On Tuesday night's "Hardball", Chris Matthews took offense to radio talk show host Bill Cunningham's criticism of Barack Obama, during a John McCain rally, as he called the comments "rotten business" and wondered "Is this now gonna creep into the debate, the discussion? This ethnic stuff and whatever?"
The following exchange occurred on the February 26 edition of "Hardball:"
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well let's take a look at, we had some really rotten business today. Here's radio talk show host Bill Cunningham at a John McCain rally today.
BILL CUNNINGHAM: Obama just came back from meeting with Ahmadinejad, he's got a meeting next week with Kim Jong Il in North Korea. Then he's gonna saddle up next to Hezbollah. They're gonna have a little cookie and cream party. All is gonna be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya together around the table of Barack Obama. It's all gonna be great! Things are gonna be wonderful.
MATTHEWS: Margaret there's a winning personality for you. I hate to see he has an Irish name. I have to tell you, that was the offensive part to me.
MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG: Chris, let's not claim him as our own. With, with someone like him you know what he's about. It couldn't have been a surprise to the McCain campaign that he went a little bit wild, he is wild. That's his stock in trade. McCain apologized profusely, said this is not what he's about. He has a lot of respect for Senator Barack Obama. But, of course, the damage is done.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Dan [Balz], this interesting sort of marginal creeping into the national discussion. Well it even happened in a neutral way on this, on the Academy Awards the other night. Bill, Jon Stewart mentioned his middle name is Hussein. He made a joke about somebody, a name that sounded like Hitler, having a hard time in a ‘44 election in 1944. Tried to talk about Osama sounding like Obama. And then of course this thing where somebody put out a picture of Obama wearing this, East African Kenyan costume. And now this, this character putting out this sort of stuff. Is this now gonna creep into the debate, the discussion? This ethnic stuff and whatever?
DAN BALZ, WASHINGTON POST: Well it's, Chris it's been there for a long time as we know. I mean there have been emails around that suggest he's a Muslim which he is not. There's gonna be this all the way through the campaign if he's the nominee. I think it's gonna be incumbent both on Senator McCain and on Senator Obama, if he ends up as the nominee, to try to keep their supporters quieted down but it's gonna be very difficult.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan is this like, "the Pope's coming to take over," in 1960? Is that what we're gonna put up with here?
JONATHAN DARMAN, NEWSWEEK: You're definitely gonna see this Muslim issue surface again, again and again if it's Obama vs. McCain and I think that last point that Dan was making is significant. If, for both Obama and McCain who both said, "We're gonna run this high-minded politics," that's not a passive thing. You actually have to actively go out there and say, "Okay every surrogate of the Republican Party. Okay every surrogate of the Democratic Party we're not gonna run this race the way we have in the past." Now are they actually gonna do that and what's that gonna look like when, you know, of them is down by five or 10 points?
MATTHEWS: Well Senator Clinton has been almost perf-, well she's been perfect on that regard. We have no evidence that either her or Obama, of course himself, he wouldn't do it to himself or McCain. But wasn't it impressive, Margaret, that McCain did stand up today and take down this warm-up character that had made these comments?
CARLSON: Yeah, well that is the kind of guy that McCain is. He, he does, you know he, he is a straight-talker so you have to give him a lot of credit for that. These surrogates, though, remember there were a couple of surrogates for Senator Clinton that, Robert Johnson, the head of BET, her co-chair in New Hampshire, who brought up things about Obama that, that were derogatory and then they, you know, Johnson apologized and Shaheen resigned. These things happen and the question is whether people decide that you had a hand in it, you tacitly approved it, you want it out there. You're using these people to get it out or not. And I think in the McCain case you think he didn't want to do that.