Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/16/17 It’s decision time for Republicans
Date: August 16, 2017
Guest: Karen Bass, Leonard Lance, Ric Anderson, Susan Page, Lecia Brooks,
Brian Levin, Ayesha Rascoe, John Feehery
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Un-American.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Let`s talk Nazis. We have a president of the United States defending
people who march with Nazis, if they`re not Nazis themselves. And we have
a movie now in the theaters, “Dunkirk,” about fighting the Nazis in World
War II. The SS units, by the way, closing in on that French beach, the
Deaths` Head units, were executing the British soldiers who had fought to
their last round of ammunition to protect their fellow troops. Those SS
units were the same monsters that later ran Dachau and the other killing
camps that exterminated six million Jews.
We have a president who is now saluting the “fine people,” he said, who
descended in Charlottesville last weekend with torch lights amidst
swastikas and Nazi salutes. He`s now on record, Trump is, and he hasn`t
taken a word of it back. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that
were very fine people – on both sides. There were people in that rally –
and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting
very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. You had a lot
of people in that group that were there to innocently protest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, what the president apparently fails to understand is that
a fine person wouldn`t march alongside the Nazi ranks shouting Nazi
slogans, as we saw on Friday night. Fine people do not choose to engage in
a torchlight parade that echoes the rallies held by the Third Reich in
Anyway, today in the headlines and editorials across the country, we`re
seeing the outcry and indignation over the president`s comments. As “The
“Washington Post” editorial board described it, quote, “Tuesday was a great
day for David Duke and racists everywhere. The president of the United
States all but declared he” was – well, he “has their backs.”
The cover of “The New York Daily News” reads, “Sympathy for the devils.
Trump defends very fine people at Nazi rally.” Even the usually pro-Trump
“New York Post” mocked the president`s own words saying, “They weren`t all
Well, the editorial board of “The Las Vegas Sun” labeled Trump the first
un-American president, saying, quote, “There`s no rectifying this with an
apology or another statement. He`s clearly too cowardly to fight groups
that Americans will not tolerate, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white
supremacists among them. That alone has made him the first un-American
president because this nation stands for fighting those hate groups, not
Well, joining me right now is Rick Anderson, editorial page director –
editor, rather, of “The Las Vegas Sun, who had that editorial, Steve
Schmidt, Republican strategist and an MSNBC contributor, U.S. Congresswoman
Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, and Congressman Leonard Lance.
He`s a Republican from New Jersey. Thank you all for joining.
I want to go right now to Mr. Anderson, Rick Anderson. Tell me about
coming out with an editorial basically labeling the president of the United
RIC ANDERSON, “LAS VEGAS SUN”: Well, Chris, this was a pretty
uncomplicated issue for us. I mean, this is an ideology that Americans
have been fighting this 70 years. There`s nothing easier in America than
saying no to this ideology, and you really have to wonder about somebody
who`s hedging on it.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think the president meant when he said “fine
people,” fine people in the ranks amid those swastikas, the Nazi saluters,
and of course, the Nazi slogans that they were slinging out there?
ANDERSON: I`m mystified. You know, I think that for a person who during
the campaign speeches was often dropping names of World War II generals,
you know, it makes no sense to me. And you know, you have to think about
this from the standpoint of, what if you`re a Holocaust survivor? What if
you lost a family member in World War II, one of the 400,000-plus
servicemen and women who died fighting Nazi ideology? You know, what if
you were one of those soldiers yourself? I`m just mystified by it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman Bass. What do you make of the
president? He seems to be in cement on this. He`s with – at least in
spirit, he`s with what he calls the “fine people” among the ranks of the
REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, right. Exactly. I mean, you know,
I just think of my father who I know turning over in his grave right now,
who fought during World War II.
But you know, there`s the things that he says that sound so outrageous, but
I`m way more concerned about his policies that, frankly, are consistent
with that. If you just think about, you know, his attack on Affirmative
Action, rolling back the consent decrees…
MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute! Wait a minute!
BASS: … the voter suppression…
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. Are you…
MATTHEWS: Are you saying opposition to Affirmative Action, which is a
statutory police of the United States right now, in some cases – you`re
saying that that is the same as going along with people who are with Nazis?
BASS: No. What I am saying is…
MATTHEWS: You just did!
BASS: … is that the racism that he displayed yesterday in his press
conference, he has policies that are consistent with that.
BASS: That is what I`m saying. And so it is one thing to be upset about
his words, but I am far more concerned about the direction of his
administration and the policies that he`s putting forward – voter
suppression, the commission that he has, essentially him saying that it`s
OK to be brutal, to police. He is sending a signal…
BASS: … to the white supremacists that it`s OK to attack demonstrators.
And he`s been consistent with that.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Steve Schmidt. I think you disagree with that, but
go ahead. Your thoughts, Steve. I think we can argue about Affirmative
Action, where it`s appropriate and where it`s not, but we can`t argue about
Nazism. And whether you associate with it or not is to me a principled
question, not a political one. Your thoughts.
STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is
the most important inflection point in politics in my lifetime. It`s an
extraordinary moment. Nazism, this evil regime, the most evil in all of
humanity, killed 60 million people in Europe, nearly annihilated the Jews
of Europe. 400,000 Americans died fighting it.
The young men who were marching under torch light chanting those anti-
Semitic slogans – they venerate Adolf Hitler. They venerate the evil
regime. And it requires not just a condemnation of Nazism and white
supremacy and extremism, but political leaders are required now to
reprimand Donald Trump publicly for his false equivalency to legitimize
Let`s be clear. These groups are in celebration tonight. They think that
they`ve been validated by the president of the United States, that they`ve
been mainstreamed, that they`ve been given a license to operate.
MATTHEWS: Well, have they?
SCHMIDT: And the silence of Republican leaders…
MATTHEWS: Has – has he – objectively – objectively…
SCHMIDT: Oh, of course…
MATTHEWS: Has the president given his blessing to them?
SCHMIDT: Yes. Yes. He has inspired them. Let`s look at what they say
and let`s take what they say seriously. Let`s not try to interpret it.
MATTHEWS: I think you`re right.
SCHMIDT: Let`s take it at face value in the English language. They are
thrilled beyond words. And so this issue for – for – for Republican
leaders in particular is an existential one. The Republican Party cannot
exist in a coalition with extremist groups, whether they`re alt-right, neo-
Nazi, Ku Klux Klan. There must be severability. There is no place for
this in American politics.
And the lack of Republican leaders who are coming out and calling out the
false equivalency is chilling.
MATTHEWS: Let me to go Congressman Lance, Leonard Lance of New Jersey,
sir, because I remember Trump rather horridly once said that he could shoot
somebody on 5th Avenue and his people would still be with him. Is this –
it seems like he`s getting close to that standard now. He can say
anything, whether it`s what he said to Billy Bush on that bus or what he
says now about Nazism, which is a whole exponential difference from what he
talked about before about treatment of women.
Here he goes talking – he`s saluting these people who he says are fine
people who are marching along with swastikas and talking about “blood and
soil” and using the – some of them using the Nazi salute, and he`s
defending them in spirit.
Is this equivalent to shooting somebody on 5th Avenue? How far can you go
with this guy?
REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I was very critical yesterday in my
tweet, Chris, and there should be no place in America for neo-Nazis or
anti-Semites or white supremacists or members of the KKK.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at the strong reaction – there`s been
some – to his statements. A leaked talking points memo, by the way, shows
that the White House is officially doubling down on the president`s
Catch this. This is what they`re told to parrot. “The president was
entirely correct,” says the talking points. “Both sides of the violence in
Charlottesville acted inappropriately and bear some responsibility.”
Well, Politico further reports, quote, “The president felt the news
conference went much better than his statement on Monday.” So he`s happy
with who he is now. And according the Vice News, the president has yet to
even call the mayor of Charlottesville to talk to them.
Let me go back to Ric Anderson in this. It seems like the president is
happy with who he was yesterday, not happy when he was reading the lines
written for him on Monday.
ANDERSON: Yes. I can`t explain that. It`s another mystifying element in
this. You know, I don`t understand why there was any need to come back
from the statement on Monday, which was strong. You know, you can argue
that it was kind of woodenly delivered.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I`d say.
ANDERSON: But I think it said the things that needed to be said, and I
really don`t understand, you know, except for maybe somebody having a bit
of a lack of self-control and self-discipline, why you would come off of
MATTHEWS: Well, he did, didn`t he. He broke out of that straitjacket.
Anyway, some Republicans were ready to correct the president about the
participants in that rally. Let`s watch attempts to deal with that
honestly. Let`s watch here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think about what you
have seen. You know, as one of the reporters said, reminiscent of what we
saw in Germany in the 1930s. The president has to totally condemn this.
REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: If you`re showing up to a Klan rally, you`re
probably a racist or a bigot. And saying that, saying anything other –
the images I saw were skinheads and neo-Nazis beating up women and trying
to poke people with – with – with flagpoles.
ERIC CANTOR (R), FMR. VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: Very sensitive for me. I`m
from Virginia and as someone of the Jewish faith. Then when you go in and
say there`s blame on both sides – no. There`s not equivalent blame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, others issued very pointed rebukes of the president
himself on Twitter. Mitt Romney corrected the president, saying, “No, not
the same. One side`s racist, bigoted, Nazi. And the other opposes racism
and bigotry. Morally different universes.”
Ohio congressman Steve Stiver said of the president, “I don`t understand
what`s so hard about this. White supremacists and neo-Nazis are evil and
shouldn`t be defended.” And good, old Lindsey Graham said to the
president, “Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.”
However, many in the Republican Party, including Speaker Paul Ryan and
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, took a more muted approach and did
not admonish the president directly. Senator McConnell said, “We can have
no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-
Nazis.” However, he didn`t say anything about Trump.
And Speaker Ryan, as well, said, “We must be clear. White supremacy is
repulsive. The bigotry is counter to all this country stands for and there
can be no moral ambiguity.”
Congresswoman Bass, it seems to me that the Republicans are playing – to
use a high school (INAUDIBLE) grade school term – playing chicken here.
Instead of challenging the president for what he said, which is the issue -
- we`re not arguing about Nazis, we settled that 70, 80 years ago, what we
think of them – but about the president`s inability to separate himself
from the spirit of what went on in Charlottesville.
It seems like your Republican colleagues – not that you hang around with
them too much – have a real problem with saying, You`re off base, Mr.
President. I can`t stand with you on this one.
BASS: Well, I think that`s absolutely right. I think they need to call
him by name. But I also think that when we get back in session, that it`s
time for action. They need to act. They need to definitely push him on a
number of various policies. And they made – should not shy away from it
at all. It looks very cowardly.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me to go to – let me go to Congressman Lance on that.
Do you expect anybody to come forward and going after the president? I
mean, he was supposed to have an agenda this week. He was supposed to be
doing things like tax reform. And everybody agrees we can do something on
tax reform. And almost everybody I know on this planet believes in
infrastructure. And yet he booted it and started talking about the Nazis.
LANCE: I think we will have a very busy September, Chris. We have to…
MATTHEWS: You`ll have to.
LANCE: … pass appropriations bills and deal with the debt crisis, the
debt ceiling. And I think that this will be a very challenging and I hope
productive time in September.
And I have a suggestion to make. When we get back. Maybe we should pass a
new Voting Rights Act. And I think that that would be a good thing to do.
And I think that that would show that we`re all working in a bipartisan
As you know, yesterday, Chris, I mentioned the president. I said, Mr.
President – I used his title, and I`m not afraid to criticize the
president where I think he`s wrong.
But let`s work in a bipartisan capacity in September on these important
national issues, and I`m certainly willing to work with my colleague,
MATTHEWS: Yes, I hope you spend some time – I hope you guys spend some
time working on encouraging people to vote and not going after voters.
Anyway, Trump also announced that he`s disbanding two of the presidential
advisory councils he created – they`re business groups – after multiple
business leaders on the Manufacturing Council resigned over his handling of
Charlottesville. The president made the announcement in a tweet saying,
“Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing
Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, I`m ending both. Thank you all.”
Steve, you`re the political professional here, so let me ask you this.
He`s basically amputated his relationship with the business community
because he can`t get them to go along with what he said on these – this
social question, really values question about what happened in
This is to me a real problem because if there – if you believed in
Trumpism, if not in Trump, you believed there was a chance to push economic
growth, there`s a chance to restore our manufacturing base, to do
infrastructure. And that seems to be something he`s willing to amputate
now, to get rid of, the good stuff.
SCHMIDT: The business community writ large in wholesale has amputated
MATTHEWS: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) you`re right.
SCHMIDT: And if you look at the president`s rhetoric on policy, these
policy issues materially, most of them, if they were to be implemented
would be in the business interests of those companies that all got off of
the – got off of the council.
The reason that they got out of the council is because of the moral
dimensions of this issue. And the business community is far ahead of the
political leadership. And of course, the political leadership has not
reconciled itself to what their obligation fundamentally is here.
It`s the duty of each generation to bear witness to the magnitude of Nazi
crimes, which is why it is so important that this false equivalency be
rejected for the generations who don`t understand what Nazism was because
they haven`t read history books or they didn`t know grandparents who fought
it. They must know through our testimony of what the magnitude of these
crimes were and the most horrible period of human suffering in the history
of the world.
And so this is such a moral failure…
MATTHEWS: I agree.
SCHMIDT: … on the part of leaders in the House. And they should not be
approaching this as an issue, calculating about the mid-term. They should
be dealing with this through the prism of its effect on the fabric of
America. Nazism is not just an affront to all of our American ideals and
all the values of human dignity. It`s an affront to the face of God.
And I would say to Paul Ryan in the words of John Paul II, Be not afraid.
Do not be afraid. Do the right thing here. This is important for the
institution of the Republican Party. This is the moment in your career
where you have been called to make a moral leadership decision.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. So well said. Steve Schmidt, Ric Anderson
of “The Las Vegas Sun” and thank U.S. Congresswoman Bass of California and
Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey.
Coming up, reaction from inside the White House. Steve Bannon is
reportedly thrilled with what Trump said yesterday. But will any members
of president – any of them resign in protest? There`s some people in
there very sensitive about this Nazi stuff, very sensitive, and they don`t
like it one bit. We`ll see if they quit.
Plus, Trump blames the so-called “alt left,” the protesters confronting the
neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Tonight, a closer look at those groups, who
they are and why extremism experts say there can be no moral equivalence
between the two sides.
And when will enough be enough for the Republican Party? That`s our
question of the night. It`s been asked before during the Trump era, but
the events of the past few days may well mark a turning point – we`ll see
– for this president and the party that still support him.
Finally, let me finish tonight with “Trump Watch.” It`s a doozy.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, a memorial service was held today for Heather Heyer, the
young woman who was killed during last Saturday`s violence in
Charlottesville. Heyer`s mother was among those that spoke at today`s
service, calling on the crowd to honor her daughter`s legacy by fighting
injustice. How appropriate. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN BRO, MOTHER: Remember in your heart if you`re not outraged, you`re
not paying attention. And I want to you pay attention, find what`s wrong,
don`t ignore it, don`t look the other way. You make a point to look at it
and say to yourself, what can do I to make a difference? And that`s how
you`re going to make my child`s death worthwhile. I`d rather have my
child, but by golly, if I got to give her up, we`re going to make it count.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Boy, is that sad. We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Yesterday`s combative and astounding exchange with reporters was pure,
unadulterated Donald Trump. Like a tiger who had just been fed from –
freed from its cage, the president finally lashed out against the media,
blaming at both sides, as he put it, for the violence down in
His aides who were present were left – look at this poor guy – stunned
and uncomfortable. Most notable, there he is, chief of staff, the general,
John Kelly, who was caught on camera with his head down in remorse. He was
bowed, his arms crossed. Look at him.
Publicly, administration officials refused to address the comments of the
president`s. But let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Bother either of you to see Nazis supporting this
ELAINE CHAO, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: We`re talking about
CHAO: I`m talking about infrastructure.
GARY COHN, PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMIC ADVISER: As Secretary Chao said, we`re
here to take questions on infrastructure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God, Gary Cohn is a stalwart fellow.
Anyway, privately, according to Politico, it left his aides startled. And
specifically Gary Cohn, the man you just saw there, director of national
economic policy – quote – “was particularly displeased and today there is
a distinct feeling of a White House on edge.”
But “The New York Times” went further, reporting that while Gary Cohn was
reportedly disgusted and deeply upset, Jewish members of President Trump`s
administration remained largely silent. I don`t think silence is consent
Vice President Pence did not remain silent, however, voicing his support
from South America. And here`s the V.P.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in
Charlottesville was a tragedy. And the president has been clear on this
tragedy and so have I. I spoke at length about this heartbreaking
situation on Sunday night in Colombia. And I stand with the president and
I stand by those words.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess he has to.
Anyway, none of Trump`s aides have publicly criticized the president and
nobody has quit.
For more, I`m joined by Robert Costa, political reporter for “The
Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst, and Susan Page, of course,
Washington bureau chief for “USA today.”
Robert, you and Susan are good students of this president. I think we all
try to be. I`m about the people around him, people, Jewish people
especially, but I don`t want to narrow anybody down. Everybody, I would
think, would be offended. But they are people that have to go back to
their families and explain they work for this guy, back to their friends,
They got to hang out with people they have spent their lives with. And
they are going to have to explain why do they stay loyal to a guy who seems
to have a problem with condemning Nazism and people who like to consort
ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is the question right now on the
minds of many Trump administration officials.
My reporting backs up what you said, that Mr. Cohn is deeply frustrated
with the president`s remarks, also frustrated that his initiatives on tax
reform and infrastructure really weren`t the focus of Tuesday`s event at
I think a lot of them are facing choices right now. But they have seen
internally, Chris, for months a president who follows his own cues, who is
very aggressive when it comes to these kind of events and these kind of
controversies. So they have seen it up close. And they have to all decide
now, do they stick with it?
MATTHEWS: You know, I always tell young people, one of the little bits of
advice I give people who come to Washington, I say, first of all, bring
your values with you, because you`re not going to get them here. You
better bring them in the door with you.
Number two, pick your boss. He picks you or she picks you, but make sure
you pick the right one, because Roy Cohn once said, not that he was a day
at the beach, he said, I will always be known as the guy that worked for
And if you work for Trump now, and especially if you`re Jewish, or you have
– or anybody that has a conscience, you have to go, wait a minute, I can
work for that guy the way he talks? I think it is going to be a problem.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”: I think there`s
probably, undoubtedly a calculation going on with people who now work for
But I think you can see the effect already on Trump having, the president
having difficulty hiring new people. Look at the communications job.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Who is coming knocking on the door?
PAGE: Now today they named Hope Hicks as an interim, as an interim.
But that`s clearly not her particular wheelhouse. She`s got lots of
skills. That`s not one of them. They have been unable to find a really
credible person to take that job. And I think the experience yesterday at
that news conference is going to make it harder to hire good people for all
kinds of presidential appointments.
MATTHEWS: What do you think Trump is going through mentally right now? I
don`t know morally.
But he probably knows – he looked happy yesterday. And I know this sounds
bizarre and even sick. He looked unhappy on Monday when he was reading the
script, the politically correct script, which was morally correct script.
Yesterday, in lashing out at the press, he seemed happy.
COSTA: I have asked my sources about that, Chris, and they say, one, he
liked being at home at Trump Tower. He was going to be more unbridled as a
political persona, a political character because of that comfort.
And, also, he was never comfortable with the state he was given as revised
statement for Monday. He wanted to say more. He`s been digesting cable
news. He`s been fuming at the coverage of his handling of the tragedy in
And so it`s unsurprising to many of his confidantes that he lashed out at
the press on Tuesday.
MATTHEWS: Is he able to meet – I know people who go to the White House,
even if you have a big job at the White House, an old friend of mine once
said, do you have any new friends? Notice any new friends?
You can`t really trust people once you get into a job like the White House,
especially if you`re president, because everybody is sucking up to you.
But it seems to me Trump is in a different world right now. People aren`t
sucking up to him. I think they kind of get distance from him. Is Trump
able to recruit now? Is he able to network and find people to fill all
these positions in his government, given this atmosphere?
COSTA: The short answer is no.
In fact, Chris, he is becoming more of an isolated figure. You see
corporate America moving away from his business councils today. You see
the Republican Party ratcheting up its rhetoric when it comes to criticism
of President Trump.
He is someone who is turning on his inner circle, to his longtime
communications aide Hope Hicks, making her the interim communications
adviser. He has this tight-knit circle. That`s who he is talking to and a
circle of friends on the phone, but not many other people.
MATTHEWS: I have noticed over the years, one thing I have noticed is that
when political movements atrophy, when they reduce themselves to just the
core clique, the clique, they`re dying.
He may be dying politically, because he can`t grow like this.
PAGE: I think that he is less distressed by the criticism he`s getting
from Republican officeholders and more distressed by the flight of
corporate CEOs from even being willing to serve on an advisory council with
him, because what is his argument?
MATTHEWS: Well, Steve Schwarzman couldn`t have been happy. People like
him could not have been happy to be on those boards. And probably Steve
and others are lucky he disbanded them.
PAGE: Yes. You can`t quit. I fire you. That was Trump`s approach today.
And this goes to the heart of Trump`s appeal, that I`m a business guy who
can bring in other business CEOs and we can get things done for the U.S.
economy. Now these corporate executives are not even willing to sit down
MATTHEWS: Well, the stunning one was Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.
Robert, when labor was ready for a Republican to come along and build,
build, build, even in the Keystone pipeline, build, rebuild Penn Station,
rebuild LAX airport, put a train across the country, all those
opportunities to put people to work in real hard jobs, good jobs, high-
And now they have quit his council. The labor guys. It`s an astounding
loss of what could have been at least a bright side of this administration.
COSTA: There was certainly an appetite, Chris, among labor leaders to work
with the administration on infrastructure, certainly an appetite among
corporate titans, Wall Street types to work this administration on tax
But when I was talking to Trump advisers today, they described an almost
crippled atmosphere politically because of the injection of racism and talk
of white nationalism and Nazism into the national political conversation.
That draws almost – that draws to one to your political center.
MATTHEWS: I would blame it on sabotage, but the guy who committed the act
was the guy at the top.
Thank you, Robert Costa. Thank you, Susan Page. You guys know what you`re
Up next: President Trump argues that both sides are to blame for the
violence in Charlottesville, OK, that the so-called alt-left bears just as
much responsibility for the bloodshed as the neo-Nazis do and the KKK
people. We will see.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there`s blame on
both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don`t have any doubt
about it either. And – and – and, if you reported it accurately, you
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, that`s reported accurately. That was President Trump doubling down
on his claim that both sides, that`s his phrase, are to blame for the
turmoil down in Charlottesville.
Well, President Trump declared that there were fine people among the
protesters, which included white nationalists and alt-right marchers and
Nazis, and the counterprotesters included were to blame.
He also singled out members of the so-called alt-left, whatever that is,
for escalating the violence. Let`s hear him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the
alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you putting what you`re calling the alt-left
and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
TRUMP: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane.
What I`m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group
on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and
horrible, and it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side.
There was a group on this side – you can call them the left – you`ve just
called them the left – that came violently attacking the other group.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, invoking the term alt-left, the president created, you
might say, a moral equivalence, I think, between the neo-Nazis and KKK
member in one group and the counterprotesters known as Antifa, or anti-
While there were self-professed anti-fascists, of course, among the
protesters down in Charlottesville on Saturday, some reportedly wielding
clubs, as the president noted, it was an alleged Nazi admirer who is now
accused of plowing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one
woman and injuring 19 others.
For more, I`m joined by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study
and Hate and Extremism, California State University, Lecia Brooks, outreach
director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Lecia, educate us to this.
What – when we`re talking with the Antifa crowd, what are they really? I
know their name is anti-fascist. Do they only go after fascists or do they
go after anybody, say, in the global economic community they don`t like?
LECIA BROOKS, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: No.
They are strictly principled anti-fascists. And what they see in the Trump
administration and what they see happening in this country, they see the
neo-fascism that we see.
And they have taken a principled stand to stand against white supremacists
and white nationalists wherever they may show up. I like to point out that
Antifa at Charlottesville protected peaceful protesters.
I don`t know what President Trump was talking about.
MATTHEWS: Who were waving the clubs on that side? I mean, I looked at
pictures that people were jumping in.
BROOKS: They were protecting themselves.
MATTHEWS: There was one group that was jumping in and punching the Nazi
I have seen pictures from – I have seen a lot of pictures, like you have.
And I have seen people reaching in and slugging them. Who were those
BROOKS: Yes, but they – they may have been part of Antifa. Antifa is not
a nonviolent group. So, let me just say that.
And the Southern Poverty Law Center certainly prefers and promotes
nonviolent protests. But I do want to point out that there`s no moral
equivalency between white supremacists, white nationalists, and Antifa.
MATTHEWS: Well, I know. I know. I`m with you on that.
Let me ask you about this use of the term fascist. I remember in grad
school, way back in the `60s, I first heard to somebody refer to a fascist
as a business, anybody working in the administration at the time. Anybody
working for Johnson. Anybody in the government. Any businessperson was a
How loose a term is that for the Antifa people?
BROOKS: They`re very serious about it.
MATTHEWS: I know they`re serious objectively.
But how wide a sweep do they say fascist? Do they mean Mussolini people?
Who do they mean? Anybody they don`t like?
BROOKS: No, I believe that they`re referring to anti-democracy and kind of
a rabid nationalism that we see that is growing in this country.
MATTHEWS: I thought they were opposed to globalization as well.
BROOKS: I couldn`t say. I`m not an expert on Antifa.
Let me go to Brian.
Brian, let me ask you about Antifa. Anti-fascist is a great word, because
we`re against fascism. Is that what they mean? If that is what they mean,
fine, if that is what they mean.
BRIAN LEVIN, THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: Yes, they do.
But I`m going to diverge here.
MATTHEWS: Well, don`t diverge yet. I want to you explain who Antifa is,
because Trump is calling them the moral equivalence of neo-Nazis and KKK
members. Put that in perspective. What is their method? What is their
LEVIN: There is no moral equivalency.
And their cause is standing up to the bigotry and fascism that they see
from white nationalists. And they`re somewhat diverse.
But as someone who had his life at risk and protected a Klansman from a mob
of these folks, I can tell that you there is an offshoot that is violent
and should be condemned.
However, when we see these protests, most of the counterprotests are
peaceful. Most of the Antifa people are peaceful. However, to be sure,
there`s a sliver that is violent and is looking to bash heads. And they
should be condemned.
But there is no moral equivalency between Nazis and white nationalists and
a broad diversity of counterprotesters , which include a sliver of violent
BROOKS: Chris, let me also say, because I think it has to be said, that
Antifa would not – they would not be there if it weren`t for the white
supremacists calling that rally, calling for the race war.
MATTHEWS: So, Antifa never goes to – Antifa doesn`t engage in Occupy-type
behavior against global meetings, for example, business leaders? They
don`t go after institutions that are not fascist?
BROOKS: They were in Charlottesville to stand against white supremacists.
MATTHEWS: No, I mean other cases, in other examples.
BROOKS: But that`s not what we`re talking about, Chris.
MATTHEWS: No, I`m talking about this. I want to know who these people
BROOKS: I understand, but when you do that, you feed into the false
narrative that there`s some kind of equivalency.
MATTHEWS: How does information work into a false narrative? I`m trying to
get the truth here.
BROOKS: We gave you information about who they are and what they believe
MATTHEWS: Point of view. Obviously, Nazis are not equivalent to anyone
else in terms of cause. They support racism and all the rest of it.
But in terms of method, is there a difference in their methods?
LEVIN: Sure. There`s a difference in their methods.
Many of them are people of goodwill who are outraged at what they`re seeing
with the division in our society and the racial hatred within our society.
And I understand that.
But I also faced some of these folks who were armed with wooden planks and
metal rods and who were going to murder somebody. And I`m going to tell
The fault of this starts with candidate Trump, who lit a fire, and is now
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.
LEVIN: … the bushes at his house got singed.
So, there`s no moral equivalency with regard to Nazis. But I will say this
that this is an reactive type of extremism and what is happening is these
violent antifa folks do not see them part of a democratic type of
initiative. And they have to be separate from the more peaceful
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: OK. Lecia, your thoughts on that. Comment on
what you just heard – Lecia.
LECIA BROOKS, OUTREACH DIRECTOR, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, I
think – I`d like to keep the conversation to Charlottesville and what
happened in Charlottesville. I know that the antifas came there to stand
it`s against white supremacists to protect – I know that they protected –
I heard that from Reverend Barber and from Reverend Blackman and that they
protected the clergy from the white supremacists that night.
They said that they saved their lives and so, I don`t want to lose that. I
don`t want – I don`t want the conversation now to about antifa. We need
to keep the focus on the white supremacists.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m going to ask the questions. Lecia, I`m going to ask
the questions. That`s the way this show works. I`m sorry, but I want to
learn from you, your experts, both of you. Then you said you know nothing,
you don`t know enough about antifa. I want to learn.
Brian is helping me and you`re challenging – I think we have to find out
who are the violent people because, you know, we can argue about their
points. Of course, the Nazis are the worst in terms of values and purpose.
But if this other group wants to have trouble, they`re going to find
trouble too, Lecia. They`re going to find trouble.
BROOKS: You`re absolutely, you`re absolutely right. They do – they do
use violent tactics. They do. They do.
BROOKS: – seriously about white supremacy.
MATTHEWS: Lecia, thank you so much. We`re going to find truth.
LEVIN: The white supremacists look for these battles. They fire-storm it.
I don`t want to condemn a whole broad range of people which are primarily
peaceful. But I will tell you that these antifa people, we do have to look
at the violent fringe and say, this is not what Dr. King is about.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
LEVIN: And there is – there is a thread in the social political movement
that says, violent resistance is the way to go. And here in California, we
had two dozen instances of violent public demonstrations, and in many of
them, antifa was involved.
That being said, there`s a broad set of antifa folks, many of whom are in
fact peaceful. But the bottom line is, we had an act of terrorism here.
Why aren`t we talking about that?
MATTHEWS: Yes, OK.
LEVIN: People armed with clubs is one thing. But like ISIS and white
national extremist who represent the biggest extremist threats to the
United States should be noted that this is a big deal. This is the big –
MATTHEWS: Brian, we have shown that picture over and over again of that
terrible person ramming their car and driving it backwards to kill people.
I know that and you`re dead right. That`s the heart of the violence here.
LEVIN: And we live in an era, we live in an era of reactive extremism –
MATTHEWS: We do focus on that. But we also want to learn all the players.
And thank you so much, Brian Levin. You`re great. And so is, Lecia, thank
you. Lecia, please come back again.
BROOKS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next, when the “Access Hollywood” tape turned up, many
thought the Republicans would quit Donald Trump en masse. But they didn`t.
What about this time? Will they finally say enough is enough?
Well, the silence is pretty powerful out there. They`re not saying it yet.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Many Republican leaders have come out against, well, some against Trump`s
position on the violence in Charlottesville. Republican leaders, including
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have
denounced white nationalist groups without, get that word in there,
criticizing the president, or even naming him.
Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Howard Fineman, of course,
global editorial director for “The Huffington Post” and an MSNBC analyst,
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for “Reuters” and John Feehery
is a Republican strategist.
Anyway, President Trump has always been confident that his base will not
abandon him no matter what, no matter what he does. Remember this big
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could stand in the middle
of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose any voters. OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: John Feehery, is this the test? Is that what he`s talking about
that`s happening right now? Is this the kind where people say, if you`re
still with him now, you`re never going to leave him?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It seems to be the test. We`ll see
what happens. If you see that the Republican establishment –
MATTHEWS: Where are you?
FEEHERY: – by and large – listen, I think what Trump said was stupid. I
wish he wouldn`t say –
MATTHEWS: Stupid? What do you mean? Ill-informed?
FEEHERY: Ill-informed, stupid –
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t know about Nazism.
FEEHERY: You know, he should have left – he had a good statement on
Monday. He should have left it alone. The fact that he had to go in –
MATTHEWS: Well, he said he needed information. So, he had all the
information on Tuesday and said what he thought.
FEEHERY: See, the good news about this is we now know what`s on the
president`s mind. The bad news is what`s –
MATTHEWS: We know his mind.
FEEHERY: The bad news is what is on his mind.
MATTHEWS: I know, it`s terrible.
FEEHERY: But, listen, I think that the Republican establishment by and
large has said, you know, this is wrong. They don`t like Trump anyway. We
saw John Kasich out there, already trying to position himself for a primary
run. But, you know, if you were in the middle of where the Republican base
is, I mean, he still has a popularity of 79 percent. So, for Trump, you
know, he has a lot of cards to play and he`s got a lot of capital with
MATTHEWS: Howard, you know this as well as I do, this political world, let
me ask you just the hard political question, will that base of 75 percent
of Republican Party stick with him through this hell, this self-
identification with this neo-Nazi element?
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so. And I think Donald
Trump definitely thinks so. His whole theory of politics is not about a
big tent. His whole theory of politics is divide and focus. That`s how he
won in the Electoral College, and that is his theory here.
MATTHEWS: But he had Hillary to run.
FINEMAN: No, but when he – he`s got other people to run against. Guess
MATTHEWS: Yes, the media.
FINEMAN: Republican leaders. Anybody.
When he went down to the lobby of his tower yesterday, his goal was to
troll the press, to inflame the national press corps, far from being
outraged by the coverage that he got out of that thing yesterday, he was
delighted by the coverage. This is what he wants.
MATTHEWS: Ayesha, he looks like a happy guy. The world is miserable.
FINEMAN: This is what he wants.
MATTHEWS: But he seems to be wallowing in this.
FINEMAN: This is what he wants.
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, REUTERS: Well, I mean, I think he
felt like he got his statement out. He wasn`t happy about being told you
have to say this. He felt lying he was justified in what he said earlier.
MATTHEWS: Was anybody around him saying you`re kissing goodbye to your
chance of a full presidential term with this?
RASCOE: Well, I`m sure that there are people who are trying rein him in.
RASCOE: Well, I think that – I think that people cannot be happy in the
White House about having to deal with this when they wanted to deal with
infrastructure, tax reform, all the other things.
MATTHEWS: I know. I think he sabotaged his own week.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will
tell me something I don`t know.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump`s response to the violence in
Charlottesville is now the most liked post, actually is President Obama, in
Twitter history. On Saturday evening, President Obama tweeted a Nelson
Mandela quote that reads: no one is born hating another person because of
the color of his skin or his background or his religion, close quote. It
was accompanied by a picture of the president staring up with a group of
diverse children. The post has now been liked more than 3.5 million times.
Another record for President Obama.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL.
Howard, tell me something I don`t know.
FINEMAN: Mitch McConnell is not directly criticizing the president on
Charlottesville. One reason is he`s being attacked from the right in his
MATTHEWS: Of Kentucky.
FINEMAN: Yes, of Kentucky. Not only by demonstrators, but he governor of
the state who is a Tea Party guy is no fan of Mitch McConnell.
MATTHEWS: Oh, God.
RASCOE: So the Trump administration has called on a program that they got
from the Obama administration that allowed Central American minors to come
to the U.S. legally and leaving 2,700 minors basically on the hook. They
were waiting for approval. So, their immigration strategy is going ahead.
MATTHEWS: Those are the people that face physical threat at home.
RASCOE: Yes, and violence.
FEEHERY: Kevin Brady, House Ways and Means chairman, gave a speech at the
Reagan Ranch, at the Reagan desk where he signed the 1986 tax reform bill.
Tax reform is not dead.
MATTHEWS: Well, I like that` 86 bill. Tip and Reagan –
FEEHERY: I know you do.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Howard Fineman, Ayesha Rascoe, and John Feehery. Top
rate, 28 percent.
When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Politics, if you take it seriously, is about principle, not career. Those
who run for office have a duty to honor their core beliefs. Well,
opposition to Nazism is one such belief. Again, those who march with
Hitler are our foes. So, how do we account for the limp, listless,
embarrassing sounds from elected Republicans about what Trump said? Again
and again, they were ready to criticize the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville,
but not ready, even now, to criticize Trump`s defense of those he called
the fine people who marched with them.
By our count, only a handful of Senate Republicans out of 52 have even
named Trump, excuse me, in their comments since yesterday, only a handful
out of 52. Less than one in 10 Republicans in the Senate stood up and
challenged the president in his embarrassing, one could say disgusting,
defense of this demonstration in Virginia so redolent of Nuremberg in 1930s
I expect this silence will be held to account by next election time, as it
should be. If you can`t stand up for core American beliefs, if you can`t
walk away from Nazism, why do you have feet?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
“ALL IN” starts right now.
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