Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/15/2015

Rep. Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Matt Schlapp, Sabrina Siddiqui

Date: December 15, 2015
Guest: Rep. Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Matt Schlapp, Sabrina Siddiqui

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The fight before Christmas.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Las Vegas for the last Republican
presidential debate of 2015. It`s fight night in Vegas. Expect a hot one.

Donald Trump is towering on fear, towering on terror fears. He takes
center stage tonight watched by a country on edge. As the candidates ready
for battle tonight, authorities are searching more than 900 schools out in
Los Angeles after a bomb threat from someone claiming to be an Islamic
terrorist got the city to shut down their entire school system. It was
later determined to be a hoax.

Trump is riding those fears, of course. He has amassed a commanding
lead in another poll out today. Look at this. According to the latest
figures from “The Washington Post” and ABC News, Trump laps the Republican
field by 23 points. Look at that, 38 to 15 for Cruz, who`s supposedly
doing great, Cruz at 15.

His appeal to the country, Trump`s, is about nationalism. It`s about
connecting with Republican voters on what they care about. Look at this.
Despite near universal condemnation by his rivals, a strong majority of
Republican voters, 59 percent, three out of five, say they support Trump`s
proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. So the Republican
voters support what he`s talking about. And then there`s Ted Cruz. He`s
rising, but still way back in the polls.

Last night, Trump fired up his troops and readied for tonight`s


And many of them don`t have a chance. You say, What are you doing? Just
go home and relax.


TRUMP: Go home and relax. I`ll be honest, I think tomorrow night –
I think it`s going to be big.




TRUMP: Oh! And they`re all coming after me. I heard today – I`m
watching, I`m saying, Man, this is, like, crazy.

Well, we`re hearing all these announcers saying, Well, who`s going to
take on Trump tonight? Who`s going to hit him hard? It – and I`m saying
to my…


TRUMP: Yes, I would say, bring `em on. Who cares? What


MATTHEWS: NBC`s Katy Tur covers the Trump campaign. She joins me
now. Katy, one of the real oddities of these debates, if there`s somebody
attacks you personally, or the moderator in this case, Wolf Blitzer, says
that was a personal shot at you, you get a reaction opportunity. Cruz
could be reacting to every other rival out there tonight.

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: He certainly can. If he watched the
undercard debate, the first 20 minutes of that debate was spent basically
bashing Donald Trump for his Muslim ban. The only one that was defending
him in any way was Rick Santorum, who said that it was more a criticism of
this administration and how they aren`t able to handle these people that
are coming into this country.

But we do believe there to be some attacks on Donald Trump tonight. I
know the moderators are going to try and provoke an attack from Ted Cruz.
Unclear, though, if Ted Cruz is going to take the bait on that attack.
He`s a very disciplined candidate, and he so far has not gone out and
publicly criticized Donald Trump because, frankly, they are going for the
same base of support. And when Donald Trump either starts losing in the
polls or drops out of this race, Ted Cruz is going to want to take that
support into his camp.

Same thing for Donald Trump. If he is going head to head with Ted
Cruz, he`s going to want to be able to woo his voters over to him. So the
two of them, while they may personally or privately want to attack each
other, have pretty much refrained so far.

In fact, last night at Donald Trump`s rally, he only mentioned Cruz
once, and that was in reference to poll numbers. He did not go on the
offensive against Cruz, and we do not expect to see that tonight, although
they will be standing right next to each other.

So if one of them is provoked into saying something negative about the
other, it will be interesting, at least visually, to see them talk directly
at each other.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s the big guy in that comparison. Physically,
he`s 6-foot-3, he reminded me the other day, 6-foot-3, and the other guy`s
5-8. Do you think Trump can play tall guy to him and just say, Nice try,
little guy, or do you think he`s going to punch back like a Frank Sinatra

Which personality are we going to get tonight, the tall, confident
guy, or the Frank Sinatra who`s just met some guy in the men`s room and is
going to duke it out with him?

TUR: I don`t know. I mean, you`d have to ask Donald Trump and what
might suit him at the moment. He certainly has a physical advantage over
Ted Cruz. He is much taller. He is much more imposing. But I think
Donald Trump will decide what he needs to do in the moment that whatever
attack may come.

I think that not a lot of things with Donald Trump are premeditated.
I think he feels the room, he feels the mood, and then he goes on the
offensive if he needs to. And so far, he`s been pretty successful at that.
He`s very good, as I keep saying, at reading a room. He`s very good at
reading his audience and knowing what will play and knowing what will work.


TUR: And it doesn`t necessarily play out in all of the debates, but
he knows what his supporters around the country like and what will play
well on a television.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Katy Tur. One that I`m going to ask you
– can you read Donald Trump? Can you tell which direction he`s going? Do
you want to try that now? Can you pick `em out, what night`s going to be
hot, what night cool?

TUR: I think it`s going to be cool tonight. I mean, I might regret
these words, but I think he`s going to be cool. I think he`s going to be
calm. I think if he does attack, it`ll be one of the lower candidates,
like John Kasich or Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, maybe Rubio. But I don`t think
we`ll see the fireworks with Ted Cruz tonight. I think you`re going to


TUR: … a nicer, gentler Donald Trump. But I could be wrong. You
never know.

MATTHEWS: You never know. Thanks. That`s why we`re watching tonight
– Katy Tur.

Well, some of the candidates are lining up their shots at Trump.
Here`s what Rand Paul told reporters just today.


after Trump again. I think maybe – people have not yet figured out that
he would be a disaster for our country.

Bombast, stupid comments, idiotic comments are not enough to win an
election. Ultimately, I think the election is still wide open. I think
his support is soft. And I think, as you`ve seen with Ben Carson dropping
20 points, same can happen to Donald Trump, and not soon enough for me.


MATTHEWS: His support is soft, right there, Rand Paul.

Anyway, for more I`m joined right now in Las Vegas by the former
Nevada – Nevada – that`s how you pronounce it, by the way – GOP chair,
Sue Lowden, who`s now a co-chair of the Carly Fiorina national campaign,
former RNC chair, Michael Steele. And in New York, Chuck Todd is moderator

I got to start with Chuck, my colleague. Chuck, tonight, this is a
hot one, and it`s the fight before Christmas, the last great saloon match
before we go to the holidays. Your sense of it.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”: Well, you just brought up a
wild card here that I think could keep folks calm. Yes, it`s the last
debate before the holidays. That also means maybe they don`t want to be
too hot. Maybe that isn`t what you want to be remembered for.

So look, I think, you know, there`s every chance this is not nearly as
heated as some people think because there is this aspect of you`re leaving
your last impression before we`re in a joyful period in America. You know,
the holiday breaks, for the most part, people want to be in an upbeat, good

That said, look, I`m with Katy. I don`t think there`s going to be the
fireworks between Trump and Cruz. I think tonight, if anything, they`ll
collectively jump on Rubio. I mean, I think Rubio and Cruz is more likely
to be the hot exchange of the night because it`s on the topic of the night,
which is national security and protecting us here in the homeland.

And they differ very starkly on that issue when it comes to, for
instance, you know, whose data, where should phone data be and all those
things. It is a clear line of division between the two of them. So I
think it`s going to be Cruz-Rubio is sort of the clash of the night.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Sue Lowden out here. You`re the home
team here. You`re representing Carly Fiorina tonight.


MATTHEWS: Your thinking about tonight?

LOWDEN: If I were Carly, I want to make a great presentation, as she
always does, be articulate, be conservative. Talk about her stands. She`s
very specific when she talks. She doesn`t talk about big, global, you
know, I want to do all this, and don`t – doesn`t give specifics. She
actually gives specifics. I think she has to stay on her talking points,
and just beat it over and over again.

Every time she`s on, more people get to know her. You know, when she
started this race, no one even knew who she was. And then she went from
the debate that`s on right – you know, earlier, to the later debate
because of her tenacity.

MATTHEWS: Is she running for VP now?

LOWDEN: You`re not going to hear that from her or from me. That`s
for sure.

MATTHEWS: I just did.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Michael – Michael Steele – I`m sorry. Michael

special hearing.

MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, let me ask you about the fight tonight.
Chuck said it`s not going to be a Trump-Cruz match, but I don`t know
because I think – I think it is.

STEELE: You know, I kind of fall in the “I don`t think it is” camp.
I agree with Chuck. I think, politically, there is no up side for either
of them to do that, not just because of the holidays, but think about it
this way. What is to be gained from a fight like that?

MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you what. Trump gets Iowa cheap. He`s not
willing to spend the money on a bio ad, but he should.

STEELE: He`s not going to anyway. He doesn`t have to. Trump`s
personality is already a part of the Iowa makeup. So any falling away from
Trump right now in Iowa, I don`t think from the folks I`ve talked to, is
not that concerning to them.

It gives them the sense that, yes, we`ve got to maybe do something as
we get closer to ground time, but remember, we have another debate that the
RNC just put on the table in January. So you`ve got a January 14th debate.
That takes the pressure off of this one.

There is no real need to go toe to toe for this debate. The January
debate, two weeks before the first vote in Iowa, that one is going to be
the rodeo.

MATTHEWS: Well, I have this sort of Frank Sinatra sense of Trump,
that if you attack him, he attacks you back.

Anyway, Trump called Cruz a maniac in the Senate, a maniac working in
the Senate. Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity are now all
attacking Trump. Apparently, the right wing is – the real right wing on
radio is about 10 percent of the Republican Party at most, is all behind
Cruz. He`s hugging that hard-right rail. Let`s watch them.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He`s essentially put on his John
McCain hat here, saying, I`m Donald (sic) McCain and I`m the guy that can
cross the aisle and work the other side. Ted Cruz can`t.

MARK LEVIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: We`re dealing with the United
States Senate, where there are alligators and sharks and snakes and
slimeballs all over the place! You got a handful of guys, Cruz, Lee, Rand
Paul – a handful of guys who stand up to them! Oh, they`re not getting
along. Exactly! We`re sick of these guys getting along! And you, of all
people, should get it!

the filibuster in the Senate – that was loved by conservatives. They were
cheering Ted Cruz standing up against what he calls the Washington cartel.
So I`m not so sure that that same strategy is going to be as efficient if
he`s going up against a strong conservative in the field.


MATTHEWS: What`s interesting here, Chuck, is when you listen to
radio, these are guys of the hard-right 10 percent. They`re hardly
interested in winning 51 percent of the general election. They`re sort of
the Damon Runyon crowd…

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: … a little surly, to put it lightly, especially Levin.
Why are they in love with Cruz, or has Cruz basically wooed them?

TODD: I think it`s a mutual admiration society. And that`s why I did
not understand why Trump went after Cruz for that. I thought Trump might
go after Cruz for not – you know, trying to make the case that he`s not a
real reformer, not a guy that was going to go in there to shake things up.

But to call him a maniac, I thought, Wait a minute. You`re going to
raise the ire – I think I said it yesterday morning, and sure enough, I
mean, that is what – you know, what Rush, Levin and Hannity have liked
about Trump, they love about Cruz in the Senate.

They see them as doing the same thing. Trump is making life miserable
for the establishment and the media. Cruz is making life miserable for the
establishment and the media. And so I thought Trump – look, I thought he
was going to try to turn him into a phony or go after the Goldman Sachs
stuff. Trump misfired, and I bet you he pulls back tonight on Cruz because
of this.

MATTHEWS: Well, he may try another shot tonight. Anyway, thank you.
Thank you, Chuck Todd, as always, sir. Thank you, Michael Steele. Thank
you, my friend, Sue Lowden out here, for welcoming us so beautifully.

And a reminder. Come back to HARDBALL at 11:00 Eastern tonight when
the debate`s over. I think it`s going to be hot. I disagree with
everybody else. We`re staying up late for two hours of reaction and
analysis tonight.

By the way, coming up right now, the Trump phenomenon. He`s hitting
new highs in the polls and his controversial message is resonating with
many on the right. I mean, three out of five Republicans like what he`s
saying. We`re going to ask Michele Bachmann and U.S. Congressman Steve
King of Iowa why Trump is working them.

Plus, America on edge. Terrorism is now the top issue on the campaign
trail. Forty percent say it`s their top issue, not the economy. What a

LA schools were closed today, all 900 of them, after what was called a
credible threat, according to authorities out there.

And Hillary Clinton detailed her plans for stopping ISIS today. Can
she find the sweet spot between the aggression we`ve heard from the
Republicans and the cool-headed response from her one-time boss, President
Obama? Is there room in the middle?

And our focus group of voters tonight weighs in on what they want to
hear heading into tonight`s debate. Well, they`ll tell us what they`re
looking for from these Republican candidates.

Finally, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here with a special debate
edition of “Tell Me Something I Don`t Know.”

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE: I`m not going to pick
one right now, but what a nice problem to have, if it came down to Cruz and
Trump. That`s a good (ph) problem for voters to have because we know that,
as you say, they are both strong and very decisive and someone who would
take the initiative. That is what we need today, and both candidates fit
that bill.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, live in Las Vegas for tonight`s
Republican debate.

Well, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin can`t choose, apparently,
between Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. She likes them both too much.

But the latest “Washington Post”/ABC News poll shows there`s a clear
favorite among Republicans, as I mentioned. Donald Trump now sits at 38
percent. Cruz is way down there at 15 percent, but rising. And it`s the
second major national poll to show Trump soaring since he called for a ban
on Muslims from coming to the United States.

Well, according to “The Post`s” poll, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans agree
with Trump`s proposal – 6 in 10. Furthermore, he`s the clear favorite
among Republicans when it comes to two key issues – no surprise here –
immigration and terrorism. Fifty percent of Republicans say they trust
Trump best of all the candidates to handle these issues.

Meanwhile, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky,
issued this coded warning to his party this morning.


helpful in holding the Senate to carry purple states, and all of you can
draw your own conclusions about which candidates are most likely to carry
purple states.


MATTHEWS: Well, Matt Schlapp`s the former political director for
George W. Bush. Michele Bachmann is, of course, the former U.S.
congresswoman from Minnesota. And Steve King is a congressman from Iowa.
Thank you all for joining us.

What did you make of Mitch McConnell there, Congressman King, issuing
kind of a warning? I don`t think it was coded. He seemed to be warning
his party members about not to nominate certain people. What`s he up to?

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Well, you know, I`ve said this for some
time, that we have – we have – the establishment wing of the party – we
all should be in the big Republican tent with the constitutional
conservatives, but it`s always the establishment that drives the wedge.
That is – that is Mitch McConnell getting out the wedge and the hammer and
hammering that in. And it separates the party. We shouldn`t have that,
and I disagree with him.

MATTHEWS: Congresswoman Bachmann, why would anybody who wants to vote
for somebody for president give a darn about how it affects Mitch
McConnell`s majority or not? Wouldn`t they want to think about, since they
only get one vote, picking the person they want to be the nominee? Isn`t
that the way people usually vote, pick the one they like?

they`re going to do again in 2016 because right now, what we`re seeing is
Islamic terrorism 24/7. That issue has bubbled up to the surface.
Everyone is concerned. There isn`t a day that goes by now that we aren`t
confronted with some new story about Islamic terrorism.

And that`s why you see the American voter, Chris, turning toward
candidates that they feel will be the most effective in doing something, in
taking this issue on. They don`t see that President Obama is effectively
dealing with this issue. They see Hillary Clinton is effectively
irrelevant to this debate. So they`re looking for someone who will be
strong on this issue.

MATTHEWS: If you`d been head of the Los Angeles school system in
California, in Los Angeles today, would you have closed the schools after
getting that hoax call, that e-mail?

BACHMANN: If I would have closed the schools? You have to go for…

MATTHEWS: Would you have done it?

BACHMANN: And, of course, that`s what you have to – that`s what you
have to do.

If you get which – something that you believe is a credible threat,
then you need to close the schools. I was out in California about an hour
away from the San Bernardino tragedy when it occurred. And when that
happened, everything was under lockdown nearby, that you could hear police
cars that were going for that area.

At this point, there`s very little information that you have to go on
prior to the event. And you have to turn towards safety, especially when
people don`t have confidence that anything is happening to prevent
terrorists from coming into the United States, much less stop them here in
the country. That`s the issue.

That`s why this issue has bubbled up to be number one and it`s why
people are looking for a strong individual to occupy the Oval Office.

MATTHEWS: Well, former Governor Sarah Palin was asked about Trump`s
proposal to ban Muslims. Here`s what she said.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: The reaction, though, from
so many, right off the bat, knee-jerk reaction, was – it`s typical of the
media, not you necessarily, but the media – it was to jump all over it,
like it was such a negative.

And I wanted to say, not speaking for Trump, but I wanted to say, let
him finish the conversation. Let him finish what his thought about what
he`s talking about, a temporary ban, because we do have a very screwed-up
system that is resulting in the bad guys coming on over.

It is common sense that, when we`re in such tumultuous times, as
caused by, in a lot of respects, not knowing who it is coming over our
porous borders, we need to – we need to take a pause here and figure out
what the system`s going to be.


MATTHEWS: Let`s look at this tsunami of support headed to Trump.
It`s not going to anybody else, not like it is to Trump, up about 40
percent now.

That`s right.

MATTHEWS: He`s broken through all the thresholds, the glass ceilings,
whatever you want to call it.

SCHLAPP: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: We thought it was 20 percent, 30 percent, now 40 percent.
What`s changed? San Bernardino.

SCHLAPP: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: And Paris. Even though it`s a foreign city, I get the
feeling that got to us.

SCHLAPP: Yes, absolutely.

Look, it`s about characteristics. It`s not necessarily about
policies. We can talk about whether Muslims – and what our policy is –
the fact is, is that Republican voters see Trump as strong, inflexible, and
going to defend us. And they`re not actually looking for his policy
papers. They see characteristics they like.

MATTHEWS: What about the other candidates? They don`t see it in

SCHLAPP: Well, no, I think what you have seen is a dramatic shift in
these polls from Ben Carson to Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz is a similar candidate to Donald Trump, with a little
different story. That`s why I think tonight is very interesting.

MATTHEWS: Let`s not overdo the Cruz thing. He`s at 15. Trump is at


SCHLAPP: OK, that`s – but you`re a smart guy. That`s a national


SCHLAPP: Don`t you care more about what`s happening in Iowa and New

MATTHEWS: No, because I don`t think Iowa – well, let me go to Steve

Congressman King, do you think Iowa – you know, they used to say, as
goes Vermont, so goes the nation. Do you think Iowa is a leading
indicator? It has its particular interests, wouldn`t you say?

KING: Iowa makes, of course, the first recommendation to the rest of
the country. But here`s how – what I think is the difference between the
polls. Cruz is leading…

MATTHEWS: Huckabee, Santorum, Robertson, your pattern is not exactly
a winning pattern.

KING: No, no, Chris, if we had nominated them, we don`t know that
they would have been elected or not.


KING: And anybody that has won the Iowa straw poll and caucus and
been a Republican has won the presidency since Reagan.

So, there`s a completely `nother side to that coin. But the Iowa
polls that are there have Cruz head.


MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Iowa caucuses – well,
you`re a little too fast for me. You`re a smart guy, but you just went too
fast for me and our viewers.

KING: Oh, my. OK. I will mark that one down.


MATTHEWS: You said – no, you said the Iowa straw poll. Let`s talk
about the caucuses coming up February 1.

They have not been a leading indicator of who`s going to win the
Republican nomination for president. They have not been.

KING: But, Chris, if we think about what this is, Santorum won by a
handful of votes. Romney won the nomination. Romney didn`t win the

We can`t speculate that Santorum would have lost the presidency if the
rest of the country would have followed Iowa`s recommendation with
Santorum. You can say the same thing about Huckabee.


MATTHEWS: Are you betting on – OK. Are you betting either on
Santorum or Huckabee, your previous Iowa winners, in this year`s election?

KING: Of course not. But here`s what we need to be thinking about.

Iowa polls say Cruz. National polls say Trump. National polls are
reflecting the national media that`s flooded with all Trump all the time.


KING: You have to adjust for that and recognize that Iowa and New
Hampshire will be independent and South Carolina will listen to that
recommendation. And I think that`s a thread that we need to watch
throughout all of this.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you all. I want to start with – let me start
with Congresswoman Bachmann.

Why do you think Hannity and Levin and Rush Limbaugh seem to be so
pro-Cruz? What`s that about?

BACHMANN: Well, I think you have to look at the issue sets that
people are concerned about.

And the main issue set that`s driving all of this is the issue of
America`s open borders and unmitigated immigration. Most people don`t
realize that well over three million people a year are flooding into the
into the United States, whether it`s legal or illegal immigration or
whether it`s through the refugee program.


MATTHEWS: Well, why not be for Trump? Why aren`t those guys for


BACHMANN: Well, remember, Donald Trump is the person who put the
issue of immigration square in the middle of the table, an issue that no
one was talking about.

MATTHEWS: Right. Well, why aren`t those radio guys for him?

Why are the radio voices, who tend to represent the most conservative
voices in the country – they`re not running for office – they don`t need
51 percent. They need about 5 or 10 percent to be hugely successful on the
air. Why are they all for Cruz, and not for Trump, when Trump`s way ahead
in the polls?

BACHMANN: Well, none of the three that you mentioned, Mark Levin,
Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, none of them have endorsed any candidate
yet, but they have a pulse on where the electorate is at.

Remember, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton run as far left as left can
get. That`s what Barack Obama continued to do from `08 to `12. Hillary is
following that up. She`s more left on immigration than Barack Obama is.
That`s not where the country is. Hillary Clinton is occupying a very
unfavorable space.


MATTHEWS: OK. Everybody has to take their opportunity. I know why
people come on television. I`m all for it, Congresswoman.

I want to ask you, Matt, why the differential?


MATTHEWS: Thirty-eight percent of the Republican Party says they like
Trump. All of the right-wing radio says they`re for Cruz.

SCHLAPP: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: Why? And they are saying it.

SCHLAPP: I think the difference that is going on here is that Cruz is
consistent on his conservative philosophy, A to Z. Donald Trump is more of
a vessel for a message. Ted Cruz is a guy who they agree with on all the

MATTHEWS: I think Cruz has systemically hugged the hard-right rail,
and it`s worked for him very well, on every issue.

SCHLAPP: We say conservative.

MATTHEWS: OK, hard conservative. We will agree on that, hard

Anyway, thank you, Matt Schlapp.

Thank you, former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. You`re always

U.S. Congressman Steve King, thank you.

Coming up – although I don`t think Iowa`s typical.

Coming up: America on edge. More and more Americans are naming
terrorism as their top issue for 2016, this as the threat in the Los
Angeles public school system kept more than a half-million kids at home in
California. My question to people, to Congresswoman Bachmann, what happens
if the same people call tomorrow, the same people e-mail every day of the
damn week? Do you always run, or do you hold?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from Las Vegas.


ERICA HILL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Erica Hill with breaking news at
this hour.

A Southwest Airlines jet has rolled off a taxiway and gotten stuck at
Nashville International Airport. You can see this picture here of the jet.
It is Southwest Flight 31 going off the runway into a ditch. It appears
the front landing gear of that Boeing 737 – tough to see it – there is
some question as to whether or not it may have been damaged in the

We can report there have been minor injuries. They are not believed
to be serious. Police are responding.

We will keep you updated on any developments – now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome to HARDBALL live from Las Vegas for tonight`s
Republican debate.

Well, authorities now say an e-mailed threat that closed more than
1,000 schools in Los Angeles was likely a hoax. But the e-mail promised
the use of explosive devices. And, early today, it raised fears of another
shooting attack like – attack like the one in nearby San Bernardino.

L.A. School Superintendent Ramon Cortines said, after talking to law
enforcement, he chose to keep all 650,000 students at home.


They reviewed with me the information that had been shared with them.
Based on past circumstances, I could not take the chance as it relates to
one student or our staff.


MATTHEWS: Well, New York City officials also received a nearly
identical threat promising a massacre. New York City Police Commissioner
Bill Bratton said they decided to keep the schools open today.


credible threat. It is not something that we are concerned with. What we
would be concerned with is overreacting to it. We will stay aware. We
will stay involved. But, we, at all costs, cannot start overreacting to
what will probably be a series of copycat types of initiatives.


MATTHEWS: Probably be a series of copycat initiatives.

Anyway, even before today`s threats, nerves were frayed, as a new NBC
News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that 71 percent of Americans now
believe shootings and random acts of violence have become a permanent part
of American life.

Joining me right now is “Washington Post” columnist Ruth Marcus, and
MSNBC political analyst Steve Schmidt, top strategist on the 2004 Bush
campaign, and a senior adviser to the 2008 McCain campaign.

I want to go to you, Steve Schmidt. What is the right way to respond
to a threat?


Bill Bratton`s an exceptional leader, and I think you saw those
exceptional leadership qualities play out today in his news conference.
He`s exactly right. You can`t overreact to every situation.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Ruth, because it seems to me, now
that we`re in Vegas, sometimes, it looks like you have to bet on red or
black. Somebody makes a threat, it could be black, it could be red.


MATTHEWS: It could be an explosion, or it could be just nothing. And
you have to bet, if you`re the school superintendent.

MARCUS: And the downside in Vegas is, you lose your money. And the
downside in real life could be a lot bigger.

And, look, we`re entering a new phase, where we`re going to have to
learn how to cope with hardening our – terrorists` potential access to
soft targets. And we`re not going to get the call right every time. So,
maybe they didn`t get it right in Los Angeles.

MATTHEWS: What`s to stop some drunk in a bar right now, watching
this, run off to the nearest cell phone or whatever, borrow a phone,
whatever you do to cover yourself, and call up the local school
superintendent and say, I`m going to bomb you tomorrow? What`s to stop

MARCUS: Nothing stops them. And we`re going to get better as we get
more used to this unpleasant, but sustainable new reality, in figuring out
what threats to take seriously and what threats not to take seriously.

But I guarantee you, the first time we don`t take a threat seriously
and it turns out to be a real one, there will be way more incriminations
than there will be about Los Angeles overreacting maybe this time around.

MATTHEWS: Well, Hillary Clinton strongly made the case today that
Republicans shouldn`t skip gun safety in an effort to combat domestic
terrorism. Let`s listen.


that guns are a totally separate issue, nothing to do with terrorism.
Well, I have news for them. Terrorists use guns to kill Americans. And I
think we should make it a lot harder for them to do that ever again.



MATTHEWS: You know, Steve Schmidt, Hillary Clinton, the former
secretary, former senator, former first lady, has shown tremendous guts.
I`m not sure she`s right.

But she has bet a lot of her chance of winning the presidency on gun
safety as an issue. You know the dangers in states like Kentucky, even
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri. There`s so many states where you`re going to
have a gun problem.

Is she smart to make that part of her anti-terrorism campaign?

SCHMIDT: Look, I think Americans have high anxiety about guns. We
look after Newtown, you had 90 percent of the country, including many NRA
members, supportive of background checks.

That`s not the issue here. The issue for Hillary Clinton is the chaos
in the world, in the Middle East, that she was an architect of as secretary
of state. We look at the president of the United States, with the
emptiness of serial red lines drawn in Syria that have unleashed chaos,
threatens to destroy the Islamic State, but the Islamic State is not
destroyed, the Islamic State is on offense.

And so, tonight, across this country, you see the anxiety and you see
the fear because the American people see an administration that has
consistently underestimated the nature of the enemy and the threat. And
the American people are on edge about it.

And that`s what`s driving this race right now, and it`s what`s driving
the dynamic in the Republican primary with regard to Donald Trump`s rise.


And the same argument could go back and say, the reason we have an
Islamic State, that we have an ISIS is because George W. Bush, with his
absolute lack of any geopolitical intelligence, broke up the state of Iraq,
created the army which is now the army of ISIS.

SCHMIDT: And it could be, Chris, and it could be, Chris, that we
could go back to 1979 and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini or to 1953
with the overthrow of Mosaddeq in Iran.


MATTHEWS: I was just making that point, Steve. I was making a point
that you`re doing it. I know you`re doing it. But you started it.

SCHMIDT: Or we could go back to 1917.


MATTHEWS: But you started it. But, Steve, you started it right


SCHMIDT: We could go back to 1917.



SCHMIDT: The point is, the leadership of the country, Chris…


MATTHEWS: Steve, you`re making the point that you shouldn`t have been
doing what you were doing.

Go ahead.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

SCHMIDT: The point – the point, Chris, is the history of the Middle
East is one of violence and chaos. And our leaders in both parties have
consistently not understood the culture, not understood the religion, not
understood the geopolitics of the region.


SCHMIDT: Hillary Clinton chief among them.

MATTHEWS: OK. The number one balloon head decision was to go in and
break up Iraq.

Anyway, thank you. And everybody in the Republican Party agrees with
that now.




SCHMIDT: In 2009, when Barack Obama took office, at great sacrifice
and great cost, Iraq was pacified.

MATTHEWS: OK, OK. Let`s go. OK. OK. Put that on the Republican
platform next summer.

Thank you, Ruth Marcus. And thank you, Steve Schmidt, for bringing
back the Iraq War.

Up next: Just what are voters thinking about the race headed into
tonight`s debate? Steve Kornacki is coming here next with a focus group of
2016 voters. Actually, they`re undecided. Look at them, seven people
actually undecided. Isn`t that something?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from Vegas.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, live from Las Vegas, the site of
the fifth Republican debate and the last one of this year.

Voters across the country will be tuning in tonight to see how the
candidates will measure up. Of course, my colleague, Steve Kornacki, is up
in New York, where he`s assembled a group of Republican and Republican-
leaning voters from the tri-state area who say they`re undecided.

Steve, take it away.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, that`s right. We`ve got
eight Republican-leaning independents here from the tri-state area.
They`re going to be watching the debate with us tonight. We`re going to
check in with them extensively after the debate to find out who they liked,
who they didn`t like, what they liked, what they didn`t like.

But first, I thought, we`ll take the temperature of the room now
heading into the debate, to see what your expectations are, where you guys
are before this thing begins.

So, let me start with this question. It`s about the candidate
everybody seems to talk about the most. Donald Trump.

Let me ask you this. Raise your hands if you could see yourself
potentially, at least, potentially, voting for Donald Trump for president?



KORNACKI: That`s about half of you. Mary Beth, you`re hesitant. Why
are you hesitating?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very hesitant, Steve. He would probably be my
last pick.

I think we need someone who`s a little more serious and somebody whose
dialogue is just a little bit more mature. But, in the end, if he were the
nominee, I would vote for him.

KORNACKI: And nominee, no for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I wouldn`t. I don`t feel that he is a
candidate to give Hillary, who I`m expecting as the Democratic nominee, a
big enough run for her money. And I don`t think he has the experience to
be able to convert the other Republicans to back him.

KORNACKI: So you`re making the electability argument. Glenn, you
were raising your hand. What do you like about Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t raise my hand.

KORNACKI: Oh, I – you can see I`m an amateur with this. What`s
keeping you from voting for Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s not the candidate – I don`t think he has the
experience to run the largest, most important country in the world, you
know? It`s just – I just don`t think he can handle the job.

KORNACKI: All right. And, Tom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you said, you know, potentially, which would
be, you know, up against Hillary. Yes, I think all Republicans and anybody
else has to come together, if that`s the case, because you`ve got to put
up, you`ve got to do something.

But, yes, tonight, I`m really – I`m going to watch Rubio. I want to
see him, you know, what he brings to the table. I think he`s got some
potential there, that I think could be interesting. And I would like to
see how it comes out tonight, because it seems to be like a real pressure
on him tonight, I think, because of everything that`s been in the news.

KORNACKI: All right. And, Robert, who are you keeping your eye on
the most tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I agree with Tom. I think Rubio is the
candidate to watch. I`m really looking forward to what he does tonight and
see how he shows, certainly in the first few primaries. I like governors
in general. I think that they have some of the experience we want as the

KORNACKI: All right. And, Sheree (ph), what is the most important
issue you want to see addressed tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are so many issues that are facing our
country today, but I think security speaks in volumes at this time. So I
would like to see their plan of action, to combat security here at home.

KORNACKI: All right. Well, Chris, I might have to go check the tape
on this, because obviously my eyes failed me at least once, but I counted
four who could vote for Trump, four who weren`t so sure. Let`s measure
that again after this debate, after they hear him for a couple of hours.
But we`ll be with these guys after the debate to see what they made of it.

MATTHEWS: OK, I think I recognize the guy from the last time you put
a group together. That guy in the back row on the right, isn`t he back

KORNACKI: He was your favorite! He had to bring him back. He got
the Chris Matthews seal of approval.

MATTHEWS: It`s random, and he just happened to show up again out of
350 million people.

KORNACKI: You asked and we got him.

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. Anyway, thank you, Steve Kornacki and our
favorite focus groupee.

Anyway, we look forward to the focus group after they watch this

Let me go back to our guest tonight, Robert Costa of “The Washington
Post” is here, ands Sabrina Siddiqui of “The Guardian.”

Sabrina, this focus group here, you know, they say they`re undecided,
but they were decided against Trump, at least half of them.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: They were. I think what you hear,
though, from the majority of, you know, voters in Iowa, and even New
Hampshire, where he`s surging to new highs, is that they really could see
themselves go out to caucus or vote for Donald Trump in a primary, and he
really has gained from this focus on national security simply by talking
tough and by proposing, as we know, the furthest possible proposal that an
alarming number of Republicans actually would support, banning Islamic

MATTHEWS: It is nice to know, isn`t it?

SIDDIQUI: It`s nice to know but that`s the reality.

MATTHEWS: I`m being sarcastic.

This guy, I don`t know about this. I just don`t know about this focus
group thing. Anyway. The guy said – Kornacki`s smart, so maybe he has
something figured out here. Here`s my question. They said they want
someone with more experience. There`s only two guys contesting this with
Trump, Two guys with less experience than doing anything with Trump.
That`s the two little debaters.

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, the one-season hand in this
race is Bush, but he`s –

MATTHEWS: Cruz and Rubio are debaters. They were high school
debaters. That`s all they`ve ever done.

And the other guys, building after building after building of – at
least they`ve done something. I want more executive experience. From
these two guys?

COSTA: Look, schools are closing in L.A.

MATTHEWS: The boys stink.

COSTA: Tonight, Rubio, Cruz, are going to try to make the case in
this time of unrest they have experience.

MATTHEWS: OK, I would ask them – I`m not – Wolf is quite able to
handle this tonight, I would ask them, how do you decide whether to close
the school? How would you make up your mind? You can`t go to experts,
because one will say close, one will say open. You`ve got to make a
judgment here and in your heart. You`ve got to be able to stick your neck


MATTHEWS: Tomorrow night, a drunk will call or somebody just for
having fun –


SIDDIQUI: I think Chris Christie is actually one to watch.

MATTHEWS: The governor?

SIDDIQUI: Yes, New Jersey governor, who`s actually gained in New
Hampshire, got the endorsement from the “New Hampshire Union Leader,”
especially because of his own renewed focus on –

MATTHEWS: Do you keep the bridge open or close the bridge, right?


MATTHEWS: He should know that one. He even said I closed the bridge


MATTHEWS: He can close the bridge down if he has to.

Robert and Sabrina are coming with us, they`ll come back and talk
about what they know. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back in Las Vegas.

By the way, the focus on tonight will be a lot about Trump and Cruz
and the other runners-up. There are others out there like Chris Christie.
There`s five other candidates in addition to that up on the stage tonight.
They are desperately trying to get into this fight.

Case in point: Jeb Bush, remember him, he suffered the most at the
hands of Trump. A look back at Bush`s trajectory over the last six months
says everything you need to know about his candidacy so far. He reached
his high point in mid-July and it`s been largely downhill. Look at that,
ever since.

NBC News crunched the numbers and found that ad spending and TV
spending on behalf of Jeb Bush far outpaces that of the other Republican
candidates. But it`s done them no good. His campaign and super PACs have
spent a total of $35 million on TV and radio, far more than the rest of the
field. And now, NBC News reports that former President George W. Bush is
calling top donors to make the pitch for his younger brother. We will see
if it makes a difference.

We`re back with Robert Costa and Sabrina.

Let`s talk about the other guys, the also-ran. Who`s going to make
the big effort to throw the ball tonight?

COSTA: My prediction, Kasich. In politics, they always say you got
to punch up. I think in this crowded race, you also have to punch to the
side. They`re all fighting within their lane. If are you in that New
Hampshire lane, if you are Kasich, battling Christie, battling Rubio,
battling –

MATTHEWS: Did he look in control the last time out?

COSTA: He was trying to be the anti-Trump.

MATTHEWS: He seemed a little bit out of control.

COSTA: I talked to his advisers a few minutes ago, they say he`s
going to focus on New Hampshire, not so much Trump.

MATTHEWS: What happens when Trump turns to him and said, Mr. 2
Percent, what are you here for?

COSTA: He`s got to shrug it off.

SIDDIQUI: I think that you`re actually going to hear a lot from Rand
Paul as well.

MATTHEWS: Rand Paul?

SIDDIQUI: He`s been pretty aggressive toward Marco Rubio. He spent a
lot of time attacking him over immigration, over surveillance. You have
this big debate going on over whether or not to restore the Patriot Act in
the wake of these terrorist attacks. Marco has been pushing that point

MATTHEWS: Why has he been a nothing in this campaign?

SIDDIQUI: Rand Paul?


SIDDIQUI: I don`t think he`s been able to successfully find his
coalition of supporters. He hasn`t made –

MATTHEWS: What happened to Paul, the Rand Paul coalition, 25 percent
of the voters?


COSTA: He`s authentic. The Rand Paul people think Rand Paul is not -


SIDDIQUI: Rand Paul was not prepared to defend his stance, for
example, when it comes to voting, giving more aid to Israel. He wasn`t
prepared to come out forcefully in favor of the Iran deal.

COSTA: And this libertarian moment never arrived. Everyone said
there`s going to be a libertarian moment in 2015. This age of fear, Paris,
people are turning towards the hawks in this party, not toward libertarian.


MATTHEWS: Libertarian, who are the libertarians anti-hawks? I think
Trump thought Iraq was a terrible war. He says it all the time.

COSTA: I wouldn`t say Trump is a dove. But he is a non-
interventionist. He doesn`t want to say ground troops abroad.

MATTHEWS: And Rand Paul, and who else is a non-interventionist?

SIDDIQUI: Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz doesn`t want to commit the ground

MATTHEWS: Who are the biggest hawks?

SIDDIQUI: Who are the biggest hawks? Marco Rubio, Chris Christie.

COSTA: Lindsey Graham.

MATTHEWS: Lindsey Graham doesn`t count.

COSTA: Christie and Rubio I think are really trying to fight, and
Bush as well.

SIDDIQUI: Bush except more he has to kind of get rid of the cloud of
his brother and foreign policy.

COSTA: Yes, but he`s now embracing a full hawk. He`s bringing W. on,
former President Bush to make the call, because if right now, if you`re
Bush and you are stuck in the single digits, you got to get those hawks,
those old school hawks.

MATTHEWS: If you`re against abortion under any circumstances, rape
and incest and all of that, any circumstance like Rubio and you are for an
aggressive policy, going into the Middle East to get with troops, how can
you possibly win the nomination?

COSTA: A generational argument. They think beyond those conservative
views, they can make the case if they`re a fresh new leader. That`s their

MATTHEWS: I think there`s a reason why Trump`s ahead. There`s a
reason why Cruz is challenging at some point. I think there is a reason
why people vote the way they voted.

I`m going to wait to talk about this. I`m going to watch this focus
group tonight. I want to see these people.

COSTA: I want to see the guy on the top right.

MATTHEWS: I think he`s going to have to make a call at some point.
He can`t keep coming back. Anyway, he keeps come back until he has – he
has to pick anybody.

When we come back, Robert and Sabrina will tell me something we don`t
know. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back in Vegas with Robert Costa and Sabrina Siddiqui.

Sabrina, tell me something I don`t know.

SIDDIQUI: Well, with this entire debate focused on national security,
you`re going to have a host of candidates saying Obama is not out fighting
ISIS, but not a single one of the candidates on that stage is done, is
specified how many ground troops they would be willing to deploy as
president in this fight against ISIS.

Lindsey Graham is the only candidate that said we need to send 10,000
troops to Iraq. No one else is actually willing to commit to any number.

MATTHEWS: You predict they won`t give us a number?


COSTA: I spoke to Trump hours ago.

MATTHEWS: Donald Trump?

COSTA: Donald Trump – I said, what is your strategy, Mr. Trump for
this debate? And he says, I don`t really have a specific strategy. I`m
just going to be me. I`m just going to be me.

I said, what does that mean? He says, look, I`ll take what comes at
me. I`ll just handle it as it comes.

I don`t think he`s coming here tonight to cut out Cruz or to go after
Bush or Rubio. He`s going to be a reactive person, and that`s dangerous
for some of his rivals.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s going to be wild tonight. I think he will be
reactive and he`ll get a lot of time because every time they take a shot at
him, he gets 30 seconds to whack them.

Robert Costa, Sabrina Siddiqui, don`t forget to join us again at 11:00
p.m. tonight Eastern. I`ll be back with two hours coverage with all the
good stuff, all the low lights too, they`re pretty good stuff.

And full analysis of the candidates` performances. Who is coming out
tonight, the winner?



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