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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 08/06/15

Guests: Kathleen Parker, Jennifer Palmieri

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: We`re here in Cleveland, downtown Cleveland. Everyone is out tonight. It`s a Democratic town with a lot of interest in the Republican debate. Less than an hour from now the first Republican presidential debate of the season, get ready for what promises to be, I think, after all the fun and games, a very important night in American politics. Whatever we thought two, three weeks ago, Donald Trump is the main attraction tonight. He enters the debate and this is in every poll you look at as the front-runner, center stage tonight. That`s where he`s going to be and he`s physically flanked tonight as you watch by nine other Republicans who must at some point, at some point take him down if they want to win because he`s king of the hill right now. The battle starts tonight. It`s already getting nasty out there. "Politico" is reporting Jeb Bush told a donor, that`s a big contributor, he thinks Trump is a clown and a buffoon and he also used worse words. And he`ll be standing next to Donald after Donald Trump hears what Bush has been saying about him. We have no idea what to expect tonight. With all the years we`ve been covering politics, there`s never been quite a field like this one. What is a successful night for each candidate going to look like? Steve Schmidt ran John McCain`s presidential campaign in 2008, Kathleen Parker and Eugene Robinson are both Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists, both with "The Washington Post." Our MSNBC colleague and he`s a good one, Steve Kornacki, is with us from outside the arena himself where it`s all going to happen tonight. So, I guess we start with the question -- let`s talk about what you think the fight is going to be, predict, Kathleen Parker, because I think - - I just happen to think, like everybody is who they are. Donald Trump is going to be Donald Trump.   KATHLEEN PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, yes, I hope he is, because otherwise it`s going to be a little less entertaining than we`re expecting. But I think very possibly Donald Trump is going to try to throw everyone else off balance a little bit by being presidential. Now what that means, you know, may have its own Trump flavor. MATTHEWS: Is he going to come out with a buzz cut? PARKER: I don`t think he`s going to do that. He may talk a little bit more in more substantive terms than he has thus far. I don`t think he`s going to get away in this debate without saying something like, you know, I`m going to repeal it and replace it with something terrific. I think that might have follow questions to that. MATTHEWS: But what happens, Gene, if that`s what he does? If he comes out, no fireworks, and all the other guys do the same thing, we`re going to have a replay of that thing we saw this afternoon. EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there will be a big difference. Number one, this is the first string, this is not the reserves. Number two, there will be a crowd there to react to whatever is said. MATTHEWS: I hope they make some noise. ROBINSON: So, there will be some energy in there. And, number three, I think even Donald Trump being subdued is not really subdued by any standard definition. So, I think what he has to avoid is sounding like a politician because a big part of what`s gotten him this far is not sounding like a politician, by sounding like something different. And if he uses politician weasel words, I think he loses some of the momentum. PARKER: I agree with you. I don`t think he`ll do that. I do think the moderators will put him on the spot to be a little bit more specific. But the thing is even though we in the media want him to be more specific and say something that we can actually report on, the public doesn`t seem to mind when he skips over the details. MATTHEWS: Steve Schmidt, you`ve been a corner man with the towel over your shoulder sending these guys in. What are you telling them to do? I mean, Bobby Kennedy said to Jack Kennedy, kick him in the balls. That just gets the guy out to the fight. Is that the right way? Go out there with everything you`ve got and say take it easy, protect yourself. What do you say?   PARKER: We don`t talk like that anymore. STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Donald Trump is Donald Trump. It`s his authenticity that is fueling his rise in the polls. If we see Donald Trump come out like he`s on a tranquilizer, it`s going to hurt Donald Trump`s image. MATTHEWS: That`s what I think. SCHMIDT: So, I think Donald Trump operates at one speed. He`s going to come out and he`s going to be Donald Trump, and we`ll see tonight what the appetite is for substantive answers versus the showmanship that we`ve seen out of Donald Trump. But, certainly, if he says things like, look, I`m going to build a big wall, it`s going to be a great wall, I will make the Mexicans pay for it and none of these other confront on it, he`s going to diminish them spectacularly. If you`re not tough enough to stand up to Donald Trump, how in the world do you stand up to Vladimir Putin? ROBINSON: Yes. MATTHEWS: Great point. SCHMIDT: So these candidates are going to have a difficult time navigating this. ROBINSON: And, you know, the point is Donald Trump is in first place, right? He has double the support of anyone else according to recent polls. So, in a sense, yes, there`s pressure on him. The first time he`s been in this sort of situation. I think a lot more pressure on the others who would be in that position, who want to be in position, Jeb Bush on Walker. MATTHEWS: Steve Kornacki is with us. Steve, what about the moderators? They`re well known and respected especially in the Republican world out there. You`ve got Megyn Kelly, the new star, you`ve got Bret Baier, who`s a real journalist, and you have Chris Wallace, a real journalist. All of them are. They`re going to be up there. They`re not going to let a guy, any of these pols and Trump give stupid answers. They`re going to I assume press them, all the guys didn`t do that at 5:00. They didn`t press them.   STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC`S "UP" HOST: You know, you mentioned these moderators. Megyn Kelly -- think of Megyn Kelly and think back to election night 2012. Karl Rove, you know, sort of a big name in Republican politics is on the set of FOX News saying this isn`t over yet. Obama may not have been reelected. And Megyn Kelly made him look like a fool on national television. She had that kind of skill at asking questions, at putting him on the spot, but also like you say, she has that much credibility with that audience, with the FOX News audience, with the Republican conservative audience. So, yes, I think that`s the biggest wild card tonight. To me, it`s less what the other candidates say to Trump and it`s more how Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly treat Trump. If you want to read the tea leaves a little bit here, think back to that jayvee debate, the 5:00 debate, the kids` table debate a couple hours ago, different moderators. But they were intentionally trying to bait those candidates into attacking and criticizing Donald Trump, John Kasich. They were looking for conflict. They were asking very questions about those candidates. And I think that might be a preview of the tone these moderators are going to take tonight. MATTHEWS: Kathleen, if I were Roger Ailes, and he`s the pro heading up FOX, I don`t like that earlier debate. It was too empty in the room. It was cavernous. No impact, it`s like they were playing baseball without a ball. You didn`t hear the ball hit the mitt. PARKER: Yes. MATTHEWS: Nothing happened. The moderators didn`t react in any way to any answer. It was like they were having to fill out questionnaires. No reaction. No audience reaction. I think he`s got to turn the heat up, let the audience react, at least laugh, at least do something. PARKER: You`re going to have an audience. MATTHEWS: He has to get the moderators to do what Megyn and the others do, they go -- give that discerning look, I`m not sure you answered that question. That sort of stuff. PARKER: When the moderators would ask a question, you could see behind them there were rows and rows of empty chairs and that has to hurt them as well. I mean, it`s just demoralizing. How do you get your energy up and feel like you`re talking to anyone when you`re not. So, you know, it didn`t work well. It didn`t work well. I watched it but it didn`t work well.   MATTHEWS: How does Roger hype this thing up for the next hour? SCHMIDT: Look, we`re going to talk about immigration in the debate. This was a main issue in the undercard debate. Donald Trump is going to give answers on immigration I suspect with the tone that he`s given throughout the early stages of his campaign. Republican candidate for president cannot win the presidency without getting 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. You look at the electoral map, you look at just the states Democrats have won, six out of the last election are 242 electoral votes. You add states that they`ve won five out of the last six elections. They go to 282 electoral votes. Republicans cannot lose the Hispanic vote by under 40 percent. So, if these candidates, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, do not stand up to Donald Trump. If we have the Latino version of the booing of the gay soldier tonight, this will be a disaster for the Republican Party. This general election can be well over by 10:00 tonight. MATTHEWS: Well, how do you deal with the fact you`ve got two Hispanic candidates, they`re both Cuban Americans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and the front runner, recent front runner, Jeb Bush`s wife is from Mexico. His kids are Hispanic, as he says, who speak Spanish in the home. Which one of them will stand up and say, stop mocking my people? SCHMIDT: I think -- well, look, I think that the one that does certainly shows the character necessary to be elected president of the United States. MATTHEWS: And if they don`t? SCHMIDT: And if they don`t, the Republican Party is probably going to lose the six out of the last seven elections in November, because if we do not do better with this community, if we do not get to that 40 percent number, it`s game, set, match. PARKER: Right.   ROBINSON: I mean, given the tough rhetoric, the Republicans could do worse actually with the Latino community than they did the last two elections. I do agree and it`s an opportunity for Jeb Bush, for Scott Walker, for others if they so choose to show some courage and to show some, you know, some force and strength. PARKER: I don`t think they lack courage. Do you have the right opportunity to get in there and make a point without looking unnecessarily combative? I think that Jeb Bush is the one who would sneak up first on that immigration issue because, you know, it is an insult. When Donald Trump says, oh, listen, they love me. You know, I`ve got hundreds of those people working for me. I mean, that`s the way he says it. MATTHEWS: Steve Kornacki, the challenge is when you swing for the fences with the big line you know and everybody knows you think it`s the big line. You lay it right out there and there`s nothing in reaction. You got a problem. Is there a chance you could swing for the fences and not go to right field every time? I mean, can you say something big to this audience tonight that isn`t just red meat for the hard right that they actually applaud, or do you have to go for the obvious target, minorities, the big Democrats, Hillary, Obama? Are they the only safe places to go for the fence? KORNACKI: Yes. Again, look at the first debate. I know we say it`s the jayvee. Nobody trying to differentiate themselves on the core Republican issues. Nobody trying to make a big statement that would, hey, somebody went against the party base here. So, take immigration for instance, boy, what a tough spot these candidates are in if they want to stand up to Donald Trump tonight, if the want to try that stage that dramatic moment they go after Donald Trump. The problem is when you strip away all the bluster and all the bravado from Trump`s message, what he`s actually saying when you can discern the policy details of it, he is where the Republican base is. That`s why he surged to first place. So, you could say, Donald, I don`t agree with your tone. I don`t like the way you said this. That was not phrased properly. But that`s not something that will rally the crowd to your side and it leaves this incredible opportunity for Trump in front of, like you say, thousands of people for Trump to come back at them and turn that moment around against anybody that tries that. MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s going to be great to watch how the PC thing works out if there is a politically correct way you can speak to this audience or just do the red meat. Steve Kornacki, thank you. We`ll be back with you. We`re going to check back with you, of course, throughout the night. Our panel is sticking with us. And when we come back, reaction tonight from the Hillary Clinton campaign. She`s become a lot more aggressive, have you noticed, against Republican rivals. Tonight, they`re hitting back at her. We already heard Carly Fiorina. This is HARDBALL`s live coverage of the first Republican debate live from Cleveland.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL live from Cleveland. We still have this big crowd here for the first Republican debate. Opening salvos were launched against Hillary Clinton in the early show here tonight. Carly Fiorina made the most direct attack against the recent secretary of state. Here she goes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 Democratic 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: Joining me right now is Clinton campaign spokeswoman, the director of communication for the Clinton campaign, Jennifer Palmieri. Jennifer, it`s great to have you on. You`re a pro I think just like I am, and we`ve watched politics degenerate over the years. What do you make of this latest part of that -- a candidate trying to earn their spurs by calling the probable candidate of the other party a liar? She lies, she lies, and then coming back, I didn`t call her a liar. I just said she lies, she lies.   I`m not sure about the distinction. What do you make of it? JENNIFER PALMIERI, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Yes, it is. I mean, we got -- Hillary Clinton has been in public service for a long time. We get that politics, you know, it ain`t beanbags, as some friends of ours like to say. But I did find that it did seem the level of discourse in the first debate was a little lower than I had even expected in terms of -- you know, this is what they do, they just attack Hillary. She`s got a pretty thick skin. She`s used to it. It could sometimes amuse her. She`s in L.A. right now doing an event with home health care workers. She`s like -- you know, she is soldiering on. But I think this summer, the summer of Trump has been a pretty -- it`s been a pretty -- it ended badly for the Republicans. We`ve had a lot of attention to Trump. But, you know, we`re trying to bring attention to making sure that everybody understands that every Republican candidate in that field has these same conservative views. So, we`re trying to make sure people understand where they are on the issues while they`re out attacking Hillary. MATTHEWS: Jennifer, it seems like there are two ships passing in the night. I`ve watched Secretary Clinton with education, child development, all kinds of programs helping people to be stronger families in the home and growing a better population as time goes on, just healthier, better at the work place, more prepared to earn a living. And yet, I don`t hear anything from that on the Republican side. It`s like they want to talk security. They want to talk Benghazi. Are the two parties addressing different spheres of the human experience? Because I didn`t hear any real competition from Hillary even from the woman candidates tonight on the issues that concern most women and men. PALMIERI: Right, right. They don`t -- it is -- we`ll see what happens in the next hour, but it is surprising that they don`t even seem to be trying to talk about issues. They don`t seem to be trying to address economic concerns in particular that people have. I guess, you know, the population that they are trying to appeal to may be pretty limited and be the most conservative of Republican voters. But, you know, a lot of America is paying attention right now, and we think it`s an opportunity for Hillary to talk about issues that people really care about, pocketbook economic issues whether it`s paid leave or child care or pre-K or minimum wage or college affordability, and I think -- you know, I don`t know that the candidates are taking into account how it appears to the American public when they see close to 20 Republicans on the debate stage just attacking Hillary Clinton. I don`t think that`s appealing to people for how the Republican Party comes across, let alone not offering any new ideas. MATTHEWS: I think the people in the middle agree with you.   Thank you so much, Jennifer Palmieri, spokesperson for the Clinton campaign. PALMIERI: Thanks for having me, Chris. MATTHEWS: Thank you for joining us on the big Republican night. We`re back with Steve, Kathleen and Eugene. And, I guess -- where do we start? I mean, are we back into abortion rights as a campaign issue because of Planned Parenthood? I thought some of these issues would be put aside for a cycle. It looks like we`re back in there again. (CROSSTALK) PARKER: To get that kind of conversation going feeds right into the Democratic Party`s "war on women" theme that they used effectively before. And I hate -- this becomes a litmus test for the Republicans. I think it will not serve them well at all. MATTHEWS: You mean if they try to defund -- PARKER: Yes, if they try to defund -- shut down the government over defunding. It`s legitimate to talk whether we ought to be putting tax dollars in a place that does things that I think we all find appalling. MATTHEWS: I wouldn`t have thought this would be an issue for this campaign president, because the Supreme Court does its thing. I thought your party was in a way not happy but satisfied with that issue was taken off the table for a few cycles. SCHMIDT: Well, look, I think the political problem with the issue you saw the inartfulness of Jeb Bush`s comments. When this issue is about --   MATTHEWS: When he said why do we need to spend half a billion dollars on women`s health. SCHMIDT: With women`s health. When this issue is about the videos, this issue offends most Americans, and Democrats as well as Republicans and independents (INAUDIBLE) to the Republican Party`s benefits. When this becomes a woman`s health issue, we`re going to shut down the government yet again. I mean, look, Republicans should have learned one big lesson over the last 20 years, every time we shut down the government, it hurts the Republican Party, threatening to shut down the government is a huge overreach and every time we do it, threaten to do it, it doesn`t do any good politically for Republicans. MATTHEWS: Why go there? Why do they go there? ROBINSON: Yes, I don`t understand. It`s like trying the same thing over and over again expecting a different result which, you know -- SCHMIDT: Like Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football. ROBINSON: Exactly. And so, of course, it`s going to hurt the Republican Party if they really even start talking about shutting down the government over women`s health issues. And so, I think you`re right. I mean, they have to -- if they`re going to keep talking about this, they should talk about the videos. They can`t talk about it -- (CROSSTALK) PARKER: They can also introduce legislation saying there will be no sale of or transaction involving fetal parts until we can work through a serious conversation about it. (CROSSTALK) ROBINSON: We should keep in mind Planned Parenthood is not -- that`s not an evil phrase in much of the country. Planned Parenthood is nationwide. It provides health services to a lot of women who depend on it.   MATTHEWS: We`ve got news here. The night keeps giving us news. First, it was Carly Fiorina going after Hillary Clinton. Now, take a listen to something Lindsey Graham said in the spin room shortly after the earlier debate tonight. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to tell every conservative -- you`re not going to defund Planned Parenthood until you get a pro-life president. You`re not going to get a pro-life president until you can prove you can beat Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. Let me translate in terms of Hillary Clinton. Last week, she said these videos were very disturbing. This week she said, "I stand firmly with Planned Parenthood." Translated, she thinks Joe Biden is running. That`s why she flipped. I think he`s going to run. If she doesn`t up her game -- but the reason she went from being really disturbed about the videos to standing firmly with Planned Parenthood is she thinks Joe is on her heels. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Anybody figure out what he`s saying there? PARKER: I don`t know what he said. Based on her -- (CROSSTALK) SCHMIDT: He`s saying that Joe Biden is going to get in the race and that she went last week from saying she`s disturbed by the Planned Parenthood videos, to this week saying she firmly stands with Planned Parenthood and she said -- and Lindsey Graham said the reason she said that is because Joe Biden is on her heels.   MATTHEWS: And Joe Biden will be more for abortion rights than she is? SCHMIDT: That Joe Biden would be less for abortion rights on the issue of the videos. MATTHEWS: Then, why did she go from a softer position to a harder pro-choice position? SCHMIDT: She went from a -- PARKER: That`s just too much over-thinking. It`s a horrible thing. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: As of tonight`s debate, it was pointed out that Pataki, who is a long shot, is pro-choice. ROBINSON: Yes. MATTHEWS: And it`s pointed out -- the moderator, Bill Hemmer, pointed out nobody has ever won the Republican nomination who is pro-choice. PARKER: Right. MATTHEWS: So, the parties do differ. It may not be the main issue for a lot of people, but it is a real stark differential.   PARKER: Well, and abortion always was the litmus test for a candidate. And now, I`m afraid the Planned Parenthood defunding is. They`re taking it one step too far. There`s no one -- I find it hard to believe there`s anyone who doesn`t find those videos disturbing and everyone says, oh, well, they`re edited. Well, you can watch the whole video and it`s even worse if you watch the whole one. They`re available online. Chris, you know that this is -- you know you find this more than disturbing. Come on. MATTHEWS: I know. I know. PARKER: Yes. MATTHEWS: That`s why they did it. PARKER: Yes. MATTHEWS: And I watched this debate since `73, and whenever the issue is the rights issue, the pro-choice people win a narrow victory against the rights issue. Who gets to make the decision? Whenever the issue is abortion itself, it turns the other way. It`s very interesting how people look at it. PARKER: But the left will never come to the table half way and say, look, we find this disturbing, too. We need to address this issue in a scientific way -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: How about fire all the people involved having lunch over fetal parts?   PARKER: How about? MATTHEWS: That would be a start. Anyway, thank you, Steve Schmidt. There you are. And Kathleen Parker and Gene Robinson. More on what Donald Trump may have up his sleeve coming up in a minute. This is HARDBALL, place for politics live from Cleveland! The first Republican debate. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: What a crowd we have here. Look at this crowd. Someone is doing a beauty shot there with one of our cameramen. Anyway, welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL, live from Cleveland. More now on what we can expect from Donald Trump tonight. He has tried to tamp down expectations saying he`s never been in a debate, but he`s also ridiculed the notion of ever hiring any outside help. Here he goes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I am what I am. I mean, the debate coach -- look, Romney had a debate coach and Obama had a debate coach. Frankly, I thought Obama was terrible, but Romney got worse and worse every time there was a debate. I have to be myself, Don. And if it`s not good enough, that`s OK.   (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: He`s so nice to his opponents. Anyway, the Republican front-runner recently told our own NBC News correspondent Katy Tur that his most important campaign adviser is his daughter Ivanka. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATY TUR, NBC NEWS: What sort of advice does she give you? TRUMP: She says be yourself. TUR: Anything in particular lately in terms of the headlines you`ve made? TRUMP: I think more than anything, Ivanka, maybe more than anybody said, "just be yourself." That`s all I can be. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Joining me right now from New York to tell us what kind of a performance to expect from Donald Trump is somebody who ought to know because she`s watched that performance for a while, NBC`s Katy Tur. Katy, I know he`s good on his feet. Does he think that`s enough to just go out and be spontaneous?   TUR: I think he`s prepped. I think he has the materials to prep. But I think it`s also true that frankly, he is going to be himself regardless of how much he goes through the paperwork and he goes through the policies and he prepares attack lines. Trump is known for speaking what -- or saying what he wants to say, when he wants to say it. So, even to his campaign advisers, those closest to him, this is an unpredictable moment for him. He`s going to go out and he`s going to make some news regardless of how much they prepare him. Listen, on Saturday, they told me that he was going to keep a low profile this week. * TUR: his campaign advisers, those closest to him, this is an unpredictable moment for him. He`s going to go out and he`s going to make some news regardless how much they prepare him. Listen, on Saturday they told me that he was going to keep a low profile this week, that he needed to prepare for this debate. It`s the first debate he is ever going to be in. But since Sunday, he`s done nine interviews, eight for TV, one for radio. He`s kept anything but a low profile. I mean, he`s been much more civil lately with people. He hasn`t attacked as much. And I think he`s going to try and be a little bit more civil, show more presidential qualities in this debate, but I would never rule out the fact that if he gets attacked, he`s going to hit back and he`s going to hit back hard. You can definitely get under his skin, but ultimately the people -- when others have attacked him, when Rick Perry has attacked him or Lindsey Graham, Trump has come out as the winner in these cases. He`s come out as the one who has looked stronger and they`ve come out hurting. Look how well he`s doing in the polls. So the idea for him to be a little bit more civil might not necessarily be a good one for him. He`s done so well because people say they like the fact that he says what he`s thinking. They think that he`s blunt with them, that he`s not lying, that he`s not doing the political double speak, and I think he knows that. So I think the question is whether or not he`s going to continue to be who he is, which I think he will, or if he`s going to try and take it back a little and be more civil and more presidential, Chris. MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of this last question. When you interview him, you must know when you hitting his buttons. Well, you know it after the fact, because he goes off. Have you seen him restrain himself after clearly you hit one of his buttons? Does he ever go, I know you`re trying to get me to do something, I`m not going to do it? Does he have that ability? TUR: I have not seen that. But I will say that since we`ve had our contentious interview -- he doesn`t restrain himself very well. But he has actually gotten a little bit better at it. You see that when he comes into a room and a reporter is challenging him in a press conference and they`re calling him a racist, you can see that he sees it. There`s a bit of a glint in his eye almost and you can see him try and hold back more so now than he has in the past.   Certainly earlier on in this campaign season, if you will. It`s been a month. He would definitely hit back hard. When he didn`t like a question, he`d call you naive, he called me naive, he`d say that you didn`t know what you were doing or you`re a child. But lately it seems like he is trying to control it, but you still see him yell at people at press conferences and say -- he says they don`t know what they`re talking about. Sit down. I don`t want to listen to you. He`s Trump. He`s not going to be anybody else. He`s going to be himself. MATTHEWS: OK, Katy Tur, you have got to write a book about this guy. Anyway, your dealings with him anyway. The main challenge for the moderators tonight of the big debate is to pose questions that knock the candidates off their talking points. That`s what everybody in this business is trying to do. But as anyone who has hosted a debate knows that`s easier, like the song goes, easier said than done. I`m joined right now by two past masters -- moderators John Harwood of CNBC and Ann Compton from a White House correspondent for the great ABC News. Anyway, I`ll start with, John. Four years ago you famously pressed Rick Perry to name the third government agency that he had proposed getting rid of. Let`s watch what happened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PERRY: And I will tell you, it`s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education, and the -- what`s the third one there? Let`s see. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean, five. PERRY: Oh, five. OK. So, commerce, education, and the... RON PAUL, 2008 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: EPA?   PERRY: EPA. There you go. JOHN HARWORD, CNBC: Seriously? Is the EPA the one you were talking about? PERRY: No, sir, no, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government -- the EPA needs to be rebuilt, there`s no doubt about that. HARWOOD: But you can`t name the third one? PERRY; The third agency of government I would do away with, education, the -- commerce, and, let`s see... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my. PERRY: I can`t. The third one I can`t. Sorry. Oops. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: John Harwood, you proved the great strength of a moderator in the interview is to listen. And you didn`t let that go by. You went right back and made sure that the public watching the debate understood that a man who has the passion to get rid of three government agencies couldn`t remember the ones he had the passion to get rid of which is hard to figure out. HARWOOD: Well, that`s right. But it was listening not just to Rick Perry, it shows that moderating debates is a team sport. I had a producer, Sandy Kinnell (ph), in my ear saying do not leave this topic. MATTHEWS: Yes.   HARWOOD: And so, you know, just like you have got in your ear, I had Sandy in mine. And we stuck with it. And you can`t script something like that. It just happens. MATTHEWS: What do you think it means, a moment like that? Does it mean? I mean, everybody, maybe I`m older than you and I occasionally can`t think of a guy`s name on television... HARWOOD: It happens to me, too. MATTHEWS: And somebody gets in my ear and says, you know, you forgot it`s Joe Balogna (ph) or something, it`s somebody. You know, thank you! But he couldn`t remember something really important to the reason he`s running for president. I think it was fair. It wasn`t a senior moment. He just hadn`t given a lot of thought. HARWOOD; And it came after a period of time where he had not been performing well on the trail. He had been shaky in some other debates. People thought he didn`t have a lot of command of the issues and so it played into that stereotype. MATTHEWS: Ann Compton is with us is from Washington. Ann is a good friend of mine. In 1988, believe it or not, you asked Bush about his no new taxes pledge, that`s Bush senior. He would later would break. Let`s listen to George Sr. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANN COMPTON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Isn`t the phrase no new taxes misleading the voters? GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am pledged to do that and those pessimists who say it can`t be done, I`m sorry, I just have a fundamental disagreement with them. (END VIDEO CLIP)   MATTHEWS: Ann Compton, you put the cement around his feet with that follow-up. COMPTON: Well, in the old days -- I`m impressed that John had a producer in his ear. Back in the dark ages in `88 and `92 we sure didn`t. In fact, we were not even encouraged to make sure with the other questioners that we had all the bases covered. I remember Peter Jennings who was on a debate came to me, took me aside and said, Annie, make sure when you go in there you have 90 minutes to cover. Make sure you cover, have enough questions that his panel went in, they all had the same six questions. So, we actually sat down with Andrea Mitchell and Margaret Warner in that particular debate and planned out to make sure somebody asked about the Supreme Court, somebody asked about nuclear forces in Europe. MATTHEWS: Yeah, there`s going to be a lot of -- let me stick with you, Ann, have you ever walked no a debate or moderated one where you faced somebody who has got this aura of TV celebrity around them, almost like a George Clooney you`re going at? COMPTON: Well, I think sure. I remember doing a debate where it was a three-way debate where Ross Perot was in the middle flanked by George Bush and Bill Clinton. And the three of them, Ross Perot had all the great lines. He said, well, if you have better ideas on how to cut the deficit, I`m all ears. He ran away -- the snake had all the lines, wasn`t that the old phrase? So you go in with an agenda where they want to be able to capitalize on personality. I don`t know, Chris, that anybody goes back and listens and scours the congressional record that these debates put down important policy points, but we always remember the moments like Michael Dukakis being asked what his reaction would be if his wife were raped and murdered. MATTHEWS: Bernard Shaw`s question. Anyway, and in 2007 Republican primary debate I asked the candidates a question that`s as pertinent today as it was eight years ago, I think. Well, let`s take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something else that might be a negative in the upcoming campaign. Seriously, would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?   UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got to be kidding. MITT ROMNEY, FRM. GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTES: No, I`m not. His wife`s running. Have you heard? ROMNEY: The only thing I could think of as bad as that would be to have the gang of three running the war on terror -- Pelosi, Reid, and Hillary Clinton. So I have to be honest with you, I think it would be an awful thing for a lot of reasons. (END VIDE OCLIP) MATTHEWS: You know, I offered up an easy one, a fun one, and he comes out with that deadly serious. Mitt Romney was something like put the light out that have one. HARWOOD: Mitt Romney is not the most agile debater. He was good with other candidates. But that was funny. MATTHEWS: I was probably wrong. Anyway, it didn`t hurt. It didn`t hurt Bill. It won`t ever hurt to laugh at Bill. Bill enjoys it all. Anyway, thank you, John Harwood, a pro at this, and Ann Compton, my buddy, thank you for coming on tonight. Up next, what to watch for in tonight`s debate, of course, and which candidate has the best chance to break through so we all talk about him tomorrow. You`re watching Hardball as we get ready for the first Republican debate out here in the city of Cleveland.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of Hardball. We`re getting close now. Live from Cleveland for the first presidential debate. It`s getting dark here tonight, ready for the drive-in movie to start. Earlier today toward the end of the undercard debate, the happy hour, Fox News asked the seven candidates the question about Hillary. This question. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What two words would you use to describe the Democratic front-runner? Governor Pataki, start? PATAKI: Divisive and with no vision. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, Carly Fiorina? FIORINA: Not trustworthy, no accomplishment. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretive and untrustworthy. PERRY: Well, let`s go with three. Good at email. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Jindal?   JINDAL: Socialist and government dependence. GRAHAM: Not the change we need at a time we need it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor? UNIDENTIIFED MALE: Professional politician that can`t be trusted. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, none of them are really good at counting, obviously. They asked for three words, they got a number of them. Joining me right now is the Huffington Post Howard Fineman, a pro at this sort of thing. Former Republican Party chair Michael Steele, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and with us from New York, Yew York, the moderator of Meet the Press Chuck Todd. Chuck, I haven`t heard from you for a while tonight. Do we know more about this except maybe Trump is getting some outside advice to go tough on the rebuttals? I don`t know what else -- and the fact that Carly Fiorina had a very tough closing statement which she had written up and left in one of the green rooms and somebody read it. So, the thing about Hillary Clinton lies, lies, lies, was definitely premeditated. What are your thoughts so far about the news making tonight? TODD: Look, we`ll see if there`s -- right now the news making is all stylistic, right. It`s all on that front. We haven`t really seen a substantive hit.   Look, I can`t -- look, there are few things that I`m looking forward to on the substance front of this debate that I think is going to be fascinating and I think the biggest one that I`m going to be interested in is watching the question about would you shut down the government over the issue of Planned Parenthood? And I want to see what Jeb Bush is going to say. I want to see what Chris Christie -- the governors are going to say, Christie, Kasich and Jeb. Because I think -- and Chris I think you know this -- I think they wouldn`t shut down the government over it. We know that there are others that have said on that stage, I think Trump has said it, I think Cruz obviously wants to, Rand Paul willing to do it, I think that could provide a fascinating divide that will tell you about their governing styles, because I think that`s a -- if we`re going to learn anything tonight, I don`t know if we`re going to learn a lot about issues, but I think we are going to learn about the type of governing style that each of them wants to present to the public. MATTHEWS: That`s the only thing I can think of that would take it away from Trump, the personality, is some kind of resolve by all the contenders tonight, they`re going to shut down the U.S. government over Planned Parenthood or not because that is a news story. FINEMAN: Chris, the dividing line here in Cleveland tonight is between people who assert that no politics as usual can possibly work and the people who don`t. And the leading one who says no way traditional politics can work at all is Donald Trump. And Carly Fiorina in the undercard, however scripted she might have been, got a lot of buzz for the fact she, too, is an outsider. So the other candidates, everybody from Scott Walker to Kasich to whoever have to say, yeah, we don`t like government either, but we know enough about it how to change it. That`s the fault line in this debate. MATTHEWS: And that`s a hard side to take. MICHAEL STEELE, FRM. RNC CHAIRMAN: that`s a hard sell. ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC: I would just say that there is one other person in the debate besides Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina on the undercard and that`s Ted Cruz. FINEMAN: Yes. MITCHELL: Ted Cruz believes or says he believes that government doesn`t work. He`s shown that he`s a bomb thrower on the senate floor. He called his -- you talked about calling Hillary Clinton a liar, he called Mitch McConnell a liar.   MATTHEWS: That`s the new language, the new language of American politics. MITCHELL: To, Ted Cruz wants to out-Trump Trump. MATTHEWS: So, do you see that in your party, the battle between the abolitionist basically and the Whigs, the regular supporters of government. STEELE: This has been brewing for 15, 20 years now. Absolutely. This is -- you`re going to see stark contrast between the Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and the Donald Trump wing and the establishment wings of the GOP. MATTHEWS: Is there any -- I asked this before, is there any applause line that isn`t hard right? I mean, will they applaud anything like we have to work together, will that get an applause line? STEELE: Well, no. MATTHEWS: The look you just gave me... STEELE: That notwithstanding, Chris, I think -- that notwithstanding, there is a risk but a reward in somebody taking on Donald Trump for his language about immigrants. MATTHEWS: OK. STEELE: I don`t know who can take advantage of that. MATTHEWS: Well, there`s two Hispanic candidates.   MITCHELL: I think Jeb has to. FINEMAN: Somebody has got to do it. STEELE: I think Jeb is in the best position to do it. MATTHEWS: Chivalry if nothing else. STEELE: If nothing else. FINEMAN: Well, he`s -- the Bushes are good at chivalry. MITCHELL: He`s talking about his wife, for crying out loud. STEELE: No, but I think Jeb is in the best position to reframe that discussion on immigration. MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting that we have an immigration issue we know is going to be hot tonight, and yet uniquely in American history two people of immigrant families, and others actually a mixed family with an immigrant wife, an immigrant spouse, two guys are Cuban- Americans, different religious. I think one evangelical, one is Roman Catholic. And then you get Jeb Bush who coverted to Roman Catholic, all connected by family if not blood, in fact by their kids with blood with Hispanic people. Human beings who are Americans and to have them talk as a bunch of racists and losers and criminals. STEELE: But that -- you are making the...   MATTHEWS: Why do you put the word but in there? STEELE: I put the but in there -- the but is because know none of that is true. Their problem is trying to figure out how to counter that narrative. MATTHEWS: Donald Trump knows it`s not true. Who does he have got putting his buildings up? STEELE: But that`s not the relevant part here when it comes to the other candidates, whether or not I think you`re absolutely right, whether or not they will step into that space and own it differently than the way Trump has framed it. FINEMAN: Well, see, somebody -- in a normal political world, somebody like Scott Walker... MATTHEWS: Where is that meeting tonight? FINEMAN: It does mean anything. MATTHEWS: I know, where is it meeting? FINEMAN: It`s not in Cleveland, no. But in a normal political world, somebody like Scott Walker, who fought those recall elections and got elected three times in afew years if nothing is the embodiment of traditional work your way up politics, carefully crafted to be hard right but still may be salable. He would be perfect. But I don`t know if a guy who someone who started out running a student council elections is the kind of guy who is going to get the Republican nomination this time. MITCHELL: How about John Kasich?   FINEMAN: Yes. I think... STEELE: John is another one. He could do it. FINEMAN: I do think he`s a dark horse here, not tonight -- ironically here we are in Cleveland in Ohio, his state, he`s going to be the odd man out here. But long-term, if you look at the general election, there`s nobody who makes more sense geographically and perhaps demographically than Kasich. But he`s... STEELE: And even politically for that matter. FINEMAN: But he`s not part of the deal here tonight. MATTHEWS: And if the working class white guy is the swing vote, he is one. He`s not a target of one, he`s a regular guy. Anyway, thank you. The panel is sticking with us as our coverage of the first Republican debate continues live from Cleveland home of the Indians and the Republican convention. You`re watching Hardball, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back from Cleveland where the first Republican debate is. Look at this guy. He needs to go to Donald Trump`s hair curler to get the full treatment. There he is. He`s getting ready. He just needs a little help at the hair salon and he`ll be a billionaire, a tycoon. That`s all that`s stopping him.   Thank you very much for joining us. You know, we`re back. I want to have everybody try to -- I know you don`t like doing this but it is hard reporting. This is not opinion but analysis. Do you think Trump is going to come out softy and try to play Mr. Substance or he`s going to come back Trump style tonight? MITCHELL: I think he is -- he`s going to be Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Reasonable, trying to show that he`s a credible candidate unless, as he says, he`s attacked and then he`ll counter... MATTHEWS; Chuck, your bet on that, is he coming in with what they call in baseball a change-up or throwing it fast? TODD: I think the first hour I don`t think he can do it for two full hours. I think he will reluctantly go after somebody. I wanted to be civil. You know, I came in here, can`t you just see it is it? I think tonight is more about Jeb Bush than Donald Trump and the bigger test tonight is Jeb Bush. I think he`s got a lot more on the line. MATTHEWS: Well, because he`s fading is one reason. Michael? STEELE: I think Trump plays it soft for the first quarter and a half. I think he even unwinds a little bit in the first half of this. And I`m really looking at Kasich. I think this is an opportunity -- I mean, Chuck is right. Jeb has got to perform but Kasich has nothing but upside. MATTHEWS: More people come to me from the center left -- not left but center left or center right. I hear from more people closer to the center who are hoping that relatively young guy can show some stuff. I`m hearing it from a lot. FINEMAN: Well, Chris, the amazing thing to me is that what`s happened over last few months is the notion that a Bush is a strong possibility as a starting point. The notion, yeah, because it`s a Bush, it`s Jeb Bush. That has completely faded. You talk to Republicans on background, you talk to them all over the city. They`re all here for this. I haven`t heard one who says, you know, when it`s all said and done, the Bushes really know how to do it. The Bushes are going to get it.   As of right now, the conventional wisdom among Republicans is that Bush really, I wouldn`t say doesn`t have a chance, but is by no means to be considered a front-runner. And that presents an opportunity for other people. MITCHELL: You know, I was interviewing Jen Palmieri from Clinton`s -- today, and I said, you know, she keeps going after Jeb Bush. You guys think that he is the most likely? And she said, you know, we change every day. We think, well yeah, it`s going to be Jeb Bush and that`s what we should worry about. And then we think, maybe we shouldn`t worry about it. MATTHEWS: I think that a good quandary. I think that`s a true quandary. Chuck -- Chuck Todd, thank you back in New York -- in Washington, rather. Howard Fineman, of course, always with me at these big nights. Michael Steele, the leader of the Republican Party in exile, Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much. We`ll see all of you in two hours at 11:00 eastern for our special post debate edition of Hardball. For two hours we`re going to tell who won a big one tonight. Our coverage of the first Republican debate continues from Cleveland after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: After everybody here has had about ten more beers we`ll be back here at 11:00 eastern tonight in Downtown Cleveland. It`s 11:00 eastern for full coverage, analysis and reaction to the big debate. We`re going to have to watch out here. Right now, it`s time for the great Rachel Maddow Show.   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.>