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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 11/10/15

Guests: Robert Costa, Ben Ginsberg, Al Cardenas, Mollie Hemingway, MicheleBachmann

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump`s big casino. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Well, tonight is the big economics debate on the Fox Business Network. It`s a home game, of course, for Donald Trump, a man who`s won big in real estate, built landmark addresses and personifies swank. The man is something else, of course, a world-class champion of economic nationalism. Hear him speak, and you hear the anger of a country especially the working class white guy, at the trade losses to China, the invasion of illegal workers, the failure of Washington big shots to protect them, to protect their country. Well, tonight, it`s Trump against the chumps, the economic nationalist out to defend the working guy against a weak political establishment at the top. The only question is the big one. It`s whether Trump can wield his mighty weapon of his or be drawn into a shoving match with Dr. Ben Carson or Marco Rubio. Can he use tonight to forge for good his reputation as a tough guy ready to fight for America, or lose it as the street corner bully against the skinny kid on the block? NBC`s Chris Jansing is in Milwaukee tonight. That`s the debate site. Chris, that`s -- to me, the guy had so much power coming out of his initial announcement for president, using the immigration issue as an economic nationalism issue, if you will, and then got caught up in "Saturday Night Live" and all this other nonsense. Can he get back on track, where he might be able to win this thing?    CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, here`s the thing. This is what his people have been waiting for. They say this plays to his sweet spot, right, the economy. You`re right, though, what the question is. Does this devolve, in some people`s opinion, into fights between Ben Carson and Donald Trump about Ben Carson`s personal history? We certainly have seen in the past week, he`s been going after Carson. Carson`s people, their attitude is, Bring it on. First of all, it`s fired up their candidate. Second of all, it`s really fueled their fund- raising. He put out another e-mail today looking for money, calling it vicious lies that have been perpetrated against him. And his campaign just told me, Chris, in the last hour or so, that yesterday set a single-day record for Ben Carson in direct mail response -- 20,000 pieces of mail, 85 to 90 percent of it with checks. Do the math. If the average is $51 per donation, you`re looking at something over $850,000 in a single day just in direct mail. But there`s danger, too, right, for Donald Trump in going after him because if you look at that McClatchy poll today, where he has pulled slightly ahead nationally, the more interesting number is sort of behind that, which says, Who do you like more, the more you get to know about them? And it`s a runaway for Ben Carson. He is, by far, the most popular guy in the field. So anybody, whether it`s Donald Trump or someone else, who wants to take him down, his campaign thinks, does so at his own risk, Chris. MATTHEWS: I still think he`s a parking place for people still looking for a president, but we will see. I`ve been wrong before. Thank you so much, NBC`s Chris Jansing. NBC`s Katy Tur covers the Trump campaign. She joins us from New Hampshire. Katy, I think New Hampshire is another place where Trump could hit it big, come the primary there in February. But tonight, it seems like he`s got to get back on track and focus on what I think has always been his calling card, economic nationalism. Your thoughts. KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and when you ask or when you look at those polls where he`s -- his numbers are going up and down, whether or not he leads the polls, and his likability numbers aren`t always so high, but what he does always and consistently lead in is the economy, does a really good job convincing people that he would be strong on the economy. And although we`re not talking about it as much on the news and in our headlines because the headlines seem to get wrapped up in his attacks on the other opponents, Trump has been hitting this point hard in every single one of his rallies. He always talks about how he would be a better trade negotiator than anyone else. He always hits Mexico and China for taking jobs away from America. Yesterday, in Springfield, Illinois, he hit NAFTA. He hit Boeing. He hit Ford. He hit Nabisco. Boeing for opening its first plant in China, first plant ever opened overseas, Ford for moving a plant to Mexico, manufacturing parts in Mexico, Nabisco for moving a plant over, as well.    He says that he`s the only one that would be able to negotiate the deals that would bring those jobs back. And he attacks his opponents and says his opponents, like Rubio and Bush and Carson and Hillary, won`t be able to do that because they are pressured by lobbyists, they are pressured by the people who donate to their campaigns. And Donald Trump is not taking donations, he says. He is funding this by himself. And it`s allowing him to be independent and allowing him to say to China, You`re a currency manipulator. You`re not doing this fairly. You need to come back to the negotiating table. And he says he`ll -- by doing that, he will be bringing jobs back to this country. If he`s able to focus on that tonight, Donald Trump will do well because as he so rightly said, it is where he is the strongest. MATTHEWS: Is it really cold out there already? What`s it going to be like in January? It looks like it already is January up there. What`s the temperature like in New Hampshire? TUR: It`s not as cold as my -- it`s like in the 30s, 40s. I don`t know. It`s not as cold as my jacket says, but I`m a wimp. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Your jacket says 20 degrees below. TUR: If you saw my shoes, you wouldn`t think I was that cold. MATTHEWS: No. Katy, thank you. Keep it warm up there. Thanks so much -- Katy Tur of NBC. Anyway, Trump has used his strong talk on the economy to turn up the heat on Ben Carson ahead of tonight`s Fox Business debate. He`s going after Carson, saying, quote, "Ben Carson has never created a job in his life. Well, maybe a nurse. I have created tens of thousands of jobs. It`s what I do." In the run-up to tonight, Trump has repeatedly questioned Carson`s bona fides to ever even talk about the economy.    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you think that Ben is going to go to China? These guys are fierce! They come into your office, there`s no, Hello, how are you? It`s a wonderful day -- they come in, We want deal! (LAUGHTER) TRUMP: There`s no games! I do this for a living. I`m really good at it, folks, really good. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) TRUMP: I will bring our jobs back. I`ll bring our money back. I`ll bring our manufacturing back. Ben cannot do that. I don`t think Carson`s going to negotiate really well with China, folks, in all fairness, OK? I don`t think so. And I like him. I don`t think so. These are people with no experience. These are people that never met a payroll. These are people that have never done it before, and they don`t know what they`re doing. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Michael Steele was RNC chair and Steve Schmidt was the top strategist in the 2004 Bush campaign and a senior adviser to John McCain`s 2008 campaign. Robert Costa, of course, National political reporter with "The Washington Post." Michael Steele, this guy can get away with Charlie Chan impressions. I mean, what`s this, "We want deal"?    (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: I mean, we don`t even notice that he talks like this anymore. But it is tough talk. Is he going to be able to stay on message tonight and knock everybody`s block off because he`s, as he`s told us a few times, a multi- multi-billionaire? MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, I think this is an opportunity for him to try to take a different tack. Don`t come at Ben Carson or anyone else on that stage on the personal stuff, on the things that the press has been talking about on the last few days. This is his sweet spot. Show us how you make the art of the deal. Show us how you create the jobs and have been a part of this economic pulse of the country in a way that these other candidates have not. I think for Donald Trump, this is a defining moment. This is his sweet spot, as was said before. You`re either going to show us that or you`re just going to wind up rolling off the stage, ultimately, and you`ll get usurped by a Ben Carson or a, you know, a Jeb Bush even, because as a governor, he had a very successful time governing an economy in Florida that was a prosperous one. So I think for Donald Trump, this is the chance to really show his bona fides and the seriousness of his campaign for the presidency. MATTHEWS: Well, Dr. Carson has told reporters that he`ll have the economy booming. In fact, the word is "buzzing." He doesn`t buzz. How would the economy buzz? Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can have this economy buzzing in no time. But you know, there are those who would have you believe this is so complex, they`re the only ones who can understand it, and certainly, no one who`s not been in elected office can understand it. Well, got news for you. Our system was designed for citizen statesmen. It was not designed for career politicians, and there`s a reason for that.    (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t know whether our $17 trillion economy was designed for the citizen non-expert, but his -- I don`t get it, Steve. Explain him to me. STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. MCCAIN STRATEGIST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, he has... MATTHEWS: We`re talking about a country, by the way, the Republican Party, 40 percent say the top issue is the economy, not income inequality, not jobs, per se, not trade, per se. Will this economy hold up, this thing on which everything else relies? And here`s a guy saying, I`m the gifted amateur, I will make it buzz. SCHMIDT: You have in the Republican Party -- you have a shift to the right in the Republican Party over recent years. You have an ascendancy of religious conservatives in the party. This evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party is Ben Carson`s base. He is the most popular candidate in the field. And so Donald Trump makes a big mistake tonight if he gets into a tussle with Ben Carson. Donald Trump is effective fighting from his right to his left against the establishment candidates. And he has two really interesting departures from Republican orthodoxy on economics that we`ll see. All of these establishment candidates are free traders. Donald Trump is not. This debate is taking place in the industrial Midwest, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin... MATTHEWS: Explain that. SCHMIDT: ... right? These are places where Trump`s base is living, breathing, and agreeing with him when he says the country`s not great anymore. They`ve seen the manufacturing belt of the country hollowed out, these jobs outsourced, sent overseas. The second issue that Trump has departed with Republican orthodoxy on is carried interest, the tax benefit, the tax loophole that benefits chiefly people in the financial services industry. Who`s going to defend the carried interest loophole when Donald Trump attacks it? One of the things that ties Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders -- they`re the two candidates in the race talking about money in politics. They`re the two candidates who are saying, None of this is on the level, and you`ll see that populism play out tonight.    I also think it`s important to watch Marco Rubio tonight. Marco Rubio`s going to have it coming at him from Donald Trump. He`s going to have it coming at him from Jeb Bush. Once again, Jeb Bush has telegraphed his attacks right down to... MATTHEWS: Yes. SCHMIDT: ... the $20 million they`re getting ready to spend on negative ads. Marco Rubio was ready last time, Jeb Bush came at him, Marco Rubio knocked him on his you know what with a counterpunch. So we`ll be seeing that again tonight. MATTHEWS: Well, let me go -- let me go to Robert Costa, one of the best reporters out there. Robert, it seems to me that Trump has -- it`s almost like the old phrase about the monkey that typed Merry Christmas by accident. He got into this economic nationalism argument talking about illegal immigration. Then he got into the issue of trade and being tough with China. I agree completely with Steve. In the Rust Belt and places like Michigan (INAUDIBLE) you go into a lot of those cities, all that`s left, if there is one, is a Blockbuster and maybe a diner, maybe a diner or an I- hop. That`s it. There`s no more industry left, just rust. And he comes into a place like Missouri, which has always been trade- sensitive, any of those Midwestern states, and talks the line of economic nationalism -- I don`t think these other guys hold a candle to him. So why does he want to get involved with these intramural fights with Dr. Carson? ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": He wants to elbow out Carson and he wants to maybe elbow Rubio. But you`re right. When I spoke to Trump before this debate, I said, How are you going to connect with this economic nationalism? And he said, Look, I don`t need to have a policy plan. I don`t need to detail one, two, and three about what I`m going to do. I need to connect. I said, What does that mean, to connect? He says, You have to convey a feeling that you share the frustrations of the voters out there. So I think that`s what we`re going to see from Trump tonight, someone who`s trying to connect with the frustrations out there, rather than unveiling another policy plan. MATTHEWS: I want see a gut patriotism (ph) from either party, in both parties. I want to hear gut patriotism, somebody who cares about this country in their gut! Anyway, ahead of tonight`s debate, Donald Trump has been targeting Ben Carson`s violent past -- this is the kind of weird stuff -- including Carson`s stories about pathological violence as a kid. Well, Trump spoke to a crowd of 10,000 people last night and called in to ABC`s "Good Morning America" today, and here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)    TRUMP: President Trump! President Trump! (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) TRUMP: If you try and hit your mother over the head with a hammer, your poll numbers go up! I never saw anything like it. This is the only election in history where you`re better off if you stab somebody. What are we coming to? Now, I`m trying to figure out what`s going on over here. You hit somebody in the face with a lock, you go after your mother with a hammer, you do all of these things and you`re trying to justify that, yes, you did them, and that`s supposed to make you credible. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, I realize it`s an easy shot to put a guy down for these strange sort of admissions, confessions, if you will... STEELE: Right. MATTHEWS: ... of Dr. Carson, but they do take away TV time, when he could be pounding on the issue, as I said, that gets in people`s guts, that they`re being betrayed at the top, you know, the rot at the top. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: It`s an old argument, but I think people really feel it today, that the sophisticates, including Hillary Clinton and the rest of them, are so sophisticated, have so many advanced degrees, they don`t know how to defend the country when it comes to jobs, how to defend us against illegal immigration, to defend us against wasteful spending because there`s too many interest groups they`re playing with. They don`t feel that people are looking out for the average guy, you know? And I think that guy would like to hear Trump not bash Dr. Carson.    STEELE: Exactly. And that`s -- I think in some respects, Trump is almost stuck in that rut because it worked with Jeb Bush, it worked with Scott Walker, it worked with these other candidates, who responded as traditional establishment candidates would respond. Well, that`s not Ben Carson. And I think, you know, the wisdom of both Costa and Steve should come into play here, in that for Trump, the best thing to do is to stay in your lane, is to stay in the sweet spot that you have and you know. Talk and connect to the American people in the Rust Belt. Talk and connect to the guy who`s been unemployed for the last 18 months and understands that the possibility of getting a job is less and less because it`s going overseas or it`s going someplace else. That`s where he needs to be. If he gets tangled up, Chris, in this, I`m going to come after you and talk about you going after your mama thing, it`s not going to work. It`s only going to embolden him. And just as Jeb Bush, as Robert has noted, has telegraphed his move, Trump doesn`t need to telegraph any more moves here as he`s done so far this week. Stay in his lane, stay focused on the economy... MATTHEWS: Steve`s right. STEELE: ... and he can come out a lot stronger... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Thank you, Steve Schmidt. Thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Robert Costa. We`ll see all of you after the debate tonight. And by the way, even if you haven`t watched it -- by the way, a lot of people can`t find the financial Fox Network, whatever it is, but the fact is, we`re going to have all the highlights tonight at 11:00. We`re going to have the good guys, the bad guys, and who blew it tonight. Stay (ph) and watch us. We`ll also have the train wrecks. It`ll be a lot of fun tonight. Coming up, if Trump versus Carson is tonight`s main event, the next biggest fight is between that pair from Florida. They`re not exactly a happy pair, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Rubio`s on the rise right now, and Jeb does not like it one bit. Mirror, mirror on the wall -- wrong answer. Plus, we`ll be joined by one of the Republicans who ran for president last time around. There she is, the remarkable U.S. congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is coming here tonight. And the HARDBALL roundtable tells us which candidates have the clearest path to the nomination, and the likely matchup, by the way. Let`s face it, they`re all going to go campaign against Hillary Clinton eventually.    Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the Trump opportunity tonight, which is, as he would put it, huge. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Love that election year music. Welcome back to HARDBALL. At the last debate, Jeb Bush tried and clearly failed to land his Sunday punch on Marco Rubio, the man Bush sees as his biggest threat. What about tonight? Will Bush try to slam him again? According to "The New York Times," the Bush team is preparing right now to go hard at Rubio. Quote, "Seething with anger and alarmed over Mr. Rubio`s rise, aides to Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor, and his allies are privately threatening a wave of scathing attacks on his former protege in the coming weeks." "The Times" reports that a pro-Bush super- PAC is writing (ph) a video right now that calls Rubio too extreme on abortion. That strategy comes with peril, of course, in a right-tilting Republican primary season. Well, today, Rubio`s team responded with an online video that shows Bush`s past support for Rubio. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What Marco has, I think, is something that the Republican Party needs to have, which is a hopeful, optimistic message based on our principles. I`m a huge Marco fan. He`s probably the most articulate conservative on the scene today and the fortitude to be a good president. So proud of his high-voltage energy. I`m so proud of his enthusiasm. I`m so proud of his eloquence.    I`m a huge Marco fan. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by MSNBC`s Haley Barbour (sic) -- Hallie Barbour out in Milwaukee. Hallie, thank you so much for -- Hallie Jackson, not Haley Barbour. Hallie, thank you for -- and it`s live TV. (LAUGHTER) HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There we go. MATTHEWS: Well, you`re the new kid on the block. So, let me ask you this about, isn`t it dangerous for a Republican candidate, in a very conservative year, to be attacking an opponent, in this case Bush attacking Rubio, for being too tough on abortion? JACKSON: This is something that could potentially, Chris, play very well with the GOP primary voters, right, the folks who are actually going out and caucusing and casting ballots in this Republican race. What`s interesting about this "Times" piece, too, is that it`s essentially telegraphing Bush`s line of attack, or at least Bush`s allies` line of attack. This is something that we saw the last debate, remember, when Jeb Bush and his team sort of telegraphed the fact that they were going to come after Marco Rubio on Senate votes.    What did that do? That allowed the Rubio team to prepare for that and to be able to have an attack line ready if that moment or that opportunity came up. So, I wouldn`t be surprised to see something potentially similar tonight. MATTHEWS: Why are we getting the word ahead of time of every punch Bush is about to throw at Rubio? Is that a mole somewhere in the Bush campaign? Is it stupid P.R.? You know, you`re supposed to surprise people, to dry-gulch them. You`re not supposed to say, guess what I`m going to do to you tomorrow night? JACKSON: Yes, I think there`s a strategy you`re seeing among some campaigns that they`re not revealing that line of attack, right? Like, you`re not hearing what they`re going to come out with in the debates, what they`re going to sort of do moving forward. So, it seems to be something that some campaigns are doing and others aren`t. MATTHEWS: Yes, well, thanks so much, Hallie Jackson. Thanks so much for joining us. I`m joined right now by Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer who earlier this month joined a meeting among most of the campaigns to change the debate process. It`s great to have you, Ben. BEN GINSBERG, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Nice to be here. MATTHEWS: You are an expert. You`re celebrated in film, like "Recount" by Bob Balaban, and you really know this stuff better than anybody around. Let me just talk about the changing nature of the debate format. It`s now down to less than 10. We`re gradually -- are we seeing a winnowing on purpose, knocking off a Chris Christie off the big kids table, knocking off a Lindsey Graham altogether out of the debate, either debate, big kids or little kids table? Is that purposeful? GINSBERG: Well, I`m not sure if it`s purposeful.    And you don`t really yet know who`s making the decision. Is it the network or is it the party? What you`re doing is having a bunch of media polls based on 400-person samples used to winnow that field, rather than having voters. Part of the issue that I think the campaigns are concerned about, especially the ones who are polling lower, is there are no state polls being used in the decision. The margin of error of the polls that are being used make it really difficult to segment between a candidate at 6 percent and a candidate at 0.5 percent. Right? That`s all within the statistical margin of error of the polls. Yet it`s being used to narrow the field. MATTHEWS: Do you think Christie was unfairly knocked out? GINSBERG: Yes. I think that based on the precision of the polls that were used, it`s really hard to draw a line between what a candidate polling at 2.25 is from a candidate polling at 6. MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the weakness. The trouble with the debate is, if you go into a debate and you`re behind, or know you`re behind or think you`re behind, you take a slug at the other guy. That always seems to fail. I mean, inevitably, you say Reagan`s too old, and you say something about -- maybe you say -- Quayle says he`s as good as Jack Kennedy, trying to knock the guy out. He knocks him out. It`s always the counterpunch that wins. So, I wonder whether a debate can really change who is ahead, because the guy or the person slugs at the guy ahead and always gets thrown back. GINSBERG: Here`s what will be different about tonight`s debate, structurally, to allow candidates to show substance. The answers are 90 seconds` long, as opposed to 60 seconds. The rebuttals are 60 seconds, as opposed to 30 seconds. That will give candidates a chance to show their substantiative knowledge. It may even give them a chance to speak about their vision. MATTHEWS: You think that will make the difference? GINSBERG: Well, I think it can provide different perspectives for candidates.    So far, a debate -- doing well in a debate has been sort of a sugar high for a candidate. They`re up for a while, they raise money in that period, they get some more supporters. Important. It`s not lasted long for... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: To make my last point, Fiorina, Carly Fiorina -- Fiorina did really well for a couple of weeks after getting smashed unfairly, really grossly, by Trump. GINSBERG: Right. MATTHEWS: And hasn`t been as good since. That was a sugar high. GINSBERG: And remember that there are now five weeks between tonight`s debate and the next debate on December 15. MATTHEWS: So, tonight matters. GINSBERG: So, tonight matters. MATTHEWS: It has to carry you through Thanksgiving, to the holidays. Thank you, Ben Ginsberg, one of the smartest people around in this business. (CROSSTALK)    MATTHEWS: As I mentioned earlier, "The New York Times" reported Bush aides and allies are stepping up their attack on Marco Rubio. According to "The Times," that includes an effort by the main pro-Bush super PAC, Right to Rise -- quote -- "In an attempt to blunt Mr. Rubio`s appeal and showcase a potential vulnerability against the Democratic nominee in the general election, the group`s top strategist, Mike Murphy, recently showed some Republicans a video portraying Mr. Rubio as too extreme on abortion. A longtime opponent of abortion rights, Mr. Rubio said in a debate in August that he had never advocated laws that allow abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Mr. Murphy has privately said to several people that Right to Rise would be ready to devote up to $20 million to fighting Mr. Rubio, according to several people told of the conversation." Anyway, I`m right now joined by Al Cardenas, a senior adviser to Jeb Bush, and Rick Tyler, spokesman for Ted Cruz`s campaign. Al, why would your candidate, Jeb Bush, attack a fellow Republican, a fellow pro-lifer on being too pro-life? It doesn`t make sense. AL CARDENAS, JEB BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: Well, he hasn`t. I think Jeb Bush has been taunted by some in the media to opine on Marco`s history on the subject. And he said: Look, I have got my own history. I`m pro-life. I have talked about it. I believe in certain exception. You in the press can talk about Marco. I`m not. And so Jeb hasn`t done it. We don`t speak to Mike Murphy. As you know, we can`t do that. And all I have seen from Mike Murphy`s super PAC are biographical ads so far for Jeb. So, he may be saying what he`s saying to some donors, but I haven`t seen any -- one, any evidence of it, and, number two, that Jeb, when asked, look, I`m not going to opine on Marco`s position on abortion. MATTHEWS: So, just to clarify your position, Mr. Cardenas, as a surrogate and supporter of Jeb Bush, Governor Bush, you think it would be a bad political move to attack Marco Rubio for setting too high a standard on exceptions to abortion, like... (CROSSTALK) CARDENAS: I haven`t opined on that. I mean, you have got to opine on each ad. Like the Supreme Court said on pornography, I have got to see it to opine on it. MATTHEWS: OK.    CARDENAS: And I have got to see an ad in order to opine on it. But all I can tell you is, Jeb Bush has chosen not to take Marco on, on that subject. MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Rick Tyler on this question of Cruz. What is Cruz`s strategy? Most of us in the media that I talk to and in politics say that Cruz`s strategy is pretty smart. He thinks that both of these candidates, Trump and Carson, are sort of cotton candy, the real meal is ahead, and eventually they are going to fade, fizzle, whatever, and he will move in there on that renegade side of politics, the sort of anti-establishment wing of the party. RICK TYLER, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, the cotton candy part is your words, Chris. It`s not ours. But I will say that our strategy has been the same all along. We want to consolidate the broad-based conservative voter, the broad-based conservative spectrum, into one candidate, Ted Cruz. And we will ultimately run against the establishment candidate. Now, what`s interesting about the establishment is, the establishment seems very angry. And there`s a lot of them and that`s sort of very different. So, we`re competing for the conservative vote. We have been consolidating that vote, which is why we have 1,000 state -- team leaders in the states. We have got 80,000 volunteers for Cruz. We have now qualified for over 20 states. We have filed for 14 more. So we`re organized all the way through to the March 15 primaries. And so that`s been our strategy, is to win, place or show in the early states, do well, all in the March 1 primary, including Texas, and I think we will do very well. MATTHEWS: I think that`s what I said in a different way. You are going to wait until these other guys flame out. Anyway, in recent days, Senator Cruz has been subtly jabbing at Bush, maybe not subtly. Last week, he called Florida, the Florida -- senator -- a moderate. Ouch. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)    SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As I look at the race, historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary. There`s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane. The moderate lane is crowded as all get out. You have got four or five candidates that are slugging it out who I think will spend millions trying to take each other out. JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Kasich and Jeb and, yes, Christie and -- yes. CRUZ: And I don`t know who comes out of that lane. Look, I think Marco is certainly formidable in that lane. I think the Jeb campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate lane. And so I think they`re going to slug it out for a while. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Rick, is moderate a putdown word in the Republican conservative movement right now? A moderate is a bad -- a bad adjective, if you will, moderate? TYLER: Well, you know, the 538 did an ideological study of the Republican Party and they scored it at a 71. Ted Cruz is a 72. We keep asking our party to elect a 56. And somehow we are going to win with a 56. We don`t need to win with a 56. We need to win with a 71 or a 72. Ted Cruz is right in the middle of the mainstream of the Republican Party nationally. He`s the perfect fit. And that`s why we`re seeing all the enthusiasm, all the excitement, all the money coming toward him. And so he`s a conservative, but I would say that he`s in the center of the party. He`s not to the right of the party. He`s in the center. Almost everybody else is to the left. MATTHEWS: OK.    CARDENAS: Actually, the fact of the matter is that most candidates in this election are on the conservative side, including Jeb Bush, who was deemed the most conservative governor when he served, and served on the Heritage Foundation board, the pinnacle of conservative thought. The truth of the matter is, there are only going to be two lanes in the home stretch of this campaign, a problem maker`s lane and a problem solver`s lane. Jeb Bush wants to be a conservative in the problem solver`s lane, and we will see how the thing progressives as the campaign moves forward. MATTHEWS: And maybe we will get -- end up with a moderate problem solver. Anyway, Al Cardenas, thank you. Rick Tyler, thank you both, gentleman. It`s funny. To me, they both look conservative. Up next, former Congresswoman and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann joins me to get her take on the Republican field for 2016. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s happening. A business jet crashed into an apartment building in Akron, Ohio. Authorities believe nine people were aboard the aircraft. All are feared dead. No one on the ground was hurt.    The Obama administration will ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the president`s immigration reform plan. An appeals court ruled against the plan on Monday, the second legal setback for that measure. And former President Jimmy Carter is said to be responding well to cancer treatments. The Carter Center says there is no evidence the cancer has spread any further -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL. MATTHEWS: Isn`t that great news about President Carter? And I have heard good reports about his treatment and therapy. Anyway, we`re back to HARDBALL. Former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann sparkled as an early front- runner back in 2012 in that race for the Republican presidential nomination, doing especially well in the debates. And as the only woman in the Republican field back then, she had to answer some hostile questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: As president, would you be submissive to your husband. (BOOING) MICHELE BACHMANN (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Thank you for that question, Byron. QUESTION: You`re welcome. (LAUGHTER)    (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, she was a hit on the campaign trail and was the first woman ever to win the Iowa straw poll that year. She had me convinced she was going all the way. Watch me back then. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER") BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": What about Michele Bachmann? She`s... MATTHEWS: She`s my hero. MAHER: She`s your hero? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really? MATTHEWS: She`s going all the way. She`s going to win this thing. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really? MATTHEWS: I will tell you right now, I predict she beats Romney. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow.    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I predict she doesn`t. Well, actually, no, wait, beat Romney? MATTHEWS: She will beat him in New Hampshire, is where she is going to beat him. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: What happened? Former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann joins me. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: You blew all my predictive ability there. I was -- I had all my money on you to finish by a nose or two. BACHMANN: It must have been... MATTHEWS: What happened? Why did you fade? BACHMANN: It must have been "Monopoly" money. That`s all I can figure.    (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Well, it would have been all right, then. BACHMANN: And, by the way, people probably -- people probably found out that, believe it or not, you may know this, the first presidential campaign that I ever worked on was Jimmy Carter`s campaign. I was in college. I was a Democrat. MATTHEWS: Wow. BACHMANN: And I worked on Jimmy Carter`s campaign. And, actually, the very first time, Chris, I ever went to Washington, D.C., was to dance at Jimmy Carter`s inaugural ball. MATTHEWS: Wow. BACHMANN: Little known fact. MATTHEWS: You probably cut the rug. But I must say, there`s one person like you, a doppelganger, if I will, if you will. Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater girl. So, people change. People change. BACHMANN: I know. Isn`t it amazing how we change? That`s absolutely true.    MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this women thing. And I think men always get in trouble on this, so I will leave it to you. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: When Hillary Clinton said that Bernie Sanders was being sexist, if you will, when he said people can shout all they want about gun safety, but it doesn`t do any good, Hillary Clinton took umbrage at that, at least publicly -- you don`t know what people think -- and said -- she said that that basically making fun of her as a woman. She said that, whenever women talk, people accuse them of shouting. If you have to be the referee on that one, where would you call it? BACHMANN: Well, I don`t know. I think when you live and die by rules of political correctness, eventually, you`re in the crosshairs yourself. And I think that that`s really where Hillary Clinton is putting herself. I think that, really, she wants to be above that. And I don`t think it`s wise for her to go down that road. Everyone knows, at this point, she will, in all likelihood, be the nominee of the Democrat Party. It`s just a slam dunk. And, actually, it`s because of Bernie Sanders. He gave her the get- out-of-jail-free card in the last debate when he took Benghazi off the table, the e-mails off the table. MATTHEWS: I agree. BACHMANN: He said, it doesn`t make any difference to me. And you had a smile from ear to ear on Hillary`s face. I saw, right then and there, she was the nominee.    (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I have never seen that done before, just give it away. It wasn`t his issue, but why did he reach out there and pull it away? BACHMANN: Yes. He totally gave it away. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. BACHMANN: What he did is, he pulled all of the air out of his campaign. His campaign was over at that point. And I don`t know why he did that, because he was surging wildly. He had so many people behind him here in Minnesota. I didn`t see any Hillary bumper stickers. I see Bernie bumper stickers. I see Bernie lawn signs. And after he did that, it was a self-destructive moment. And it`s like the whole gas is out of his campaign, and you just see no more enthusiasm. And I think it`s Hillary`s, although there`s not a lot of enthusiasm. So I think there`s a problem. MATTHEWS: Well, after the last Republican debate, the women of "The View," you know, that television show, made disparaging remarks about Carly Fiorina`s face. BACHMANN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Using terms like demented and a Halloween mask.    Well, Fiorina went back on the show -- shows guts -- to face down her attackers. Here she is there. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you meant your comment about my face being demented and a Halloween mask as humorous, so be it. I guess you misinterpreted Donald Trump`s comments about my face and thought those were humorous. You sort of took him to task. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, good for her going back at Joy Behar, who is a tough cookie. BACHMANN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Back in 2011, some accused you -- in fact, "Newsweek" -- of -- going after you by using a very unflattering picture of you on their cover. It doesn`t look bad from here, but I guess they tried to make you scary. But what did you think of it then, when "Newsweek" went after you? FORMER REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, first of all, I wanted to say, that Carly Fiorina was brilliant. She cleaned the clock of both ladies on "The View," as she needed to. She did a very good job. She`s very professional. You`ll see her again hit it out of the park tonight in the debates. She`s very good when she gets up on debates and knows exactly what she`s doing. When I was in the race back in 2012 and "Newsweek" came around to do a story, I was happy to do it. We spent a long time, hours and hours, shooting photos. They showed me kind of a short list of photos that they were going to choose from.    And then at the last minute, the photographer told me to sit on the bottom step of an aluminum ladder, she shined a light in my face, like a strobe light, and my eyes opened up, and that`s the photo that they showed. It was a complete setup and that`s what "Newsweek" did. "Newsmax" magazine did a beautiful shot, same clothes, everything, and it was just done on purpose. MATTHEWS: I know. BACHMANN: And to me, that was a sexist move, because they wouldn`t do that to a man. They would only do something like that to a woman. And the thing is, you rise above it. And that`s what I see Carly Fiorina doing -- rising above these kind of things. And I think that`s good, because she`s a professional, she`s not going to get caught up in it, and I think that that speaks really well for her as a woman. MATTHEWS: Well, I wouldn`t rise above it, because I don`t believe in rising above things, Congresswoman, because "New York Times" magazine did it to me. They hired a guy from Germany at 10,000 bucks come over here and spend hours until they got the shot they wanted, me laughing in a foolish way, they got me to do it, they did it and they put it on the cover. So, it`s not just against women, it`s not just against Republicans. It`s what it is. It`s some kind of people out there. They`re not very nice. Anyway, former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann -- by the way, retirement from the House has done you good, from all appearances. You look great tonight. Thank you for coming here. BACHMANN: Thanks so much. MATTHEWS: It`s always true. I always speak the truth about you. Much more ahead with tonight`s roundtable.    Plus, whether or not you see the debate tonight, by the way, it`s hard to find the Fox Business Network, join us at 11:00 p.m. Eastern for some fun. Full coverage and analysis of that about the tonight. We`ll see you there for two hours. We`re on from 11:00 to 1:00 in the morning tonight Eastern Time. We`ll talk about who the candidate who comes across most presidential tonight. Do you like that word "presidential," and if we find one. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: I`m back with Gene Robinson, Howard Fineman, and Mollie Hemingway. Mollie, start with this. This is a big night tonight for Trump. Challenge my thesis. This guy is an economic nationalist on trade, on immigration, on everything. He`s the guy that`s going to fight for America. He`ll be the American Putin, OK? Or waste it all on a stupid intramural fight with Carson or Rubio? What`s he up for tonight? MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Well, I think what`s interesting about this debate is that we`ve kind of seen the maximum, the ceiling and the floor of Trump and Carson. So I think what`s actually going to be interesting about this debate is seeing how the rest of the primary stacks up. You`re starting to see some coalescing. And traditionally, you have the establishment primary. You have the conservative primary. And I think that`s what`s going to be interesting here. I don`t actually think it`s going to be -- unless he really surprises us and shows us something very different than what he`s presented thus far, I don`t think he has much to show us tonight. MATTHEWS: Who? Donald? HEMINGWAY: Trump.    MATTHEWS: I think Trump`s on the resurgence? What do you think? EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think, probably. I mean, I think, you know, interestingly, the last couple of debates, he kind of laid low in a way. And I don`t think he can do that again. I mean, I think he needs to be more prominent, first of all. And second, I think these issues -- that`s the issue that`s his wheelhouse, basically. Is his economic nationalism with the immigration issue, the hot button part of that sort of as icing for that cupcake. So, he needs to -- so, I think that`s where he needs to focus. And I agree, it would be a huge mistake to spend his time going after Ben Carson. MATTHEWS: They only get so much time. There`s two hours, but there`s, you know, nine candidates and a moderator. HOWARD FINEMAN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, well -- MATTHEWS: Moderators. FINEMAN: Yes. Trump is in a position to play to every place, with that message that you`re talking about, Chris. The others, to one degree or another, are still playing to one section or another. And you`ve got intramural fights going on elsewhere. You`re going to have -- everybody`s going to look at the Bush/Rubio sub-match. MATTHEWS: Abortion fights. FINEMAN: Yes, which is crazy. MATTHEWS: Crazy. Two guys.    FINEMAN: People look at that. So, they`ll look at that fight over in that corner. They`ll look and see what Ted Cruz does to get his crowd together. But, Trump can afford to, I think, stand above it all, really. It`s quite remarkable. And there`ll be pressure on Ben Carson, too. MATTHEWS: Mollie -- FINEMAN: Ben Carson can say all he wants about how he doesn`t want to have to answer specifics or the media is all out to lunch. He`s got to perform substantively. MATTHEWS: How does a guy who operates in a slow way of talking -- I admit I talk too fast. But he talks too slow, I would argue. How does a guy like that say, I`m going to get the economy buzzing again. It doesn`t seem like his word, buzzing again. HEMINGWAY: No, but what`s also interesting tonight, there will be eight candidates and they`ll have more time to answer the questions. The moderators are very focused on actually distinguishing policy differences. I think it`s going to be a challenge for Carson, it`s going to be a challenge for Trump, and it`s actually also a challenge for Jeb Bush, because each of them have had trouble answering questions in a substantive manner, and they`re going to have more time -- which means they have less room to hide and will really be -- MATTHEWS: Yes. FINEMAN: The problem with Ben Carson is nobody knows exactly what problem it is he`s solving. You know what I mean? With Trump, you know, it`s them. We`ve got to get great again. MATTHEWS: He wants to be a Putin. FINEMAN: What is it with Carson? What problem is he addressing?    MATTHEWS: Give me the appeal of Carson. ROBINSON: Well, you know, he has an inspirational story. MATTHEWS: Biography. ROBINSON: He clearly is a very bright man. He was a brilliant neurosurgeon. He -- you know, he represents something to a lot of people. He`s pious. MATTHEWS: You being you, the man of genius and words, you can`t -- is it inevitable? (CROSSTALK) FINEMAN: My question, what project or problem is it that he`s saying he`s going to solve? (CROSSTALK) HEMINGWAY: I would say -- MATTHEWS: I mean, he`s hard to hit. I`ll tell you -- you can`t hit him, because he`s a hologram almost. FINEMAN: That`s what I`m saying.    HEMINGWAY: He`s advocating for government by the people -- MATTHEWS: OK, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know and you something you don`t know. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALL roundtable. Mollie Hemingway, love that name -- tell me something I don`t know. HEMINGWAY: Last night, Benjamin Netanyahu received the prestigious Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute, very conservative organization. They pressed him to support removing the Syrian president from power. He advocated restraint. It shocked the audience. MATTHEWS: Restraint? HEMINGWAY: Yes, he said he didn`t think that when bad guys are fighting, you don`t need to get involved and that there are other important issues. MATTHEWS: No more regime change. Howard?    FINEMAN: Remember Rand Paul? MATTHEWS: Yes. FINEMAN: He`s one of the guys running for president. I think he might want to drop -- might have wanted to drop out but he can`t, and the reason is he can`t is he muscled the Republican Party of Kentucky to create a special primary just for the presidential race next March. Having done that, I don`t think he can quit until he runs in his own primary next spring. MATTHEWS: Will good stories ever stop coming from Kentucky? FINEMAN: No, not as long as I`m around. They will not. MATTHEWS: Gene? ROBINSON: Remember John Boehner? MATTHEWS: Yes. ROBINSON: When he was in trouble and it looked like he may want to stay, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats were prepared to provide him with the votes he needed to stay as speaker. MATTHEWS: Really? ROBINSON: It`s the rebels. Yes, it`s the rebels, on the record.    MATTHEWS: He was going to be a bipartisan speaker. ROBINSON: They were ready to ante up the votes. MATTHEWS: That`s news. ROBINSON: Yes. MATTHEWS: That`s a book. Eugene Robinson, Mollie Hemingway, Howard Fineman. When we return, let me finish with this Trump opportunity tonight. It`s huge. And you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a fascinating night in American politics. This looks like the night we will discover if Donald Trump is really serious about running for and being elected president of this country. I believe he has it in his hands to win the Republican nomination. He has it because he has the issue that will win economic nationalism. By that I mean the gut sense held by tens of millions of Americans that this country is not being protected on the economic front, that we`re not defending American jobs from unfair competition abroad, that we`re not protecting the American worker from competition from low wage illegal immigrants, that we`re not protecting the money collected in taxes from the corrupt use in Washington.    Either we have a country or we don`t -- that`s the proposition Donald Trump put to my colleague Chuck Todd. It is a challenge to those with power. Are you patriots? Do you feel it in your gut? Do you fight for the country with all you have, especially in the backroom when no one is watching? Do you? Or is there some sophisticated reason why you don`t? Well, this is the spark Donald Trump let fly when he opened this campaign talking about illegal immigrants. With all his crassness, he managed to touch on something. The suspicion especially by the working guy that people at the top are letting things slip, letting things slide, even as they hold onto the power and perks that come with high office. If Trump gets back to that tonight, I can`t see anyone beating him now or later. And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. And don`t forget, whether or not you watch the debate tonight, come back and join me from 11:00 to 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time tonight for full coverage of today`s highlights and lowlights. "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. END Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. 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