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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Mathews" Interview - Transcript


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MR. MATTHEWS: Mike Huckabee stormed the South last night, winning five states -- Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, and his native Arkansas.

Governor, thank you for joining us.

MR. HUCKABEE: Glad to be back.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you want to comment about this guy named Eugene Fields who just got charged with drunken driving again after he got his sentence commuted by you for similar charges back in the early part of this decade?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, other than it's just totally disgusting. He was released because of prison overcrowding. He'd served a year in prison, and recommendations were that they thought he had been rehabilitated; a year in prison probably had gotten him where he was ready to get out. And then he had another DWI. And I was just disgusted.

I'm even more disgusted by this. I think the only key he ought to see is the one-time one that gets him into prison and not let him out. He should never touch a car key as long as he lives.

MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah, that's the problem with a lot of these cases. They just keep doing it again.


MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your victories. I mean, a lot of pundits like myself thought you'd be kind of a blocking back for Senator McCain, that you'd prevent Mitt from winning a number of states and thereby provide a nice service to the senator from Arizona. In fact, you won all those states where you were a major factor. Where does that put you now, Governor?

MR. HUCKABEE: I think it puts me in the race. And what's really important to know, Chris -- and you're aware of this, following it as you do, as closely -- the states that I won are the states that a Republican has to win if he's going to be president on the Republican ticket. You don't win the South, you don't get it. You don't get West Virginia and Arkansas -- those two swing states can make or break the entire presidential election.

So the significance was not only that I won some states, but it's which states I won. And that's what made it so very important last night.

MR. MATTHEWS: That's so true. And yet the party seems more like a coalition party than ever. The Democrats, as you know, growing up were more of a coalition party. They had Dixiecrats in the South in the old days. They had northern liberals and, you know, people that didn't even like each other in the party if they'd ever met with each other.

And now the Republican Party has the rural part of the party, the evangelical base party, in a sense, combined with some people who are just conservatives in the South. And then you've got that sort of mix in the suburbs, you know, where you have these moderate pro-choicers mixed in with some pro-lifers and people with different attitudes about guns than you might have.

How do you project your strength from where you've demonstrated already into those areas where McCain does well? I know not New York. None of the Republicans are going to carry New York.


MR. MATTHEWS: But how about Pennsylvania? How about Ohio? How about those kind of states? Can you win there?

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, sure. Those states are very pro-life. They're pro-traditional marriage. But they're also fiscally conservative states. They want lower taxes. They want less government regulation.

I think what most Republicans want is as little as government as possible, but what we have, they want it to be competent. They want it to actually perform and function. And they want that government to reflect as much the values of the Wal-Mart crowd as the Wall Street crowd. And I think that's where the frustration and, in fact, some of the tension is coming from within the Republican ranks right now.

MR. MATTHEWS: But, you know, I looked at the numbers. You know, we study these exit polls. It was interesting that John McCain in Florida, for example -- and I think he has some reach over to the moderate Republicans, more than he admits to, in terms of his positions; I mean, he says he's pro-life. He votes pro-life. But yet if you look at the voting in Florida, the pro-choice Republicans overwhelmingly voted for John McCain.

How do you manage that in politics? How do you get your political reach to go beyond your positions? It seems to me that's how you win general elections. You get people to vote for you who like you, trust you, even if they don't agree with you on some things.

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, and I think you just hit the magic word. It's trust. People want to trust their president. They really want to believe that even if they disagree with him, that he's going to look into that camera lens from the Oval Office and he's going to tell them the truth.

Americans have a right to know the truth, whether it's about the Iraq war, whether it's about their economy. What they don't want is somebody trying to sell them something that they later find out to be total nonsense. They just need to know that somebody has moral clarity in his own convictions and is going to be honest with them, even if it's bad news. We can handle bad news as Americans. What we can't handle is misinformation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, everybody's sort of figured you out over the months now. You're kind of a populist conservative. You've got pretty strong positions on the Second Amendment. You've got pretty traditional views -- in fact, very traditional views -- on creation and things like that.

But Mitt Romney stands out there -- we're still talking tonight; I don't know if you caught the early part of the show. I was simply suggesting it may have been smarter for him to have positioned himself as a moderate Republican and tried for the votes that McCain's been able to get now and Giuliani failed to get.

And Andrea Mitchell asked the obvious question, "Well, you don't just reposition yourself. You have positions. You have principles." But we in this business of watching politicians have gotten used to people like Romney, who simply say, "I think I'll wear a red dress tonight or a green dress, depending on who else is wearing what at the party."

MR. HUCKABEE: Well, I think one of the reasons that I'm catching on with a lot of voters, despite being outspent 10 to one, is people know where I stand and they know that these are not just preferences based on last night's poll numbers.

I've often said, Chris, I'd rather lose an election than change my position when it comes to the sanctity of human life, as far as several other issues, because if I were to gain the world and lose my own soul, what does it profit me? Nothing. I mean, you really can't even effectively govern if you have to wake up every morning and have somebody come in and give you a memo on what you need to believe today.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, it's like in the movie "Man For All Seasons" -- "But for Wales?"

MR. HUCKABEE: Yeah. (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: You wouldn't do it for the vice presidency.

MR. HUCKABEE: Wouldn't do what, change my position?

MR. MATTHEWS: Compromise, yes.

MR. HUCKABEE: You know, the thing is, I'm not planning on being the vice president. I know everybody keeps asking me that. But somebody once described vice president like that of the job of lieutenant governor, which I had for three years. The basic job of the lieutenant governor and the vice president is to be in the dark, out of the way, but all pumped up and ready to go in case somebody ever needs you.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, you're doing well, Governor. Congratulations on all those victories yesterday in Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. Governor Huckabee won them all.

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