IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/11/15

Guests: David Weigel, Eliana Johnson, Cornell Belcher

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 11, 2015 Guest: David Weigel, Eliana Johnson, Cornell Belcher

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bracketing (ph).

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

A brand-new Reuters on-line poll gives us the big headline of the week tonight. After all the sound and fury -- all of it justified, I`d argue -- over Donald Trump`s proposal to stop Muslim visitors at the international airport, the billionaire builder holds his commanding lead in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

But there`s another headline for you tonight. The battle (INAUDIBLE) we`ve been awaiting for a long time is fast approaching next Tuesday night. The man emerging that night is Trump`s number one contender. Ted Cruz of Texas faces him in a debate that could tell us whether Trump wants to win every contest or is content to let Cruz win one, at least, in Iowa.

The battle royale between Trump and Cruz will take place in the center ring amid a brawl that promises to pitch all the candidates except Cruz against Trump on the matter of keeping Muslims out of the country.

We can certainly expect Chris Christie, who is now running second in New Hampshire, to throw a Sunday punch at the front-runner. The question is whether the punch will land or whether Christie will land up on the floor himself, another version of the "Bayonne Bleeder."

So tonight, we look at the two great fights coming fast at us, Trump versus Cruz, and everybody but Cruz versus Trump.

I`m joined right now by NBC`s Katy Tur, who`s following Trump, and NBC`s Hallie Jackson, who`s following Cruz.

By the way, "The New York Times" reported yesterday that Ted Cruz questioned Trump`s judgment -- that`s the word -- at a private fund-raiser in New York on Tuesday. Here`s what Cruz said about both Trump and Ben Carson in an audio recording obtained by "The Times."


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The final two candidates I`ll discuss are Trump and Ben Carson. Both of them I like and respect, both Donald and Ben. I do not believe either of them is going to be our nominee. I don`t believe either one of them is going to be our president.

You look at Paris. You look at San Bernardino. It`s given a seriousness to this race that people are looking for, who is prepared to be a commander-in-chief? Who understands the threats we face? Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button?

Now, that`s a question of strength, but it`s also a question of judgment. And I think that is a question that is a challenging question for both of them.


MATTHEWS: Only Cruz would talk about people having a finger on the button. I don`t think anybody has a finger on the button right now. The cold war is over, Mr. Cruz, so I don`t even understand the line of thinking there.

Anyway, so far, Cruz has resisted calls to attack Trump, although it looks like he did it there, didn`t he, in a kind of an underhanded way when he didn`t think he was being record.

Well, later, he downplayed the significance of his remarks. Here`s Cruz yesterday.


CRUZ: I`m not going to comment on what I may or may not have said at a private fund-raiser, but what I will say is this. The course of the presidential election, the voters are going to make a decision about every candidate. And ultimately, the decision is who has the right judgment, experience and judgment, to serve as commander-in-chief.


MATTHEWS: Cruz`s criticism did not escape Trump, who today threatened to punch back against Cruz on Twitter. "Looks like Ted Cruz is getting ready to attack. I`m leading him by much -- so much, he must attack. So I hope so. He will fall like all the others. Will be easy."

Well, he further said -- this is Trump -- "Ted Cruz should not make statements behind closed doors to his bosses. He should bring them out into the open. More fun that way."

Well, Cruz is maintaining his posture of non-aggression, at least on the outside, refusing to engage any further with Trump. Today, he said, quote, "The establishment`s only hope, trump and me in a cage match. Sorry to disappoint. Donald Trump is terrific. Hashtag #dealwithit."

Let me go to Katy Tur. Katy, Trump is playing this really carefully, closely to the chest. He now has the guy caught. He`s caught him backstage pulling one of these guns -- guns and religion or 47 percent thing a la Mitt. He`s caught him sneaking around to attack him behind closed doors. He`s caught him being unmanly. He`s got him nailed.

When is he going to strike back? Is he waiting for Tuesday night to nail the guy?

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: We`ll have to wait and see. I know there`s been this unofficial detente between the two of them, and this is about as close as he`s come to attacking Cruz. It`s not necessarily attacking Cruz. It`s kind of trying to bait him into an attack. I think he wants to see Cruz hit first. And we`re all trying to figure out why exactly he won`t. I think it`s because they`re both battling for the same types of supporters.

But you saw in that tweet a very veiled criticism of Ted Cruz that he`s probably going to use in the debates, or farther down the line, he`s going to need to. Privately to your bosses -- he`s basically saying that he is beholden to his donors. He`s beholden to his fund-raisers. He`s beholden to money, where Donald Trump is not. He doesn`t have fund- raisers. He doesn`t have big donors. He`s self-funding this campaign, he says.

That`s where we`re going to see Donald Trump try to strike against Ted Cruz. Whether or not we`re going to see this on stage on Tuesday remains to be seen. I`m hesitant to predict what Donald Trump does in these debates because I keep predicting that he`s going to come out firing, and he`s been taking sort of a backstage, quieter approach of late, at least on that stage.

MATTHEWS: Well, hang in there. I want to go to Hallie right now. Hallie, I don`t know how you can justify trashing a guy behind the scenes, saying he`s not the guy to have a finger on the button. By the way, there shouldn`t be anybody`s finger on the button. The cold war is over. We`re not launching nuclear weapons.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You hate that line. I know.

MATTHEWS: That`s not -- well, anybody would think it through. You have your finger on the button ready to punch it, to push it. No, you don`t! There`s nobody talking about blowing up the other half of the world anymore. So the -- that`s old cold war talk. Anyway, that`s what neocons talk like.

And my question is, he thinks he can get away with that and then gives us the -- the Harvard law school answer, I may or may not have said that. That is a statement of, I said it. It`s just too...


JACKSON: ... he may or may not have said that. He said he may or may not -- you know, comments that may or may not have been said behind closed doors at a fund-raiser. But yes, I...

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s the difference?

JACKSON: Listen, I think if you talk to the campaign, if you talk to folks in the Cruz camp, they would say that what Ted Cruz was saying privately was not all that different than what he has said publicly about wanting to judge candidates based on their, judge them based on what kind of judgment calls they would make, when voters go to the polls.

You know, that said, there`s a couple of things here. One, we heard Ted Cruz talk more candidly about his strategy than I think we have publicly, when he talks about wanting to bear-hug Trump and Carson, when he talks about wanting to smother them with love.

That`s happening. Anybody who`s been following this political race has seen that happening, but it`s not something that I think Senator Cruz has been so explicit about, at least in the past.

That said, I`m not sure -- you know, I`m with Katy here. She talks about Trump trying to bait Cruz into an attack. I simply do not think we will see Cruz take that bait, and I think that`s for a couple of reasons.

Number one, he wants to keep Donald Trump supporters on his good side, frankly. There`s still a sense that Trump -- if he does lose steam in Iowa and in New Hampshire, those supporters are ripe to go over to Ted Cruz`s camp.


JACKSON: The other part of it is that by turning the other cheek -- remember when Trump was going after Ben Carson and Carson turned the other cheek and didn`t acknowledge, didn`t respond? Trump started leaving him alone after that. So I think for Cruz, it`s a smart strategy, potentially, because it also allows Cruz to kind of come off looking like a saint, looking like he`s more principled than Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: Yes, except...

JACKSON: ... which will build his, you know, reputation...


TUR: I sort of disagree with that...

MATTHEWS: It makes him -- it makes him look like a fraud, if you ask me, because if he trashes him behind the scenes and said he`s not the guy to have with a finger on the button -- in other words, not to be the commander-in-chief, and then in public...

JACKSON: But I think...

MATTHEWS: ... makes pretty -- which is it? Are you saying I`m a good guy or I`m unstable? Which is it.

JACKSON: I think...

MATTHEWS: I mean, that`s a serious charge.

JACKSON: ... you`re going to hear him say that publicly. I think you`ll hear him come out and go against some of these other candidates, as he has, sort of saying that, Hey, they just don`t make the right judgment calls, and I do...


JACKSON: ... just something (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: When is he going to put the "Made in Canada" stamp on Ted Cruz?

TUR: I`m not sure. I think that if we`re going to see a real attack from Donald Trump, it`s going to say, Look at me. I`m a deal maker. I`m a winner. Ted Cruz is a loser. He can`t get anything done in Congress.

JACKSON: Katy, you tell me, but I don`t know that Trump necessarily wants to come at Cruz guns blazing here. I don`t that it does Trump good...


JACKSON: ... because look at what Ted Cruz did in that tweet. It would be good for the establishment if Trump and Cruz went after each other, potentially.

MATTHEWS: I`ll be surprised when people don`t use a weapon that`s at hand. Anyway, thank you, Katy Tur. Thank you, Hallie Jackson.

According to the Monmouth poll out of Iowa this week, Cruz now leads Trump by 5 percentage points in the state, 24 to 19 -- 24 to 19. That`s a gain of 14 points for Cruz just since October. But a deeper look reveals more data that may be more unsettling to the Trump campaign in Iowa. Cruz has a 24-point advantage over Trump in Iowa among those who describe themselves as very conservative, 40 percent to 16 percent over Trump.

Evangelicals say they support Cruz by (sic) Trump by 12 points, 30 to 18. And among those who say they`re certain they`ll turn out to caucus, Cruz leads Trump 29 to 17, which means Cruz supporters are more committed than Trump supporters.

Well, according to "The Wall Street Journal," Cruz hopes to use his strength in Iowa as a slingshot to the so-called SEC primaries on March 1st, when the Southern states, a half dozen of them, hold their contests.

I am joined right now by Perry Bacon, senior political reporter with NBC News, and MSNBC political contributor Sam Stein.

Gentlemen, I put that on the table about Canada because this guy has made his living attacking Obama for being born overseas, even if he hasn`t been, where in the case of Cruz, he was.

PERRY BACON, NBC SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: He was. I don`t -- guessing Donald Trump`s strategy is not something I`m an expert in, or anybody else is, either. I do think the polling you just showed is a big deal. If I were Ted Cruz, I would leave Donald Trump alone as much as possible because Ted Cruz at the caucuses would win. Ted Cruz is really doing well. He`s...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me get to the other question. Will Donald Trump let him win that without a fight?

BACON: No. Donald Trump is going to attack Ted Cruz...


MATTHEWS: ... let him have the evangelicals, you know, the Santorum vote, the home schooler crowd. Let him have that. I`ll go back and win the secular vote in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the South. Nobody cares who wins Iowa in the end because we`ve had people -- Huckabee, Santorum, Robertson did well out there. It`s always been seen as a bit skewed to the far religious right.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Correct. But to your point, I don`t think Donald Trump has any other drive than full steam ahead.

MATTHEWS: Win every -- win every fight.

STEIN: Yes. And I think that`s his mentality about, you know, business, about politics, whatever. And so the idea that he would somehow say, You know what? Let`s not spend resources here because...


MATTHEWS: ... my question. Will he start dropping the money in the month of January if he has to do it to win?

STEIN: So from everything we`ve seen, his ground game operation is probably more robust than people think it is. He`s spent virtually nothing. Nothing...


MATTHEWS: But when`s he going to spend money?

STEIN: If you were him and you`re sitting pretty at the polls at 35 percent...

MATTHEWS: No, I mean winning Iowa...


MATTHEWS: Stick to Iowa!

STEIN: I am. I am. I am. If you were doing that, you would -- you wouldn`t spend until you saw a precipitous drop, and then you`d spend.

MATTHEWS: He`s doing it! The guy`s picked up 14 points!

STEIN: He`s fine. He`s -- one poll is one poll.

MATTHEWS: So you don`t think he`s going to lose Iowa right...

STEIN: I don`t think he`s going to lose Iowa, but everywhere else...


STEIN: Everywhere else, he`s doing great. In New Hampshire -- (INAUDIBLE) in New Hampshire, Trump is doing great.

MATTHEWS: You`re saying he can take the loss.

STEIN: I think he can take the loss. I don`t know if he...

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s my question...


STEIN: ... take the loss.

MATTHEWS: If you look at -- if you look at the book Trump put out, this thing, "Crippled America," what`s impressive about the book is -- not most of it, but it`s page after page of these buildings he`s put up. He`s done stuff. He`s put up these skyscrapers.

I was walking up 5th Avenue the other night. There was Trump Tower, an amazing building right there. Trump -- a lot of people like me are impressed by construction, by the ability to put up these really successful buildings that make money.

I would -- I would do an ad out there and I would say to people, These are all talkers. Cruz is another talker. He`s a legislator. He`s never done anything, staffer, legislator. This country is filled with talkers. Look what I`ve done. I`m a damn builder. I can rebuild this country.

That`s going to cost him some money. The news industry -- we`re not going to put it on the air, those pictures. I think he can do a hell of a documentary and win in Iowa and knock this guy right out of the game because he`s done something, and Cruz is just a debater. He`s a debater. That`s what he does for a living.

BACON: If I were Trump and I had the money, I would run the ads...


BACON: I would have run the ads already, but he hasn`t run any ads up to now, so...

MATTHEWS: Why not?

BACON: Because he has a (INAUDIBLE) first of all, he has the media...


MATTHEWS: If he needs it to win in Iowa, why doesn`t he spend it?

STEIN: He gets -- he gets more media, free media coverage than anyone...


MATTHEWS: Listen to what I`ve just said...


MATTHEWS: We`re not going to give him coverage of his biography. We`re not going to give him coverage of building stuff.

STEIN: But Chris, you`ve also said that Iowa doesn`t matter as much...


MATTHEWS: I`m trying to -- will Trump take a loss in Iowa, or will he do everything he can to win?

BACON: I think...

MATTHEWS: Will he do everything he can to win?

BACON: I think he`ll try to win. I don`t think...

MATTHEWS: Will he do everything he can to win?

BACON: I don`t know if everything he can...

MATTHEWS: Will he do everything he can to win?

STEIN: I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, that`s (INAUDIBLE) answer. Thank you.


MATTHEWS: ... spending the money. Thank you because we were getting a little busy there.


MATTHEWS: Perry, Perry, Perry, thank you. And Sam, thank you.


MATTHEWS: Up next, coming up, it`s a civil war in the GOP. Donald Trump`s taunting the party, saying he`ll consider running as an independent, not as a Republican, if he`s not treated well. What does that mean?

And now Ben Carson is out there saying the same thing, that if the Republican elites, as he calls them, choose the nominee at a brokered convention, he`s out of the party, too. It`s getting ugly in the Republican land.

Anyway, plus Hillary Clinton is changing her tune on Trump. She says he`s no longer -- she`s no longer amused by the Republican. This sounds very, very, very monarchical, "No longer amused." Anyway, now she`s alarmed. A lot of people are, by the way. And she says he`s dangerous. And a lot of people are saying that.

And why don`t attacks against Donald Trump work? Now, that`s the great question. Doesn`t seem to get hurt -- Teflon. Nothing seems to sink this guy. We`re going to go to the roundtable and talk to them about the facts right now. Among the hard-core Trumpites, anything goes.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this fight we`re watching between Trump and Ted Cruz. Who you rooting for? How`s that for a question?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We have some good nuggets from our new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll about what Americans are feeling about the things Donald Trump has been saying on the campaign trail. Forty-one percent feel his comments are frequently insulting and he has the wrong approach on many issues. Twenty-four percent said his manner and language bother them, but he is raising important issues. That`s interesting. And 22 percent say Trump tells it like it is and he has the right approach on many issues.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. There`s war talk coming from some of the 2016 Republican candidates aimed at their party`s establishment itself. And now some party leaders are trying to figure out a way to push back.

"The Washington Post" reports that some party leaders convened a dinner meeting this week where much of the discussion focused on the possibility of a brokered convention in July.

According to "The Post," several of them argued that if Trump made it to the convention, the party`s establishment must lay the groundwork for a floor fight in which the GOP`s mainstream wing could coalesce around an alternative to Trump.

Surprisingly, it wasn`t Trump who responded immediately, but rather Dr. Ben Carson. Carson wrote, "If this was the beginning of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replace it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party. If the powerful try to manipulate it, the Republican national convention in Cleveland next summer may be the last convention. I am prepared to lose fair and square, as I`m sure is Donald. But I will not sit by and watch a theft."

This afternoon, Carson explained to Fox News what would cause him to leave the party.


DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If it became clear that they were using, you know, various types of procedures to get around the will of the people, I would -- I would leave. I just wouldn`t want to be a part of it. I wouldn`t run as a third party, but -- never do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you`re saying here is you might leave the party but you wouldn`t run against the party.

CARSON: No, I wouldn`t in any way try to destroy what was going on, but I would not want to be a part of deception (ph).


MATTHEWS: Well, in the past, Donald Trump has threatened to run third party if he isn`t treated fairly, as he put it. That was his word, and here`s (ph) his (ph) word as he has stepped up his attacks on the establishment this week.


TRUMP: They look foolish. Some of them look stupid. Some of them, like Karl Rover, is a fool. I mean, he thinks Romney won the election. I mean, he`s still going around -- I think Romney won. I think Romney won. Look, these people look very bad. I understand it. If I were in their position, I`d feel the same way.

The establishment is foolish. These are foolish people. The establishment seems to be against me, but I`ll tell you who`s not against me are the voters because...


TRUMP: ... the people in the street, the people that you interview on the street -- you know, they had one network yesterday that went out looking for people, and they wanted to find people, they couldn`t find anybody against me.


MATTHEWS: Kellyanne Conway is a Republican pollster. She runs a pro- Ted Cruz super PAC. And Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist.

Kellyanne, thanks for coming on.

What do you make of Ben -- Cruz`s -- kind of odd remark that if he sees them trying to put together an alternative to Trump, if Trump doesn`t have enough delegates, but he`s the leader -- that makes perfect sense to me as a normal kind of thing to do. He is saying that is cheating. What do you think?


But as for this brokered convention I agree with those who are saying you can`t supplant the judgment of the voters. If it is a brokered convention, Chris, I hope it`s because we don`t clearly have a nominee with an adequate number of delegates to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS: Yes. CONWAY: It can`t be because the grand pooh-bahs of the party aren`t happy with who the voters have decided should be the nominee.


MATTHEWS: I don`t want to -- so you are arguing that the candidate who gets the plurality of votes, the most votes, even if he doesn`t or she doesn`t get a majority, should be the nominee?

CONWAY: No, I would have to look at the math and I would have to look at the proportional vs. winner take all, in other words, who came on late in the game with strength, who won some of those earlier states, and is that an indication that they can carry against the Democratic nominee in the general, something else that we should look at.

But in no uncertain terms should party leaders plan to supplant a person who has got the plurality or indeed the majority of delegates with a candidate who voters have already rejected. Who are they going to put there? Jeb Bush, whose super PAC spent $50 million to move his numbers and they moved them, but down to 3 percent? What is this? Mitt Romney is going to come in and be the peacemaker and tell us how to lose the swing states? It`s a terrible idea.

MATTHEWS: You are going for the weak. You are going for the weak. You are going for the weak, Kellyanne. You got the weakest candidates, Jeb and a candidate who is not even running, Mitt Romney.

CONWAY: No, no, they are the establishment candidates, though.


CONWAY: A year ago, what did we talk about on your show, Chris? A year ago, it was Jeb can win. Look at the polls, everybody, shock and awe, exploratory committee, he is the only one that the win.

"The Washington Post" reported this week that all of Jeb`s donors are saying the polls don`t matter. You have got to wait until people go into the ballot box.

MATTHEWS: I know. What else would they say?

Let me ask Steve McMahon about this.

You are looking at this from the other side, as a Democratic consultant. This is a year that seems like -- I think in math we would call it an explosive model. It doesn`t seem to be going towards anything especially clear right now.


And the Republicans actually are seeing the chickens come home to roost, because these are the rules that they set up in order to produce a quick nominee. And what they are sort of left with is a situation which, with 14 candidates, the guy at 30 percent can start to run up huge delegate leads beginning March 15.


MATTHEWS: Do you think the party would ever dare do what Kelly says they shouldn`t do, which is they say Romney -- I`m sorry -- boy, that`s a mistake -- say Donald Trump has 35 percent of the delegates going in. He doesn`t have 50 percent or really anywhere near it, but nobody else has more than 20.

And they say we should give it to the guy who has got 20 because he is more of a commanding figure, he`s more of a unifier. Would that work?

MCMAHON: Yes, it would work.

MATTHEWS: Would the public accept that? Would the public accept the fact that of a guy being knocked off who is clearly the leader?

MCMAHON: Would it be smart? I don`t think so. Would it work? Absolutely.

This is the way conventions used to go. People would come into the convention, nobody would have the delegates locked up, and there would be a lot of horse trading that would go on. And pretty soon, it would be like, OK, I`m going to endorse you.

MATTHEWS: But that`s before primaries.

MCMAHON: And my delegates...

MATTHEWS: That`s before primaries, before people had a hand in picking the delegates.

MCMAHON: And the rules in the primaries are that you have to cast the first ballot for the person that you are a delegate for, and after that it is a free-for-all.


MATTHEWS: Well, if the Republicans don`t have a nominee by the time of the convention in July, how is this for a party savior, Mitt Romney?

BuzzFeed`s McKay Coppins writes that for Romney loyalists, all bets are off if there`s a brokered convention -- quote -- "A small group of wealthy donors and die-hard loyalists close to Mitt Romney will be ready with a strategy to win with him the nomination from the convention floor. In recent months, Romney loyalists have told me on condition of anonymity that Trump`s rise has added urgency to their strategizing."

According to Coppins, that strategy involves flipping delegates from states with large Mormon populations like Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. Those are the states, the only ones with a large Mormon population.

CONWAY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It`s so oddly written.


CONWAY: Chris, this is crazy.


CONWAY: I have to just -- I have to jump in here.

MATTHEWS: You`re in.

CONWAY: This is crazy, with all due respect to Mitt Romney. He is a wonderful public servant. We appreciate him running for the presidency last time.

But are we going to erase the 47 percent remark, the binders of women? We are going to relitigate 2012 and 2016, when, what has 2015 been all about, gentlemen? It`s been the placement of electability, who can win with electricity, who might be able to lead? The establishment is on its back, because all of their anointed candidates have not been able to break through.

They don`t get the big crowds and the rallies. They don`t get movement in these early states in the polls, even if they spend money, if they have all the king`s horses, all the king`s men. With all due respect to Mitt Romney and his "loyalists," is that the best we can do?

MATTHEWS: OK. Wait until we get to the big field, the open field running of the SEC primaries, that day. We get to March 1, when it really gets interesting, when a half-dozen states, big states like Texas are all voting, lots of states.

You can`t be everything. You can`t retail. But you can build crowds. You can build -- who is going to be the winner of those six states? Is it going to be -- if it is Cruz, Kellyanne`s candidate, or the one that her super PAC supports, or is it going to be Trump?

Which -- I think those two are going to be the contestants in the South.

MCMAHON: I actually think there is a very good chance, if you do it by delegate counts, it is going to be Cruz. If you do it by wins, it may or may not be Cruz. But Cruz is going to be right there with Trump.


MATTHEWS: You think it`s an even match down South?

MCMAHON: I do, up until March 1.

After March 1, I actually think -- because the evangelical states vote early. And as you get past March 1, you get to more secular states. And Cruz isn`t going to be nearly as strong in those states. He will be strong, but there will be others. MATTHEWS: Kellyanne, give me your scenario for victory for Ted Cruz, if you mind doing it.

CONWAY: Sure, no, not at all.

We think that he has a very good shot at winning Iowa, but we don`t take it for granted. And as a super PAC, we, instead of running ad after ad after ad, which super PACs seem to want to do and spend all that money, get the consultant`s 15 percent fee, we have been investing in ground game.

We have 14 people on the ground as a super PAC in South Carolina. We have eight people in Iowa. We are trying to build an infrastructure that matches who this candidate is. He goes to rallies and forums in standing room only.


CONWAY: When you get to March 1, that`s a great -- as a Steve admits, as a Democratic strategist, that`s a great map for Ted Cruz.

Now, not all Southern states are created equally. But Texas, his home state, is in there. I wouldn`t count out Jeb Bush in the following way. He is going to have the money to compete in some of those states. And when you start to get past March 1 and to March 15, I think the calculation over there in Bush world, Chris and Steve, is that you get to these big winner- take-all states, the Bush people have the money to lay $6 million, $7 million in a state, move some ads.


MCMAHON: How is that working?

MATTHEWS: Kellyanne, do they have the candidate? Is Bush a candidate that can win?


CONWAY: They don`t have the candidate. That`s the point. The point of 2015 is, there is no substitute for a good candidate.

MCMAHON: Kellyanne is propping up Jeb Bush. I can`t believe I`m hearing this.



MATTHEWS: You know what she wants? She wants two secular candidates to run against the homeschool candidate. Kellyanne, I`m calling him the homeschool candidate. That will drive him crazy.


MATTHEWS: Kellyanne Conway, thank you for being a great advocate.

And, Steve McMahon...

CONWAY: Product of Catholic school, like you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I know. Well, I know your background, but I`m not sure what your future is.


MATTHEWS: Up next, for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump is no longer a laughing matter. She has changed her approach to Trumpy. And that is ahead. She is getting tough.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.

The FBI is assisting local police who are investigating a mosque fire in Coachella. Witnesses say a Molotov cocktail was thrown. Authorities searched a lake near the scene of the San Bernardino shootings for a second day. They`re looking for electronics that may have been disposed of there.

And Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris at a summit on climate change. Earlier today, he said talks on a deal to slow global warming were productive -- back to HARDBALL.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": I want to ask you a couple of questions about Donald Trump.


MEYERS: First question, have you heard about him?


MEYERS: Have you...

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I have to say, Seth, I no longer think he is funny.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was the key line. Donald Trump is giving comedians a lot of fodder, of course, but Hillary Clinton says Trump is not a laughing matter anymore after his controversial proposal to ban Muslims wholesale from entering the U.S.

Anyway, for months, as Trump took shots at Mexican immigrants, a decorated former prisoner of war -- that would be John McCain -- and women -- that`s Carly Fiorina -- people have laughed along and one of them who has been laughing has been Hillary Clinton.


CLINTON: Hello. Who is this?

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Congratulations. You are speaking to Donald Trump.


CLINTON: Oh, hello, Donald.

FALLON: How are you, Hillary? I haven`t seen you since my last wedding.


CLINTON: Well, I`m sure I will see you at the next one.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I`m just so darn bummed. All anyone wants to talk about is Donald Trump.

CLINTON: Donald Trump? Isn`t he the one that`s like, uh, you`re all losers?




MATTHEWS: Well, now Hillary Clinton and even some in the GOP establishment say the Rubicon has been crossed.


CLINTON: What he is saying is not only shameful and wrong. It`s dangerous. This latest demand that we not let Muslims into our country really plays right into the hands of the terrorists. He is giving them a great propaganda tool.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who covers the Clinton campaign right now, and David Catanese of "U.S. News & World Report."

Kristen, thank you.

This seems to be a little late hit here. I mean, everybody has attacked Trump for what he said about excluding people of the Islamic faith from our borders, from the airports, from wherever they arrive, by boat. They can`t get off.

Why did she take until now?

KRISTEN WELKER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the Clinton campaign would argue that she has been attacking him since he first announced his candidacy.

You will recall he made those controversial comments about immigrants. She came out with a strong attack back then. What is different, Chris, is we are seeing her really train her sights on him in a much more focused, more aggressive way. We saw this almost all-hands-on approach this week.

She attacked him. One of her top aides, Huma Abedin, attacked him. Of course, she is a Muslim American. They also released this Web ad. She really aggressively went after him. I think, within the Clinton campaign, there is a real acknowledgment, as there is throughout the political world, that Donald Trump could very well become the nominee.

The challenge for her now, Chris, is just how to walk that fine line. This week, she painted Trump`s rhetoric as being dangerous, as crossing a line. But at the same time, she has to acknowledge that Americans are afraid in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks, in the wake of Paris.

And according to a recent poll, which I think you may cited earlier in the show, 79 percent of Americans say that another terrorist attack is likely. So she has to be very careful in her rhetoric. She tried to walk that fine line, and at the same time really ramp up her attacks against Trump -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Can you tell, working with her campaign, moving through them, mingling among them, listening, can you tell whether they are afraid of Trump or they would rather run against -- well, they might rather run against him.

Can you tell whether they are more afraid of him or one of the others like Cruz, for example, to run against -- because that`s -- nobody has more of a stake in this race besides Trump and the person who would have to run against him.

WELKER: Yes, it`s a great point.

The official line from the Clinton campaign is that they are prepared to run against any of these candidates.

MATTHEWS: I`m sure.

WELKER: If you look at the polls, though, she really does better against Trump than she does against any of these other candidates.

But the distinction is so stark. And there is a growing realization, Chris, that he is really tapping into something within the American public. I think that`s what makes them a little bit nervous, that sense that he is really touching a nerve that she at this point isn`t reaching -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: That`s well said. That`s very well said.

David, do you agree with that? I agree with that. I think there is a vacuum there in the middle among not just the white working-class guy that didn`t go to college, because I have looked at the numbers. Trump is competitive among the college crowd too.


But I think Hillary had to get more serious this week, given where Trump went on his proposal to ban Muslims. He had the right -- Republicans that weren`t saying anything this week, guys like Paul Ryan, even Dick Cheney came out and criticized Trump. Hillary had to sort of step back in this Iowa rally and get more serious with Trump, because, frankly...


MATTHEWS: OK. Why was she part of the chuckle ward until now?


CATANESE: Because everyone -- everyone was laughing about the Trump candidacy. When he announced back in June, I remember, my newsroom, what the reaction was from some people. Really? Like, come on.


MATTHEWS: I`m trying to delineate this. It was OK to make fun of other women`s looks, which is a no-no in the world of civilized man. It is OK to make fun of immigrants, illegal immigrants, the way that Trump does it. He doesn`t make fun of them for being illegal. He calls them rapists. That all was chuckle-worthy. No, that was food for chuckling.

And now -- and this is different how?


CATANESE: This is because we are in a post-Paris, post-California shooting era. In the last month, we have had two terrorist attacks, big ones.

MATTHEWS: Therefore?


CATANESE: Because I think we are in a new serious phase of a campaign. And now you have a leading...

MATTHEWS: Is it because this country fears that if we start making fun of almost two billion Muslims, we are going to have more trouble?

CATANESE: Repercussions.

MATTHEWS: It`s not kindness or compassion. It`s fear.

CATANESE: You see some of these reports about things happening at mosques, violence against individuals.

And I think it`s a responsibility on the leading presidential candidates to say something, especially as the Democratic front-runner, to rebuke Trump on this.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Not everything is subtle.

Kristen, it looks like she is going to keep it up, right, go after Trump for a while?

WELKER: She is going to keep it up.

And here is the other thing she is going to keep up, Chris. She is going to continue to try to lump the rest of the Republican field in with Trump. This is a strategy that she has been doing since the very beginning.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I have seen that.

WELKER: Her campaign thinks it is working.

I just got off the phone with one of her campaigns official, say they are going to take that through the entire primary process. Look at the polls again, Chris. She is beating almost every GOP candidate in the general election matchup. This is a strategy that they are going to continue.

MATTHEWS: Especially when they come out and said we`re only going to let the Christian refugees in the country. And that seems like racial -- I mean, religious discrimination, by definition.

Anyway, thank you, Kristen Welker. Have a nice weekend. And merry Christmas if I don`t see you again.

WELKER: Thank you. Thanks, Chris. You too.

MATTHEWS: David Catanese, same to you.

CATANESE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, why don`t attacks against Donald Trump work? This is going to be fascinating for people left and center as well as right, because it is interesting. Nothing seems to break this guy`s phalanx of support. Remember that, the Roman army stuck together like a phalanx? They seem to be sticking together with him.

The HARDBALL roundtable is coming here next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They`re kidding themselves. I`m going to win. I think I`m going to win. You know, I`m not one of these other guys that goes down. I don`t go down. I go up. CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you have a warning for GOP leaders? TRUMP: I say, folks, you know, I`m sorry I did this to you, but you got to get used to it. It`s one of those little problems in life. (END VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Get used to it -- that was Republican frontrunner Donald Trump`s message to Republican leadership people in an interview airing this weekend on FOX News, there with Chris Wallace. His Republican rivals have labeled him a jackass, a birther, an empty suit, a cancer on conservatism, a schoolyard bully and a joke. Well, none of it`s worked obviously. Here`s the big revelation, just days ahead of Tuesday`s big Republican debate next Tuesday, attacking Trump makes supporters like him even more. Got it? Trump supporters are a potent combination of loyal, angry and scared. Nearly half of them say their mind is made up. They are sticking with Trump until the end. They are ticked off at everything, their own party, illegal immigrants and especially President Obama. One Trump supporter told a focus group, open to the press that "I wouldn`t urinate on President Obama if he was on fire. I throw gas on him." Well, that`s pretty awful. The San Bernardino shootings have hardened their fears of Islamic terrorists in America. They cheer Trump`s proposed ban on Muslims. And some of them say the president himself is actually a Muslim himself, a secret one, although I don`t know what a secret Muslim. "Washington Post" reporter David Weigel attended the focus group of Trump supporters this week, that I just mentioned. He writes that hearing negative information about the candidate made the voters hug him tighter. I`m joined right now by tonight`s roundtable, HARDBALL round table, Dave Weigel himself of "The Washington Post", Eliana Johnson of `The National Review", and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. All of you went on this together, except you start, what did you learn watching these men and women stick to him under all pelts of attack from my attacks, not the most vicious, I`ve always said he was a mixed bag until recently. DAVID WEIGEL, THE WASHINGTON POST: I learned everything is girded in a belief that the media is lying to them and has been lying for a long time. MATTHEWS: So, don`t believe any attacks on him? WEIGEL: Yes. MATTHEWS: So, therefore, he is telling the truth? WEIGEL: Yes. One thing they draw on is San Bernardino, right? They said the media said we shouldn`t be politically correct, Barack Obama said we shouldn`t politically correct, he said we should worry about Muslims. Because of that, things like that happen in this country and Donald Trump is warning against it for years. That was a concrete example to them that Donald Trump has been telling the truth and the media. MATTHEWS: Well, he has some to grab on that, does he, Eliana, when you find the people heard reason to believe these people that committed the mayhem were talking it up. It wasn`t like they were secretly doing this. ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL REVIEW: Right. And one came over on a visa from Saudi Arabia. I think Trump is speaking to some concerns in the Republican electorate, not only about immigration but about Muslim immigration in particular, and then the reaction is that he shouted down not only by his Republican challengers but by Democrats in the media and roundly condemn. That has two effects: number one, it makes his supporters feel like their concerns aren`t being heard. Number two, it makes Trump look like a strong leader and therefore he is trusted on issues across the board -- economics, national security, everything else, and really strengthened the level of his support. MATTHEWS: Cornell, I think to justify everything he says a lot of it awful he said, there must be deep-seated reason why you support. It could just be racism. In some cases, I think it is. It could be nationalism in some cases, I think it is. It could be an absolute antipathy for the political establishment and I think there`s some of that out there. CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is all boiling together to create this perfect storm for Donald Trump. And we saw some of this, look, in 2008, 2012, you know, we saw the Muslim stuff coming up when I was working for the Obama campaign and we know what that is about. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I`m sorry to interrupt. I want you to get back on this. When Muhammad Ali declared that he was a Muslim, I think there were some stir in the country, was uncomfortable with it, because people are mostly Christian or Jewish, mostly Christian in this country. Muslim, what`s this black Muslim thing, the Nation of Islam, Herbert Muhammad all that, and yet, we all find ourselves cheering for him. So, it wasn`t like diriment impediment, something that said you can`t like the guy after that. It was something that was little troubling, but it didn`t make us hate the guy by any means. We love the guy. So, terrorism, I don`t think it`s anti-Islamic per se. I think it has to do with terrorism. BELCHER: But I think it has to do with fear, a fear of the other. I mean, let`s be clear. In 2008, you had two electorates. You had one that was hopeful about changes that were happening in America. You had another segment of the electorate that was a little one that was anxious about the changes and to a certain extent this is the full boiling point of that. While there are other variables that are playing in what Trump support is, let`s also be clear, that there is an anxiousness and a collective sort of temper tantrum by elements of white supremacy that absolutely see Trump as their guy. He is the voice of a collective temper tantrum right now going on. We should not ignore that. MATTHEWS: I wouldn`t have said that the way you said it, but I do think you`ve got a case when it comes to him going with the police the other night. Why would he want to embrace the police at this point? You know, I`m generally pro-police. I think it`s a dangerous job. But the way he is doing it is interesting. It`s not just anti-foreign. It may be anti-black. It may be. Because why is he doing it? WEIGEL: I think we are losing our country. There`s theme that`s that. MATTHEWS: Black Lives Matter, you want to show up with the police is my point or black lives matter? Maybe spend some time with the police? WEIGEL: Yes, Black Lives Matter are not popular among Trump voters, among a lot of Republican voter that I talked to, for the sense that -- MATTHEWS: Why are you laughing? WEIGEL: Maybe it goes without saying, it`s different topic. But not just Trump voters. I have been to rallies from Chris Christie. And when people have brought up -- when the Muslim issues come up, especially since Paris and San Bernardino, they say they are more worried about Muslims because we have let more into the country, right? We have let more -- MATTHEWS: But there is not an overflow of Muslims into this country. We`re 350 million people, there`s Muslim. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Not everybody knows everybody is a Muslim is a Muslim. But I don`t think that`s sort of a general -- your doctor, the Iranian doctor, the other day -- I mean, a lot of people are doctors, people we deal with all the time. BELCHER: But we are at the point now where minorities are becoming the majority. Chris, we are going to see these sort of temper tantrums and jokes. How we navigate this will define who America becomes. MATTHEWS: But nobody who`s part of a culture likes that culture diminishing in the face of a new culture. That`s not, so it`s a prom, I don`t think its` immoral, it`s how you react to it. BELCHER: How we solve for that problem is going to define America. MATTHEWS: Change is disturbing to most people. Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us. And up next, these three going to tell me something I don`t know for the weekend. Something that last the weekend, something that good. That surprising. That wonderful, that`s stirring. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Jon Stewart crashed Stephen Colbert`s monologue on "The Late Show" last night. Stewart is pushing for a bill that helps first responders, that he broke into his best Donald Trump impersonation to make the case. Here it is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: These 9/11 first responders are the most top- notch, first-class, diamond-encrusted heroes America can produce. And don`t let Congress play politics with this necessary bill. If I`m elected, and I will be elected, I will build a wall around politics and I will make politics pay for it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Anyway, we`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table. David, tell me something I don`t know. WEIGEL: I think Rand Paul might not make this debate. They`re going it fight if he doesn`t make the debate. But you`re going to see Rand Paul -- MATTHEWS: Next Tuesday, he won`t be there maybe. WEIGEL: Maybe not, but they`re going to fight it. But I think what you`re going to see is Rand Paul become a running mate for Ted Cruz among the people who want to bring Cruz down. Rubio, Graham, to an extent, basically everyone who wants to work with Ted Cruz they`re going to try to say the votes that Cruz cast, the libertarian security votes, they`re going to say those make him unelectable, don`t keep the country safe. It might not be great for Rand Paul but I think he`s going to be a problem for one of the guys that is surging in the polls right now. JOHNSON: Perfect segue. You know, as Ted Cruz is trying to shore up his foreign policy credentials, there is increasing concern among Republican hawks that he cannot be trusted on foreign policy -- MATTHEWS: Is this why he`s attacking neocons? JOHNSON: Well, I think it`s because he`s attacking the neocons. And they, you know -- Republican hawks are starting to say he`s spent more time triangulating between Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and John McCain than he has boning up on serious issues and developing his position. MATTHEWS: So their boy is still Rubio. JOHNSON: Well, I think you`re going to see an increasing chorus of people coming out of the establishment and criticizing -- MATTHEWS: Why has Rubio faded the last two or three weeks? Why is he not being talked about by anybody? JOHNSON: I think there`s some skepticism about whether he has a solid ground game in the early states and can carry the momentum that he has in the media. MATTHEWS: I think that`s fascinating. BELCHER: And no gravitas. There`s 41 percent -- MATTHEWS: What was that, a rabbit punch? BELCHER: Yes, it was. MATTHEWS: OK. BELCHER: Forty-one percent of Asian-Americans say they would change their vote away from a candidate if that candidate spread strong anti- immigration. MATTHEWS: Asian? BELCHER: Asian-Americans. The immigration issue we think of just as a Hispanic issue but clearly it`s more broad and it`s going to hurt the Republican Party, the big tent of the Republican Party overall of minorities. MATTHEWS: Yes, I think going after South Asians especially I think is really going to bug them. I mean, these are doctors and lawyers. They`re really quite citizens. Anyway, thank you, David Weigel and thank you, Eliana Johnson, and thank you, Cornell Belcher. Cornell. Anybody named Cornell`s got to be taken damn seriously. When we return, let me finish with the real fight on the Republican right, Trump versus Cruz. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: Imagine you`re watching the Republican fight for the nomination and you see two contenders left in the fight, just two. You have to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Fascinating, isn`t it? So you watch the bouts between them, you watch Cruz pick off Iowa using his religious appeal to the right. You see Trump then come back in New Hampshire and then face Cruz in a possibly decisive match in South Carolina. What a revolting development for moderates and progressives, a Republican battle in which no recognizable moderate or even centrist is even in the fight. And this is what it looks like right now, what you`ll be looking at, Trump versus Cruz. I think you`ll be surprised to see who gets the Republican establishment cheering section working for it. Is it imaginable that we`ll see it rooting for the brash billionaire? You tell me. 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. END