Playing Ball with Chris Matthews

Anyone see “Hardball” last night? If so, you might have caught a segment wherein Chris Matthews asks if Republican Michele Bachmann is a viable candidate (cue throat clear) for the 2012 presidential election. He tossed the hot political potato to Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter and US News’ Susan Milligan, the latter whom happens to have just finished writing a piece for Rhode Island Monthly on Congressional newcomer David Cicilline.

 Milligan has killer credentials: She’s been published in the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, Institutional Investor, ARTnews, the Budapest Sun, and has covered Capitol Hill and national politics for the last twenty-seven years. She was also part of the team of authors who wrote Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy.

 I caught up with Milligan to ask her what it’s like to go toe-to-toe with Chris Matthews — whether she gets nervous, how she preps — and here’s what she had to say:

 “I don’t get nervous. I’ve been in war zones! They can yell, but at least I know they won’t shoot me.

Chris Matthews… that requires a lot of advance work because Chris is amazingly well-prepared. He worked for Tip O’Neill, so of course he knows all the players and the personalities. And not only has he read all the newspaper coverage of something, but he’s read every book that relates to the topic. I don’t know how he does it; it’s enough to keep up with just the daily stuff. But Chris loves biographies, and reads all of them.

He’s tough, though — and he won’t accept sloppy thinking as just another way of looking at things. If you don’t have your facts in order, or are spinning some ridiculous version of the facts, he’ll call you on it. He’ll interrupt, too, so you have to not be afraid to jump in and make your point. That doesn’t bother him; he wants a lively discussion.

But what I love about Chris is that despite the hard time he gives his guests, he believes in public service, believes in democracy, and loves politics. He’s not an angry or hateful person at all; he just isn’t going to let anyone get away with making statements that are either untrue or not thought out well. And he has fun — his reference yesterday to the Tea Party as the folks “in the crazy closet” is still making me laugh!”

 You can see the “Hardball” clip here. And be on the lookout for “The Freshman,” Milligan’s piece on Cicilline, in our May issue, which hits newsstands the end of the month.