As tough as journalists are on Donald Trump, it’s hard to believe they ever loved a president as much as Barack Obama. Somehow, it’s now been a full decade since Chris Matthews announced his famous “thrill” up the leg. Provoked by Obama’s speeches during the 2008 Democratic primaries, the MSNBC host prompted ten years of mockery for the fawning comment.
What isn’t known by many is the back story behind the sycophantic remark, the comment’s little-known prequel and just how irritated Matthews gets when called on the remark. At 10:13pm on February 12, 2008, after Obama won primaries in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C., the Hardball host reacted this way:
I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often.
It’s quite a feat when Keith Olbermann is the voice of reason. But the then-Countdown host occupied that role, calmly replying, “steady.” Undeterred, Matthews continued:
No, seriously. It's a dramatic event. He speaks about America in a way that has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the feeling we have about our country. And that is an objective assessment.
It’s an “objective assessment?” Yet, this wasn’t the first time Obama provoked a physical sensation in Matthews’s lower appendages. On July 27, 2004, Matthews reacted to Obama’s keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention:
I have to tell ya a little chill in my, in my legs now. That is an amazing moment in history right there. It is really an amazing moment. A keynoter like I've never heard.
So, a “thrill going up my leg” vs. “a little chill in my legs.”
It wasn’t long before the 2008 version was roundly mocked. On November 2, 2010, as Republicans were swamping Democrats in the midterms, Michele Bachmann appeared on Hardball. Matthews insulted the then-Minnesota Congresswoman to her face, asking if she was “hypnotized” or in a “trance.”
Bachmann fired back:
I think the American people are the ones that are finally speaking tonight. We're coming out of our trance; really we're coming out of our nightmare. I think people are thrilled tonight. I imagine that thrill is probably maybe quite not so tingly on your leg any more.
Matthews became sensitive towards the all the fun being had at his expense. On May 22, 2012, Steve Scully of C-SPAN innocently asked him about it. The visibly irritated host complained:
I’m an un-traditional person, but I have traditional values and I love the country and I said so. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said so because I’ve given a lot of jackasses a chance to talk about it. I hope you feel satisfied that you raised the most obvious question that is raised by every horse’s ass right-winger I ever bump into.
In 2016, the Media Research Center’s MRCTV confronted Matthews about the remark. Asked “how is your leg,” the host exploded: “Go to hell!”
Yet, sometimes Matthews is so entranced by Obama that he can’t help but mention the “thrill” he gets from the Democrat:
"He is the new us! That's right, President Obama is in London tonight as the new emblem of the American people....We've got Barack Obama as our President and Michelle Obama as our First Lady. We're all immensely proud.... I'm saying it again, I'm getting a thrill....We agree, we girls agree. I don't mind saying that. I'm excited. I'm thrilled."
- MSNBC's Chris Matthews talking to Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women's Forum and Washington Post writer Lois Romano about the Obamas' trip to Europe, April 1, 2009 Hardball.
Ten years later, Matthews’s body is still tingling for Democrats. Who will thrill him in 2020?
See below to read some of Matthews’s other variations on the “thrill” quote.
"I heard and saw a picture of a family studying at night, sweating over school work....I'm getting one of those thrills I get about America. I'm sorry, I'm shouldn't say this. And I'm getting it again. When she [Judge Sotomayor] talked about sitting at that table and not being a genius like Barack Obama, not being one of these people that can walk into a college scholarship, who had to sweat for it."
- MSNBC's Chris Matthews during live coverage following Sotomayor's opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, July 13, 2009.
Clip of Barack Obama from 2008: "My family gave me love. They give me an education. And most of all, they gave me hope. Hope, hope that in America, no dream is beyond our grasp if we reach for it, and fight for it, and work for it."
MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "I get the same thrill up my leg, all over me, every time I hear those words. I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, that's me. He's talking about my country and nobody does it better. Can President Obama stir us again and help his party keep power this November?"
- Setting up a segment on MSNBC's Hardball, September 7, 2010.
“[Mitt Romney] can’t turn people on. He can’t turn them on after he wins or after he loses.... I think he lacks this guy’s [Rick Santorum’s] passion, and I think that’s a real loss. Barack Obama can do both. He has a brain, and he has a heart, and he can cause a thrill in the American people because he has both.”
— Chris Matthews following Santorum’s concession speech during MSNBC’s live coverage of the Arizona and Michigan primaries, February 28, 2012.