Exit Interview: Chris Matthews

The Hardball host and Somerton native spins his new book, Life’s A Campaign

Interviewing MSNBC motormouth Chris Matthews is like riding a bull — take a deep breath, try to hang on as he leaps in all directions, and don’t get trampled. The 61-year-old came prepared with a list of talking points, foremost of which is his latest turn as a writer, Life’s A Campaign. The rest have been condensed due to the fact that Exit Interview is, as of press time, not released in multiple volumes.

[Hears rustling of papers] Are you sorting through all of your pre-interview materials? I’m looking at a bunch of things I want to make sure I cover. Let me see what I’ve got here — I moderated the mayor’s debate, I’m very excited about Michael Nutter. …

We can start right there. Only the debate you moderated turned into a fracas — talk of kicking butt, race-baiting. None of that happened when Jim Gardner ran the show. Ah-HA! [his signature laugh]

What was your impression of Nutter? He’s got that 1950s-­goatee, Beat Generation look. He’s an intellectual. He probably knows jazz. He probably knows the writings of hip writers.

Were you surprised he won? I’m thrilled. I was really impressed that he was able to talk about crime in a realistic way, within the Constitution, trying to figure out a way to deal with people who are carrying guns. I talked to Timoney, John Timoney, right before the debate to get a sense of, what can you do about murder? Timoney told me you can’t stop domestic disputes. But the gang-style turf things where there’s a killing and then there’s a revenge assault immediately — you gotta deal with it. [To summarize the next eight minutes: Nutter can unite the people. Eddie Rendell was the best mayor since Dilworth. People in Washington, D.C., aren’t offended by the phrase “Chocolate City.” Marion Barry was a great mayor when he was sober.]

I don’t think we’ll see Nutter on the crack pipe. That’s your comment. Please keep it to yourself. [The next five minutes: Nutter and Rendell are fabulous. Matthews hung out safely on North Broad as an eight-year-old. Movies cost a quarter back then. The violence problem won’t be solved overnight. His Aunt Agnes is a nun.]

So about your show … Crime shouldn’t be a race issue. [Folks are dying in North and West Philly, not the suburbs. Chaka Fattah is welcome on Hardball anytime. Life is like his beloved Phillies — you work hard and need luck to get by, but you’re usually stuck playing .500 ball.] I’m not as big an Eagles fan. I’m a ’Skins fan.

You might lose a few Philly viewers admitting that. Well, truth is the key. [more rustling] What are these notes I have here? My brother Jim’s up for reelection as Montgomery County commissioner. I did the Villanova commencement this year. Giuliani is the only person who can give Hillary a race for Pennsylvania. [flipping through papers] Nah, get rid of that. I ran for Congress in 1974. …

Considering your political record is 0-1, do you think … Aren’t you cute? Aren’t you nice? What’s your record?

Only a guy from Philly … Zero-zero? And you’re talking to 0-1? I’d rather be 0-1 than 0-0.

Only a guy from Philly could lose his sole campaign and write a book called Life’s A Campaign. Did you read it?

I skimmed it. One of your publisher’s selling points is that it’s “a how-to book of ways to get people to do what you want them to.” I wrote that.

Did Karl Rove write that with you? [silence] Whaddya mean? Is this sarcasm? [Everyone should read his book — think Dale Carnegie meets Machiavelli. The barometric pressure at his Victorian home in Chevy Chase is dropping rapidly. He never actually read The Prince, just the CliffsNotes.]

If there’s one takeaway lesson from your book … Grin when you fight. Have a good time, fight for success, but don’t make it personal. [Churchill is his hero. Gingrich, DeLay and Rove have changed politics for the worse. He doesn’t read the newspaper from front to back. He skips the financials and real estate sections.] I’m like the buffalo hunter. I go for the tongue of the buffalo and leave the carcass.

I hope this interview will be the tongue of the buffalo this month. Ah-HA! Ah-HA! [He picked up that laugh from Tip O’Neill’s lawyer. He saw Ben-Hur at the Boyd Theatre downtown as a kid. Go see Stardust. De Niro plays a gay pirate. He is so good.]