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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 08/12/15

Guests: Susan Page, Kwame Jackson, Susan Milligan, Jamelle Bouie, ZekeMiller, Susan Milligan, Wyatt Scott, Eliana Johnson, Zeke Miller

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: The Donald Trump playbook -- attack, and attack hard. Let`s play HARDBALL. KORNACKI: Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in New York, in for Chris Matthews. We begin tonight with the most dangerous game in politics today, taking on Donald Trump. Last night, Trump gloated about the state of Rick Perry`s campaign, which ran out of money despite a media blitz attacking Trump. He also reveled in Lindsey Graham`s struggles, which come despite a flood of media interviews where Graham bashed Trump as a, quote, "jackass." In an interview with Fox`s Sean Hannity and an appearance in Michigan yesterday, Trump was out to make an example of those two, that if you end up on Trump`s hit list, this is what might happen to you. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lindsey Graham hit me harder than anybody. He`s got zero. Lindsey Graham is at zero. Legitimately. I saw it on television today, zero! Zero! (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)   TRUMP: Perry hit me harder than anybody. Those were the two. And Perry was at 4 or 5, and he went down to 2, and he went down to nothing, and now I guess he`s out of the campaign. You know what`s a great honor? They hit me really hard, right, and they went down! I mean, Perry went to Washington to make a speech about me. It wasn`t nice. He went from 4 or 5 down to 2, and didn`t even make the debate stage. SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Didn`t help him. TRUMP: Lindsey Graham was at 2, and he went to nothing. So I`m really honored by that. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Perry Bacon is senior political reporter with NBC News, Susan Page is Washington bureau chief with "USA Today," and Kwame Jackson (ph) was a finalist on Trump`s "The Apprentice" reality TV show on NBC. He`s now an entrepreneur and consultant. Well, Susan, let me start with you. Look, we can debate whether attacking Trump actually brought down the poll numbers of Perry and Lindsey Graham. They weren`t too high to start with, so who really knows. But it`s clear what they were trying to do here was what I`d call "the adult in the room" strategy. They wanted to be the voice of reason that attacks Donald Trump for being intemperate, to get credit for that. George Pataki tried this, too. There was their attempt to latch onto the Trump media coverage make a name for themselves. And Trump has a point, right? It failed. SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, it`s obviously risky because Trump is on a roll. And we don`t see the -- we don`t see the candidates that are doing a little better, like Rubio or Kasich is on the rise, doing this. These are candidates who -- they already have a big problem. They`re not doing well in the polls. They are trying to get into this race, so they take this strategy of attacking Trump. Now, most front-runners in Trump`s situation would ignore them, would just pretend they weren`t there, because why give publicity to somebody who`s not doing well? But Trump only seems to have one gear, and that if, If you attack me, I`m going to attack you back. And this may be some kind of preemptive as other candidates think about whether to take him on.   KORNACKI: Yes, you know, it`s funny, the conventional wisdom in politics has always been, if you`re the front-runner and the guy way in the back of the pack is attacking you, you ignore him. You know, you don`t want to give him the attention that he`s looking for. Trump, of course, breaks all the rules, and Trump also pulling away in Iowa right now, a state known for high evangelical turnout in its caucuses. According to a new CNN/ORC poll out just today, Trump now leads with 22 percent. That`s 8 points clear of Ben Carson back in second place. He also blows away Christian conservatives like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and others. And on that note, Trump took a detour in last night`s campaign event after he spotted a member of the audience holding a copy of his book, "The Art of the Deal," which Trump noted is actually his second favorite book. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Well, he`s the -- hold that book up, please. OK, one of the great books. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) TRUMP: That`s my second favorite book of all time. Do you know what my first is? The Bible! (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) TRUMP: Nothing beats the Bible. Nothing beats the Bible, not even "The Art of the Deal," not even close, OK? (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Perry, another piece of conventional wisdom that may be being blown up in front of our eyes. You know, Trump was out there in Iowa a couple weeks ago at an evangelical event, used some foul language. People said, Well, you can`t do that in front of a Christian audience and get their support.   There`s Donald Trump making jokes about the Bible and leading in Iowa. Sixty 60 percent of the caucus goers out there are evangelicals. PERRY BACON, NBC SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Exactly. The polls show he has pretty broad support among moderate Republicans and also among Tea Party folks and also among some evangelicals. So he`s doing well in Iowa. The thing that`s been so striking is that you`ve had all these people in the Republican Party attack him, from Rand Paul to Perry, but also RedState, also Megyn Kelly was critical of him, and his poll numbers have not just not went down, they actually went up in some ways, which tells you at this point, he does have some kind of stable part of the Republican Party. From 10 to 15 to 20 percent right now are with him, and those people are not going away, even as lots of people in the Republican Party attack Trump very harshly. KORNACKI: Well, Kwame, you know him in an up-close and personal way that nobody else here does, that nobody really covering politics does. So I got to ask you this -- the psychology of Donald Trump in this moment -- we`re talking about all these examples over the last few months where everybody in the political media has said, It`s suicidal, what you`re doing politically. You`re going to do that, you`re going to be out of the race in no time. And every time he`s done that, his numbers have only gone up. I got to imagine a guy with an incredible ego like that to begin with. What is he feeling about himself right now? KWAME JACKSON, FORMER "APPRENTICE" CONTESTANT: Well, you know, it`s interesting because I think that, you know, my relationship there and the fact that I do know him well is, to quote Jay-Z, maybe the gift and the curse, like his album. I`m not exactly sure how that plays out because I think that Trump, first and foremost, is an entertainer. I think that people give him credit on the political front, but I think he`s tapped into the American zeitgeist of anger. I think he`s tapped into -- if dissect the polls in Iowa, it talks about how people below $50,000 earnings a year are supporting him. People without college education are supporting him. That`s a real bastion of support for him. And so it`s a different type of voter that maybe necessarily doesn`t resonate with his actual political dimensions. So Trump is an interesting character. I think he`s an entertainer first. I think we have to let that part play out in much more of a Kardashian-like fashion. KORNACKI: Well, last night, Trump also fired a shot across the bow of the Rand Paul campaign after Paul launched a media blitz attacking Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   TRUMP: The two guys that hit me the hardest were Perry, right, Perry and Graham. They hit me harder than anybody else. Now it`s Rand Paul. (BOOS) TRUMP: Do you believe it? He`s the new one. I said, Rand, I`ve had you up to here. I`ve had you. I`ve had you up to here. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Well, today Rand Paul`s campaign released a video on line attacking Trump`s conservative record. Let`s watch some of that video. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat. I`ve been around for a long time, and it just seems like the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Health care. TRUMP: Liberal on health care. We have to take care of people that are sick.   UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Universal health coverage? TRUMP: I like universal. Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman. I`m a little biased because I`ve known her for years. I live in New York. She lives in New York. I`ve known her and her husband for years, and I really like them both a lot. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Susan, nothing exactly new here. This stuff has been out for a while, some of these clips 10, 15 years old. Trump`s been confronted with this stuff before, even in the debate last week. We`re not seeing, to that base that`s supporting him, this seems to matter too much. Does raise the question to me, does Rand Paul understand the base of his own party? PAGE: Well, you know, under conventional rules, a candidate that`s really inconsistent with positions he`s taken in the past, that would be a problem. We`ve got to remember Donald Trump is not a conventional politician. All the rules that seem to apply to other candidates do not apply to him. And at that -- look back at that CNN poll in Iowa that is just out. The two leaders are Donald Trump and Ben Carson, two candidates neither of whom have ever run for office before, neither have any record of public service, and yet these are the candidates that voters in Iowa are lining up behind. That tells you that some of the politics as usual stuff, people are sick of it. And some of the standards they have traditionally applied to political candidates may no longer be quite so important, at least at this point in the contest. KORNACKI: Yes, the Ben Carson thing, I got to say that also surprises me a little bit. Because you think back to the debate, you think of the last few weeks, and the Trump thing`s kind of obvious. He`s making a lot of noise. OK, I guess that`s connected to a polling surge. Ben Carson I think basically said nothing in that debate. His most memorable line was, I thought you forgot I was here.   (LAUGHTER) KORNACKI: He seems to have surged in the polls after that. I can`t figure that out. But also, Trump has had his sights on Jeb Bush. Last night, he delivered two major attacks on Bush. The first came during a press conference in Michigan, where he reminded reporters that Trump was the center of the Republican universe, not Jeb. Here`s Trump talking about the massive audience for last week`s debate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: There should have been two million people watching. You agree? About two million. That`s been sort of standard, two million people. They had 24 million people. Who do you think they`re watching, Jeb Bush? I don`t think so. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And talking with Sean Hannity last night, Trump went after Bush as a mouthpiece for wealthy donors. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: When Jeb Bush raises $114 million, which he has, when Hillary raises $60 million, I which she has, I know the people that gave them the money. These are not the nicest people in the world. HANNITY: The system is at its root corrupt. TRUMP: Jeb Bush is totally controlled by the people that gave him that money. And the nice part about me, I don`t want anybody`s money. (END VIDEO CLIP)   KORNACKI: This is fascinating to me, Perry, because Donald Trump is - - I mean, he`s a rich guy, a billionaire. Jeb Bush is the son of political privilege. I mean, these two guys just sort of reek of the establishment, and yet Donald Trump is drawing this distinction here, basically saying, Hey, my wealth frees me from the political establishment. It allows me to say, I don`t need your money. It allows me to throw it right back in their face. I know wealthy candidates make this argument a lot. I think it has some resonance. BACON: The one thing Trump is bringing to this race more than anyone else is he`s saying things that people don`t say. He`s very honest, and at times very not politically correct. But in this case, the chief critiques of Bush are Bush is kind of dull, people think, and he`s the candidate of the wealthy Republican class, which is exactly what Donald Trump said. The danger with Donald Trump is if you attack him, he won`t just attack your views, he`ll attack who you are in a way that`s pretty resonant, like a lot of Democrats and Republicans I`ve talked to the last couple weeks have said, Jeb is OK, he`s just too dull and too charismatic. (sic) Donald Trump is saying that over and over and over again. And that`s a problem for Jeb Bush even if Trump doesn`t win the primary. KORNACKI: Well, Trump also went outside of his own party last night. He took a shot at Bernie Sanders, who`s caught fire in a new poll out in New Hampshire. Trump went after Sanders for an incident over the weekend where protesters took the microphone at a Sanders campaign event up in Seattle, rendering him speechless. Here`s what Trump had to say about that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I would never give up my microphone. I thought that was disgusting. That showed such weakness. That will never happen with me! I don`t know if I`ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will. But that was a disgrace. They way they -- I felt badly for him. But it showed that he`s weak. You know what? He`s getting the biggest crowds and I`m getting the biggest crowds. We`re the two getting the crowds. But believe me, that`s not going to happen to Trump. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: "Not going to happen to Trump." Well, Susan Page, first of all, it makes me think, are protesters now going to take that as an invitation to test Trump and see how he handles himself in a situation like that? But it also, listening to him right there, the way he`s talking -- you know, Bernie`s weak, I`m tough, won`t happen with me -- it kind of gets to the heart of the message that`s he`s been -- it`s not a policy message. It`s not an ideological message. It`s, Hey, China, Mexico, I`m the tough guy who`s going to stand up for you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. PAGE: And you know, it`s so unusual for the candidate that`s leading one party`s polls to attack somebody who we don`t think will probably get the nomination in the other party.   And again, it`s not as though Trump is making elaborate strategies here when he talks. I think he just says whatever comes out of his mouth, and that includes these references to Sanders. One thing -- I don`t believe that was a Sanders campaign event. I think it was another event that Sanders was supposed to speak at, although it is true he got -- was unable to speak because of those protesters. KORNACKI: All right, Perry Bacon, Susan Page, Kwame Jackson, thank you all for being here. And coming up on the show -- just as Hillary Clinton was hitting her stride on the campaign trail, now she`s facing two big threats -- Bernie Sanders, who`s surged into the lead in New Hampshire, and the drip, drip, drip of her e-mail scandal. Plus, Jeb Bush blames Hillary Clinton and President Obama for the rise of ISIS, but not his brother, who took us to war in Iraq in the first place. And Donald Trump said he`d strongly considered a woman running mate. It`s his latest attempt to undo the damage, if there was any damage, from his dust-up with Megyn Kelly. And finally, a giant goose, a dragon and a killer robot. We`ll meet the political candidate behind the craziest campaign ad possibly ever. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Former president Jimmy Carter announced late today that he has cancer. The 90-year-old said in a statement that cancer had been found during recent liver surgery and it has spread to other parts of his body. The nation`s 39th president will undergo treatment at Emory University in Atlanta. Former president Carter joined Chris Matthews here on HARDBALL last month to talk about his new memoir, "A Full Life: Reflections at 90."   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: OK, one last thing because I`m personally curious, Mr. President. You know I`m a big fan of yours. What do you do to live until 90? The name of your book is "A Full Life." More important than the name of the book is you are around at 90. Is it a good marriage? Is it not drinking? Is it not smoking? You`re a good Baptist, so it may be one of those moral thing moral things, or is it something more athletic? What is it that has kept you so healthy mentally and physically? JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`d say the main thing is marrying the right woman, which I did 69 years ago today. This is my anniversary, as a matter of fact. MATTHEWS: Congratulations to you and Rosalynn. CARTER: That`s the main achievement of my life is marrying Rosalynn. And so I`m very grateful for that. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: We wish former president Carter all the best. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hillary Clinton`s campaign woke up to two pieces of bad news this morning. First, the front page of "The Boston Herald" reads, "Bernie overtakes Hillary in New Hampshire." A new poll from "The Boston Herald" and Franklin Pierce University shows Vermont senator Bernie Sanders surging ahead of the former secretary of state in the crucial first-in-the-nation primary state. Sanders leads Clinton by 7 points now, 44 percent to 37 percent. Sanders picked up 36 points since March. Back then, he only had 8 percent in New Hampshire. And all of this comes as Sanders is drawing massive crowds to his rallies, 19,000 in Seattle, more than 27,000 in Los Angeles, 28,000 in Portland, Oregon. By contrast, Hillary Clinton drew her largest crowd at her June kickoff. That was estimated at about 5,000.   Now, that said, 65 percent of the New Hampshire Democrats say they still believe Hillary Clinton will ultimately be their nominee. Just 11 percent say they believe Sanders will win the nomination. And there are new revelations in the Clinton e-mail investigation, as well, which we`ll get to in a minute. Chris Cillizza is an MSNBC contributor, founder of "The Washington Post`s" "Fix" blog, and Susan Milligan is a contributing editor with "U.S. News & World Report." Well, Chris, let me start with you. We have those New Hampshire numbers, and now also hot off the presses, new polling, that CNN poll from out in Iowa, Hillary Clinton 50, Bernie Sanders, 31. He seems to be creeping up in Iowa, too. Let me start with just the doomsday question for the Hillary Clinton campaign. What if Bernie Sanders catches her in Iowa, beats her there, rolls into New Hampshire, the next-door state, and wins New Hampshire, goes two for two in those first two contests? What happens? CHRIS CILLIZZA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, it`s probably over, which -- it`s hard for me to imagine, Steve, any candidate winning Iowa and New Hampshire and not being the nominee. It`s possible. Obviously, she would still have lots more money than Bernie Sanders. But momentum being what it is, there`d be a ton of pressure on her to say, Look, it`s not your time. That said, I think it`s very unlikely that happens. I think what the "Herald" poll suggests -- I`m not sure he`s up by 7 points, but what the "Herald" poll suggests is something that I think we`ve known, which is New Hampshire -- if there`s a place that Bernie Sanders is going to beat her early on, it`s going to be New Hampshire. Some of that is geographic. Yes, he`s from Vermont. Some of that is there`s sort of an appeal to him in that state and there has been since he got into the race. I think Iowa is a harder sell. 50-31 isn`t bad, if you`re Bernie Sanders, but you`re still behind by 19 points. And Hillary Clinton hasn`t said anything negative about you yet in the campaign. If it gets closer, she`s going to. So, I still think New Hampshire is his best bet. And I do think that there`s going to be a relatively competitive contest there. KORNACKI: Well, Susan, so what -- when we see numbers like this, I mean, obviously the next-door neighbor thing is a factor in New Hampshire. But, beyond that, when we see numbers that are, by all accounts, much closer than anybody was expecting -- I think, six months ago, people were saying, hey, maybe Martin O`Malley is the one who could step up a little bit. Nobody is talking about Martin O`Malley. It`s Bernie Sanders. Is there more a reflection of unexpected enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, or does this tell us more about lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton?   SUSAN MILLIGAN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": I think it`s actually broader than that. I think there`s been this pent-up frustration among the progressives in the Democratic Party who have seen their party leaders move more and more to the center and even a little bit to the right, as they were trying to sort of win the House majority and win the Senate majority. And then they lost the House majority, they lost the Senate majority. And they are sort of thinking, like, what did we do this for? Why did we recruit all these people who were sort of conservative and move more to the right? I think that that`s Bernie Sanders` appeal. I also don`t think it`s as damaging to Hillary Clinton as it would be to sort of a first-time candidate where someone could say, well, it`s really not your time. It`s not the same as it used to be, as, for example, when her husband first ran, where you basically needed to win a primary to raise the money to get the bus fare to go to the next state. That`s just not true anymore. You can run a little bit more of a national strategy now than you could, say, 20 years ago. It would still be damaging and it would still expose her weaknesses, but I don`t think it would kill her. But I agree with Chris. I think that New Hampshire is his best bet. KORNACKI: I`m just looking almost at like the psychology of it, the psychic damage of somebody who entered this race as a front-runner like we have never seen running against a guy who isn`t even a registered Democrat, if she can`t win those first two. I know the math would set up still nicely for her, the demographics of other states, but, psychologically, I just wonder. That would be uncharted territory there. But Sanders isn`t the only threat facing Hillary Clinton right now. It was also reported yesterday that Clinton has agreed to turn over to the FBI her private server that housed her personal e-mail as secretary of state, along with a thumb drive containing copies of her e-mails from her time at the State Department. This comes the day after McClatchy reported that the intelligence communities` inspector general notified senior members of Congress that two of the four classified e-mails discovered on Clinton`s private server contained top secret information, despite past denials from Clinton herself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material. So I`m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.   I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: McClatchy also reported at least four top aides have turned over records, including copies of work e-mails on personal accounts, to the State Department, which is collecting them in response to a subpoena from Capitol Hill, according to the department. Lawmakers have demanded records, including personal e-mails, from six other aides, but it`s unknown whether they used personal e-mail for work. So, Chris, a new revelation here, another bad headline for Hillary Clinton. Here`s what I`m trying to figure out, though. We can go back 20, 25 years right now, and neither Clinton, Bill or Hillary has ever polled that well on the question of honesty and trustworthiness, which is what this really gets to. Bill Clinton still managed to win the presidency twice despite those bad poll numbers. Are you seeing anything here that takes what was already a bad situation for the Clintons on that front and makes it worse, that takes it into new territory for them? CILLIZZA: You`re right. Her numbers on honest and trustworthiness have sort of steadily plummeted since she became a candidate. I don`t think that if you thought she was not honest and trustworthy before today, this will somehow drastically change your mind. I do think, though, that if you believe, and I do, that this will essentially be a, can Hillary Clinton make the 2016 general election, assuming she gets there, about the future, can it not be about Hillary Clinton the past, but Hillary Clinton the future, this just makes it harder to do that. The longer the story is around, it feeds all the narratives that people don`t like about the Clintons, not that they don`t know, Steve. They do know them, but that they don`t like -- they`re paranoid, they think the rules don`t apply to them. They surround themselves with no one who would say, wait a minute, why don`t we just set up a State Department e-mail address? So to the extent it reminds people of the things they don`t like about her, it`s about the past, I do think that`s problematic for her in an election, like every other presidential election ever, that tends to be about the future. KORNACKI: All right, Chris Cillizza and Susan Milligan, thank you both for joining us.   Coming up: Is Trump not enough showmanship for you? I will speak with a man who`s running for office with a campaign ad that includes a giant goose, laser eyes and robots. That`s next. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A political ad out of Canada has taken this country by storm today. Part sci-fi, part fantasy, the explosive video is by Wyatt Scott. He`s an independent running for a seat in the House of Commons. And he makes quite a first impression. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WYATT SCOTT, CANADIAN PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE: Hey, I`m Wyatt Scott and I`m running for Parliament for the new riding of Mission Matsqui Fraser Canyon. I`m an independent candidate and I`m here to fight for Canada. University is too damn expensive. Services like health care and social programs should be expanded, not cut. The indigenous people aren`t even protected by their own government. Change is coming to Canada. And I`m here to lead that charge. Are you ready for the shift? I am. My name`s Wyatt Scott, and I`m running for Parliament!   (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: I`m scared of those eyes all of sudden. I`m joined now from Vancouver by the candidate himself, Wyatt Scott. Wyatt, thanks for taking a few minutes. Well, all right, I don`t know. Analyze, dissect what the message in this ad, dragons, robots, random people falling out of the sky, your eyes shooting. What is the message you`re trying to get across here? (LAUGHTER) SCOTT: Well, I think we had a few main points within the video. The video itself was meant to capture attention. And I think -- I think we have done that at this point, definitely a few points in there. It was a lot of fun making this video. KORNACKI: So, what was it? What was the thought? You say the idea was who get attention. Obviously, you have succeeded at that. We don`t give too much coverage in this country to Canadian parliamentary elections. We`re talking about your race all of a sudden. So congratulations on that front. But tell us about the process. I mean, this is a new thing in Canada. In the United States, I think there`s the opportunity to come up with a viral ad that will get you this kind of coverage. What was the process like of making this thing? SCOTT: Well, about six months ago, I put an ad out on Craigslist, and as an independent candidate running in my writing, I`m very limited on funds, so I had to do something big with something very small.   I was fortunate enough to find a couple of student filmmakers, and they were very eager about the process. We collaborated for a few months, went back and forth, and I think that they did a phenomenal job. It was Three Amigos was the production company, a gentleman by the name of Christian Sheridan (ph), a young guy. Phenomenal job, they did. KORNACKI: Well, congratulations. Like I said, you managed to get the attention of the United States to Canadian parliamentary politics. Wyatt Scott, thank you for some time tonight. Appreciate it. SCOTT: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it very much. KORNACKI: All right. Up next, with the last name of Bush, is Jeb Bush really the best critic on American policy in Iraq? The former Florida governor goes on offense on two red meat issues for conservatives, national security and the Obama/Clinton partnership. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening. At least 17 people are dead and more than 200 are hurt after huge explosions rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin. The blast occurred after a fire in a warehouse storing explosive materials. According to Chinese media, the first blast exploded with the force of three tons of TNT, and the second was the equivalent of 21 tons. Six people were injured when a USA Army Black Hawk helicopter crash- landed on the deck of a Navy supply ship off the coast of Okinawa. It crashed during a training mission.   And a riot broke out earlier in Folsom State Prison in California. One inmate is dead. Numerous others were injured, including five who suffered stab wounds -- back to HARDBALL. KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Jeb Bush has opened up a new line of attack against Hillary Clinton on, of all things, Iraq. It`s a risky strategy for someone with the last name Bush, but in a speech last night at the Reagan Library in California, Jeb put the blame for the rise of ISIS on Secretary Clinton and President Obama. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ISIS grew while the United States disengaged from the Middle East and ignored the threat. And where was the secretary of state? Where was Secretary of State Clinton in all of this? Like the president himself, she had opposed the surge, then joined in claiming credit for its success, then stood by as that hard-won victory by American allied forces was thrown away. In all of her record-setting travels, she stopped by Iraq exactly once. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Clinton`s camp rebutted the attack. A senior adviser telling reporters -- quote -- "This is a pretty bold attempt to rewrite history and reassign responsibility. They cannot be allowed to escape responsibility for the real mistake here. They might hope we will all forget, but the American people remember." Jeb Bush has stumbled on the question of Iraq and whether he would have invaded the country knowing what we now know. He eventually said he wouldn`t have. But he is still linked to his brother`s policies. As Politico reports, of Jeb Bush`s 21 named foreign policy advisers, 17 worked in his brother`s White House. And Jeb has even said his brother is a top adviser on issues of U.S.-Israel policy. So why is he going after Hillary so boldly on such a risky topic?   I`m joined by tonight`s roundtable. Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer for Slate. Eliana Johnson is Washington editor for "The National Review." And Zeke Miller is a political reporter for "TIME" magazine. Well, Zeke, so you know he`s got to address it in some way at some point in this campaign. Iraq looms so big over the debate. The name Bush is always going to be attached to the Iraq War. So, Jeb has to say something. But this strategy of basically saying, hey, the key point, the key moment in time everyone should remember is U.S. troops leaving at the end of 2011 on Obama`s watch and everything that`s happened since then, is that a smart way politically of addressing this? ZEKE MILLER, "TIME": You know, it`s the best he can do with this. There`s nothing he can do to make this into a winning issue for him. This is always going to be sort of a hindrance on his chances for the White House. At the same time, he`s just trying to mitigate the risk. And here it`s Hillary Clinton voted to go into Iraq, and now both of them are on the same side of this issue, saying they both now would not have gone in knowing what they know now. But now Bush is going after the only person who he can to try to make this issue -- the only way that he can to make this issue a positive for him, or at least less negative for him, which is to blame Hillary for the withdrawal. And he makes a somewhat compelling case here in terms of that, saying the Obama administration failed to secure the bipartisan -- to secure the status of forces agreement. KORNACKI: Well, Jeb Bush called the Obama administration`s decision to withdraw from Iraq a fatal error. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP); BUSH: Why was the success of the surge followed by a withdrawal from Iraq, leaving not even a residual force the commanders and the Joint Chiefs knew was necessary? That premature withdrawal was the fatal error, creating a void that ISIS moved in to fill and that Iran has exploited to the full as well. It was a case of blind haste to get out and to call the tragic consequences somebody else`s problem. Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous.   (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: But, Jamelle Bouie, the other problem here, the other issue that Jeb Bush has to deal with in making this argument is that the reason the U.S. left at the end of 2011 was because the initial decision was made by George W. Bush to set that as the date. JAMELLE BOUIE, SLATE: That`s right, not just that, but that the purpose of the surge, to create a political solution, a stable Iraqi government, wasn`t working out. The Iraqi president was actively persecuting his political opponents. And so there`s -- it`s different to say the surge was a success, when the main political goal didn`t actually work out. What`s interesting about all of this is that even if -- and I think Zeke is right that this is an attempt to neutralize the issue as much as it is an attempt to attack Hillary -- the mere fact that a man named Jeb Bush is bringing this up, is talking about the Iraq War and Iraq in terms not dissimilar from his brother, I think, can only hurt him in the public. The thing that is important to remember, the Iraq War is responsible for Democrats taking to 2006 in the midterms. It`s pretty much responsible for Barack Obama`s rise to prominence. Iraq is not good territory for Republicans. And I`m sort of baffled by why anyone on Jeb Bush`s team would think that this is a topic that people are clamoring to hear Jeb Bush talk about. It`s just bad territory overall. KORNACKI: Eliana, you cover the Republican universe. And here`s what I`m curious about, is how attached is the Republican rank and file to defending, to litigating the Iraq war? I mean, I know there`s a certain crowd in the Republican Party, this is their policy, interventionism and they want to defend this thing to the end. But I wonder with the rest of the party, is it just we`re supposed to defend it because it was our president who did it? Is there an appetite within the Republican Party to get behind another Bush like this, or are they looking for somebody who`s going to move them beyond it? ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL REVIEW WASHINGTON EDITOR: Whoever the eventual nominee is has to have a national security strategy and that in and of itself has to involve the Middle East. So, I think Jeb Bush was doing something larger here. And that was reclaiming the narrative on Iraq, which up to this point, the Democrats and the media have owned by putting him on the defensive about it. So what he said, here`s my version of events. He said nobody has gotten everything right here, but the turning point in the Middle East was the troop surge, which both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama oppose, and they followed that up by leaving no troops in Iraq. That`s what he called a fatal error. Now, it`s up to the voters whether they believe that message and buy that message, but ISIS is going to be litigated in this election, whether Jeb Bush likes it or not, and while some people say Iraq was the real stain on the Bush presidency, I think it`s -- there`s no question that ISIS is going to be a stain on the Obama presidency. And that`s undoubtedly going to be discussed in the upcoming election.   KORNACKI: Well, you know, Zeke, the thing I didn`t see coming in this primary, Donald Trump, one of the things he said in that debate on stage last week was, he was against the Iraq war. I think he said from 2004, but he was basically saying, from the beginning. It started in `03. I think we have that bite from Donald Trump. Let`s play that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I was not a fan going into Iraq. You know that very well, because I said it was going to destabilize the Middle East. I was right. I was totally against it. And yet I`m the most militaristic person there is. But I wasn`t a fan. Now that we`re there and you have these guys chopping off Christians` heads and everybody else`s heads, and lots of other bad things happening and they will come for us if we don`t come for them, I say, cut them off where they`re getting their wealth. Cut them off at the oil. We`ve got nothing. They don`t even answer our phone calls anymore. Iran is taking over Iraq 100 percent, just like I predicted years ago. So, I say this, I didn`t want to go there in the first place, but now, we take the oil. We should have kept the oil. Now, we go in, we knock the hell out of them, take the oil. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: You know, Zeke, I think the danger here when you unpack all of that, Donald Trump, even if Republicans don`t get behind him, is telling Republican voters, telling Republican activists, you don`t have to be wed to the legacy of the Iraq war. You can stand here a decade later and say, no, it was bad, it was wrong, we shouldn`t have done it. You don`t have to defend it. ZEKE MILLER, TIME MAGAZINE POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, that`s where the Republican Party looked like it was going three, four years ago, the rise of Rand Paul, the legacy of Ron Paul even, trying to, you know, reframe the nature of American foreign policy. But the rise of ISIS has really turned all of that on its head. So, it`s really easy now for Donald Trump to say, I opposed the Iraq war in 2004 here after the invasion, it was a lot easier to oppose it in 2004 than it was in 2003. The same way that right now, there`s a lot -- you`re seeing Rand Paul moving to the right on Iraq and fighting ISIS, saying, he wants a more muscular response there, when just a few years ago, he was the one sort of calling for more investment here at home.   And it really is -- now Donald Trump is cutting against the direction that even Rand Paul is moving in the Republican Party and that`s interesting, but maybe not something Republican voters want to hear. KORNACKI: All right. The roundtable is staying with us. And coming up, Donald Trump says he would strongly consider a female VP. Is that enough to help his support among women voters? This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: "The New York Times" has published a letter to the editor sent by President Barack Obama. The president hailed the paper`s coverage of efforts to dismantle voting rights in a recent edition of its Sunday magazine. Also, he calls on lawmakers to fight back against restrictions. President Obama writes in part, quote, "From the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there`s been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislature must make it easier, not harder for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote. But the truth is, that too often, we disenfranchise ourselves." We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I will be great on women`s health issues. I cherish women. And I will be great on women`s health issues, believe me.   (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: We`re back with the roundtable, Jamelle, Eliana, and Zeke. That was Donald Trump yesterday, telling reporters that he is the Republican candidate who will do a lot for women in 2016. Trump may be trying to put distance between the laundry list of his prior negative remarks about women that came up at the Cleveland debate. Now, he`s apparently rethinking his previous position about completely defunding Planned Parenthood. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I would look at the individual things that they do and maybe some of the things are good, and maybe -- I know a lot of the things are bad. But certainly, the abortion aspect of it should not be funded by government, absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Today, Trump said he`d consider having a woman as a running mate, telling "Chicago Sun-Times" columnist Michael Sneed that, quote, "I am all for the concept. It would have to be the right person and I`m not going to go into who that would be right now, but I have great respect for women. I have great respect for women who are executives in my company. I have great respect for women`s judgment." But Trump doesn`t think much of the only woman running for the GOP nomination. After Carly Fiorina did well in the Cleveland debate, Trump tweeted, quote, "I just realized that if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than 10 minutes straight, you develop a massive headache. She has zero chance." Well, Eliana, let me ask you about this. Donald Trump, I mean, it does seem, you know, he didn`t any take noticeable hit in the polling after the debate after the dust-up with Megyn Kelly and all that but it seem there is some awareness that they want to emphasize women`s issues a little bit more here. He`s taking a slightly different stand on Planned Parenthood than we`re seeing from other Republicans. Is there a little concern on their part? JOHNSON: I`ve got to disagree with you on that, Steve. But I don`t think Trump is out there specifically to offend women. I think he is an equal opportunity offender. He`s been out there calling Erick Erickson, for example, the proprietor of Red State, a buffoon and Charles Krauthammer a dopey loser.   But, to be honest, I don`t see him sharing the stage with anybody. It is hard to imagine him picking a vice president. I don`t think it`s anything particular to a female, and he has since followed up those remarks on Planned Parenthood. I think it`s important to say that he doesn`t believe they should get any federal funding as long as Planned Parenthood continues to do abortions, a position that doesn`t distinguish him at all from the rest of the Republican field. But I think it would be a mistake to think that this is anything particular about women. This guy railroads anybody who isn`t completely differential to him. KORNACKI: Well, a new poll out today shows Trump topping the field overall with 22 percent support from likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers. And when you break it down by gender, Trump comes in at number two with women caucus-goers just behind Ben Carson. So, Jamelle, there is a slight gender gap you`re seeing there at least within the Republican -- within the Republican universe when it comes to Donald Trump and female voters. But do you see a specific problem for him on this issue? Or, you know, has he actually proven once again that the laws of politics, the usual laws of politics don`t apply? BOUIE: I mean, I think the usual laws of politics still apply here, because I don`t think Donald Trump is a credible or serious candidate. I think that by this time next year, Donald Trump will be remembered as a wonderful distraction in the usual boring August summer before a presidential election. But that`s about it. With that said, I do think that in so far that he has a campaign, this whatever this clown show of a campaign, he does have a bit of a gender gap. I think that has a lot to do with the fact Trump`s persona is very aggressively masculine and male in a way that I think a lot of American men, not a lot obviously, but some chunk of American men identify with. And quite a few women do not. But outside of that, you know, Donald Trump is not someone who has a coherent strategy, coherent ideas, really a coherent anything. He is just sort of Donald Trump. As far as a vice presidential pick, I think the ideal pick for Donald Trump would just be another Donald Trump. KORNACKI: That supposes there`s two of them in this world. But it`s also -- it`s amazing. We`re sitting here in the middle of August. The calendar is advancing and we are talking about a vice presidential pick for Donald Trump and who that might be. BOUIE: It`s bananas. KORNACKI: It`s going on longer. That`s the interesting thing. I was watching him yesterday, Zeke. I was watching him yesterday and I was saying, I think we might be seeing slightly different Donald Trump. I mean, he`s always going to be, you know, I`m the king of the world and that whole bravado and everything. But he seemed more relaxed yesterday. He seemed more at ease. He was joking with reporters a little bit. This is a guy who I think he might be at this and saying, starting to, you know, my strategy is working.   MILLER: Oh, one hundred percent. And on the running mate question, the only thing better than one Trump is two, you know, he likes executives who work for him. I`m going to say, Ivanka. She might be a little young for the office, but that`s the type of person that seems to fit the Trump bill here. He needs his campaign needs that sort of energy reinforcing. That would reinforce everything about Trump. In fact, everyone who knows her really likes her. In New York, the stories about her are, she is very personable and it would help, you know, sort of smooth out the rough edges. But Trump is certainly hitting a groove. Everything the Republican Party has thrown at him for the past two months. He was disinvited, not invited to the Koch summit, not invited to the AFP summit, the Club for Growth is coming after him. Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, all going after him. That`s done nothing. In fact, his support has gotten stronger and he`s seeing that in the poll. The first debate didn`t bring him down. He`s feeling that and he`s feeling heat -- whatever he has going for him is working, so why change? KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, Eliana, that`s the thing that`s amazing to me, too. I mean, it was -- the FOX News debate, he is in this dust-up with Megyn Kelly. She is bashing him afterwards. Megyn Kelly so popular with the FOX audience, 25 million people watching it. It`s shocking to me that Donald Trump, I can`t think of another Republican politician who could say this stuff about Megyn Kelly, who could basically go to war with her like he did and actually apparently survive and maybe win. JOHNSON: Well, I think Trump`s appeal to people is that he isn`t afraid to offend anybody. That means bashing some of the sacred cows of the Republican Party. But I think what he`s going to start to realize is that once he`s not saying provocative and offensive things, he stops getting the headlines and he stops getting put on television constantly. And his campaign will lose some of the sizzle. That may come as a disappointment for him. But the incentive for him certainly is to continue to spout the most provocative and obscene things, just by the way like a reality television star. And so, it doesn`t matter for him if the headlines are good, bad, offensive, inoffensive, as long as he continues to get them. KORNACKI: Right. I mean, that`s the amazing thing. About six weeks to put this in perspective. It`s about six weeks now that Donald Trump has been dominating the headlines in politics and dominating this race. We`re still five months away from anybody actually going to the polls and voting in this thing. And, Jamelle, I mean, that is the question. How long is this sustainable?   BOUIE: I think it is sustainable as long as he has media attention. But as soon as the first primaries come, and as soon as he does not win anything, I think he drops out. I think he might drop out when he gets bored with it. But, right now, I think he`s here to sort of be offensive and be loud and sort of take advantage of the media attention and frankly, just simply, he`s not here to make friends. He`s just here to hang out. KORNACKI: That`s a good reason to run for president -- to hang out. Jamelle Bouie, Eliana Johnson, Zeke Miller, thanks for joining us tonight. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. 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