CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: (INAUDIBLE) Cleveland (INAUDIBLE) Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Cleveland, home of the Rock-and- Roll Hall of Fame... (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MATTHEWS: ... because where else would it be? And ready for what promises to be an important night in American politics because if Hillary Clinton still looks like the Democratic nominee, nobody can tell you right now which of these 10 candidates, or 17 candidates on the Republican side, will get to go up against her. Tonight, 10 Republican presidential candidates take the stage at (INAUDIBLE) arena here in Cleveland in the first presidential debate. And for all the years I`ve been covering politics, there`s never been a field quite like this one, nor has there been a national stage so exciting and consequential as tonight`s. At center stage, Donald Trump, by every standard the front-runner. And is there any viewer tonight who won`t be watching his performance, how he conducts himself tonight? Is he ready for his close-up? Right next to him will be Jeb Bush. He was the front-runner before Trump jumped in, and the two of them have been going at each other, with Trump even going after Bush`s wife. And now a new report just out today that Bush told one of his contributors that Trump is a buffoon and a clown, and a word we can`t use -- and that the rest of the field includes firebrands like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, the live and let live Rand Paul, the hawkish Marco Rubio, and three of the country`s governors, Scott Walker, John Kasich... (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MATTHEWS: He`s from here -- and Chris Christie from Jersey. Anyway, the candidates will be cattle-prodded by a trio of Fox moderators. Let`s see who wins this thing. There are also seven candidates who did not make the primetime stage tonight. Call them the line outside the restaurant. How -- well, we`ll tell you how the undercard went earlier this evening. But we begin tonight with a look at the main event. Joe Scarborough is the host of "MORNING JOE." (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MATTHEWS: Kacie Hunt is MSNBC`s political correspondent. Michael Steele was Republican national chairman. He joins us. And joining us tonight is Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC`s "MEET THE PRESS." First off, we`ve got a news bulletin right now delivered by our own Kacie Hunt. Kacie, what do you know about the prep by the Donald Trump people for tonight`s debate? KACIE HUNT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, that`s the big question, right, which Donald Trump are we going to see on the stage tonight. And he`s been saying he hasn`t done much in the way of traditional prep, but MSNBC has obtained some memos that were circulated by a Trump associate to Mr. Trump, outlining some of the potential ways he could approach this debate. Now, a lot of it is traditional prep, like you`d see for any candidate. It lays out broad themes, for example. That`s something Roger Ailes always said they should do. It`s something man of these other candidates are going to be striving to do. It doesn`t include too many aggressive attacks on his Republican opponents, which is another thing he`s been out there saying he`s not going to do. But what it does include is a lot of material in the event that those Republican opponents go after him. So we have a couple potential quotes that Trump could use. And again, these are memos that were circulated among his campaign. We`re not sure how much time Donald Trump has spent looking exactly at these. But in the event of attack from Marco Rubio, for example, he would say, quote, "Marco, you`re a nice guy, but you can`t even balance your personal checkbook. How can we trust to you handle the federal budget?" Pretty much tough (ph) jab (ph) there. He also shows, while there were no prepared quips directly against Jeb Bush, who`s somebody that -- you know, Michael, as you know, he`s gone after very aggressively, he does include them in a couple of the others. First, again with Rubio, "It is funny, when Jeb was governor" -- and the instruction there is, point to Jeb -- "and you headed the Florida state legislature, the Florida state debt more than doubled." We may be able to fact check that with you. He also includes in an attack line against John Kasich. Quote, "I called Jeb and you" -- John Kasich -- "the Lehman brothers," another pretty aggressive one-liner. And finally, Scott Walker. "There are 10 people on the stage tonight, nine are" -- or, excuse me. "I" -- yes. I`m missing my Scott Walker quote here, but -- there you go. "There are 10 people running on this stage tonight. Nine are running against Trump. One, me, is running against Hillary because she`d be a disaster for this country. She is a criminal." So there you have a broad attack against the Republican field, Chris. MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, let`s go to what I think is going to be -- that`s fascinating stuff. We`ll watch Trump tonight (INAUDIBLE) if he uses any of this stuff. That`ll be interesting. Joe Scarborough, your thoughts about this because I think everybody preps for these things. This is the biggest night of the campaign so far. The audience tonight is going to be in the zillions, and you`d better make a great, you know, first impression. To a lot of people, this`ll be (INAUDIBLE) JOE SCARBOROUGH, "MORNING JOE" CO-HOST: Yes, I really don`t know how much Donald Trump preps. You say everybody preps for these things. I remember Jack Kemp in 1996 obviously didn`t prep. Some people... MATTHEWS: Did any winners ever not prep? SCARBOROUGH: No, they didn`t. But the question is, what happens tonight with Donald Trump? Because you said it off the top. This is a Republican race like no other in our lifetime. The Republican nominating process for president has all the spontaneity of the Windsors in Great Britain, trying to figure out... MATTHEWS: Normally. SCARBOROUGH: No, it does -- trying to figure out who the next in line is for royalty. MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That is true. SCARBOROUGH: We Republicans always pick who`s next in line. I remember going to San Diego in 1996. I sat down at a table. This was before we even nominated Bob Dole. Somebody came up, said, Hey, George W. Bush is coming. I go, Oh, that`s great. They go, You know he`s going to be the nominee in 2000, don`t you? I go, really? And that`s usually how it is. Donald Trump has changed that. He`s shaken this race up. He`s made everybody look twice at Jeb Bush... MATTHEWS: OK... SCARBOROUGH: He`s got everybody looking, Marco, Ted Cruz -- and he`s completely changed the complexity of this race. MATTHEWS: So which is it, the new kid on the block, the exciting guy or the same old, same old? SCARBOROUGH: I don`t think we`re going to have the same old, same old this year. MATTHEWS: Neither do it. Your thoughts because your party`s always been whose turn is it. STEELE: Yes. Yes. MATTHEWS: And the Democrats, it`s been like an inner city basketball court, who`s ever got the hot hand. Never saw the kid before. Give him the ball! (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: That`s the way it`s been, whether it`s Jack Kennedy or it`s anybody else. STEELE: Well, the parties have, you know, flipped the scripts on each other. MATTHEWS: They`ve cross-dressed. STEELE: The Democrats -- they`ve crossed-dressed. That`s one way to put it. Yes, the Democrats are, you know, sort of, you know, putting this making it easier for Hillary. You`re hearing now Martin O`Malley and Bernie Sanders complain about the debate schedule because they don`t think they have enough time. This is catered to Hillary. On the Republican side, it`s wild, wild west. I mean, it`s a real opportunity for the party to do a couple things. One, showcase the talent that has been groomed and developed in the governors, in the senators, the business community. That`s been good. And the second thing is to have, I think, what you`ll see tonight, a really frothy debate about what matters to this leadership. MATTHEWS: Well, the big show tonight is when Trump is attacked, we all know he might unload. Here`s just taste of the Trump dump leading up to tonight, a preview of tonight`s attractions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about Marco Rubio? DONALD TRUMP (R-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he`s highly overrated. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRES. CANDIDATE: (INAUDIBLE) he`s a jackass. TRUMP: What a stiff. What a stiff, Lindsey Graham. He gave me his number. And I found the card! I wrote the number down. I don`t know if it`s the right number. Let`s try it, 202 -- (DELETED) RICK PERRY (R-TX), FMR. GOV., PRES. CANDIDATE: Have you no sense of decency, sir? TRUMP: He put glasses on so people will think he`s smart. And it just doesn`t work! You know, people can see through the glasses. JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we embrace this language, the divisiveness and ugliness, we`ll never win. We`ll never win. TRUMP: He`s weak on immigration. He`s in favor of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can`t do it. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the goal here is to find the person to be president of the United States who can get the most attention, he`s going to win hands down. TRUMP: Well, I told this to Chris. I told it to his people. He missed his time. GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRES. CANDIDATE: I`ve said consistently, Donald Trump can speak for himself. The other day, when went after me specifically, I just said, Hey, he can speak for himself. MATTHEWS: Oh, finally I can attack. Finally! Wisconsin`s doing terrible. The roads are a disaster. The schools are a disaster. The hospitals and education is a disaster. He was totally in favor of Common Core! SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is a temporary sort of loss of sanity. But we`re going to come back to our senses and look for somebody serious to lead the country at some point. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Chuck Todd, back East -- you know, Chuck, the Democrat -- the Democrat and the Republican presidential campaigns have always begun in Iowa. Speak softly, be respectful to people you meet... CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Right. MATTHEWS: ... low-key. And somehow, New York, the Big Apple, Gotham, Metropolis, Jackie Gleason, the biggest noisemakers in the world have taken over the Republican process right now. Is this for real, what we`re watching tonight? Is this really the first big test tonight on Roger Ailes`s network coming out -- really out of New York, is what`s happening tonight, even though it`s out here in Cleveland. Is it -- has the Big East taken this away from the Midwest? TODD: Well, that`s an interesting theory. I mean, I think while they might, they`ll never be elected president. You cannot become president of the United States without doing well in the Midwest. And if you look at successful presidential candidates, and I don`t care Democrat or Republican, in our generation, Chris, they all had a -- they all connected with the Midwest in an important way. But let`s go to the bigger -- I think the bigger question here, which is this idea that is, is this about Trump or is there something else going on? Why is the Republican Party not acting the way it normally does, which is just get in line behind who`s next and who will not, you know, blow it, you know, who will do just fine. And I think this is a pent-up party. The conservative grass roots, the sort of the working class conservatives -- they have been upset about the establishment of the party. You can argue to say they`ve been upset basically going back to 64. But they felt as if they were listened to during the Reagan years. But ever sense the Bushes took control of the party, they`ve never felt comfortable and happy in the party. And I think that at some point, this was going to blow, right? We were going to have this uprising of the conservative populist working class grass roots that have been growing in the party for over two decades. And here it is. And Trump`s just figured out how to tap into it better than Cruz or Paul, all these other guys that we thought could. He`s figured out how to be more blunt and straightforward and tap into it faster. Now, whether he can sustain it -- you know, I don`t know how he sustains it. I don`t know how you sustain this level for this long, making it all the way to Iowa, New Hampshire and everything. But right now, it is what`s going on. MATTHEWS: Kacie, you`re out there. Do you see Haley`s comet? Is this one of those years, like every 20 or 30 years, when all of a sudden, the party that normally goes whose turn it is, just gets wild about this character and goes off the rails with a guy like Trump? HUNT: Well, one thing... MATTHEWS: Do you feel it? HUNT: One thing I got to tell you, Chris, is there has been a shift in tone among many of the top operatives at these campaigns. And it`s gone from, What are we going to do about this flash in the pan, all we got to do is ignore him until August, to, Wow, what are we going to do if he is still -- if he is on the ballot in Iowa and on the ballot in New Hampshire? And what if he wins Iowa, and then we`re trying to figure out who`s going to win South Carolina. Those things are starting to emerge as part of the conversation. People are taking Trump much more seriously than I`ve heard them taking him in the past. MATTHEWS: What happens tonight if he acts like he belongs in the pack, if he doesn`t look like an odd guy that showed up, that he looks like one of the candidates for president near the top tier? SCARBOROUGH: He doesn`t want to do that. I know we`re going to talk about the... MATTHEWS: He doesn`t want to look like... (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: He doesn`t want to -- you know, I know we`re not going to talk about the happy hour debate until next block. But if anybody watched the pre-debate, they understand why Donald Trump is doing well right now because that was so pre-packaged. It was so calculated. STEELE: Yes. SCARBOROUGH: It was so mechanical... MATTHEWS: Good job of promoting our second block! (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: Only one candidate really broke through. But you looked at that and you said, All right, so this is why people are hungry... MATTHEWS: OK. OK. SCARBOROUGH: ... for a candidate like Donald Trump that says Washington politicians just don`t get it. MATTHEWS: You know what I thought when I watched that, now that you`ve broken the seal on this? I thought I was watching Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, who looked great -- the prom king and the prom queen interviewing the people that didn`t get dates. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: It was unbelievable! It`s so sad. It was just sad. But I want to continue with this. Former chair of the Republican National Committee, does he fit in the top tier? Does he look right? Does he make sense? STEELE: Trump? MATTHEWS: Trump. STEELE: Yes, I think he does. And it`s obvious for a lot of people, he does. And I think that`s going to be an interesting test for him tonight, whether or not he`s able to take it to the next level and show his level of competence to run for president. But right now, it`s working for him. I don`t see him changing anything. I think he`s going to come in a little bit more muted in the beginning, size up the stage. It`s like a deal for him. This is an "Art of the Deal" moment for him. He`s got... MATTHEWS: OK... STEELE: He`s got all these guys that he`s going to be dealing with. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: We`ve been talking her up. Everybody`s been doing it. Carly Fiorina joins us right now. A lot of people, including me and Joe and everybody else who watched, thinks she was the star of an otherwise rather nerdy effort tonight at 5:00 o`clock. Carly Fiorina, what did you do the others didn`t do tonight? CARLY FIORINA (R-CA), FMR. H-P CEO, PRES. CANDIDATE: Oh, well, I`ll leave that to the pundits. My goal was to introduce myself to the American people. Only 40 percent of Republican voters knew who I was before tonight. So my goal was to introduce myself and to give people a feeling of what I would do as president of the United States and what my background is. And I feel satisfied that they got an introduction to Carly Fiorina, which I think was important. MATTHEWS: You called Hillary Clinton a liar tonight on a number of occasions. Do you want to explain why you would use such an almost end-of- conversation term for your possible opponent next year? FIORINA: Because it`s true. You know, one of the things that I think people are tired of in politics -- and Republicans do it, as well -- is we don`t use common sense language. We talk in sanitized sound bites. I don`t, but most politicians do. People are tired of sanitized sound bites and bumper sticker rhetoric. They want to have a conversation about the real issues. And by any standard common sense measure, Hillary Clinton has lied about Benghazi and about her e-mails and about her server. MATTHEWS: How do you debate someone, if it comes to that -- you would have three national debates with someone you`ve once again just this moment just called a liar? Do you just begin a debate with, I don`t believe a word you say, you`re a dishonest person? It seems to me, having worked in Washington all these years -- you say it`s just not common sense. But you really think that`s a way to engage in a debate, to call your opponent a liar? I`m just -- I`m astounded by that judgment of yours. FIORINA: Well, first of all -- first of all, I was very specific about the subjects about which I think she has lied. I didn`t say she lied about everything. I was very specific, very fact-based, actually. You are the one who`s made a generalized comment now about her, not me. MATTHEWS: Well, once you call a person... FIORINA: Secondly, I will debate her... (CROSSTALK) FIORINA: Excuse me! Secondly... MATTHEWS: Well, OK, go through your list. FIORINA: Secondly, I will debate her... MATTHEWS: Go through your list. FIORINA: I will debate her on the facts... MATTHEWS: Go through your list of where she`s lied. FIORINA: Benghazi, e-mails and server. I will debate her on the issues facing this nation. I will debate her on her positions. I will ask her, for example, how she can possibly continue to defend Planned Parenthood. I will ask her why she continues to say she`s a champion of the middle class, while every single proposal she has put forward makes crony capitalism... MATTHEWS: OK. FIORINA: ... worse and worse and worse, which makes income inequality worse. I would ask her why she declared victory in Iraq in 2011, why she called Bashar al Assad a positive reformer, why she thought she could stop Putin`s ambition, a man I have met, with a gimmicky red reset button. I`ll ask her why she got every single foreign policy issue wrong as secretary of state. That`s how I`ll debate her, on the issues! MATTHEWS: Let me -- let me fine point -- put a fine point on that. Why did she lie, or how did she lie, as you put it, about Benghazi? Where was her lie? FIORINA: OK. So it`s very clear from all the data -- it`s very clear from the data, it`s very clear from the e-mails that she, that the president of the United States, that the secretary of state, and that the military understood that this was a purposeful terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11, and they understood it while it was going on. So tell me, then, why would you talk about the next day from the State Department -- why would you talk about a video? Why would you explain that this is not America? Why would you stand over the bodies of the fallen and say it again? Why not come out and say, This was a purposeful terrorist attack on our embassy. Four brave Americans were killed, and we are going to seek retribution! MATTHEWS: Thank you, Carly Fiorina. I see why you stood out tonight. Thank you for coming on the program tonight. There you have it. Joe, what do you think about it... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: The recent secretary of the -- of the state -- of state, well, just say many times -- she said she lied, she lied, she lied. So I jumped to the conclusion she called her a liar, since she did on numerous occasions in the debate I just watched. SCARBOROUGH: And she name the three occasions that she did. I`m just going to talk about Carly Fiorina generally. If you look at the debate, if you look at the way she responds to the debate, if you look at the way she responded when she came onto our show -- Mika went after her very aggressively. Not only did she and Mika have a great debate, she came back the next week, got in my face. She doesn`t mind confrontation. As far as substance goes, there`s Carly Fiorina and there`s everybody else... STEELE: Yes. SCARBOROUGH: ... not just on the earlier stage... MATTHEWS: Right. SCARBOROUGH: ... but even on the stage tonight. You can look at every single candidate. MATTHEWS: OK... SCARBOROUGH: But if you want to judge them by debating skills, I don`t see anybody at this point in the campaign... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: So you like the way she`s going about this. You like the way she`s going about this. SCARBOROUGH: Well, no. If you`re saying... MATTHEWS: Calling her opponent a liar. SCARBOROUGH: No, no, Chris. Don`t put words in my mouth. MATTHEWS: I`m asking! SCARBOROUGH: No, Chris, I don`t like that she called her a liar. I - - what did I do? I ran... MATTHEWS: I`m asking. SCARBOROUGH: I know you`re asking, but you got to start listening. MATTHEWS: I`m listening hard. SCARBOROUGH: No, you`re not because you`re trying to pigeonhole me into saying... MATTHEWS: OK, let`s move on. SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no! I`m not going to move on! MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll have to. SCARBOROUGH: Well, we`re -- I`m not going to move on until I say I disagree with calling an opponent a liar. I don`t think that`s the approach... MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what I was bringing up. SCARBOROUGH: Well, that`s right, but I`m talking generally about how did Carly Fiorina do? Because I think that`s probably... MATTHEWS: OK... SCARBOROUGH: ... what people here... MATTHEWS: OK. SCARBOROUGH: ... and watching on TV want to know. MATTHEWS: OK, I have an advantage here because her closing statement went on to a series of cases -- she lied, she lied, she lied. SCARBOROUGH: Right. MATTHEWS: She was talking about the secretary of state. It turns out that she lost her talking points for the closing statement. All that was a deliberate planned attack on Hillary... SCARBOROUGH: Right. MATTHEWS: ... as a liar. Lie, lie, lie, it was all... (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: ... going to talk about for the next week of two about Carly Fiorina, or are you going to about her performance? MATTHEWS: I think that was her performance. SCARBOROUGH: Just that one answer. MATTHEWS: I think when she chose to make her closing statement, the recent secretary of state and probable democratic nominee for president is a liar and made that point repeatedly, I think that`s a highly significant decision on her part, and I don`t think a good one for the country. SCARBOROUGH: What -- what do you... MATTHEWS: I don`t think we should begin our national debate over... (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: Should we really go back... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: ... one side calling the other a liar. SCARBOROUGH: What was George W. Bush called? Do we really want to dredge up... STEELE: I was going to say! (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: ... and in the Democratic Party called George W. Bush for eight years? Was that good for the national discourse? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You know what? Let`s repeat -- retrieve the last several minutes. Carly Fiorina was kind enough to make herself available to this network coming off of a statement. Her closing statement was to accuse the recent secretary of state again and again and again of lying. SCARBOROUGH: Right. MATTHEWS: We have discovered that she had a written statement to that effect. SCARBOROUGH: That is right. MATTHEWS: This was a deliberate way to start a national campaign. I think it is something that deserves news coverage and very important decision-making by the American people. Do we want a presidential campaign based on one candidate calling the other a liar? And I`m serious about that. (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: .... unfortunately, George W. Bush dealt with Democrats... (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: ... for eight years. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let`s try to focus on Carly Fiorina, as we... (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: Well, of course you would like to talk about it when a Republican says it about a Democrat. But what about when a Democrat says it to a Republican? MATTHEWS: I think, when the word liar is used, we try to focus on it. SCARBOROUGH: Yes. I agree. MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I understand what you`re saying, and I get back and forth here. But Carly Fiorina scored the points she needed to score, number one. MATTHEWS: Which was, Hillary is a liar. OK. STEELE: And she tapped into the fact that a lot of people believe me, because, Chris, the polls are calling her a liar. SCARBOROUGH: The American people are. STEELE: The American people are calling her a liar. MATTHEWS: The American people are going to decide tonight if that`s the kind of politics they want to see, Joe. And you have rendered your judgment. SCARBOROUGH: No, I haven`t rendered my judgment. Stop putting words in my mouth. I know you are wanting to do that. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Let`s put it this way. Would you say that she accused Secretary Clinton of lying repeatedly tonight? SCARBOROUGH: You have the closing statement. She said she lied on three points. MATTHEWS: Yes. She kept saying it. SCARBOROUGH: But I`m just curious. (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: Are you going to just hold on to this like a Jack Russell terrier? Got a bone? Are you going to be carrying this around for three weeks? Or are we going to look at more things than one answer? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: As long as the bone is sitting next to me. SCARBOROUGH: Well, if that`s the only bone you think you have to chew on... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: ... the last 10 minutes, Joe. SCARBOROUGH: Well, that`s all you want to talk about. What I`m saying is, there are a lot of Republican that`s saw Carly Fiorina, a lot of people in the press that saw more than. I do not -- and, by the way, I have run four times. I have never called my opponent a liar. I have never questioned their integrity. MATTHEWS: Nor should you have. SCARBOROUGH: And I shouldn`t have. Do I agree with her calling the secretary of state a liar? No, I don`t. MATTHEWS: I agree. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Joe, we are kissing cousins on this. We completely agree. (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: Except that`s not all I`m going to focus on tonight. She had a great debate. MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Joe. You`re a chivalrous fellow. SCARBOROUGH: Thank you. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Kasie Hunt. Thank you. And thank you, Chuck Todd. And I will get around to thanking you, but you will be back. SCARBOROUGH: Thank you. MATTHEWS: Joe Scarborough and Michael Steele are sticking with us. And coming up, more of this club fight you just heard from Carly Fiorina. We will have more highlights from the early debate from the seven candidates who didn`t make the cut. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: This is HARDBALL`s live coverage of the first Republican Party debate, live from Cleveland. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL live from the club fighting here between me and Joe in Cleveland. We`re just under two hours away from the main event, the showdown of the top 10 Republican contenders. But the seven candidates did have their -- well, they missed the cut and they met this afternoon in what Lindsey Graham called the happy hour debate. It wasn`t that happy. They included four current or former U.S. governors, the former CEO of a Fortune 50 company, a sitting senator and the person who came in second back in 2012. That`s Rick Santorum. One topic that came up early, Donald Trump and why he is dominating the polls right now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, when you look at the celebrity of Donald Trump, then I think that says a lot about it. I have had my issues with Donald Trump. I talked about Donald Trump from the standpoint of being an individual who was using his celebrity rather than his conservatism. How can you run for the Republican nomination and be for single-payer health care? CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn`t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn`t. Maybe it`s because I hadn`t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife`s Senate campaign. Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern? (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: And here by popular request, Carly Fiorina`s closing statement about Hillary Clinton. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FIORINA: Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi. She lies about e- mails. She is still defending Planned Parenthood, and she is still her party`s front-runner. 2016 is going to be a fight between conservatism and a Democrat party that is undermining the very character of this nation. We need a nominee who is going to throw every punch, not pull punches, and someone who cannot stumble before he even gets into the ring. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: We`re back with Joe Scarborough and Michael Steele. And, of course, we`re also joined by NBC`s Andrea Mitchell. And outside the Quicken Loans Arena is "The Washington Post"`s Robert Costa. Robert, I want to go to you. No, I will go to Andrea first. Andrea, everybody seems to think that Carly Fiorina made a name for herself tonight in numerous ways, but mainly stood out among a rather dull crowd. ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think she did stand out. I think she was the hardest-hitting of the candidates, clearly. And as the only woman, she had that advantage standing out. But I think she did stand out. Now, it is tough and it`s not to everyone`s tastes, but if there`s a takeaway from this debate, a debate held in an empty stadium, which was strangely nonresonant. (CROSSTALK) MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ It`s very hard to debate that way. MATTHEWS: That was metaphor right there. MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ And I felt sorry for them. There was no audience. There was nobody to bounce off of. There was no reaction. I have to say that I think Carly Fiorina, for her toughness... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Well, one of the questions... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: ... raised is that Carly seized an opportunity here. Not only did she missed the cut, so she should be more aggressive, but she is the only woman on either stage today. And is she -- well, this has got to get into her head. Being that aggressive on Hillary, saying that she lied about all those issues, is that a way of saying, I`m not afraid -- if you put a woman up there, she has a better shot at taking down the opponent you will probably face? MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ Absolutely. She is saying, I am the best suited to go after her. And she`s been saying that for a while. She`s been out there... MATTHEWS: Because? MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ ... on the campaign. When we saw her in South Carolina, she trailed Hillary Clinton to South Carolina. I interviewed her that day right outside where Hillary Clinton was giving her speech. She`s just been mercilessly going after Clinton and saying, basically, I can do it because I`m a woman. She`s not saying that, but that`s the message. MATTHEWS: That`s right. MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ But you guys can`t take Hillary Clinton down. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go to Robert Costa, because I want to get somebody to referee this. Everybody is going to say, it looks to me, that Fiorina was the star tonight in the early match, the top -- the bottom card. The question is, they will also take her direct shot against Hillary for lying in those cases. Is this going to be melded together and say, this is the way to do it? Is this you got to be that tough with the gloves off and making that ad hominem an attack on your probable opponent? ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You talk to every single campaign, everyone had a Trump strategy coming in. Everyone had a Hillary Clinton strategy. They came armed with one-liners, opposition research. This was their chance to shine. You see Fiorina. She is the attack dog. She relishes the role. MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of the fact that it was all in her prepared statement, that she came in with the idea she was going to call Hillary a liar in all those cases? That`s a pretty strong decision on her part. Why do you think it is effective? Because it apparently is. We`re talking about her. COSTA: Because Fiorina sees a path to victory, if any, in a place like Iowa. The activists, the conservatives in that state, they love this red meat. They want more of it. She doesn`t -- it is going to be harder for her in New Hampshire. Bush is strong there. Trump is pretty strong. Paul is pretty strong. South Carolina -- she needs a bounce. She is a lower-tier candidate. how does she get a bounce? She has got to have the conservatives in Northwest Iowa with her. These kind of Hillary Clinton comments help. MATTHEWS: What do you think of her attack on Trump, saying, I didn`t get a phone call from Bill Clinton? Then we find out -- we dig up a picture that she was actively involved with the Clinton Global Initiative. She wasn`t hands-off from the Clintons, but she took a direct shot saying he is somehow Clinton`s candidate. STEELE: Well, yes, because that`s what everybody believes. MATTHEWS: They believe that Trump is Clinton`s candidate? STEELE: Yes, because there is a narrative. And you will probably see some more of it tonight about the connection between Clinton and Trump and so forth. MATTHEWS: What`s the strategy on Clinton? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Why would Clinton want Trump to do well? STEELE: Look, I don`t even take that away from that, though. I think they have a friendship and a relationship that is just there. SCARBOROUGH: And they have for a long time. STEELE: For a long time, yes. SCARBOROUGH: You know, it is interesting, though. You are talking about Carly Fiorina and her closing comment. What is interesting is, Mika, Louis, the "MORNING JOE" team, and I watched the debate, and the entire debate. We said, well, round one goes to Carly. Round two goes to Carly. Round three goes to Carly. Actually, this one part that you`re talking about was the one time that Mika and Louis and I looked at each other and said, boy, that was a weak closing statement. In fact, I texted that to somebody. So if Carly Fiorina is declared the winner tonight by Republicans and other people that watched it, it is actually in spite of that last closing statement that she made, because that was the one time that she seemed to be out of her element, the one time she was grasping for words. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Let me go back to -- let me go right back to that story I talked about. "The Washington Post" broke that, because it`s Robert Costa who is with us right now, that broke the story that Bill Clinton, the former president, spoke to Donald Trump right before Trump went into the race. And they report that -- quote -- "Clinton sounded curious about Trump`s moves toward a presidential bid and told Trump that he was striking a chord with frustrated conservatives and there was a rising force on the right." Robert Costa, what do you make of the political significance of Bill Clinton sort of being the corner man, the guy with the towel over his shoulder, helping Trump get ready for what turns out to be a very successful entry into this race? COSTA: To use a Trump word, Chris, huge. There`s huge significance. A lot of the rivals, they are coming tonight ready to talk about the call from Bill Clinton. They think Trump has a vulnerability when it comes to his relationship in the past with Hillary Clinton, Secretary Clinton, in the past with former President Clinton. They want to bring it up. They want to say he`s someone, if he`s not a tool of the Democratic Party, he is too cozy with them. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead. MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ No, it also helps resonate with their arguments that`s he not a true conservative, if they make that argument, that in the past, he had a different position on health care, on abortion. They can make the case that he is Clintonian or is too connected. And if you really want to believe in conspiracy theories, Bill Clinton is egging him on to get into the race because it helps Hillary Clinton to roil the Republican Party`s race. MATTHEWS: All of you here, including Robert, do you think that Fiorina worked her way into the top 10 tonight, or the top 11, by her performance? COSTA: No. It is going to be very tough. This 5:00 debate, it is big right now. But in a few -- in an hour, we`re going to have two hours, prime time, Trump and the top tier. They`re going to overwhelm this lower tier. I hear some of these contenders who were in this first debate, Chris, they`re going to go out to dinner tonight together, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, maybe watch the debate together. They know they`re not the main show. MATTHEWS: You all agree she did well? You did -- do well? (CROSSTALK) MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ Yes. But I agree with Robert. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: But that`s all right. I will bring that up on my show again tomorrow night, for the next several weeks. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Joe Scarborough. SCARBOROUGH: And, by the way, let me just say I am against candidates calling other candidates liars. Have I made that clear? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Clearly. (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: Good. I`m glad I have. Yes. Great. MATTHEWS: The trouble is, there was an initial support of her position tonight. SCARBOROUGH: By whom? MATTHEWS: By you. SCARBOROUGH: There`s not a support of her position in calling Hillary Clinton a liar. The great thing is, this is all on tape. (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no. All I said was, she did very well in the debate. Her weakest line was her last. MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s get one point clear. We all agree on it. If you call a person -- you accuse a person of lying three different times in a row, are you calling them a liar? SCARBOROUGH: Yes. MATTHEWS: Three times in a row, she lied, she lied, she lied. Is that calling someone a liar? Fiorina came back on this show and said, I didn`t call her a liar. SCARBOROUGH: Right. MATTHEWS: But she did. SCARBOROUGH: Yes. You got that. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I got that. Give me that point. (CROSSTALK) SCARBOROUGH: You got that to put in your pocket and go for a couple nights. MATTHEWS: You will give me one bone. Anyway, thank you, Joe Scarborough, who owns the morning. Beware. SCARBOROUGH: Yes. Yes. MATTHEWS: The vampire rises at dawn. SCARBOROUGH: Yes. Yes. Thank you so much. MATTHEWS: Andrea Mitchell, Michael Steele, Robert Costa. Still ahead, Michele Bachmann. (CROSSTALK) (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: ... four years ago. She`s coming here when we come back. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from Cleveland for the first Republican debate. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) MATTHEWS: Cleveland in -- Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Indians and the Browns and all this excitement. I just want to know. Here`s a town known for a big Democratic stronghold, right? Everybody is a Democrat. Well, then who are all these people? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are all people that are open-minded to new candidates, fresh blood, new ideas, and progress in the United States. So, you know, they`re here to give the GOP, you know, a welcome. MATTHEWS: OK. So you`re being generous? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, and enthusiastic and loving another. MATTHEWS: OK. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m a fan of yours. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Tell me the ways. Tell me how. (CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly, I... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: What did you think of this fight tonight? I`m with Scarborough here. I mean, it was a stupid fight because there was no real debate. Carly Fiorina called her opponents three times a liar. And she can quibble and say I only accused her of lying three times. But I didn`t call her a liar. But the fact is, that`s pretty rough talk. What do you make of that? Is that good for politics? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think a lot of name calling is going on. I`m actually an Obama supporter, so on the other side of the fence here, I`m looking to see a Republican candidate with a little more substance and a little less name calling. I would like to see more about the issues and less about -- MATTHEWS: What do you think tonight will be like? Two hours, FOX TV. What do you think? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is a lot of people and I`m not sure there`s a lot of time. MATTHEWS: Who do you think has brains? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think our governor probably does. MATTHEWS: Kasich. Thank you. We`ll be right back from here. Thank you -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Thank you. MATTHEWS: The home of the Democrats welcome the Republicans. Thanks. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back from Cleveland to our coverage of the first Republican debate right here in Cleveland. In 2012 GOP primary, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was the only female contender on stage at that Republican debate. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORMER REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Your question was, who is the proven -- constitutional conservative in this race? That would be me. I`m 55 years old. I`ve spent years as a private business woman, living a real life and building a real business. But you have to look at the candidates that are on the stage. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: In the summer of 2012, Bachmann surged in the Republican polls and at one point lead the field. In August of that year, the congresswoman scored a huge victory and won Iowa`s Ames straw poll. Former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann joins us right now. Congresswoman, thank you. It is an opportunity to have you share with us your time. I`m serious. What did you make of the debate so far? Did you watch the early one? Are you looking forward to the next one? Where are you on this? BACHMANN: I did. I watched the first one. I`m looking forward to the second one. Because to me, what I`m focused on more than anything is who will be the individual who will ensure that Iran never becomes the wealthiest terror state in the history of the world and one that has nuclear weapons. It`s really the issue have our day. It`s the issue that is premier and above all other issues. That`s my main concern. Who will be the best person to deal with that issue? MATTHEWS: You think -- well, I`m trying to figure out. I think you may be right. Your entire party, no matter who the nominee is, the issue is going to be security. Is that right? That`s going to be the issue of the campaign. BACHMANN: I think national security will be the number one issue because we`re seeing the rise of Islamic jihad across the world, but primarily with Iran becoming a terror state. In the next ten years, Iran will hold if the agreement goes through, over a half trillion dollars in new assets and they`ll have every level of women known to man, up to and including nuclear bombs, that`s if they hold to the terms of the agreement. So, if the agreement goes according to plan, Iran will be assured, guaranteed of having nuclear bombs. That doesn`t bode well for the world. And I think that is what Americans are on the edge of their seat about right now. And that`s what they want to hear from these candidates. We heard that I think in a very strong way in the first debate and now I think we`ll hear it even more. At least I hope we do in this upcoming debate. MATTHEWS: What are our options if the deal goes down? BACHMANN: Well, one of the options that has worked historically, both in Iraq and Syria and in Libya was to take out the nuclear hardware. That does not start war. That would end war. It`s worked very successfully in the past. I think it is something that would work very successfully today. MATTHEWS: What do you think the reaction of the government of Iran if we bombed their nuclear facilities and destroy them? What would be the reaction, do you believe, we could expect? BACHMANN: We have a very unique window of opportunity when the United States is the premier power in the world today. We could take out the nuclear hardware and we could withstand any level of a response that would come from Iran. They don`t have the current military situation to be able to respond. That window of opportunity is closing, Chris. And I`m concerned that it will close by perhaps as early as 2016 or 2017. So, the time to act is now if we want to guarantee and assure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. MATTHEWS: OK, we should bomb Iran now. What about Donald Trump? Do you think he could be a credible commander-in-chief? BACHMANN: Well, that`s what he`ll prove to prove on the stage. This is a big proving ground tonight, as I think I learned and all the other candidates learned. This is about as big as it gets, unless you`re in the final debate as the nominee of your party. This is the second biggest stage. And I was privileged to be a part of 15 presidential debates. And during that time, there is no filter. The viewer gets to really see your heart and they get to hear your mind and it`s a wonderful experience to be able to transmit to the audience your authenticity, your sincerity, where you`re coming from on the issues. And a bond and a rapport begins. I think we`ve seen on it both sides of the aisle with Democrat candidates, Republican candidates, some candidates connect and some candidates don`t. And that`s a part of what we`re seeing now in these earliest debates. Will a candidate have the ability to connect or not? It is the Super Bowl for politicians because there are so few debates, both on the Democrats side and the Republicans side this time, far fewer than before. Each debate, I believe, will be a Super Bowl for those candidates, because they will rise and fall, donor checkbooks will close very quickly, and candidates will have to make a decision if they`ll stay in or if they`ll get out. So, tonight is a Super Bowl because I think we could see a lot of candidates make a decision about the future of their candidacies after tonight. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Michele Bachmann, former congresswoman from Minnesota. You`re great to come on. Apart from the candidates themselves, the audience can sometimes be a factor in primary debates. And during the 2012 primaries, we saw how some in the auditorium were surprisingly vocal on a few key issues. When a gay soldier asked about the end of military`s "don`t ask/don`t tell policy", you could hear audible boos from the crowd. Let`s listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEPHEN HILL, SERVING IN IRAQ: In 2010 when I was deployed to Iraq I had to lie about who I was because I`m a gay soldier. I didn`t want to lose my job. My question is, under your presidency, do you intend to circumvent the progress that`s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military? AUDIENCE: Boo! (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, that was sweet. Anyway, Steve Schmidt ran John McCain`s presidential campaign in 2008, Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist out here in Cleveland, and Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer and columnist with "The Washington Post." Thank you all. Well, first, some pretty strong statements tonight. I don`t want to get into any more attacks from my colleagues. But the fact is, Carly Fiorina ended her very deliberate ending tonight accusing Hillary of lying to the country on three different occasions, and you just heard Michele Bachmann come out tonight and call for the bombing of Iran. So these, I would call, a couple of aggressive candidate types. Your thoughts, Connie? CONNIE SCHULTZ, JOURNALIST: When we think about how this is going to play out with the audience, I think it`s going to be interesting to watch the response to these comments this time around. They are in Cleveland. It is mostly a Cleveland audience. You are in the Midwest so you are expected to have a certain decorum. So, I`m kind of interested in seeing how this whole thing, the stage is going to play out with an audience in Ohio. MATTHEWS: Yes, do you think the language is too strong for a state that decides the presidential elections? SCHULTZ: Well, you`re in Cleveland. We`re tough. There are five Ohios, five regions in Ohio. MATTHEWS: So, liar, liar, pants on fire doesn`t scare anyone away, huh? SCHULTZ: No, no, we`re tough and I could imagine some catcalls from the audience if they get out of hand. MATTHEWS: Steve, what did you make of Michele Bachmann`s call for a bombing raid on the nuclear facilities? STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think -- MATTHEWS: Her statement of principle here. SCHMIDT: Look, I think she`s buying into President Obama`s red herring argument, that the choice is war or there`s a bad deal. MATTHEWS: No, the choice is bombing. SCHMIDT: Well, I think that`s my point. She`s buying into the president`s false dichotomy on this issue. Of course, the choice is -- MATTHEWS: You think Obama made her a hawk? Obama made her a hawk? Come on. Excuse me. (CROSSTALK) SCHMIDT: My point, Chris, is that she is giving life to the president`s argument here. MATTHEWS: Yes, she`s making his point. SCHMIDT: It`s a false choice. This bad deal is what will bring this country to war over the next decade. If there`s a central lesson in history -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: My point, too, a lot of hawks out there waiting for this to go down so they can start bombing. SCHMIDT: Listen, Chris, this deal will allow the Iranians to build their ballistic missile program, to develop nuclear weapons program. They`re the largest exporter of terror in the world. They have the blood of thousands of American soldiers. They are a sworn enemy of the United States. And the wishful thinking by this president about that regime is going to get a lot of people killed in the years to come because we are moving closer to the inevitable war that weakness and wishful thinking always brings. MATTHEWS: We know for sure the war that your side supported, that took us into Iraq, cost the lives of 200,000 people and that`s a fact. This is a war -- SCHMIDT: A war that Hillary Clinton voted for, of course. (CROSSTALK) SCHULTZ: In Ohio ranks fifth in the number of lost. EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Look, Steve, I really couldn`t disagree with you more, without the deal we have no way of influencing Iran`s behavior, short of war. We simply don`t -- and this is not just an agreement between the United States and Iran, this is an agreement between the permanent five members of the Security Council plus Germany plus the United States and Iran. And, you know, the horse has left the barn. The others are not going to sign on to the kind of intensified sanctions regime that perhaps we would want them to sign on to. They`re not going to do it. So, we will be left with ineffective unilateral sanctions that don`t get anything done and then a choice of how we affect Iranian behavior and the choice will be war. SCHMIDT: There is a lot of truth to what you just said about the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions, but all of this has been brought by the stunningly naive policy incompetently negotiated, the degree to which the United States Congress does not have oversight over the IAEA side agreements on this deal is appalling. And when you look at this issue, it is not just the Republicans, Gene, there are many, many Democrats in the Congress who are deeply, deeply concerned about this deal -- SCHULTZ: I think that`s -- SCHMIDT: -- and understand how much more dangerous the world will be should it be a -- (CROSSTALK) SCHULTZ: How many Republicans are for the deal? SCHMIDT: I hope none. SCHULTZ: That says something, does it not? You`re talking about Democrats having a spirited discussion about where they are and it`s a partisan deal. SCHMIDT: National security issues will be at the fore of this election because of the incompetence of this administration. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Well, the partisanship is clear. Let`s just let`s be straight, the partisanship is severe. We`re looking at maybe Flake from Arizona, one possible Republican senator. I think in the end of the deal will be certified and protected by Nancy Pelosi`s leadership in the House with 146 Democrats. I think that`s going to be a very bad partisan stop. SCHMIDT: I think we have seen great partisanship over recent years. This is a vote of principle. I think Republicans are acting on conviction about the security of the country. MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, they`ve been doing it one person after another in line. By the way, Bibi Netanyahu will go down in history as a guy who made a strategic mistake of being a head of a foreign government becoming a member of the Republican Party. That was a big mistake on his part. He shouldn`t have joined forces as a partisan, because partisanship should end at the water`s edge coming in both directions. Thank you, Steve Schmidt. But you`re entitled to your opinion. Connie Schultz, a great columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Pulitzer Prize -- I`m often lucky to be with Eugene Robinson. We`re coming back for another hour live from Cleveland. Now with just one hour to go until the big fight, the first Republican debate right here on Cleveland`s stage. Back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
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