Interview on "Hardball"

February 5, 2008

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Showdown. So who will win tonight? Who‘ll be smiling on Wednesday?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. And tonight, the winds of change sweep across this country of ours. Whatever choice the voters make, the leading names on the ballot forecast American history will be made. We will either advance the presidential cause of the first woman, the first African-American, the first real maverick Republican since Theodore Roosevelt.

But no matter who wins what states tonight, the big news is already on the record book. For the first time, we‘re conducting what amounts to a nationwide primary, which has given a huge number of Americans the chance to share in selecting the nominees of the two major political parties. We‘ve already got some news tonight. Mike Huckabee has won in West Virginia.

But we begin tonight with the Democrats and with the chairman of the Democratic national committee, Howard Dean. Chairman Dean, Governor Dean...


MATTHEWS: ... it seems to me that the law of unintended consequences has worked in its usual way against the purposes for which it was intended. Your party rules were intended to prevent the mobs from raging against the gate, to keep the establishment in power. Don‘t the rules work against the Clintons today by forcing proportionality and preventing them from winning big?

DEAN: I think the party rules have worked exactly just as we intended. We had four early states, which were diverse both geographically, from every part of the country, and ethnically, every major voting group has been represented. And they—our candidates got out, test drive state by state, got reasonably well known, and now we‘re having a big test. So I—this is working exactly the way I hoped it would work.

MATTHEWS: Proportionality is so different in your party than it is in the Republican Party. Explain why you do it differently.

DEAN: We do it differently than the Republicans because Thomas Jefferson, a great Democrat, when he created the—or helped create the Constitution of the United States, put something in there that makes America unique among all countries were—that is, protection for the minority voters. So if you have a state that goes 55-45 in he Republicans, the 55 get to speak and the 45 are silenced. In our elections, a 55-45 state, both sides—both the people who voted for the winner and the people who didn‘t vote for the winner will be represented at the convention.

MATTHEWS: So that slows down the process from being a quick decision, right?

DEAN: Yes, but that‘s not such a bad thing. Look, Chris, I think, you don‘t want a process that goes to the convention. I don‘t think ours will. I never thought we‘d have a nominee by February 5. Last year was an aberration. We had a candidate who won the Iowa caucuses and hardly ever lost again. This year, I think we have some fantastic candidates, both of whom really represent change, as a opposed to what we‘re seeing on the Republican Party, which represents a third term for George Bush, essentially. And of course, we want to really take a close look at them.

Look, I think it‘s great for all these states to have a really good look at our nominees. And they‘re going to make a choice and our nominees are going to be well known, whichever one of them ends up getting it.

MATTHEWS: You think it‘s good for the Democratic Party, as a party that wants to win this time, that you may not have a nominee until after Pennsylvania, until sometime in late April, at the earliest? You think that‘s a healthy thing?

DEAN: I think that‘s fine because people will get to know our folks really, really well, and I think that‘s really important. And on the Republican side if they have an early nominee, who knows what they‘re going to be like in the general election? So look, I think our system‘s a good system. I do want a nominee before we get to the convention. We can‘t win the race if we have eight weeks to campaign. But I think it‘s great to have all these states have some say, and that was really the purpose of it.

MATTHEWS: Now, your party has punished Michigan and the state of Florida, the parties in those two states, for moving up their primaries beyond what they were supposed to. Are you going to let the Clintons dictate and say that those delegates are going to count? Because Senator Clinton is saying that the Florida votes and the Michigan votes will count, despite the fact that her rivals didn‘t even file because they followed your rules in Michigan?

DEAN: Well, that‘s going to be up to the credentials committee, which will be actually elected by Democrats all over the country. So that decision will be made way down the road. But I think we ought to see what the voters say before we go that far down the road.

MATTHEWS: Well, you did say—but wait a minute. You said that Michigan shouldn‘t count and Florida shouldn‘t count, and now you‘re letting Hillary Clinton say they should.

DEAN: No, what I said was that that‘s up to an elected committee of Democrats. I have 25 people on the committee. There are going to be about 160 or 155 on the committee that will be elected by Democrats all over the country. They‘ll make that decision much, much closer to the convention.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you say?

DEAN: I say the credentials committee will make that decision much, much closer to the convention.

MATTHEWS: Well, why don‘t you take a position on whether you want to enforce the rules? I mean, you‘re like the NBA commissioner. You‘re like Larry O‘Brien. Shouldn‘t you enforce the rules of your league? And the rules of the league were Michigan and Florida shouldn‘t count, and now you‘re letting one of the players on the field saying, Oh, I think I‘d like the two to count because I won.

DEAN: I think any candidate can say anything they please. And I don‘t criticize candidates. You know, my job is to support candidates, not to criticize them. And I appreciate the fight you‘re trying to start here, but...

MATTHEWS: Well, I want to get you in trouble...

DEAN: Yes, I know you...

MATTHEWS: ... because I want you to stand up to the winners and the losers both.

DEAN: Yes, well, you can stand up publicly on the Chris Matthews show or you can say things privately. And in my job, my job is to say things privately.

MATTHEWS: Well, my job is to get you to say something you‘ll regret in the morning!


DEAN: Exactly!

MATTHEWS: And it‘s worked many times on this program...

DEAN: Yes, it has, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... with you, as well as others.

DEAN: With me, as well as others. It certainly has.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the voters in—do you believe the polls?

DEAN: Well, they—the pollsters have had a tough time this year in general. And look, I‘m not knocking pollsters. Some are good and some aren‘t, just like everybody else. But they really have had a hard time and haven‘t been particularly accurate. I think probably, for the most part, that‘s not the fault of the pollsters. I think what you‘re seeing is wide swings in the electorate.

It‘s not—you know, the thing that‘s so amazing about this election, the first thing is the turn-out. Democrats want changes so badly. In every state, including Florida, we‘ve had enormous Democratic turn-out. And that means people really want a change.


DEAN: Our turn-out is double—in New Hampshire, for example, our turn-out was up 20 percent. Their turn-out was down 3 percent. So that‘s just extraordinary. But the other thing that really is interesting is how many undecided people there are. We have great candidates, really good people. The Republicans are undecided because they, frankly...


DEAN: ... aren‘t so crazy about their candidates.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

DEAN: Our people are undecided because they love both of our candidates, and they loved all of the rest of them when they were in the race, too.

MATTHEWS: Well, what happens, Governor, if you have a situation—looks like it might happen, who knows what‘s going to happen tonight. We‘re going to watch it all night until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning to see what happened. But if there is a rough tie tonight and there is a rough tie from here to the end of April, when we get to Pennsylvania and all the way to the end, if you have a rough tie and Obama or Clinton win a rough tie, doesn‘t a team make sense or—and if you don‘t get a team of the two of them on the ticket, doesn‘t that just alienate the half that lost?

DEAN: Chris, it‘s fun to speculate on that stuff, but I‘ll let you all do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re the chairman of the party. Can‘t you create a marriage here? Can‘t you say whoever loses is the VP candidate, whoever wins is the P candidate? Let‘s get together here. You can do that.

DEAN: Well, if I were going to have a discussion like that, it probably wouldn‘t be on television. Those kinds of things—of course, those kinds of discussions go on, but this is not the time for those kinds of discussions. The voters have to speak first before people like me get involved and try to put together things like that. I mean, let‘s listen to the voters before we—you know, on television everybody handicaps everything. I‘ve sort of given up watching television in between these elections because people blab and blab and blab. But the fact is, the voters—it‘s the voters‘ turn.


DEAN: It‘s not the pundits‘ turn. It‘s not the pollsters‘ turn. This is the voters‘ turn. This last month-and-a-half and this next two or three months coming up, this is the voters‘ turn. It‘s time for us to shut up and listen to the voters, and that‘s what I‘m going to do.

MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s almost true, but—but my attitude is...


MATTHEWS: ... to try to figure out where to see an early sign of the decision making tonight. And I‘m going to be looking at New Jersey because I think it‘s an interesting state. It‘s a huge state. It‘s got so much ethnic diversity, African-Americans in the big cities. It‘s got very wealthy people. It‘s got regular people all up and down the state. And it doesn‘t have a big media market. It‘s shared by New York and Philly.

And I‘m watching that state because I think that state, if Obama were to win tonight, would be a big win for him. If Senator Clinton were to win, that would be holding her strength tonight and basically getting through the night pretty well, holding what she had and avoiding any kind of—any kind of swamping of the boat.

That‘s—do you think that‘s pretty smart or not? Have you gone state by state, trying to figure these things out?

DEAN: I don‘t do that. I mean, I really have totally given up on doing that. Honestly, there‘s nobody has the wisdom here. The wisdom is in the collective voters. And you know, New Jersey is an important state. California is a critical state. Georgia is a critical state.


DEAN: There are a lot of important states out there. And you know, I don‘t think—what has to happen, Chris, is not somebody wins in this state or that state. What has to happen, which I think may not happen tonight, is there has to be a real trend. And you know, this has been a very, very close race so far, and I—you know, first of all, I have no idea what‘s going to happen. Neither does anybody else, even if you were polling it.

And secondly, I‘m very comfortable with the voters. Even in 2004, when I lost—you know, you accept the voters‘ judgment. That‘s what it‘s about in the end in a democracy, and this is a great democracy, despite the best efforts of the right wing to undermine it.


DEAN: And I think it‘s—this is great. This—you know, this is what we all live for, not the handicapping and the polls and the speculation...


DEAN: ... watching democracy in action. Our Democrats are going to go out and pick the person who they believe would make the next president of the United States, and I am very, very happy with that.

MATTHEWS: Well, you must also be happy—and I want to say something here in tribute to you. I think four years ago, you did a lot to activate young people, including one of my kids, and—I saw him holding one of your signs up there in New Hampshire. It made me so proud, out in front of the Palace Movie Theater at that big rally you had there. There was Michael out there, holding a big sign for you.

And I do like the fact that I‘m hearing from so many people that their kids are pushing them, as opposed to parents...

DEAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... who say, Come on, kid, get out and vote, just vote, register. And now you see kids—I don‘t mean kids, young people in their early 20s, late teens—telling their parents, pushing them to get involved. I think it‘s so refreshing.

DEAN: Well, it‘s a big deal. This is about change versus the past. John McCain and Mitt Romney represent the past. They represent the failed Bush policies. And I know John McCain says he‘s a maverick, but the truth is, he‘s voted for all Bush‘s stuff, including the tax cuts and the Iraq war and everything else. And our guys really want change.


DEAN: And I—- you know, this is a transitional election. A new generation is taking over in this country. I think it‘s a great generation. It‘s a good thing. And I think that‘s going to help us in the general election.

MATTHEWS: Well, just remember, Senator Clinton voted the same way as Senator McCain on authorizing the war in Iraq.

DEAN: Yes, but she didn‘t...

MATTHEWS: Let‘s not forget.

DEAN: She didn‘t vote to stay there. She didn‘t vote for $450 billion worth of deficits. She didn‘t vote to veto the children‘s health care plan, which Senator McCain voted for.


DEAN: And she didn‘t change her position on every known issue in the political universe, like Governor Romney. So...


MATTHEWS: You‘re chairman of the Democratic National Committee. You can say the partisan stuff. I have to sort of be—I have to understand the truth here.

DEAN: That‘s right. That‘s right.

MATTHEWS: I‘m one of your big fans, Governor. Thank you...

DEAN: Chris, thanks for having me on.

MATTHEWS: ... very much. You are in many ways a flawed pioneer.


DEAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Governor Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

--- End ---

Transcript originally from MSNBC Transcripts.



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