Matthews Accuses Romney of 'Sucker Punch;' Sharpton Offers Non-Apology Apology

Al Sharpton, victim?

Yup -- according to Chris Matthews. The MSNBC host suggested that Mitt Romney had landed a "sucker punch" on Sharpton in reacting to the reverend's assertion that "true believers" will defeat the Mormon in the presidential race. Matthews laced his interview with Sharpton on this afternoon's "Hardball" with a number of comments painting Sharpton as the offended, not the offender.

After playing a tape of Sharpton's remark, and Romney's response in which he characterized Sharpton's comment as bigoted, Matthews went off on a riff.

View video here.

MSNBC HOST CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do you think they're jumping on you? Are they trying to make you into Sistah Souljah a la 1992? Do you think he's tagging you for political gain on the right? . . . Do you think you might be getting tagged pretty hard here because Romney, being pretty astute politically, sees you as a great target not just because you're a Democrat but also because you were very tough in bringing down Don Imus and he says, well, this guy's up on a pedestal; I'm going to knock him off, and that way everybody's gonna say he's a hypocrite. You could say it's a sucker punch, or a Sunday punch, but clearly Romney is swinging for the fences against your head. There's no doubt about what's going on here.

I'm just saying you're a big target Reverend. You know, every time you climb up the ladder a little bit, your rear-end gets bigger. That's just a fact of public life. You are a big man this year, you're bigger now than you were four, the last time you ran for president, three years ago, you're a much bigger fella, and the defeat of Don Imus, which was a career defeat, you were seen as the ramrod of bringing him down. So you have to understand that someone like Romney, who is probably looking for a way to distance himself from the left politically and a chance to bring down somebody big, this is a chance for him, isn't it? Isn't that what he's doing, rightly or wrongly?

For his part, Sharpton had the smoke-and-dust machine turned on full blast, obfuscating his "true believer" remark and offering a classic non-apology apology. Excerpts:

THE REVEREND AL SHARPTON: How Romney reads all of that [the accusation of bigotry] into the line [Sharpton's original "true believer" remark] you just said is kind of appalling to me, but, it's politics I guess on his side. . . I said let's not worry about the Mormon candidate because true believers, meaning, not atheists, we're not going to rely on an atheist vote, we're going to vote. [I didn't say he would be beaten] because he was a Mormon. . . I'm glad to say that I talked today with two of the leaders of the top apostles group of the Mormon church. I said to them I was certainly not being anti-Mormon. I'm going to go see them in Utah. I would apologize to Mormons.I've said if I've offended Mormons with the misuse of my words I would apologize to Mormons.

View Sharpton's non-apology apology here.

BONUS COVERAGE: In a subsequent segment, Southern Baptist leader
Richard Land stated that under no circumstances would he vote for Rudy
Giuliani, given the former NYC mayor's stand on abortion. While
mentioning that he doesn't endorse candidates, Land literally and
figuratively smiled at the prospect of an independent McCain-Lieberman
ticket. Later, pollster Charlie Cook predicted that Rudy's pro-choice
views would ultimately do him in among GOP primary voters, and
predicted that Romney or Fred Thompson will ultimately emerge as the
candidate.Contact Mark at

Abortion Religion Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential MSNBC Hardball Video