Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/25/2016

Michelle Bernard, Tom Davis, Tara Maller, Nayyera Haq, Tad Devine, Colleen McCain Nelson, Eli Stokols, Jay Newton-Small


Date: March 25, 2016
Guest: Michelle Bernard, Tom Davis, Tara Maller, Nayyera Haq, Tad Devine,
Colleen McCain Nelson, Eli Stokols, Jay Newton-Small


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

A Republican campaign that reached the bottom yesterday is now being fought
in the sewers. First, it was a smear campaign pitting one candidate
against the other`s spouse. Well, today, it descended to a battle of rats.

It began with that on-line ad put out by the anti-Trump super-PAC showing
Donald Trump`s wife, Melania, in an old glamour shot for “GQ.” The ad
urged its targeted audience of Utah Mormons to vote for Ted Cruz.

Trump reacted with an ominous warning to Cruz that he was ready to “spill
the beans,” as he put it on Cruz`s wife, Heidi. Well, then Trump doubled
down by putting out a split screen of an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz
matched against a glossy photo of Melania Trump, a former model.

Well, today, Ted Cruz accused a Trump advocate of planting a negative story
about him that alleges marital infidelity, a story denied on the record by
several women.

Well, Ted Cruz firmly denied the allegation on social media and again with
reporters today.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a story that quoted
one source on the record, Roger Stone, Donald Trump`s chief political
adviser. Let me be clear. This “National Enquirer” story is garbage. It
is complete and utter lies. It is a tabloid smear. It`s not surprising
that Donald Trump`s tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out.

And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks
behind him. He`s a man for whom a term was coined for copulating with a
rodent. Well, let me be clear. Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no
desire to copulate with him. And this garbage does not belong in politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, in a campaign statement today, Donald Trump said he had
nothing do with that “National Enquirer” story.

I`m joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa of “The
Washington Post,” Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, and
former Virginia U.S. congressman Tom Davis. Thank you.

Robert, give us – this is pretty dirty stuff, but what – are there any
facts here about how this story got into “The National Enquirer,” any
stories about – and I don`t even believe any of those stories until
somebody else proves them because I don`t believe “The Enquirer`s a source
for facts.

But where are we this, anywhere but just smear back and forth, attack back
and forth?

evidence. “The Washington Post” has been trying to report out this story
just to understand what`s going on, and there is no evidence of anything
close to “The National Enquirer” at all at this moment. This a campaign
that has really devolved, and we`re watching it unfold in real time.

MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump issued this statement, denying any
involvement with the story today – in other words, he didn`t plant it. “I
have no idea whether or not the cover story about Ted Cruz in this week`s
issue of `The National Enquirer` is true or not, but I had absolutely
nothing do with it. Did not know about it and have not, as yet, read it.
Ted Cruz`s problem with `The National Enquirer` is his and his alone, and
while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards and many others, I
certainly hope that they are not right about lyin` Ted Cruz.”

Well, that is the most ridiculous statement. He, of course, is hoping it
is right, Robert. Why would he even say, I hope they`re not right about my
opponent, the lyin` Ted Cruz, as he put it?

COSTA: We`re just days away from the Wisconsin primary, and these two
campaigns are at odds at each in a way that`s – it`s almost historic, the
nastiness between Cruz and Trump, a personal animus. And that`s animating
the entire campaign.

And I think when you look at Trump`s social media activity, he – it does -
- has not brought evidence to the fore about Cruz at all, but he is
certainly not shutting down “The National Enquirer” story. And I think
that`s a statement of the rivalry between both of these men.

MATTHEWS: Now, Roger Stone is a well-known figure in political circles.
He`s – he`s a – he does inside jobs. Let`s put it that way. And he

COSTA: He`s a Nixon…


MATTHEWS: … you don`t want to put on television. Yes, he`s a Nixon guy.
He does stuff that don`t want to put on television, but he knows what he`s
doing. The question – is there any reason to believe that he is the
source of that story in “The National Enquirer”? If he was, why would he
put his name in it and why would – why would “The National Enquirer” put
him on as some sort of commentator on the story, rather than the source?
Would that be legitimate to do that, even for them?

COSTA: Here`s what I can report about Roger Stone. He still is in regular
contact with Donald Trump, but he is not part of the Trump campaign in any
formal way. And he actually left the Trump campaign last year, but he`s
still a long-time confidant, and he`s someone Trump is – you could call
him a Trump associate in a casual way.

And he was the lone person quoted in the “National Enquirer” story. So
this is someone with long ties to Donald Trump, is not part of the Donald
Trump campaign.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Ted Cruz`s response. Obviously, when your
wife`s attacked, on her looks, is basically the way that thing was set up -
- although she`s an attractive woman, they found a very unattractive
picture and they whacked her on that.

In this whole thing about Cruz and his infidelities, according to “The
National Enquirer,” nobody believes that until there`s some evidence in the
real world of any problem like that.

Does this seem to be a “National Enquirer” to you or a Trump story? Where
did it all come from? Can you tell now, at this point, trump sourced or
enterprised by “The National Enquirer”?

COSTA: In politics, when you`re a political reporter, things are floated
to you all the time, and 99 out of 100 times, nothing without evidence ever
floats to the top of the national political conversation. So it`s odd to
see something that has no evidence that is a “National Enquirer” story that
purports to know of five women. To even be talking about it is strange
because there are no actual facts and evidence.

MATTHEWS: Robert – how is this going to affect the Wisconsin primary on
the 5th of April, coming up pretty soon?

COSTA: Wisconsin`s a state that`s very conservative, socially
conservative. You look at the Milwaukee suburbs. That`s a group that has
elected an evangelical Republican like Scott Walker. They care about
issues. They care about social issues. And they also – I think this
nastiness is going to influence that contest.

MATTHEWS: Stay with us, Robert. Let me bring in Michelle on this one, and
Michelle and Tom, in that order. What do you make of this? I mean, I
don`t even like quoting “The National Enquirer,” but then the way it works
in the media – and I don`t like it, but it does – once Cruz reacts to it
and makes a big bold statement with all the language he used – it`s
provocative language that we have to be careful about using ourselves –
what do you say? He`s in the fight? He wanted to respond to it.

part of the – you know, of the national discourse on both sides, you know?
And I`m still so taken aback by the level of the discourse and the fact
that we are even having this discussion and having it at a national level.

Donald Trump, whether he placed the story or not, or was somehow involved,
you know, it almost – I`m wondering to the extent the Trump campaign
believes that he`s now running for the general and this is going to help
him. Donald Trump has made a career during this campaign season of
appealing to people who feel marginalized, and what we have seen, if you
take a look at some of the reporting elsewhere, is the advent of these
men`s rights groups who feel marginalized, they completely support Donald


BERNARD: They love this. They love the picture of his wife.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to what we think might be marginally true here.
Roger Stone loved to be interviewed by “The National Enquirer.” We know
that. He loved being called and allowed to do a commentary about a piece.
Suppose that`s all that was done here. By an associate of Trump`s jumping
in and saying – and basically helping to push the story by giving the
quote – is that grounds for Cruz to jump back at him and blame Trump?

TOM DAVIS (R-VA), FMR. CONGRESSMAN: I think when you lie down with dogs,
you get flees. And if you look at this campaign, every time that Trump
drags somebody into the mud with him, they`ve got tarnished. I mean,
Rubio`s undoing is when he got down in the mud and tried to take him head
on. You can`t win that fight. I think Cruz should have stayed on top of
this thing. Trump is already marginalized among a lot of voters. He
should have been more…

MATTHEWS: Could he have gotten away with that? You know politics. If he
had ignored a “National Enquirer” piece coming out this week…

DAVIS: You have to…

MATTHEWS: Can you ignore it?

DAVIS: You have to respond to this now. But this goes back a couple days
in terms of trying to meet Trump at his own level. You`re not going to
beat him at that. Let me just remind you of one thing. Wisconsin – Russ
Feingold won a three-way primary where he was trailing two weeks out with
two front-runners going after each other and throwing mud, and he came up
the middle as the clean guy. This is an opportunity for Kasich at this
point, to say, Look how low this thing is. Don`t we feel bad about it?
And come up through the middle. There`s a natural constituency…


BERNARD: Can I – remember, Wisconsin is – regardless of how conservative
it is, there are also conservatives in Wisconsin who believe that the woman
– a woman`s proper place is in the home, that you get a good-looking wife,
and she stays at home and she says nothing. Wisconsin is the state

MATTHEWS: You mean Stepford wife? You make it sound that way!

BERNARD: Look, Wisconsin is the state where they had a state legislator
publicly state on the record during a discussion about the reauthorization
of the Violence Against Women Act in Wisconsin, who said – and I`m
paraphrasing here, but very closely said, One could argue that money is
more important to a man than a woman.

So this entire Twitter war that is going on between Donald Trump and Ted
Cruz is appealing to men who believe exactly what that state legislator
said. And I think there`s no coincidence that this is happening right
before Wisconsin.

DAVIS: This is about Waukesha County, the heavy suburban county outside of
there, which is higher income, better educated, that this goes – this
doesn`t help anybody, to get in the mud.

MATTHEWS: I know. These kind of personal attacks have the potential to
further damage Trump`s support among women, of course. Our NBC News/”Wall
Street Journal” polls finds that 70 percent nationwide had – this is an
amazing number – had a negative view of Donald Trump, 70 percent. Among
Republican women voting in the primaries, 47 percent said that they cannot
imagine voting for Trump.

The poll also shows that Trump may face devastating losses among women come
November. In a hypothetical matchup between Trump and Hillary Clinton,
Clinton would win almost double the vote among women, 58 to 31.

Robert, thinking about this, the Clinton people over in Brooklyn, up there
in New York – are they sitting there somewhat enjoying this, thinking, My
God, they`re just putting film together for us. They`re giving us tape for
our ads for reference in news stories. We can just keep referring to Trump
and his attitude towards women?

COSTA: And it`s not just the Democrats in Brooklyn, it`s Democrats here in
Washington, who look at the Senate map, they look at gubernatorial races,
and even the House, Chris – even the House of Representatives, which most
people didn`t think months ago would be up and competitive.

Now Democrats believe privately, and some of them publicly, that if Trump
becomes the nominee and he turns off women to the extent that does in this
current NBC poll, new places could be in play that they never thought.

MATTHEWS: To me, Tom, it comes down to women being treated as they`re a
auditioning to be runway models, and that Donald Trump will pick the
latest, you know, and anybody else, he will diminish them as a human being.

DAVIS: Yes. They`re…

MATTHEWS: This is the way it comes across.


MATTHEWS: I thought Carly Fiorina, who was not a great candidate, was very
good on that point when she said, Every woman in America knows what you
meant when you knocked my looks.

DAVIS: Well, that`s certainly true for working, educated women in

MATTHEWS: They don`t want to be judged that way. Who would? Anyway…


MATTHEWS: Last thought.

BERNARD: We`ve got a gender gap. Women will elect the next president of
the United States if anything is the same as it has been in the past, and I
can see the commercials…

MATTHEWS: So where are you on this politically? Where are you – where
are you going to go? I can ask you this question.

BERNARD: Where am I going to go?

MATTHEWS: Yes, you going to vote for Trump or are you going to vote for
the alternative?

BERNARD: Well, I`m going to vote for the alternative. And I can tell you
right now, when the video comes out with men – I`m just going to quote one
person because I know we only have a minute – but the man who supports
Donald Trump who says that Heidi Cruz looks like a dog who needs to be put
down – that`s reported by the DailyBeast, or the man…

MATTHEWS: Who`s this guy?

BERNARD: These are from men`s rights groups affiliated with an
organization called the Red Pill (ph)…


BERNARD: But listen – and for the man who supports Donald Trump that says
Melania Trump looks like a good first lady, you know, to me, Bill Clinton
would not have been having, you know, an affair with the secretary at the
White House – if the first lady looked like that – every woman who sees
those commercials and sees people like that speak will be running…

MATTHEWS: Whose commercials are these?

BERNARD: … to vote for Hillary Clinton.


BERNARD: Whoever – whatever super-PAC or concerned citizen is going to
put these things together…


MATTHEWS: You`re feeding the idea out there right now!

BERNARD: I tell you, I would – would take…

MATTHEWS: I think you`re right.

BERNARD: … a quick sprint to Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Robert Costa. Thank you,
Tom Davison. (sic) Thank you, Michelle Bernard, for declaring.

And as Tom said, John Kasich is looking to break through this ugly fight
between Trump and Cruz and possibly win Wisconsin. Governor Kasich will be
my guest Monday night here on HARDBALL.

Coming up – with just over a week go to before the critical Wisconsin
primary, could Bernie Sanders actually topple Hillary Clinton and win the
Democratic nomination? Well, it`s a long shot, but it still could happen.
It really could. I`ll run these numbers.

Plus, illuminating – or eliminating ISIS (INAUDIBLE) just days after the
attacks in Brussels, Defense Secretary Ash Carter says U.S. air strikes
have killed the Islamic State`s second in command over in Syria. And it
comes just as Republicans have ramped up their criticism that President
Obama isn`t doing enough to defeat the terror network.

And the HARDBALL roundtable tonight`s here with new reporting on that nasty
fight between Trump and Cruz.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with that fandango between Trump and Cruz itself.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Coming up on Wednesday, Donald Trump will be my guest for
a special MSNBC town hall from Green Bay, Wisconsin. What a dateline
that`s going to be. (INAUDIBLE) he`ll be taking questions from voters just
before the crucial Wisconsin primary on the 5th of April. Be sure to tune
in Wednesday at a special time, 8:00 PM Eastern, for our town hall with
Donald Trump right here on MSNBC.

HARDBALL returns right after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Pentagon announced today that a
major ISIS leader has been killed. Here was defense Secretary Ashton
Carter this morning.


ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are systematically eliminating ISIL`s
cabinet. Indeed, the U.S. military killed several key ISIL terrorists this
week, including, we believe, Haji Iman (ph), who was an ISIL leader, senior
leader, serving as a finance minister and who also was responsible for some
external affairs. The removal of this ISIL leader will hamper the
organization`s ability to conduct operations both inside and outside of
Iraq and Syria.


MATTHEWS: Well, Haji Iman has been described as the organization`s second
in command and operations head. NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard
Engel broke the news this morning.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: American special operations forces
yesterday morning conducted a commando raid, stopping the car of the ISIS
second in command, who`s generally known as Haji Iman, a person who ran the
day-to-day operations of ISIS. American commandos first tried to arrest
him. The situation escalated, and Haji Iman and three others in that
vehicle in Syria were killed.

This is a serious intelligence victory. The U.S. clearly has a lot of
information, how to find the top ISIS leaders, and after yesterday`s
action, the will to go into Syria on a very dangerous mission and kill


MATTHEWS: For more on today`s news, I`m joined by NBC News terrorism
analyst Evan Kohlmann, Tara Maller, a former CIA analyst, and Nayyera Haq,
a former State Department spokeswoman.

Let me go right now to Tara, first of all. You start. What do we – what
– what good does it do – well, first of all, how hard is to kill one of
these guys? What effect does it have on the – on ISIS itself as a
powerful organization?

TARA MALLER, FMR. CIA MILITARY ANALYST: Sure. First of all, they wanted
to capture him. That also came out today. It said that they wanted to try
to capture him. We don`t know exactly what happened or if something went
wrong or if security was at stake. So they ended up taking him out. They
probably wanted to capture him for intelligence.

The effect that it will have – it`s necessary to do this. It`s not
sufficient. The organization will replace him. There are cells in other
parts in the world that are going to operate with or without the second in
charge of ISIS.

But it`s a blow to the group. You need to take back their territory. You
need to take out their leaders. But it`s going to be a – there`s going to
be a time lag until you see this having implications on ISIS`s capabilities
both within Iraq and Syria, and then let alone in terms of their
recruitment capabilities in other parts of the world.

MATTHEWS: Well, why don`t you try this, Nayyera? How do you take an
airplane – how many – were there helicopters went in and did it? OK,
they – they arrived. Didn`t anybody see them coming? Didn`t anybody –
don`t they have the capability to shoot them down? Don`t they have triple-
A fire? I mean, how do you – how did- how did this happen?

NAYYERA HAQ, FMR. STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: Well, this is part of the value
of having intelligence cooperation on the ground and having a full
coalition. so this is not just a U.S.-led effort. The effort against ISIL
has 60 – more than 60 countries involved, with local representatives. And
the Arab communities regionally are also working to stabilize the region
and combat ISIS.

This is a coalition effort. And that`s key to being able to execute these
types of raids and these types of high-profile target captures.

MATTHEWS: Evan, give us a sense of what you think it looked like, this

EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, look, there`s been a number
of these operations where special forces have been involved, trying to
track down senior ISIS members.

And the truth is, it`s not that easy to capture these folks alive. They`re
usually surrounded by bodyguards. They`re usually heavily harmed. And
they also are aware that if they`re captured, it`s very likely that
information is in their possession will be used by the U.S. to track down
further individuals.

So, look, there is no doubt this was planned. I`m sure they were already
prepared for the likelihood that this guy was not going to be captured

MATTHEWS: Was he in a car? Was he in a motorcade or was he in a building?
Do we know?

KOHLMANN: We don`t really know right now. There is reports that he was in
a vehicle and traveling, but there`s a lot about this we don`t know.

And it`s important to emphasize here that this is not the end-all be-all of
ISIS. Back in 2010, we killed the number one, number two and number three
guy, all at the same time. And, you know, two years later, ISIS took over
Mosul. It`s important to emphasize the impact is not negligible, but this
is not going to stop terrorist attacks from happening in Belgium.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Obama, who was on a diplomatic mission in Cuba
and Argentina this week, as we all know, came under criticism for not
cutting the trip shorter after the Brussels attacks the other day. Let`s


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While our friends and allies
are attacked by radical Islamic terrorists, President Obama is spending his
time going to baseball games with the Castros and standing at a press
conference with Raul Castro as a prop.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It`s outrageous that the
president of the United States is not in the Situation Room right now
planning to destroy ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are watching an Islamic State that is unfolding
their campaign plan in front of our eyes, and we see the president doing
waves down at a baseball stadium in Havana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a time when we have a crisis, is that the impression
he wants to convey? He is a great dancer, and maybe he didn`t want to
change his plans, but I`m not so sure he should be doing that.


MATTHEWS: Do you think there a connection here? I remember years ago,
when they killed Osama bin Laden, and the president was that weekend sort
of entertaining us at the Correspondent Dinner, he didn`t seem to have to
be there to get it done.

MALLER: Look, I think, for political optics, you make the argument that
maybe they want to be a little bit more careful about the types of
activities. But, realistically, every president during times of crisis
still engages in the normal trips they have planned, the normal activities
they have planned.

Online, there were some articles showing what Reagan had done during
various crises, what Kennedy have done, and they have done sort of
recreational activities. They need the downtime. And to be honest,
they`re having their intelligence briefings wherever they are. They have a
person that travels with them. They`re getting their PDB updates. They`re
in touch with the military.

MATTHEWS: Presidential daily briefing.

MALLER: Their presidential daily briefing.

So he`s getting and doing all the things he would be doing in the White

MATTHEWS: Could it be the president is showing he`s debonair in handling
the affairs of state as he normally would without any sign that he`s
engaged is another smack to the enemy?

HAQ: It I showing certainly that he is being presidential, and he`s able
to operate on multiple cylinders at the same time. Opening doors in Cuba,
after 50 years, and building the relationship is also essential to the
American economy.

And similarly, in Argentina, you cannot simply drop everything for one
moment. Now, this is part of what the presidential candidates on the other
side would like to think that there is only one thing you do at one time,
but I like seeing a president who is able to operate on multiple cylinders.

MATTHEWS: So, he can chew gum and walk at the same time.

HAQ: Walk and chew gum at the same time.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I would ask you, Evan, the same question, because
Charles Krauthammer, who I read religiously, even if I disagree with a lot
of the time, said he should have stayed on the trip, but he should have
skipped the ball game. What do you think?

KOHLMANN: Well, look, number one, this was a terrorist attack that did not
occur in the United States.

Had this been a terrorist attack that occurred in the United States or
specifically targeting American nationals, maybe it would be different.
But I think the real question is, what are the alternatives being offered
here? The Republicans seem to be feeling like the president should be
taking more firm action, but they don`t want to authorize him to use force
or to put ground forces inside of Syria.

The suggestion that`s been proffered by two leading Republican presidential
candidates has been to patrol Muslim neighborhoods or prevent all Muslims
from coming to the United States. And that makes a lot of sense, given
that at a time where we`re trying to secure the trust and cooperation and
goodwill of Muslims, we want to alienate and antagonize them.

It makes perfect sense. I don`t believe that they think this is really a
solution. They`re feeding this as populist propaganda. If they do believe
this, they have no business being elected president of the United States.
There are no Muslim neighborhoods in the United States. This is not

And Muslim neighborhoods? What about Dearborn? Those are Shiite Muslims.
Those are the worn enemy of ISIS. What possible good is patrolling those
neighborhoods going to do? This is hogwash. It`s nonsense. These are not
answers. These are distractions. These people should be ashamed of
themselves for wasting people`s time with this.

MATTHEWS: Pretty well said there. Evan Kohlmann, thank you for coming on
the program, as always.

Tara Maller and, thank you, Nayyera Haq.

Up next, path to victory? Bernie Sanders has racked up several wins, but
can he overcome the Clinton machine right now? I`m going to speak to some
top Sanders advisers, in fact, the one, Tad Devine, about how Bernie can
pull it off yet.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


what`s happening.

Officials are hoping a wildfire that spread from Oklahoma into Kansas will
be under control this weekend. It has been burned more than 620 square
miles and it`s the largest blaze in Kansas history.

Thousands of worshipers packed Saint Peter`s Basilica to solemnly mark Good
Friday. And pope also presided over a candlelit procession at Rome`s

And in about an hour, the Rolling Stones will play a free concert in
Havana. The show comes days after President Obama`s historic visit to the
island – back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Hillary Clinton is well ahead of Bernie Sanders in the delegate count, but
earlier this month, Nate Cohn of “The New York Times” mapped out how
Sanders could still win the nomination.

Cohn wrote: “Mr. Sanders should fare better over the second half of the
primary season, after black voters gave Hillary Clinton such a big
advantage in the first half. But the path to a majority of delegates is
nonetheless a daunting one. He would need to win the remaining delegates
by around a 58-42 percent margin”

Sanders knows he will have to crush, of course, Clinton in states such as
Wisconsin on April 5 and the delegate-rich states of California and New
York. He promises to fight all the way to the convention in Philadelphia
this summer, and is irked, Senator Sanders is, at the suggestion he should
drop out for party unity.

Here he is.


states that are going to be coming up in the next weeks and months will be
California, the largest state in our country, and New York state. We`re
working hard in those states.

And we think we have a good chance to win. Why in God`s name would we not
give the people of New York state and California the right to determine and
voice their opinion as to who the Democratic nominee would be? That`s
absurd. Of course, we would.


MATTHEWS: And Senator Sanders is getting a boost from progressive icon
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who told the Associated Press
yesterday – quote – “He is out there. He fights from the heart. And
this is who Bernie is. He has put the right issues on the table, both for
the Democratic Party and for the country in general. So I`m still cheering
Bernie on.”

That`s Elizabeth Warren. And she has not quite endorsed him, but that
sounded pretty good.

Anyway, joining me right now is Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Sanders
campaign, and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post”
Eugene Robinson.

I`m going to let you two guys fish this thing out together.

Tad, I do see this. What I have been saying on the air right now if you
haven`t watched the last couple of days, I see Bernie Sanders started last
week living off the land, as Jack Germond, the old pro, used to say. You
win a couple, you live off of that for a couple of days. You win a couple
more, you live off that for a couple more days.

He did well last weekend. He won two out of three. This weekend, he may
win three out of three, two of which, by the way, incidentally, are states
Democrats could well carry in November. They matter a lot more.

And then of course he can win in Wisconsin, and that will carry him into
the big states. Give it your way. How do you see this happening? If
lightning strikes and he becomes the nominee, how does he get to that pot
of gold? How does he get there?

by winning states and winning delegates. And that`s precisely the path
we`re on.

Listen, the first half of the process I think was very good for Hillary
Clinton. She had a lot of strength. We thought we had a way to win it
early, and that meant we had to win Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. We
came close, very – we couldn`t have come closer. We had a historic
victory in New Hampshire. We came up a little short in Nevada.

After that, we decided if we`re going to stay in this thing, first, we have
to demonstrate we can beat her on a statewide basis. We targeted five
states on Super Tuesday. We won four of them, three the next weekend. The
week after that, we tried to win delegates. We had a goal of 300. That`s
about how many delegates we won on March 15.

Now we have got to beat her in states in decisive battlegrounds. I think
if we do that, not just tomorrow, but in Wisconsin, which is a critical
general election battleground, I think we can have real momentum coming
into New York and all the way to California, and if we win enough states, I
think we can catch up in delegates, and then the Democrats are going to
have to make a tough choice.

Do you want to vote for Bernie Sanders, who I believe will be way ahead in
general election polls, or are you going to stay with Hillary Clinton after
she didn`t do well in the last half of the process?


EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the difficult thing there
in that plan, which is a real plan – I mean, it could happen. But it`s
kind of like pulling an inside straight, right?

You got to win Wisconsin, got to do well in the big states. Got to catch
up in delegates in order to start the wavering or the stampede of the
superdelegates, right, because she has got a big lead there.

MATTHEWS: Where is the toughest hill to climb? Is it New York on the 19th
of April? When is it harder?


ROBINSON: The toughest hill for Bernie Sanders is the one that`s in front
of you. So the toughest hill is Wisconsin right now. He has to climb
Wisconsin and get over that one, and then he can worry about – you are
going to worry about California.


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Wisconsin. And we talk about it. What do you
make of it?

First of all, Eugene, tell me. Well, tell me about Wisconsin. It has a
history which is hard to figure sometimes. They had Feingold there. Now
Feingold looks like the favorite, but they dumped him last time. How do
you that read if he messed – it`s a state that tends to go Democrat in a
presidential year.

ROBINSON: Exactly. It tends to go Democratic.

Is Wisconsin a lot like Michigan? You know, it`s close to Michigan. I
mean, you know, in some ways, it shares a lot of characteristics. That
could be good for Bernie Sanders, but you don`t know. You don`t know. He
has got a shot. He has got a shot there.

MATTHEWS: Tad, give me your sense of what looks good for you in Wisconsin,
because without that sine qua non, you have got to win that one. You have
said that. Bernie has been saying that. So, how do you do it? How do you
win Wisconsin?

DEVINE: Well, what`s good in Wisconsin, Chris, is that it`s an open
primary. Whenever we have had open primaries, beginning in New Hampshire,
and independents can come in, Bernie does very, very well. He has been
consistently beating Hillary with independents.

And that`s one of the reasons he is doing so well in the general election
matchup. And Wisconsin is also a place where reform is a very big issue,
and the heart of Bernie`s campaign is to reform the system of campaign
finance in America.

So, I think the issues he is talking about, a rigged economy, a corrupt
system of campaign finance, I think an open primary in Wisconsin, all of
those things are very good for Bernie.

MATTHEWS: And so that`s – I think that`s always been his number. I
always thought Citizens United was the great galvanizer.

ROBINSON: Yes, it`s the great galvanizer.

And people have really responded to Bernie Sanders` call for a political
revolution. Think about it. A year ago, would you have predicted that
Bernie Sanders would be where he is today?

MATTHEWS: No. Tad may have.

ROBINSON: It`s an extraordinary story.

MATTHEWS: Tad may have.


ROBINSON: Well, Tad may have. I don`t know if Tad would have or not.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about…

ROBINSON: No, but we would be talking about this as a mega, huge political
story, if it weren`t, to a certain extent, you know, drowned by the others.

MATTHEWS: I have been around to know where the happy spots of the
Democratic progressive side are, where people do come out even in the worst

Jimmy Carter, running for reelection, you know where we had our best crowds
the night we lost, the night before we lost? Oregon. Portland, Oregon and
Seattle. I know that. It`s the left – and that`s good. And these crowds
are huge.

And, by the way, Tad, would you explain this new poll that came out of
Bloomberg that has your guy ahead by a point? Because, although it`s an
outlier, what does it – does it tell you something that is going on right
now? I`m wondering. It has got Bernie ahead nationally right now.

DEVINE: Yes, I don`t know if we`re ahead nationally, but I think that poll
along with the CBS/”New York Times” poll earlier in the week, CNN/ORC poll
earlier in the week, they`re all saying the same thing to me.

And what they`re saying is that Hillary`s lead is diminishing nationally,
that the excitement around her candidacy is evaporating very quickly, that
people are looking for an alternative. And I think the big thing that is
happening right now is, voters are going to say, listen, don`t take this
voice away from me. I want to be able to make this choice myself.

That`s a very powerful argument and I think we`re going to make it all the
way to the end.

MATTHEWS: I think your candidate made a great point when he said we ought
to let California and New York vote. I always wonder why we have to let
them vote last. You could at least let them vote.

ROBINSON: Exactly. No, and I think it would – Bernie Sanders would be
doing a disservice to his many supporters in those states if he didn`t
continue campaigning as long as he can

He has the money. Here is the question, though. If at some point, perhaps
before New York and California, but if he doesn`t pull the inside straight,
if he is not – if he doesn`t win Wisconsin, if it doesn`t like he is going
to sweep the Northeast, and therefore he`s not going to be competitive with
delegates, how does he campaign the rest of the way?

And does he continue hitting Hillary Clinton, or does he campaign in more
of a way to foster party unity?

MATTHEWS: Well, we will leave that question for the next time we`re here
with Tad.

I have to say, though, as Joe Garagiola might have said, there`s a lot more
baseball this afternoon. This game ain`t over yet.

DEVINE: You`re right about that.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. And thank you to Joe Garagiola.

Thank you, Tad Devine. Thank you, Gene Robinson.

Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable takes up our top story tonight, Ted Cruz
vs. Donald Trump.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



REPORTER: So, yes or no? Will you vote for him if he`s nominee?

make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: That`s gotten that bad.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After dodging for the last 24 hours, Ted Cruz suggested today, you heard
him there, that he might not support Donald Trump if he does become the
Republican presidential nominee. It comes after Cruz yesterday threw down
the gauntlet, but then wavered on the very same question.


CRUZ: I don`t get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with
my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you`re sniveling coward, and
leave Heidi the hell alone.

REPORTER: So will you support him?

CRUZ: I`m going to beat him for the nomination.

REPORTER: That`s not answering the question, Senator.

CRUZ: I am answering the question. Donald Trump will not be the nominee.

REPORTER: He is leading right now. You look in the camera and said he is
a coward. Will you support him as the nominee?

CRUZ: Donald Trump will not be the nominee. Donald Trump is a gift
wrapped in a pink little bow for the Democratic Party. It hands the
general election to Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t answer the question, did he? From Hallie
Jackson of NBC. Did he? He didn`t say whether he`d endorse Donald Trump
of Trump becomes the nominee.

I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable. Colleen McCain Nelson is
White House correspondent for “The Wall Street Journal”, Eli Stokols is
national politics reporter with “Politico”, and Jay Newton-Small is a
correspondent with “Time” magazine.

Jay, the question goes to you first. Great reporting question, she pushed
him, she pushed him, he wouldn`t give an honest – I mean a real answer.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE: Uh-huh. And today, he`s all of a sudden
changes his mind and basically says, well, you know what, I`m not going to
support somebody who attacks my family, a guy who clearly just spent two
days attacking his family, right, especially with these reports that, you
know, smeared him in “The National Enquirer” and everything else. I mean,
it`s clear. I mean, is he saying he`s not going to support him as a

MATTHEWS: Trump has broken all the rules of civility here, putting out
pictures of – or retweeting, the latest phrase – retweeting picture of
his glamour wife with somebody of a picture of a terrible picture. When
this guy comes out with the crocodile tears and I just thought it was such
a performance art, it`s hard to really believe he is normal, Cruz is

Most people would react in a gut way, they wouldn`t give these
Shakespearean responses.

Ted Cruz, because we started early in the race with him, heaping praise on
Donald Trump, and about their bromance.

MATTHEWS: He was riding along with in a sidecar the whole time, you know?

NELSON: Right. And so, then, he went on to say, well, I gave my word, I
have to support the nominee, and then we saw what he said yesterday, and we
saw him take a big step, today, to say I don`t make a habit of supporting
people who attack my wife. He still didn`t say one simple word, with say

You have to wonder what it would take to simply say the word no.

MATTHEWS: Eli, how do you disaggregate this story? How do you even take
it apart as an editor tonight putting a newspaper out tomorrow? How do you
do it? Because somebody – did somebody feed something from the Trump
world about Ted Cruz to “The National Enquirer”, and then Roger Stone had a
chance to jump in as a commentator. Did somebody push that story? Did
they enterprise that story? Is there any truth whatever to it? No
evidence there is right now.

And then, on that story, everything else is built today. Speaking, it`s
hard for us to talk about it without mentioning “The National Enquirer,”
which we shouldn`t be doing.

ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Well, and it`s all very murky. Where it came from,
it looks like there might be some Trump fingerprints or finger prints from
people close to Trump on that story.

MATTHEWS: Because?

STOKOLS: Because of the Roger Stone being sourced and quoted in the story,
and also because of the fact that Trump has a relationship with the
publisher of “The National Enquirer”. So that`s what Cruz is pointing to
when he is making the allegation and saying this probably came from Trump.

MATTHEWS: What is the relationship? How tight?

STOKOLS: Well, this is just another – this is another media person in New
York that Donald Trump knows. He has been in that town for 30 years. And
I think it`s not a casual relationship. I mean, they know each other
fairly well.

But, again, you`re right. This doesn`t necessarily – I mean, it is
strange. The questions are for Cruz, they`re for Trump. Both of them seem
to be back pedaling on this, and Trump can shrug his shoulders and say, I
don`t know where it came from, but “The Enquirer” was right about John
Edwards, and kind of, you know, people can make their own decision.

And Ted Cruz doesn`t come of looking any better. Like you just talked
about it. I mean, the performance, pointing in the camera, it looked like
he practiced in his bathroom mirror 30 times that morning. And today –

MATTHEWS: I`m glad you said that.

STOKOLS: – to say, I don`t make a habit of supporting people who trash my
wife. Come on. Like say you`re not going to support him anymore. Rubio
did the same thing when he said, I`m going to fight Trump to the death, and
then, will you support him? Yes, probably.

MATTHEWS: He looked surprised – Jay, he looked completely surprised that
a reporter like Hallie Jackson would just ask him that. Like it was a
double take. Nobody said you`re going to be asked, and then the minute you
go out there, Senator, are you going to stick with your endorsement

NEWTON-SMALL: It`s just so bad for the female vote, the woman`s vote in
all of this. Donald Trump doubles down, and he says, you know, Melania,
like, you know, instead of being don`t objectify my wife, he doubles down
and tweets, look how beautiful my wife is, right? He is objectifying her
to women voters.

And, Ted Cruz, he is coming out championing for his wife, but he`s also a
guy who has used his wife as a prop in this campaign, never talks about her
Goldman Sachs record, and talks about, you know, says her baking skills,
you know.

MATTHEWS: Colleen, what about, you can`t say anything about my two kids.
Nobody said anything about his kids. He said my wife and my family. Is
this some family value thing he is courting here? Where he defends someone
who`s – nobody went after his kids.

NEWTON-SMALL: But that`s the whole point. This is appealing to religious
voters, right? Ted Cruz is trying to be like, I`m picture perfect family,
here`s my wife, here`s my kids, I`m defending the American way.

MATTHEWS: OK, Let me try something to you. I don`t think everybody is a
political junkie in this country. I figure, I don`t know anything about
hockey and a few other things. I pay attention to movie and politics and a
few other things. I figured the rest is covered.

But here are people that figure we`re covering the politics and they`ll
find out what they need by October 15th, they`ll start thinking about it
and they`ll be patriotic and voting, right? I think a lot of women who are
not covering this thing every night will hear about this.

This is the kind of thing I think will seep out into the real world –
looks-ism, trashing people`s appearance. It was only really magic moment
of Carly Fiorina`s campaign, when she said every woman in America will know
what you just said.

NELSON: Right. This is something that will reach the nonpolitical folks.
It`s interesting, because Donald Trump is very tactical about this in his
non-denial/denial, saying I wasn`t involved.

MATTHEWS: I`m not saying John Edwards in that story, we maybe have to
believe “The National Enquirer,” because they were right there. That was
pretty sneaky.

NELSON: When he says, well, I don`t know if this is true, but it`s a cover
story in “The National Enquirer”, and he keeps repeating the name of the
publication, in case you`re confused where you might be able to see it.
So, he is pointing people in the direction.

I hate to say anything will damage Donald Trump because he seems to be
Teflon, but this is resurfacing a lot of things he said about women over
the years, and so, people are re-visiting some of those things, and he has
already, we already see polls showing that 70 percent of women have a
negative view of Donald Trump. It`s not going to go up.

MATTHEWS: The round table is sticking with us, and up next, they`re going
to tell me something I don`t know. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Western voting swing continues tomorrow, with three more states
up for grabs on the Democratic side. Votes will be cast in Alaska, Hawaii,
and Washington state.

Tune in at 5:00 p.m. when Ari Melber will be here to anchor our live
coverage tomorrow starting at 5:00 p.m. That`s 5:00 p.m. Eastern right
here on MSNBC.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back again with the HARDBALL round table.

Colleen, tell me something I don`t know. Love that name, by the way.

NELSON: Thank you. There`s a skirmish brewing behind the scenes between
the two Democratic campaigns over debates, again. They had agreed to do
two more debates. One`s supposed to be in April. One`s supposed to be in
May –

MATTHEWS: In principle, yes.

NELSON: In principle, right. But there`s no details –

MATTHEWS: Who doesn`t want to debate?

NELSON: The Sanders campaign says they`re pushing for an April debate in
New York. They say that Clinton wants it to be in Pennsylvania. They say
that they don`t know why Clinton would be afraid to debate in New York when
she was elected to the U.S. Senate there, her campaign headquarters are
there. The Clinton campaign is not saying anything about the debates, but
at this point, there are no debates on the calendar.

MATTHEWS: It tells you what? Who`s more confident in Pennsylvania?
Hillary more confident in Pennsylvania than New York?

NELSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I think. Yes.


STOKOLS: I think this week, one of the things, in my reporting, you come
across talking all these Republicans, they`re lining up behind Ted Cruz.
That`s the storyline. The guy who really drove the Tea Party and the base
away from the establishment. The establishment`s giving him the keys to
the castle. Don`t believe the hype.

None of these people like Ted Cruz any more than they did a week ago. None
of these people think he can win against Hillary Clinton any more than
Donald Trump. What they look at him and see is the last train to the
coast, the coast being Cleveland.

They just want to get to this convention and then they may fold, they may
throw Cruz under the bus –

MATTHEWS: Do they have a favorite in hiding?

STOKOLS: I think anybody. Scott Walker has talked about this. There`s
Romney. There`s Ryan. There`s all these people out there. But it`s just
kind of let`s just open it up at the convention. So, don`t believe that
everybody wants Ted Cruz to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS: I like that thinking. In the end they`re going to need a

NEWTON-SMALL: Mine is actually not on politics tonight. It`s about

And I`ve heard from European ambassadors that they say that this crisis,
the security crisis in Europe is the biggest existential crisis to the
European Union. They`re very worried that the British will exit. They`re
very worried that as the borders go up in each individual country in the
union, that the fiscal union will soon dissolve, let alone the political
one. And they say this is the worst existential crisis that the Europe
Union has ever faced.

MATTHEWS: I wish they had best practices and do the best they can. Find
out who`s doing the best job with security and match that.

Anyway, thank you for our whole roundtable, Colleen McCain Nelson, Eli
Stokols, and Jay Newton-Small.

When we return, let me finish with this fandango we`ve been talking about
between Trump and Cruz.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this fandango between Trump and Cruz.
If you`re refereeing this bout between the top two contenders for the
Republican presidential nomination, what rule book would you consult? Is
there a Marcus of Queensbury standard once a fight gets this unruly, this
dirty? No punching below the belt?

You`ve got to be kidding me. I think Marco Rubio busted that rule right
out of the ring when he spoke giddily of Donald Trump`s small hands. And
we all know what that means, he added, in high school fashion.

No head butting? Well, that can`t be illegal. Not at this stage. Trump
went after Jeb Bush`s slow-mindedness early blasting him again and again as
low energy, that he couldn`t keep up the pace when the blows went flying.
He didn`t have the candle power to keep swinging when the big boy, that
would be Donald Trump, started landing the hard ones.

Actually, it did seem like Trump`s thumping on Jeb`s noggin was having a
certain effect. How would you like someone to pound you again and again
for being slow-witted all the time engaging in the kind of street talk you
were brought up to avoid as well as avoiding the kind of boys who talk it.

So, today this national bout we`re watching between Trump and Cruz
descended even lower. The other day, it was about the appearance of their
wives. Well, today it was about the alleged rats they have in their corner
and the sort of political perversity such rats are known for.

Remember that 1980 championship fight when Roberto Duran was in a bloody
losing bout with Sugar Ray Leonard and turned to the ref in the eighth
round and said “no mas,” no more? I think that`s what many American voters
are thinking about this Republican contest right now. No more.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” with Chris Hayes starts right now.


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