It's rare when Chris Matthews is outdone in his praise of Barack Obama but Time's Mark Halperin, on Thursday's Hardball, managed to top the MSNBC host as he delivered a rave review of Barack Obama's performance at the National Prayer Breakfast. After playing a clip of the speech, Matthews merely offered a "That's pretty good" but the Game Change co-author did him one better, going as far to warn any GOP candidate considering a presidential run in 2012 to study the address because it had "a level of sophistication and skill that not one Republican on the field right now can duplicate."
(video, audio and transcript after the jump)
The following exchange was aired on the February 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
BARACK OBAMA: And let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith.
The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of may know, "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: That's pretty good. Anyway we're back. That was President Obama today at the National Prayer Breakfast, he's talking about his faith. He's also not shying away from a philosophical fight about what government can do to help people, as some Republicans think about running against him. Is President Obama already running himself? Is he off and running? We're joined right now by MSNBC's political analyst Richard Wolffe and Tim magazine's Mark Halperin. Gentlemen, it's great to have both of you. Mark, of course, is an MSNBC political analyst. I want to start with Rich and then go to Mark. Just, I'm - you guys are the experts. What's up here?
RICHARD WOLFFE: Well about this time a year, every year, he does a personal speech. A lot of this stuff is personal He goes to churches and maybe the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day. Obviously this was a prayer breakfast, but he's showing he's fluent in the language of faith. And he's showing that there is some kind of underlying value philosophy through his whole political career. He talked about civil rights, importance of religion there and how inspirational that was for him. But this is about him doing what he finds a very reluctant thing, which is to go personal and public.
MATTHEWS: Well what do you think? Do you think we should have a president explain his religion to people? Should we have a religious test?
WOLFFE: That's what, that's what people expect. No, that's what people expect.
MATTHEWS: Okay let me go to Mark. Are you comfortable with it? Where a president has to, defensively or offensively, talk about what he believes in terms of religion?
MARK HALPERIN: If it's what he believes in and that's what the President does. Anyone who's thinking of running for president against this guy should go watch that speech. It was more than just about faith. As Richard said, it was his philosophy, it was brilliant performance. This guy has game. If you want to add, make a long list - what are all the reasons Barack Obama is favored for being re-elected? Forget the Electoral College, forget the unemployment rate and earnings and all that. That performance has a level of sophistication and skill that not one Republican on the field right now can duplicate.
—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here