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During the May 3 Republican presidential debate on MSNBC, moderator and Hardball host Chris Matthews said, "[L]et me ask you about something else that might be a negative in the upcoming campaign. Seriously." He asked, "Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?" Later, when he reiterated the question, Matthews asked, "Should the Clintons come back to the White House, especially Big Bill?"
Contrary to Matthews' suggestion that the prospect of Bill Clinton back in the White House "might be a negative in the upcoming campaign," according to a March 23-25 USA Today/Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans say Bill Clinton will do "more good than harm" for his wife's campaign. That poll also put President Clinton's approval rating at 60 percent, compared with 38 percent who disapproved, according to a USA Today article on the poll. Additionally, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll -- taken April 10-12 and noted by CNN's Political Ticker weblog -- "If Sen. Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination and goes on to win the general election in 2008, 60 percent of Americans believe her husband would have a positive effect on her administration, while 30 percent think it would be negative."
The debate question was not Matthews' first recent reference to the fact that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean that the former president would also return to the White House. On the March 23 edition of Hardball, he asserted:
MATTHEWS: This week, we saw the spotlight shone on spouses of the 2008 candidates for president. On Thursday, of course, a sad story. John Edwards announced that his wife's cancer had returned but that he would continue his campaign in full force, with her full help. The New York papers today are reporting that Judith Giuliani has been married three times, not twice, as most of us thought. Plus continued intrigue -- I love that word, it would have been mine, as well -- at what might be called about -- might be called intrigue about having Bill Clinton back in the White House.
Previously, as Media Matters for America has noted, Matthews has obsessed over what he has referred to as Bill Clinton's "social life," "personal behavior," "current behavior," and "personal life." Additionally, he has repeatedly referred to the Clintons' marriage as a "sitcom." As Media Matters noted, on the March 28 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Matthews referred to the purported terms of the Clintons' relationship as a "sitcom": "We're all supposed to notice this sitcom but not mention it. We're supposed to notice. He always wants us to know he's got AstroTurf in the back of his car. He always wants us to know that stuff, that he's the stud. But we're not supposed to talk about it. He wants us to know it, and clam up, and live with it. That's his attitude towards this."
On the February 23 edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted, "I think the scab has been ripped off so early that Bill is in play now. The New York Times put him in play a few months ago. Now Geffen has put him in play. It just seems to be that we're talking about stuff I didn't think we'd be talking about until next whenever." Matthews was referring to a May 23, 2006, New York Times article by Patrick Healy, noted by Media Matters, and a February 21 column by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in which Dowd reported comments by Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a longtime donor to the Clintons, also noted by Media Matters. When MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford responded that "[a]ll I've seen the Clintons do is gain from this kind of stuff" and The Hill's A.B. Stoddard agreed, Matthews protested, "You don't think people are tired of the sitcom?"
On the February 8 edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted, "Then there's the other part of me that says she'll go right up to the edge, sometime in August of 2008 and the gender thing and the past will kick in and all of a sudden people will go, I don't know. Back to Bill and Hillary again. Back to the sitcom. Back to this."
From the May 3 Republican presidential debate on MSNBC:
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you a question almost as much fun -- I want to get to the next question. I'm sorry, because you can expand on your thought as part of this answer. I asked about raising taxes. It was almost like the Reagan round here. Everybody wanted to do that. I'm sure he was listening to that good thought.
But let me ask you about something else that might be a negative in the upcoming campaign. Seriously. Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?
MITT ROMNEY (former Massachusetts governor): You have got to be kidding.
MATTHEWS: No, I'm not.
MATTHEWS: His wife's running, haven't you heard?
ROMNEY: The only thing I can think of that'd be as bad as that would be to have the gang of three running the war on terror: Pelosi, Reid and Hillary Clinton. So I have to be honest with you, I think it'd be an awful thing for a lot of reasons.
MATTHEWS: Senator Brownback?
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS): I think it'd be bad because it would mean that Hillary Clinton would be elected, not because of who she is, but because of the policies that she stands for of raising taxes, of not standing up for life, for marriage. I mean, those are what would be bad for the country.
MATTHEWS: Governor, Bill Clinton back in the White House?
JIM GILMORE (former Virginia governor): You know, no, because that would mean that Hillary Clinton would be president of the United States, and where you have been is where you're going to go. And Hillary Clinton tried to socialize medicine in this country -- a very bad idea. You need to keep that in the private sector. And yet she said in their own [unintelligible] debate --
MATTHEWS: Well, we have a razorback ready to talk to you, a razorback from Arkansas. Should the Clintons come back to the White House, especially Big Bill?
MIKE HUCKABEE (former Arkansas governor): No one on this stage probably knows Hillary Clinton better than I do --
UNKNOWN: Oh, my.
HUCKABEE: -- and I will tell you that it's probably not a good idea to put either of them in the White House.