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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 07/10/15

Guests: Kathleen Parker, Jonathan Allen, Todd Rutherford, Clarence Page,Paul Singer, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Kruse

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: How to thump Trump. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews, in New York. Donald Trump has gone to war with his own party, recruiting the angry working class white vote that is its life blood, and now threatening a mutiny. When word leaked that party chairman Reince Priebus called Trump, telling him to tone it down, Trump grabbed a bullhorn and delivered a public shaming to the party, telling "The New York Times" what he thought of Priebus`s order. Quote, "We`re not dealing with a five-star Army general." Trump meanwhile is charging ahead now. The campaign says it expects thousands at a rally tomorrow in Phoenix. Trump is in Los Angeles tonight courting Hollywood conservatives, leaving a trail of protests in his wake. He is the hottest ticket in town, but even more frightening for the Republican Party is the threat that, if provoked, he would blow their chances in the election to smithereens. As "The New York Times" reports, party leaders fear insulting the white working class voters who admire him. They`re loathe to tangle with a threat-flinging firebrand for whom there are no rules of engagement and they`re agonizing over a doomsday scenario, the fact that Trump will mount a third-party candidacy. Chuck Todd is the moderator of NBC`s "MEET THE PRESS," Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with "The Washington Post," and Jonathan Allen is chief political correspondent with VOX. They all join us now. So Chuck, let`s start with you. The sort of gentle approach from Reince Priebus was tried this week, doesn`t seem to have gotten anywhere with Donald Trump. What is the next move for Priebus and the Republican establishment? CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Well, look, I think -- I actually think step one, you can make an argument he should have done this step a week ago, and we can talk about that -- but this is how he has to begin. He can`t publicly condemn him. You can`t have a group of Republicans publicly push him out without making the attempt to do it behind the scenes, to do it more politely.   So I think that in this case, the chairman is doing what he should be doing, talking to the candidate behind the scenes, seeing if he can reason with the candidate. After a while, he may decide he can`t reason with the candidate, then they try a different approach. But you could see here there`s caution everywhere. You know, today, John McCain put out a fairly lengthy statement on the current debate, as he called it, on illegal immigration, called it a circus, talked about how if the Republican nominee is not a candidate who supports comprehensive immigration reform, that nominee is going to lose to Hillary Clinton. And yet he never mentioned Trump by name. So John McCain doesn`t want to do this, either. It`s not just Reince Priebus. But I think this is step one. The question is, once he rejects these offers to tone it down, which it looks like he will, what do they do in step two? I think now he`s got carte blanche to go more public. KORNACKI: All right, well, the alarm bells continue to blare inside the Republican Party. Karl Rove warns in the "Wall Street Journal" op-ed pages that Trump could become the 2016 version of Missouri representative Todd Akin, referring to the Missouri congressman who tarnished the party in 2012, thanks to his statements about rape. Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan warns that Donald Trump is "an unstable element inserted into an unsettled environment. Sooner or later, there will be a boom." And an unnamed Republican operative told "The Washington Examiner" recently that, simply put Trump is a suicide bomber. Well, Kathleen Parker, so Chuck Todd says there is a sort of a next phase potentially here in what the Republican establishment can do to Donald Trump. But I`m trying to figure out -- when this becomes more direct, when this becomes more confrontational, it seems to me that one of the things that Trump is capitalizing on here is that the Republican establishment, the Reince Priebuses of the world, the John McCains of the world, they are the sellouts. They`re the ones that the party base can`t trust. And it almost seems to me that the more this fight accelerates with the party establishment, that more it makes that point that Donald Trump is trying to make, that, Hey, base, I`m the voice of purity here. I`m the voice of honesty. These guys are trying to get me to sell out. KATHLEEN PARKER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, look, Trump is the voice of Trump. And if he wants to go -- to become a third party candidate, yes, that could be damaging, clearly, if he`s going to take votes away from whoever the nominee is. But if he doesn`t come up through the Republican Party, then he is not of the Republican Party, and they can distance themselves from his message in that respect. He`s not speaking for their values and their principles. And I think I`m still convinced that Donald Trump will fizzle of his own power, his own -- whatever dark power that is. I don`t quite have the right word for it yet, but I`m going to work on that. He -- you know, he`s -- he`s trouble for the Republicans because, as you say, they don`t want to insult the working class people who do find his message appealing. But I think it`s not so much they like Donald Trump. I just think that if the Republican nominee or the top five want to start talking in terms that will maybe take away some of his steam -- they have to out-Trump Trump.   In other words, you say, look, I -- we hear you. We understand why you find this message appealing because finally, somebody`s talking about it. We want to talk about it, too, but we want to use different kinds of language because we want to be inclusive and we want to bring in, you know, other people into our party and we also don`t want to alienate the good people who have come here. We want to solve a problem. And calling names and ranting is not the way to solve problems in a grown-up country. KORNACKI: Well, there may be one place where we can sort of test how Republicans in potential messages against Trump are going to work. That`s the Republican debates on August 6th. The first one on August 6th is going to be a blockbuster with Donald Trump on the stage. In last night`s interview with CNN, Trump was read a list of Republican candidates. He unloaded on nearly every one of them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bush is weak on immigration. Forget about his stance on Common Core, which is a total disaster. He`s very weak on immigration. Marco Rubio is somebody who is extremely weak on immigration. He all of a sudden toughens his stance because his poll numbers went down. Well, I could be much more offensive to Rick Perry. But the fact is, he was governor of Texas. The border is a disaster. Lindsey Graham -- I think he`s always very nice to me, but you know, he wants to bomb everybody. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carly Fiorina. TRUMP: She lost her job at Hewlett-Packard, viciously was fired, viciously. She then ran for the Senate in California against Barbara Boxer and got killed in a landslide. Now she`s going to run for president. (END VIDEO CLIP)   KORNACKI: All right, let`s think about these debates... (LAUGHTER) KORNACKI: ... a month away in Cleveland, Jonathan Allen. We say that the rules of engagement, the normal rules of engagement don`t apply with Donald Trump. I`m thinking ahead to that stage. It`s not just going to be a disagreement where Donald Trump says, Hey, you`re not toeing a hard enough line on immigration. It`s going to be Donald Trump potentially looking in the face of these candidates, interrupting them, telling them, You`re a loser, you`re a nothing, you`re a nobody, in their face in a way we`ve never seen. And it seems to me there`s an obvious risk there to these candidates that they look weak if they don`t stand up to him, if they -- if they fail to confront him on the stage. On the other hand, I guess there`s an opportunity. If one of these guys can come forward and basically, you know, shut up Donald Trump, it could be a campaign-changing moment. JONATHAN ALLEN, VOX: Yes, I mean, what we`re looking at here for the Republican debate is something akin to Cirque du Soleil, high art with somebody standing in the audience with a bunch of tomatoes and throwing them. I mean, that`s what I think we`re going to get from Trump. He`s conducting right now what looks like an elaborate troll of the Republican Party. That is to say, he`s highlighting all of the issues and all of the stances that I think are toughest for the Republican Party in the general election. He`s going to go on a debate stage. That`s the big danger for Republicans is that he gets elevated. So if I`m Reince Priebus or I`m other Republican leaders, I`m not looking to elevate him right now. But I would do this. I would spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on opposition research to make sure if there`s anything that can undermine Donald Trump with the voters he`s trying to bring to him, that that stuff gets out there. KORNACKI: Well, Chuck Todd, I`m curious, too, what you hear when you talk to these Republican campaigns about how they`re planning to approach - - what are they thinking right now as they look ahead to that first debate, the prospect of being there on stage with Donald Trump, the prospect that he`s going to try to bully their candidate? What kinds of things are they preparing for? TODD: Well, look, you`ve got -- you`ve get some of the front-runners who actually, I think, view it as a -- they have the "do no harm" strategy. I mean, I`ve talked to a few of the campaigns who believe they`re going to be in this for the long haul, and their mindset is, number one, they sort of have Kathleen`s view on Trump, that this is going to wear itself out, probably won`t even be around by Labor Day. That`s the assumption of a couple of these bigger campaigns. And so the idea is, You know what? Just stay out of the way. You know, Don`t get in the line of fire. Don`t engage him. Let him have the first debate. Let it be all about him. Then you have the sort of the middle of the pack candidates. And we`ve gotten a taste of that this week, Steve. Rick Perry, who, you know, is desperate to sort of be relevant again and sort of get a little more attention -- what is he doing? He`s trying to use Trump. He`s trying to troll Trump himself, putting out a video. George Pataki trying to troll Trump with the petition.   So I think the lesser tier candidates have nothing to lose and want to be the ones to stand up to him. Carly Fiorina may -- could fall in that category, too. But I think you`re going to see a Walker, Bush, and even Rubio actually almost defer, try to play a matador a little bit and just sort of avoid the bull. KORNACKI: Well, are Trump`s past positions -- are those the keys to disarming him? Here`s a look at some of the liberal skeletons that are in Donald Trump`s closet. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would President Trump ban partial-birth abortion? TRUMP: Well, I`m very pro-choice. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Health care? TRUMP: Liberal on health care. We have to take care of people that are sick. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Universal health coverage? TRUMP: I (INAUDIBLE) universal -- we have to take care -- there`s nothing else. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about gays serving in the military? TRUMP: It would not disturb me. I mean, hey, I lived in New York City, in Manhattan all my life.   (END VIDEO CLIP) (LAUGHTER) KORNACKI: Well, that`s a heck of a trip in the political time machine there, back to 1999, when Donald Trump looked like he might be running against Pat Buchanan, of all people, back then for the Reform Party nomination. But Kathleen Parker, I keep thinking back to four years ago, the example of Newt Gingrich, when the Republican establishment sort of woke up one day, realized, Hey, we got this potential problem. We might have to nominate Newt Gingrich. He just won South Carolina. And suddenly, all these things from 15, 20 years ago came back out into public view. All the sort of Gingrich dirty laundry was aired. It looks like there`s plenty of material here for Republicans to do that against Donald Trump, if they want to. I guess the question is, when you look at the credibility that Trump has now built himself with sort of the core of the Republican base with this immigration issue, will those attacks stick? If they say, Hey, this guy used to say he was pro-choice, this guy used to say he was fine with gays in the military, will that stick, you think? PARKER: Well, I think it has a chance of sticking, yes, because he`s a complete liberal, clearly. Now, we`re accustomed to flip-floppers, right? We see this happening from time to time, where people change their minds about issues. And he`ll probably have some sort of explanation along those lines. But I think more damaging to Donald Trump is going to be Donald Trump. I`m going to keep coming back to that because I just know when you have that in your face all the time, it really does wear thin after a while. And so when he`s on that debate stage and he`s obnoxious -- because he`s Donald Trump and he will be obnoxious -- you know, people sitting in their living rooms watching that are going to be a little bit turned off, and I think the rest of the candidates just sort of stand there and let him do his thing, and then they can be grown-ups. And so that contrast is going to work against him. KORNACKI: Yes, I think it`s interesting to keep in mind, it`s been about 10 days of extremely intense coverage of Donald Trump in all this. There`s still about 200 days left before we have the first votes in the primaries and caucuses. That`s a lot of for time to endure. But we`ll see what happens. Chuck Todd, Kathleen Parker, Jonathan Allen, appreciate you all joining us.   And don`t forget to check out Chuck Todd on Sunday. If it`s Sunday, it`s "MEET THE PRESS." He`s got South Carolina governor Nikki Haley to talk about the battle over the Confederate flag and her role as a new kind of Republican. They`ll also be talking plenty about Donald Trump. Coming up on our show -- history made in South Carolina today as that Confederate battle flag comes down on statehouse grounds. We`ll speak to the state`s Democratic leader about the end of an era in Columbia. Also, political odd couple Bill Clinton and George W. Bush talk about Jeb, Hillary and the bond that unites them, grandfatherhood. And on the 2016 front, we`re all familiar with Bernie Sanders, the socialist mayor of Burlington, the senator, the presidential hopeful. But just who is Bernie Sanders, the person? We`re going to speak with a reporter who`s gone to Vermont to dig into that question. And finally tonight, our HARDBALL clown car takes a left-hand turn. Democratic primaries brewing for the Senate in Florida after progressive firebrand Alan Grayson says he`s jumping in that race. But will he ultimately bring down the Democrats? This is HARDBALL, place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: The FBI announced today that Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter charged with nine counts of murder, was able to buy a gun through a loophole in the background check system. Roof in the past had admitted to drug possession, and therefore should not have been able to legally purchase the weapon. FBI director James Comey said today, quote, "We are all sick this happened. We wish we could turn back time." More HARDBALL right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)   KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. There was an incredible scene today outside the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, as the Confederate flag was taken down. A crowd estimated to be 8,000 and 10,000 people gathered to watch the ceremony, some chanting "Take it down." Governor Nikki Haley, who signed legislation yesterday authorizing the flag`s removal, watched from the steps of the capitol. At times, according to NBC`s Craig Melvin, who was there, the governor appeared to wipe tears from her eyes. She was joined by several former governors of the state, as well as family members of the nine Emanuel Church shooting victims. A little after 10:00 o`clock this morning, seven members of the state`s highway patrol honor guard marched toward the flag. That is the same group that carried the casket of slain state senator Clementa Pinckney into the statehouse to lie in state two weeks ago. And then, with huge cheers from that crowd, after 54 years of flying on the statehouse grounds, the Confederate flag was lowered. The flag was folded, placed into the hands of a member of the honor guard, who happened to be African-American, and carried back into the statehouse. It has since been moved to the state`s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. Many national leaders, both Democratic and Republican, cheered the move today. President Obama tweeted, "South Carolina taking down the Confederate flag, a signal of good will and healing and a meaningful step toward a better future." I`m joined now by Todd Rutherford, a South Carolina state representative and Democratic leader of the statehouse there, and Clarence Page, a columnist for "The Chicago Tribune." Well, Representative Rutherford, let me start with you. You`re -- you`re there right now where that happened. You were there earlier today to witness that moment in person. We just showed an incredible scene, really, basically 10,000 people. You could hear those cheers. You could almost feel the intensity watching it on television. Just tell us what it was like to be there and to watch as that flag was lowered for good today. TODD RUTHERFORD (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: It was one of the most moving scenes I`ve ever witnessed. And I`ve been in the legislature now for 17 years. I`m 44 years old. And I never thought it would happen. I brought my kids here to see it. I brought my mother and father because my father, when he was growing up, he couldn`t walk on the statehouse grounds because he was black.   For so many people, it was a day to cheer, it was a day to say good- bye to something that was divisive, something that caused a great deal of hatred. And as you look behind me, you notice the crowds are gone because those people that wanted to come up here and cause trouble, those people that wanted to come up here and fight with somebody, they no longer have anything to rally around. That flag is gone, and we`re glad to have it gone. KORNACKI: And Clarence Page, taking a step back here and just thinking maybe a little bigger picture -- I mean, I can remember about 15 years ago, I think it was in 2000, during the presidential race, in fact, in 2000, there was the big debate then about the status of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. And the resolution back then, they moved it off the roof, but they put it to this place we see today. It seemed to suggest that there was a permanence, that this flag was never -- they were never going to be able to get rid of this flag. Did you look at today -- is today a day you ever thought you`d see? CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, I wasn`t planning on seeing it, but I`m delighted that it`s happened. I`m old enough to remember Jim Crow segregation when I was a kid. And those were the last days, in many ways, of the Civil War, but I think we`re really seeing the last days now. When you see how emotionally attached people are to that flag, either positively or negatively, it represents so much. Just a few years ago, a governor got voted out for talking about removing the flag, and now we see a governor who was reelected handily by - - and now calls for it to be taken down, and it has actually happened. A majority of the legislature voted for it. It shows you how things have changed, that people`s priorities have changed and the state wants to move ahead into the future and not be held down by the past. KORNACKI: Well, on "The Today Show" this morning, Governor Nikki Haley spoke about the importance of the flag`s removal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: In South Carolina, we honor tradition. We honor history. We honor heritage, but there`s a place for that flag. And that flag needs to be in a museum, where we will continue to make sure that people can honor it appropriately.   But the statehouse, that`s an area that belongs to everyone. And no one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don`t belong. I think you can look at the way South Carolina responded to this tragedy, and I think we can all say that hopefully the Emanuel nine are looking down and feeling proud today. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Well, Representative Rutherford, as we say, the report from NBC`s Craig Melvin today on the scene there, the governor seemed to have tears in her eyes watching this, seemed genuinely moved to be a part of this, to play a leading role in this. I think a lot of people nationally have been impressed by the leadership she`s shown here in these last few weeks. At the same time, this is not an issue that before the last few weeks this governor had much interest in addressing. Clarence talked about the history of a former governor who probably lost his job earlier, about 20 years ago, because he tried to take the flag off the roof. Within South Carolina, tell us about the culture of the state right now, how this is going over. Is there a backlash that`s brewing there sort of in the grassroots in South Carolina against Nikki Haley, against people who took this flag down today? RUTHERFORD: You know, I can tell you that more likely than not there probably is. If you look geographically at those people that voted to keep the flag up, most of them came from the upstate. And so a lot of those people are very upset today. The upstate is not majority black. There are not a lot of black living in the upstate. And that`s probably why they feel that way and very comfortable having those type of feelings about the flag. Representative Jenny Horne, who spoke yesterday, spoke on the state -- who spoke when we were dealing with this very passionately, what allowed us to get the ball over the goal line, I think today she`s feeling a lot of heat from her Republican lawmakers because it did not give them a victory. They could not pass an amendment. And I think they`re very upset with her about this. We have got so many other issues in South Carolina that we need to deal with. And I believe that, without that flag, we will be able to deal with those issues in a much better way. But I can tell you that I know that there`s going to be some political heat to pay for taking that flag down. KORNACKI: Well, as I mentioned, some are suggesting that Governor Nikki Haley`s national political future could be very bright after all this, after she signed the legislation yesterday. "The Washington Post"`s Philip Rucker tweeted, "If Jeb Bush was watching TV just now, I wonder if he was thinking, I found my V.P.? Big moment for Nikki Haley." And today NBC`s "First Read" observed Nikki Haley has once emerged as a GOP star and an obvious V.P. short-lister. Here was Chuck Todd earlier today.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": You look at the challenges for the Republican Party in 2016 reaching out to non-white voters and now you have a governor in South Carolina, Nikki Haley, who is going to be thought of -- her national brand is as a conciliatory person, as a uniter, as somebody who moved past something. You could see where a Governor Haley sends the message that a nominee wants to have. You heard all the bad rhetoric that Trump, Donald Trump has said. You have heard all the bad rhetoric about -- well, here is somebody who moved past it, who led past it. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And Matt Lauer asked the governor about all the new national attention. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Do you think this two-week period or three-week period has launched you into a different orbit in terms of national politics? HALEY: You know, if I do my job right, and that means I need to work harder, the people are going to talk about the lives of those nine people, what they taught South Carolina, what they taught the country, what their families taught us. And how the people of South Carolina responded should show our country we can do this, we can do this and we can continue to move forward as a country in a way that unifies people and that shows what real love looks like. That`s what I want people to get out of this. I don`t want this to go away quickly. I want people to remember what today feels like and know that anything is possible with us. So I will keep my focus on that. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Well, Clarence, look, but, nationally, in terms of national politics, that`s a smart answer. When you`re asked about your own national political prospects, you deflect the question. You don`t answer like that.   So, in a way, you could say she`s already talking like a national star. But when you look at Nikki Haley, this is somebody with her own background. She`s already appointed an African-American to the U.S. Senate in South Carolina. Now there is this with the Confederate Flag. This is somebody the Republican Party at this moment could have a lot of interest in showcasing in the next few years. PAGE: Yes. As I mentioned, she was reelected handily after helping to improve the economy, the jobless rate there, the welfare-to-work rate, the immigration issues, a number of areas where she showed real leadership. And here in the midst of a crisis, and that was that awful massacre at Emanuel Church, she stepped up, and she could see that the time had come to help to focus attention on that flag as a way of really healing, beginning a healing process that everybody wanted to engage in, because this had just devastated so many people on the right, left, black, white, et cetera. And now she certainly looks more and more attractive every day as a national candidate. It would be very smart as a running mate at least on a national ticket. KORNACKI: All right, Representative Todd Rutherford from South Carolina and Clarence Page, appreciate you both joining us. And coming up, two members of an elite club team up in Dallas. The revealing conversation is next. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush looked once again thoroughly enjoy one another`s company at a graduation in Dallas yesterday. Here they were trading barbs on their age.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Clinton and I were getting a little long in the tooth these days. (LAUGHTER) BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the one month of the year when he`s older than me. (LAUGHTER) CLINTON: So, speak for yourself. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Also some joking about the students` candid impressions of them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: One...   (CROSSTALK) BUSH: ... thought I couldn`t read. (LAUGHTER) CLINTON: The other thought I could. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And pretty much avoiding partisan dogma about the 2016 presidential race, although with the occasional plug for their obvious favorites. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: We have got a lot of tough decisions to make. That`s all I really care about. Besides, I know who I would like to win. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Front-runners Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have zeroed in on one another for strategic attacks. But for these two guys, it was just another evening of Bill George W.`s excellent adventures. The question is, did they give us any insights on how the battle for the White House will unfold?   Paul Singer is the Washington correspondent for "USA Today." He joins us now. So, Paul, I think we can show this. One thing that was striking besides what they actually said was just physically how this looked on stage last night, the two of them so close to each other and making so much sort of physical contact. Might show some of the shots of it right here. PAUL SINGER, "USA TODAY": That`s right. KORNACKI: But it seemed like that this isn`t an act. This is a genuinely close, sort of chummy relationship that`s emerged in the last few years. SINGER: It`s almost familial. In fact, I think, really, the relationship kind of evolves from the father. It was George H.W. Bush who first befriended Bill Clinton as sort of the other lost brother. And, in fact, George W. Bush has spoken about this, that it was because they felt that Bill Clinton was very gracious in victory over George H.W. Bush and continued to consult with him and treated him with a great deal of kindness that the Bush family really appreciated that. And you can see that through the father and now through to the son as well. KORNACKI: I wonder, what do these two guys, do you think, represent? As people sort of look at the political landscapes as 2016 approaches, the Obama presidency, maybe Jeb Bush as the Republican candidate, maybe somebody else, Hillary Clinton, when they look at Bill Clinton and George W. Bush now, what do you think it is people see? I can remember when George W. Bush first emerged back in 1999, the pitch, the basic pitch to Republicans was, hey, this is going to be our Bill Clinton. SINGER: Right. KORNACKI: Basically, for the last eight years, we have gotten our butts kicked by Bill Clinton. Now we are going to nominate our own guy who can relate to average people, who has that sort of folksy manner and all that. What do people think of when they look at the two of them now?   SINGER: It was interesting when you think about it, just how much of the past 30 years these two families have dominated our national political conversation. But, still, nobody has really taken Bill Clinton`s place in the American psyche. His ability to connect to individuals in a really personal and compelling and gripping way is stunning and almost a little creepy. I mean, just nobody has the political skill that he has in that living room. George Bush was terrific at that as well. Honestly, I think Hillary Clinton is going to pale by comparison in that strength. I think actually Jeb Bush has more of that sort of relatability that really was both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush`s strength. KORNACKI: Yes. I have always heard the story about Hillary when she first started campaigning for the Senate in New York, she apparently -- she went on the trail a little bit and came back to her husband and said, you know, I never had any idea how hard this actually was. SINGER: Yes, Bill loves it. Bill loves every minute of it. He eats it up. KORNACKI: And it`s a rare trait in politicians to love it and not show that it`s an effort. Anyway, Bill Clinton has been notably absent though this time from the campaign trail, from his wife`s campaign events. And here George Bush says that you should not look for him to be stumping for his brother Jeb any time soon. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: I know Jeb and I`m confident Secretary Hillary will elevate the discourse. I can`t attest to their surrogates. I can to attest to this surrogate. I`m not going to be a surrogate. But it`s... (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP)   KORNACKI: But, you know, in that setting last night, they kind of are surrogates. They are -- in their own way, they`re rising above politics. I think they`re making a good sort of bipartisan impression. And that can`t help but rub off a little bit on their family members. SINGER: If you come down to a Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton presidential race in the general election, I think you will probably see a lot more of Bill Clinton because he is still the Democrats -- what did Obama call him, the secretary of explaining things, right. I mean, he`s really good at that. I would be surprised if you saw much of George Bush at all. Jeb Bush is trying to distance himself from the more recent memories of the Bush administration. He`s trying to say he`s his own man. I don`t really think George Bush has the joy for it that Bill Clinton does. And I think you would see much less of him on the campaign trail. KORNACKI: And for all the bipartisan niceties, Clinton and Bush didn`t keep all of their competitive natures off the stage in Dallas. The two didn`t skirmish over the Middle East or economic reforms, though. Let`s take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: Last night, my granddaughter, nine-and-a-half-months old, for the first time when I walked in the room, she said, oh, there`s your granddad, and she turned around and pointed at me. That was worth more than anything anybody has said or done for me or paid to me or anything else. And I don`t know... (CROSSTALK) BUSH: Last time, my granddaughter spoke to me in Mandarin. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: You do -- it`s funny what you were saying a minute ago, though, Paul.   It does strike me a little bit with George W. Bush that his mood after leaving the White House now, it`s been almost eight years, is almost more of one of relief that he kind of gets to reclaim his life. He gets to be sort of the jokey, good-natured guy again, almost like the presidency was more of a burden to him than it was to Bill Clinton. SINGER: And I think it`s one of the reasons why these former presidents can be friends no matter what their politics. You and I have never been hated by 30 million people all at the same time. It`s a different world for them. KORNACKI: I got to tell you, sometimes, it feels that way when I turn... (CROSSTALK) SINGER: Well, exactly. There is that. You know, these guys really have lived through this kind of crucible, where now that they can be off the stage, now that they can be sort of out to pasture, as George Bush said yesterday, it gives them the opportunity to sort of sit back and do something good for the nation without having to worry about what the political implications of these things are. And I think it`s probably a great relief for them. KORNACKI: All right, Paul Singer from the "USA Today," thanks for joining us. Really appreciate it. SINGER: Thanks for having me, Steve. Have a good Friday. KORNACKI: All right. And up next: Bernie Sanders loves to talk politics, but his personal life has long been off-limits. We will speak with a reporter who delved into the senator`s life off the political podium.   You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening. Thousands of people lined the streets of Lower Manhattan for a ticker tape parade celebrating the World Cup win of the U.S. women`s national soccer team. It was the first ticker tape parade ever for a women`s team. Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers will continue through Monday. Officials say there has been some progress in those negotiations. And actor Omar Sharif has died at the age of 83. He was best known for his roles in "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Dr. Zhivago" -- back to HARDBALL. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We believe in democracy. I mean, the problem with the word socialism is that very often it`s been equated with what happens in the Soviet Union, which is authoritarianism and totalitarianism. I believe very strongly in the right of dissent. And I think people with my ideas fight for those things very strongly. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Back to HARDBALL.   When a self-identified socialist won election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981, he became a spectacle of political curiosity around the country. That man, of course, was Bernie Sanders. As of now, he`s posing a greater threat to Hillary Clinton than any other candidate in the Democratic field for president. But while every detail of Clinton`s life and career has been put under the microscope and scrutinized, few know much more about Sanders beyond his fiery rhetoric, which has been lighting up crowds on the campaign trail. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The big money interests, Wall Street, corporate America, all of these guys have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized, grassroots movement making them an offer they can`t refuse. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Now, we`re learning a little bit more about the man who`s captivating the Democratic Party`s attention. In a profile in "Politico" magazine today called "Bernie Sanders has a Secret", our roundtable guest Michael Kruse digs into Sanders` past, revealing details that have been scarce despite his 40-year career. I`m joined now by the roundtable, MSNBC political analyst David Corn of "Mother Jones," Sabrina Siddiqui of "The Guardian", and Michael Kruse of "Politico". So, Michael, you wrote this really great piece, really enjoyed reading it. Bernie Sanders has a secret. What`s the secret you found out about? MICHAEL KRUSE, POLITICO: So, when I flew to Burlington, Vermont. I got off the plane and I was interested in learning more about Bernie Sanders in the `70s in general. But my reporting led me to his son`s birth certificate which showed that the mother of his son was not -- is not his first wife, which has always been assumed and which has been reported for 44 years. It`s sort of amazing that over the course of 44 years a public political figure like Bernie Sanders in Vermont could have that not come out.   So, that is -- I don`t know if it`s a secret, but that is what I found. KORNACKI: This is something also you confirmed with the campaign? KRUSE: Well, I confirmed it with the campaign, but first I confirmed it with the birth certificate, so yes. KORNACKI: All right. Just want to make sure on what the campaign was saying about it because that`s -- well, David Corn, let me ask you about this because it`s interesting. What we`re seeing with Bernie Sanders, it always strikes me when he`s asked any question that`s not about wealth concentration or any specific explicit public policy question, he seems to bristle. It`s a cheap question, it cheapens the process, you`re cheapening yourself as a journalist to ask about it. This resistance to any, any personal information about his life getting into the public domain, where does that come from? Is that a guy who has this monkish devotion to public policy? Is it about being a New Englander, about being a Vermonter where you don`t talk about your personal -- what is it? DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Steve, I`m surprised you`re not talking about the fact that the rich are getting richer and have more power in this country than ever before. I mean, that`s kind of what Bernie would say. I think in some ways that`s kind of almost refreshing as a politician. He runs because he has a core set of ideas and values and principles. From his perspective, that`s what should be part of public discourse, not happened 40 years ago. Now, as a journalist, as a historian, I think we need to know the backgrounds of these people and it`s fair game and Michael`s piece is fair game. At "Mother Jones", we`ve been doing stories about what Bernie was writing about and thinking about in the `70s. And his story is great. He became a marginal radical who then went on to become a local organizer who won elections and became a senator, in some ways the most successful politician in America. But I do think in Vermont, of maybe one of the few states in the country is where Bernie could take this "hands off my personal background" stance. You know, this Yankee notion of privacy, and in the past from opponents have tried to raise these issues about him, he says get out of here, and the public supports him. So, the public ultimately has the right here to say we don`t really care. We don`t want to know. And if people ask questions and Bernie makes an issue about that, we`re on his side. KORNACKI: Well, he`s been adverse to discussing his personal life. Sanders does, of course, have a lot to say when it comes to his political life. He`s been stubbornly, relentlessly on message, as David said, for decades.   Here`s what he had to say about the polarization of wealth in this country back in 1981. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: A handful of people who control our economy, you have maybe 2 percent of the population that owns one-third of the entire wealth of America, 80 percent of the stocks, 90 percent of the bonds. And these people have incredible power. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And here`s Bernie Sanders discussing the very same subject in May. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: When the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, maybe it`s time for real political shake- up in this country and go beyond establishment policy. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Sabrina, so interesting, I remember covering Ron Paul back in 2008 and 2012. I would listen to his speeches and say, I`m not hearing a campaign speech here for the year 2012. I`m hearing a lecture that Ron Paul has been delivering since 1974, something like that. It felt like the message hadn`t changed but the circumstances of the country had changed in a way where there was an audience for Ron Paul that maybe never would have been there before in his career. And Bernie Sanders is sort of experiencing a similar moment here. SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Yes, he is. I think it`s rare to find politicians who have maintained that level of consistency over that many decades.   I think what was interesting about Michael`s piece is you got more of a glimpse into his personal life, his background and how that really shaped his political views. One of the pieces that I found interesting, for example, learning that he was on unemployment benefits for a couple of months. Later after that, he argued and advocated against having time limits on unemployment benefits. So, I think that`s actually the nature of someone`s personal life that voters are interested in. How does your personal life shape the issues that you`re advocating for, as opposed to a fixation on what could be scandalous. And that`s part of why Bernie has been reluctant to talk about his family because he simply doesn`t believe that his ex-wife or his son is relevant to the political discourse in his career as a politician. KORNACKI: Yes, you know, Michael, it`s interesting. We all just sort of assume politicians, they have money, they`re wealthy, they`re comfortable. We just kind of assume of that. That`s one thing that struck me in your piece as well. He`s 40 years old, it`s 1991, gets elected mayor in Burlington. I think it pays, what, $32,000, $33,000 a year. And it`s like Bernie Sanders hit the jackpot. This is the most money he`s ever made in his life. KRUSE: Way more. The first steady paycheck he had as an adult. I mean, throughout the `70s, he was living hand-to-mouth, renting an apartment in Burlington that was sparsely furnished, the electricity being turned off because he couldn`t pay his bills from time to time. You know, this is all part of the entire person. It`s not an either/or proposition to me. Yes, his issues are important, what he says is important, what he`s done is important. But where he`s been and who he`s been, that`s important, too -- especially if you`re running for president. KORNACKI: All right. The roundtable is going to stay with us. Up next, he`s a liberal crusader, but is he also a spoiler? Congressman Alan Grayson doesn`t play by the rules. Could that come back to haunt Democrats? This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Katherine Archuleta, the head of government`s Office of Personnel Management has resigned. Her departure comes in the wake of news that 22 million Americans had their information stolen in two cyber attacks. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for her to go.   HARDBALL is back right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Democrats have a shot at taking back the U.S. Senate next year. But in Florida`s open Senate race, they could be facing a gigantic headache. "Politico" reports Democrats primary nightmare comes true. Alan Grayson runs for Senate. "Grayson is a progressive hip-shooting fire brand beloved by liberals," the article said. National Democrats are worried that if Grayson wins their party nomination he could blow their chances in the general election. They are already putting their support behind Florida`s Patrick Murphy. But a defiant Grayson is taking a page out of a Tea Party playbook and running anyway. He told NBC News, quote, "One reason why Democrats are willing to crawl over hot coals naked to vote for me is because I`m willing to tell the truth." A St. Rio University poll matching up Murphy and Grayson shows it within the margin of error, with Murphy leading by three points. Grayson became a hero for the progressives in 2009 health care debate when he vilified the Republican opposition. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALAN GRAYSON (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Here it is. The Republicans health care plan for America: don`t get sick. The Republicans have a back-up plan in case you do get sick. If you get sick in America, this is what the Republicans want you to do. If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this -- die quickly.   (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: But the outlandish statements didn`t stop there. Here`s another example in 2013 when he compared the Tea Party to the KKK in the wake of the government shutdown. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GRAYSON: This temporary shutdown ended up costing America $25 billion. That`s almost $100 for every man, woman and child in this country. Frankly, they want their money back and want the Tea Party out of their lives. At this point, the Tea Party is no more popular than the Klan. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: So, could this loose cannon candidate blow the Democrats chances to win the Sunshine State back in 2016? We`re back with the roundtable. So, Sabrina, let me start with you. We started the show talking about the dilemma that Republicans face when it comes to Donald Trump. And all the inroads Republicans would like to make with Latino voters, with voters they did not win in 2012, in all of the messaging nightmares that Donald Trump is causing them. Now, you look at Democrats trying to win back control of the U.S. Senate in 2016. Florida, a prime pick-up opportunity for them, and now that you have this situation where Alan Grayson wants to run. He speaks the language of the base. How can the Democratic Party in Florida keep him from being their nominee without riling up their base in revolt? SIDDIQUI: Well, it certainly poses a significant challenge. And I think as you mentioned, the Republicans are very much don`t want Donald Trump to become the face of their party, and national party Democrats as well as strategists in Florida don`t want Alan Grayson to become the face of the Democratic Party over there.   One of the things about him is, as you mentioned, he has absolutely no filter. There`s no telling what he might say, when he might say it. He has -- questions have been raised about his ethics. He had a very ugly and public divorce. So, I think they feel that he would be a distraction. Patrick Murphy, on the other hand, he defeated Allen West, one of the most expensive House races of 2012. He`s a play it safe Democrat, and I think they have to really saw a shot with him. So, you know, there`s not much they can do with Alan Grayson throwing his hat in other than hope that Patrick Murphy is able to stay on message and rally the support he needs. KORNACKI: Well, David Corn, it`s the tone, though, isn`t it? I mean, Alan Grayson obviously is pretty far out there on the left. We just did a segment about Bernie Sanders who is pretty far out there on the left. But with Alan Grayson, you get this piece where it can become very strident, it become very personal, it can become very edgy, and the message then, the liberalism almost gets lost in the bombast. CORN: Well, it is. Sometimes his methods distract from his message. And he reminds me in a lot of ways of Newt Gingrich. When Newt was coming up, the enemies on the left, socialists and communists. And he would just come up -- any time something happened bad in the nation, he would blame it on the leftists and liberals and Democrats. His rhetoric was exceedingly excessive and extreme. It still ended up working for him for a while. He got to be house speaker. I`m not sure Alan Grayson is going to win the Senate primary. But Democratic establishments are always worried about people who are more to the outside ideologically than the center. And so, I think this will play out the way it plays out in a lot of places. It will be a campaign -- he`ll have a lot of money. He`ll be able to Alan Grayson. And Patrick Murphy will have a lot of money. This will all happen before the general election. And by the time of the general election, I think whatever scars they may occur on the Democratic side will probably largely be gone and people will be more focused on the presidential race. KORNACKI: All right. We`ll see. Funny how these things always happen in Florida, too. I remember the Republicans down there got stuck with Katherine Harris a few years ago in the Senate race. Anyway, thank you to David Corn, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Kruse. Appreciate you all being here.   We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks being for being with us. 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