that vote. i would put newt -- you have newt in the eastern conference, i would put him kind of in between. i think he's trying to get that momenthe's the next guy in line donald trump, michele bachmann, and herman cain, the kind of anti-romney conservative. i think to the extent that there's a momentum candidate, conservatives are looking for someone who isn't named nominee, who can win the nomination and be credible against barack obama, that's probably newt gingrich. but there was a pew poll
conducted last week. people who named herman cain as their first choice, their second choice split between romney and gingrich. it's not as simple as gingrich gets all of the herman cain -- they probably go a lot of different places. but i think these are people who jumped on the cain train, pardon that terrible pun, but jumped on because he was the momentum candidate and now gingrich is that candidate, so it's an easy transition for them. >> i would be a lot more hesitant than you. i think they're heading towards the guy who's the hot hand right now. susan, i want you to respond on what gingrich said today about it may be the end of the line for herman cain. boy is he handling this well. >> let me just say very briefly on herman cain, since all of you otherwise will ask me, i think it's a very difficult situation for he and his family. my heart goes out to them. i hope that he reaches whatever is the right decision for them and beyond that, i'm not going to have any comment. i think it's his decision to make and he has to do what he
thinks is best. >> pure excellent politics, right, susan? >> and you know, gingrich has been preparing for this moment from the start. he's made a big point of being nice to herman cain, deferential to herman cain, he did that debate with herman cain, if you'll remember, because he figured the day might well come where he wanted if not herman cain's endorsement, at least good feelings of support of people who had been drawn to herman cain. >> he's handled this so well. look at there -- i'm not a complete cynic, but showing such everyompath empathy, such feeling. newt gingrich doesn't have empathy and feeling. >> i don't know about that, but -- >> oh! >> this is a tricky area for him as well, because he's had marital -- >> what a smart move. she not only shows empathy, but a lack of moral superiority, which is appropriate in this case. listen to michele bachmann, who wasted no time trying to bury
herman cain. >> if, in fact, herman cain exits, do you think that benefits you in this race? >> i think all of these do benefit me. i think rick perry's slide in the polls benefits me, i think that with herman cain, and i think now we're re-looking at newt gingrich because of more information that's coming out. i think those who are conservative voters are looking for their champion. i've been their champion. i'm their tested champion. and now i think they'll be coming home. >> was that music for her to hurry up there? i'm not sure. let's go to chris cillizza. i love the word "we." we is always used when you're not doing well in a campaign. it's "i" if you win. she clearly could benefit a couple points here. let me get back to this. i want you guys to look at these numbers. if you look at the numbers right now, it's clear that in all the polls both nationally and in the key races in iowa and new hampshire, maybe not so much in new hampshire, this guy cain has about 15 to 16 points, in just every one of these polls, guys. we're looking here at the national average there, about 15.
that's a big chunk of change to throw to somebody. if you just throw that over in iowa or nationally and you just throw that 15 over to gingrich, or say you throw 10 of it or 12 of it over, he gets, chris, a big chunk of a lead on mr. romney. >> chris, i think one of the things that's been overlooked as we've gone through this litany of conservative alternatives that have risen and fall season the fact that mitt romney's greatest strength/biggest weakness is the fact that in every single national republican primary poll that i've seen, he's somewhere between 18 and 25. he almost never goes above 25. you don't win in a one on one or maybe even a three-person race with 25% of the vote. that's always been his problem. >> go ahead. here's the math. i'm loving the math. we're really getting logical here. if he can't get above 25, you throw a big chunk of cain's vote over to gingrich, he starts going into the mid-30s, susan. he's way ahead. starts getting a lap on romney. >> right.
although, remember, if cain withdraws entirely, some of those voters will go to romney. some of those voters might go to ron paul. we just think the lion's share will go to gingrich. >> look what happens, though. gingrich starts with a base of low 20s. you throw 10 on top of that, it's mid-30s. he's already ahead of what romney's been able to do. >> this has been romney's nightmare scenario, that there would be one alternative instead of four or three alternatives for him. >> a clean shot. he's clearing the field. what cain did was grab most of the right field and throw it away because of apparently personal problems here. and that throwing it away has gone to the benefit of newt gingrich, right? >> yeah, i think that that's right. susan is 100% right. the romney nightmare scenario is a consolidated social conservative tea party vote behind a single candidate. newt gingrich, rick perry, michele bachmann, whoever else. mitt romney has to be hoping herman cain stays in the race. don't get out of the race. he hopes that michele bachmann gets more relevant, rick perry gets more relevant, so that they
can split the vote. look, mitt romney is not going to get 45 or 50% of the vote in the iowa caucuses, chris. he probably can get 30% of the vote. he needs a split conservative vote to win there. >> you guys go to bed with this stuff like i do. cillizza and i definitely go to bed thinking about this. somewhere in the middle of the night, we're going to wake up and say, my god, there's one other possibility. a real republican convention this summer. is it possible at the the end of this summer -- susan, your laughing. they actually have a convention to say, wait a minute, this stinks what we've been doing. why don't we have a big convention and open up the vote and pick the best candidate. >> i'm for that, you're for that, not going to happen. >> chris, any chance of a real convention like the old days? >> no, susan is right. four months ago, if we were on talking about the renaissance of newt gingrich, newt gingrich as the hot, young thing in the republican presidential race, we would have laughed a lot more than a republican convention. this is an unpredictable electorate in an unpredictable
election cycle. i would agree 100% with susan. it's not going to happen because the republican party poobahs won't let it happen. >> this is the scariest vision i've come across since ebenezer scrooge spotted jacob marley on his doorknob. thank you, chris and susan. up next, mitt romney's campaign released an ad last week which clearly took the president's words out of context, in fact, i think totally distorted them. and now susan -- susan? now stephen colbert has taken his revenge. that's coming up in the sideshow. colbert to destroy romney. you're watching "hardball," only on msnbc.
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obama. need a refresher? here's part of the ad followed by what the president actually said. >> thank you, new hampshire! how y'all doing tonight? i am confident that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. it's going to take a new direction. if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose. >> senator mccain's campaign actually said, and i quote, if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose. >> well, in case that wasn't convincing enough, let's take a look at the counter-attack served up to the romney camp courtesy of the colbert report last night. >> mitt romney, who gets a tip of my hat for his new ad, which nails barack obama, using obama's own words. of course, the democrats are claiming that obama's "not talk about the economy" quote from 2008 was taken out of context on the technicality that it was. he explained this out of context
edit in one sentence. >> what's sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander. >> yes! sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander. and it does not matter if the gander that the goose is talking about was quoting an old duck. those words came out of obama's face. now they're his words. i mean, just like some of my most famous quotes. ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. now mine. love thy neighbor as thyself. i own it! >> i guess that's all from the same rule book that the romney campaign used. anyway, next up, ignorance is bliss. not exactly words you want your governor to be living by, do you? do you agree with that? well, unfortunately for ohio residents, governor john kasich is not exactly a fan of newspapers. here's what he said yesterday during a speech at the columbus
college of art and design. >> you should know, i don't read newspapers in the state of ohio. very rarely do i read a newspaper, because just like i think presidents have done in the past, reading newspapers does not give you an uplifting experience. from time to time, people will send me articles and things i need to know about. but i have found my life's a lot better if i don't get aggravated about what i read in the newspaper. >> well, kasich later said that he was drawn to the issue of welfare fraud in the state, in ohio, when he happened to walk past a newspaper boasting a headline on the topic. is that really something to brag about? about the only way, governor, is that you read the newspapers is you happen to catch a glimpse of one? and finally, oops. that's right, another flub from gop candidate rick perry. what was it this time? well, earlier today in an interview in new hampshire, perry attempted to level with the younger generation of voters, but as it turns out, he wasn't quite on target on just
how young we're talking about. here, let's listen. >> and the fact is, those of you that are sitting in this hall who are going to inherit this country are counting on us. those of you who will be 21 by november the 12th, i ask for your support and your vote. those of you who won't be, just work hard. because you're going to inherit this. and you're counting on us getting this right. >> getting this right. anyway, the legal voting age, governor, is what? well, actually it's 18. how'd you get that number wrong? how can you be so wrong? wow. up next, the obama campaign keeps going after mitt romney, so why is the romney campaign itself so happy about that, or are they? you're watching "hardball," only on msnbc. [ woman ] my boyfriend and i were going on vacation, so i used my citi thank you card to pick up some accessories. a new belt. some nylons. and what girl wouldn't need new shoes? we talked about getting a diamond. but with all the thank you points i've been earning...
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business worldwide. now back to "hardball." back to "hardball." we're talking about the democrats now. for the second day in a row, the democratic national committee is going after mitt romney. this time for that ad distorting president obama's words. the dnc's latest hit takes the fight to the heart of romney country, new hampshire. let's watch. >> in a new ad, mitt romney uses barack obama's own words against him. >> if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose. >> reporter: but those 11 words spoken in londonderry in campaign 2008 have now created a firestorm of controversy. here's why. >> senator mccain's campaign actually said, and i quote, if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.
>> bad taste in my mouth, you know. >> i feel like it's commercial fraud. >> it's a very poor practice. >> first word that comes to mind is fraud. >> wow, this smells a lot like a win-win strategy for obama, knock romney out of the race right now and get a weaker opponent or soften him up for the general election. in other words, beat him now or beat him later? how can they lose? joe williams is a white house correspondent for politico and ron reagan is an author and political commentator. joe, it seems to me that they've maybe lucked out here. they're going to have a tough campaign ahead, but here they are, going after mitt romney with the idea, maybe we can help weaken him so newt can overtake him. we'd rather take on newt in the fall. or weaken him so much that even if he beats newt, romney staggers into the general election a weakened candidate. are they that smart, that lucky, or both, joe? >> well, it seems like it's a combination of both. but certainly, it reminds me of two boxers mixing it up before the undercart is even finished.
we don't even know which opponent president obama's going to face. keep in mind, we have three debates between now and the end of december, and another nine or ten in the next calendar year before the nomination even gets settled. i think the white house is trying to adopt a very proactive strategy here. number one, to define romney before romney gets to define him. and also, as you said, soften him up for the general election, maybe hoping that gingrich or a weaker candidate can get in the ring instead of romney, who they have a little problem matching up with. and so far, it looks like it's going to work, because romney seems a bit distracted by this. >> do you know, have you been able to report or can you report now who they want to fight? who does obama's team out in chicago and in the white house, who do they really want to take on next november? >> well, you ask them, and they say it doesn't really matter. but obviously, looking at romney's record as a red governor in a blue state, he presents some matchup challenges for the president in the general election. his big problem is trying to
make it from the primary to the general election without having too many more flips on this flop that would give them more ammunition to fire at him, if he becomes, in fact, the next republican nominee. but certainly, you talk to them, they do not care who they face, but obviously, the bottom seven if you will have a lot more weaknesses than romney, and they would probably rather face somebody that they can get a tougher handle on, who doesn't present so many problems with moderate voters. >> so ron, why don't you take a look at this. here's what romney had to say in response to the dnc's mitt versus mitt ad, which portrayed romney as a flip-flopper. >> i don't know what they're afraid of. they don't want to see me as the nominee. that's for sure. >> does that bother you? >> it shows that they're awfully afraid of facing me in the general election. they want to throw the primary process to anybody but me. so bring it on. we're ready for them. >> well, there you have a little bad recording there, but that's how we pick things up now.
he's saying, i don't know what they're afraid of, they don't want to see me as the nominee, so bring it on. went back to w.'s line, i don't know why he went back to that. a pretty bad experience, that line. ron, who do you think they're scared of? trying to get romney pretty early. >> i don't think the white house is necessarily scared of romney, but as joe's figured out, i think he's the inevitable nominee because the other nominees are fatally flawed. if you wanted to play devil's advocate for this strategy, i suppose that you could say that they're taking a risk by seeming to anoint romney this early in the process, and that that could even affect the republican primaries, but i don't know. i think that's kind of a weak argument. i think what they really want to do before the holidays start and everybody, you know, goes away for a month and this is of, you know, mistletoe and things like that, they want to embed in the public's mind this narrative that mitt romney is a flip-flopper, so at the end of the day, whether he wins easily or wins in a difficult run for the nomination, at the end of the day, people say, oh, the
republicans, they nominated this guy that doesn't stand for anything. well, we can't vote for him. >> but let me get back to joe on this. attacking him as a flip-flopper, hurts him especially, not with the middle, who flip-flopped -- most middle of the road people do flip-flop back and forth. they decide between obama and somebody besides obama the next time. that's the essence of a flip-flopper, but the right-wing hates flip-flopper. if you nail romney between now and the first primaries and the caucus on the third of january in iowa and in the new hampshire primary the week later, joe, you have nailed him as something the right wing hates more anybody. you know, a weak sister, an old phrase, a flip-flopper. you don't like the guy who's a little too noodle like when it comes to making up his mind. they hate it! >> and that helps explain a lot of why herman cain has had his turn in the spotlight, why gingrich is having his turn in the spotlight, despite his
voluminous baggage, that they like the fact that these guys come from the gut. they don't come from the head. and mitt romney is coming off as a kind of intellectual. and where to moderate voters being the governor, the red governor of a blue state would be a positive attribute, but to the base, it's an anethma. they want someone to reflect that image. that's why they also keep saying, send us somebody to love. they want somebody who's got that core conviction, who cannot only take on the president, but present that image of a very strong republican candidate without a lot of extraneous bag, without scandals popping up every five minutes, without reports that he's not really, get with the program. >> and gingrich oddly enough doesn't really fit that bill, even though he's the front-runner right now, taking his turn as the not-mitt, gingrich does not really fit that bill. >> because you know so much,
ron. you know too much! yes! but everybody knows this -- >> but people will find out. >> but in this instance, image e matters. and what you have in newt gingrich is somebody who will make a bold statement and say something that is complete -- >> he'll go on the attack too. >> and the next week, he'll come out and say something completely different, of course. >> but they want an attack guy. anyway, thank you, joe williams. thank you, ron reagan. coming up, how serious is the iranian situation ahead of the 2012 election? boy, we're talking about the nuclear threat from iran, now we have these so-called students. who knows who they are, probably working with the government. doesn't that look familiar to the 1979? here they are storming the british embassy in tehran, burning the british, american, and israeli flag. sad same-old, same old. this is "hardball," only on msnbc. one more gift...
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embassy in tehran and set off a hostage crisis that last 440 days back then. well, today, a group of iranian stormed the british embassy and diplomatic residents in orchestrated attacks. they burned british american and israeli flags and shouted death to england. this time, there were no hostages, but the incident adds to the tension between iran and the u.s. the incident occurred a week after strong new sanctions, economic sanctions were imposed on iran by the uk. well, it underscores how serious the situation is ahead of the 2012 election year and how much it could dominate the agenda in the coming years. many of the presidential contenders have gone after the approach to iran. what do they advocate? that's less clear. we'll get into all of this with robin wright, also the author of rock the koz bah, rage and
rebellion across the islamic world. and bob bear, a former cia officer in the middle east. he writes a column for "time." thank you both for joining us. first of all, do we know who those people are, robin, who grabbed the british embassy today in tehran? >> i don't think anybody knows for sure, but the british suspect this was a part of the revolutionary guard called the basij. these are para-revolution guard that works for the militia. >> by the way, how many students are on campus are sitting around thinking about economic sanctions? usually that's the sort of thing that the government ministries are focused on, right? >> absolutely. >> bob, do you have any views on that, disparate or the same about whether these are not -- we had to put up with the word students for a year there. i always wonder what had that meant over there. is that grad students still hanging around berkeley a year or two later? are these guys students or thugs? >> they're hired by the government. they were sent by the government. you can see the way the police reacted.
they didn't try to really stop them. this was a government-sponsored demonstration. i've even heard that people have identified intelligence talk ab concerns. now we've been talking a long time about the iranian effort to develop a nuclear weapon. it looks like they are headed that direction, according to the international atomic energy commission. it looks like they are going that direction. the question is when, and can they achieve it with all the israeli intelligence, and actually israeli finagling in this, basically willing to screw them up behind the scenes. robin, you're smiling because we always have confidence in the israeli advantage, but israel is worried. if they live in a country where people, young people, have to build their lives knowing that nearby is a country of zealots that has talked about destroying israel and has a nuclear weapon, it's a different israel than we have today. they may not want to live there. that may kill the hopes of people who want to build their lives there. >> look, israel has legitimate concerns about the iranian
intentions, but the reality is the international atomic energy agency, the u.n. nuclear watchdog, hasn't been able to nail iran for exactly what it's doing right at this moment. we know what it was doing up through 2003. there's suspicions about what it's done since 2003. it clearly has -- >> did they ever say we have a nuclear weapon and we have it ready to shoot? >> the big issue is they develop a capacity like the japan model and not build the weapon that. gives them a short order window. >> that's a compromise, isn't it? >> that's a compromise and the sort of thing that gives them a sensing of security or power in the region, but it would make it much more difficult to attack because they want to test a weapon. >> when we pull out of iraq, bob, interesting little overlap in what we're talking about, president and vice president visiting iraq. once we pull out of iraq it seems like they control the airspace completely. if the iraqi government decides not to give israeli planes the right to fly over there and attack iran to go after the missile sites, how do they do it? >> they go through saudi arabia. i think it's fairly clear at this point the saudis will allow
overflights of the israeli airports. saudis are terrified where iran is going. the influence it's going to have in iraq, what it's doing in bahrain and even in kuwait, and, of course, lebanon which is controlled by hezbollah. so i think, you know, under the right circumstances saudi arabia would let them come over, and it would be happening very quickly. there's not much that this administration could do about it once they decide to do it. >> do we need to play any role, any instrumental role in this? >> we're going to play a role in this no matter what. >> do we play an instrumental sfloel do we have to play any role in terms of logistics, flyover rights, refueling? could we become completely hands clear of this thing, clean of this thing? >> no. we're going -- the point is we're going -- we're going to get held responsible by the iranians, and the iranians will respond. they will respond in iraq and in the gulf, and they will rocket israel from lebanon. you know, the problem is nobody is intending to turn this in a general war. it's just -- it's the risk of
escalation which should scare everybody. >> okay. robin? >> i don't think actually we'll have before the election next year an israeli strike or a u.s. strike or military action by -- >> bebe is a hawk, and his defense minister, ehud barak. suppose they decide to do it before next year's election. >> i don't think the elements will be in place. i think there will be enormous restraints by the obama administration to pull them back and to justify and prove that iran is an extension threat to israel. may happen down the road. during the election campaign iran will be a huge issue, along with the future of the arab world. >> okay. >> as well as economic crisis, but i don't see a strike. >> what everybody has to think about is consequences. that's what kennedy is good at. consequences, are they ready to face israel and here the consequences? >> absolutely right. not going to happen. >> thank you, gentlemen. makes me feel happier.
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leaving and newt gingrich is thriving. barney has brains, wit, conscience and a pretty good sense of proportion. he can argue his case but still see the other guy's, especially if it's a good argument. gingrich is still mad he was made by bill clinton to enter air force one from the rear. barney calls newt the thinnest-skinned character assassin he ever met. it's a serious charge, and it hits home to those who remember how newt came to power in the house. it was over the bodies of democratic leaders charged with corruption over a democratic party he accused of treason. it's how gingrich gets what he wants. now he wants the republican nomination for president, and he has a chance to get it. republican conservatives have a basic goal for the coming year. win the white house. that means running obama out of there. nooutd would be the man to do the job. he could be. he would go into debates with the president wielding whatever broken beer bottle his mind can manage to grasp, whether on the way into the ring or already
there. where romney will enter with a sunday punch, something on the order of with all due respect, mr. president, you had your chance and then dramatic well-rehearsed pause and you blew it. in other words, a line obama will be ready to parody with his own well-rehearsed retort. but newt in the ring could be more dangerous, harder to defend against, harder to predict. newt would unleash whatever charge will force his rival, president obama, on defense. character assassin is barney frank's tag for him, but it's wise to consider t.newt will say what works to hurt obama, even if the weapon kicks back at him. he'll take a great deal of scar tissue to land all of the more of it on the president. one thing i know about newt gingrich. ever since he arrived on the national scene, politics has been nastier, more ferrel, too often uglier. there's something about this figure that darkens the atmosphere and lessens the spirit. the haters of liberal democracy will cheer his every assault, his every rise in the polls, his