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

Special Edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/15/2015

Guests: Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, John Kasich

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 15, 2015 Guest: Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, John Kasich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump commits to the Republican Party. Let`s play HARDBALL.


Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Las Vegas for the last Republican presidential debate of the year is just wrapping up.

For too long I`d say, ever since the build-up to the Iraq war, we`ve been waiting for a real debate on war policy in the Republican Party. Tonight, we got it.

On one side, we heard the candidates who want to keep to the George W. Bush policy of regime change as a policy, of knocking off governments we don`t like. Jeb Bush, of course, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Chris Christie -- well, tonight, these candidates were among the strongest on the stage tonight in their unreconstructed hawk talk.

Here`s a look at some of tonight`s hawk talk on stage.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you are an American citizen and you decide to join up with ISIS, we`re not going to read your Miranda rights, you`re going to be treated as an enemy combatant.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the things I would immediately do, in addition to defeating them here at home, is bring back the warrior class -- Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTAIL CANDIDATE: Let`s be absolutely clear: ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism will face no more determined foe than I will be.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to go massively like we did in the First Gulf War, where we destroyed Saddam`s ability to take Kuwait. We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction.

Frankly, it`s time that we punch the Russians in the nose.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will tell you this: I`m a former federal prosecutor, I fought terrorists in one, and when we get back in the White House, we will fight terrorists and win again, and America will be safe.


MATTHEWS: That`s the usual argument, quite hawkish. We`re going to take down Assad. We`re going to do what we did with Iraq, keep it up, regime change as a policy.

On the other side tonight, for the first time in the Republican Party`s recent history, you had an equal balance of people saying, no way, we`re doing that again, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, Rand Paul, all argued that we should not be in the business of regime change. And tonight, they were led, of course, by Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In my opinion, we`ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems, our airports, and all of the other problems we had, we would have been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.

We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to the Middle East, we`ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity, the people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away, and for what? It`s not like we had victory. It`s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess.

I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it was spent right here in the United States on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else, that are all falling apart.


MATTHEWS: In frontal assault, you just heard the George W. Bush policy of taking over Iraq. As I said, we`ve been waiting years for a real debate on war policy inside the Republican Party, and I believe tonight we got it.

Joining me here in Las Vegas, MSNBC`s Kasie Hunt, former RNC Chair Michael Steele. In Washington, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, and "The Huffington Post`s" Howard Fineman.

Howard, I want to talk about this. I was stunned because back in 2004, 12 years ago, one little voice out there, Ron Paul, tried to question the Iraq policy of George W. Bush and got blown away by Rudy Giuliani, who`d never win anywhere in the party, in the presidential fight, but blew away that thought. Tonight, it was a real debate.

HOWARD FINEMAN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: You`re absolutely right, Chris. I thought in a way it was, I would almost go as far to say it was historic in terms of the way the Republican Party seems to view itself.

Don`t forget, Donald Trump isn`t just any candidate. He`s the national front runner. And I think that Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, are all on that side of the argument, and if you put their numbers together, they form by far the majority of the support in the race so far in Iowa, in nationally, I think it`s utterly fascinating.

And if Donald Trump is as good as salesman as he`s prove to be so far, if he has as good a sense of the marketplace as he seems to have, then the fact that be he`s all in on saying we shouldn`t have taken out Saddam Hussein, we shouldn`t have taken out Moammar Gaddafi, we shouldn`t have let Mubarak lose power in Cairo, if he`s saying in a sense leave Assad where he is, if he`s doing all of those things, that is a significant shift in the history of the modern Republican Party in a debate that goes back among Republicans, all the way to Eisenhower and Taft in the 1950s.

Ronald Reagan settled that argument, we thought, for engagement in the world, including military interventions. Although Ronald Reagan himself was quite careful, he talked -- he talked a lot, he was strong in his anti- communism but he was careful in his use of military power to affect regime change. I think that`s what these people are groping toward. And if they get there, they`re going to dominate the Republican Party. They already are.

MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, there was a right to right fight. We have a lot of clips to show, but one of the clips was when somebody said, we`ll have a no-fly zone, Christie, then somebody, and then Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, said what do you do if there`s a Russian plane that flies over Syria when you have a no fly zone? Shoot it down.

You know, during the Cold War, we made a point of not doing that. Reagan had plenty of opportunities to do that kind of thing. He said, we`re not going to go to World War III. What`s going on --


MATTHEWS: It was a hell of a debate.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: It was a hell of a debate, and I thought it was a powerful exchange with Rand Paul sort of clarifying, you know, so if you want to go to World War III, then this is your candidate, pointed at Chris Christie. He tried to make it clear that this is a very important line of demarcation within the GOP.


STEELE: Whether you`re talking about the neocon hawkish approach or you`re talking about something that does go back to Reagan in a 1950s Cold War mentality which is an on the ground assessment of your opponent before you act.

MATTHEWS: Yes, like we didn`t go into China in 1954 --

STEELE: That`s right. Exactly. What our goals were.

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch that fight. Get everybody back in here, we got Kasie in here and Steve.

Let`s listen to Chris Christie sounding like he was itching for a war with Russia, and Rand Paul going at him.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN MODERATOR: Would you be prepared to shoot down that Russian plane and risk war with Russia?

CHRISTIE: Not only are we prepared to do it, I would do it. A no-fly zone means a no-fly zone. And yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if, in fact, they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want in a leader someone with judgment, not someone who is so reckless as to stand on the stage and say, yes, I`m jumping up and down, I`m going to shoot down Russian planes. I think when we think about the judgment of someone who might want World War III. We might think about someone who might shut down a bridge because they don`t like their friends, they want to get a Democrat.


MATTHEWS: Let me get, Steve on this. Steve, this debate, I`ve been waiting for it, we got it.

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, judgment and restraint are important hallmarks in a commander and chief. And through the entire history of the Cold War, American foreign policy was built in a communication network with the Soviets to avoid misunderstandings, to avoid accidents, to avoid something that could precipitate the launching of nuclear missiles.

And when you talk about shooting down a Russian plane, tough talk in a debate, it`s not serious talk. That was a mistake by Chris Christie who otherwise had a good debate -- unthinkable for an American presidential candidate to bluster about shooting down the aircraft of a nuclear power like Russia.

And one of the things that we should learn from the Barack Obama presidency, is you don`t draw redlines that you`re not prepared to enforce. Meaningless threats are just that, meaningless. And that was a meaningless threat. It`s not reality-based.

And this debate we saw tonight, I don`t think the fault line, Chris, is between Ron Paul. I think it`s between the Reagan foreign policy and the George W. Bush foreign policy, between a realist foreign policy and a neocon foreign policy.

And what you heard Ted Cruz making a very sophisticated argument about tonight was the primary focus of America`s national security interests, it`s stability.


SCHMIDT: And sometimes that stability comes with our dealing with and recognizing the legitimacy of very unsavory regimes. That the spread of democracy often leads to chaos, and what makes a democracy is not an election in that part of the world, it`s the rule of law. And a lot of these elections in these countries lead to regimes that have an imposition of Sharia law. And what makes a democracy is a rule of law tht protects minority rights from majortarianism. We seem not to have enough politicians in the Republican Party that understand that.

MATTHEWS: Well, we to want welcome. Thank you for that. Well said, Steve.

I want to thank everyone who`s joining us right now, has been watching that debate on the other network.

Right now, we`re joined by Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. He took part in the earlier debate tonight. Let`s watch a bit of that.


HUGH HEWITT, MODERATOR: Are you ready to reassure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?

TRUMP: I really am. I`ll be honest. I really am.

I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front runner.


And I think I`ll do very well if I`m chose. If I`m so fortunate to be chosen, I think I`ll do well. Polls have come out recently say I would beat Hillary. I will do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS: Well, Governor Huckabee, I hate to ask you about candidate, but there he is --

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But you`re going to anyways.

MATTHEWS: Ten minutes ago, he made news. I mean, he said he`s not going to try any third party gambit.

HUCKABEE: Well, look, you know, it was a big deal to get Donald Trump to commit that he would support the Republican Party and the nominee. In other words, he was basically demanded to pledge his loyalty to the party.

But, Chris, it goes both ways. The party has to pledge their loyalty to Donald Trump if he`s the nominee. It jut works like that.

MATTHEWS: Are you ready?

HUCKABEE: Look, if he`s the nominee, yes.

MATTHEWS: Will you pony up?


MATTHEWS: Another former governor of your party said he wouldn`t back him if he were the nominee.

HUCKABEE: Well, I made that commitment when I decided to run for president. The Republican Party spent millions of dollars to build an infrastructure for us to run. And if we want to receive the benefits of being a part of the party, then we have to accept that there are some responsibilities that go with it.

Michael was the party chairman. He knows --

MATTHEWS: So, you`re an honorable man. So, off-camera, you`re not like Cruz who goes off the fundraising people and said, the guy`s a little, you know what I mean. You don`t think he`s a little of this, you know what I mean candidate?

HUCKABEE: Yesterday, today, and forever.


HUCKABEE: And so, it`s just a matter of honor and integrity. Either we keep our word, or we don`t.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the debate that I`m focused on, since I`m the moderator, I`m allowed to focus on what I`m focusing. By the way, I thought Wolf did a great job of shutting down Cruz when he ignored the rules that all you guys agreed to.


MATTHEWS: You know, back when we went into Iraq, it was a popular thing, relatively popular. We went to war and became unpopular thing. But all through that, there was a real debate within your party tonight because Ron Paul was sort of an outlier, Rand Paul was an isolationist, you know, that kind of monetary policy thing of his, the Fed, and he was shouted down when he tried to close the Iraq policy of George W. Bush.

Tonight, I counted, four candidates went on that stage tonight, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul, all four, said we`re willing to get into regime change. And we`re wrong to do it again in Syria.

The other five guys, five candidates, including Fiorina, said, no, let`s keep it up, we have to knock off Assad. Where are you? Are you with the five or the four?

HUCKABEE: In the early debate, one of things I`ve pointed out --

MATTHEWS: You weren`t with either the five or the four, the big debate. Where are you in concept?

HUCKABEE: I don`t think Assad is our immediate concern.


HUCKABEE: Our immediate concern is, are the terrorists who are coming to kill Americans, the people who are kidnapping and murdering Americans and murdering Christians in the Middle East. Do I want Assad to stay in power? No. Is that my high priority? No, it isn`t, because that`s not the fundamental job of the American president is to protect somebody else`s citizens, it`s to protect ours.

Ours are getting shot at. Ours are getting bombed. Ours are being blown up at the Boston marathon finish line. And that`s what we`ve got to stop.

MATTHEWS: And our Christians over there too, you just mentioned.

HUCKABEE: Absolutely. There are a lot of Christians --

MATTHEWS: You said our Christians --


HUCKABEE: They are being beheaded. But the answer to that --

MATTHEWS: I`m with you on that. I just think it`s interesting to single them out and say we only care about the Christians over there.

HUCKABEE: No, I mean, I care about all, but the Christians are being specifically targeted. They`re being hunted down, and beheaded in larger numbers. But there are also Muslims being killed. Anyone who doesn`t agree to the caliphate, anyone who doesn`t bow down to this radical forum of jihad, their targets for murder.

MATTHEWS: What`s happened to your party? You`ve run a number of times. You did well in Iowa, you may do well in Iowa, I don`t know. Iowa`s an interesting place. It`s a very interesting place.

Steve King, people like that there -- anyway, tonight, we`re looking at numbers in your party that show Trump over 40, Jeb Bush, the heir to the throne, if you will, at 3. What happened?

HUCKABEE: Well, look --

MATTHEWS: You`re in there somewhere, but 3 for the Jeb.

HUCKABEE: It`s almost like this year, the experience you had will be used against you. On the stage where I was on, there were four of us, combined, we had more government experience and actually --

MATTHEWS: That`s my question.

HUCKABEE: Yes, but we have more than the nine people on the second stage.


MATTHEWS: You had Trump with no government experience fighting with two young senators who have a combination of five years between them, something. So, where`s the experience among the leaders?

HUCKABEE: Well, what we have to do is start reminding people that you would never put your grandkids on an airplane piloted by a volunteer who had never been in a cockpit. The presidency is not an entry level job. It`s not a time to put someone in and say, hey, maybe he`ll be up to it. Let`s see if he can get behind the controls and pull the throttle back and get this off the ground. Chris --

MATTHEWS: So, why do people think like that?

HUCKABEE: Because they`re mad. They`re mad and they don`t trust government. And anybody who has been in government, they just lump us all together and assume we`re all responsible.

MATTHEWS: It`s a wrap sheet.

HUCKABEE: I`ve never been in Washington.


MATTHEWS: You and Kasich say, yes, I`ve been in government, but I never to Washington.

HUCKABEE: Well, he has, I haven`t, but I have governed. And I governed in a state that was 90 percent Democrat. So, I know how to work with people, get things done. Right now, we haven`t convinced people that that matters --

MATTHEWS: Small point, Mr. Republican Governor.


MATTHEWS: As a guy who`s lived in the district and surrounding in Maryland for a long time. The people in the District of Columbia didn`t elect all those people in Washington. They don`t get to vote on that. You understand? They`re all sent to Washington by the 50 states.

So do you understand? There`s a mess in Washington, its been sent there by the elected of states like Arkansas.

HUCKABEE: But, Chris, once they get there, they never leave. It`s the roach motel, they go in, but they never come out. You know that.

MATTHEWS: I`m guilty. I`m one of the roaches, all right?


MATTHEWS: Tonight, it`s also an epic battle between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Things got a little heated here, let`s watch.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald, you know, is great at -- at the one-liners, but he`s a chaos candidate. And he`d be a chaos president.

TRUMP: Jeb doesn`t really believe I`m unhinged, he said that very simply because he has failed in this campaign. It`s been a total disaster. Nobody cares.

BUSH: Donald, you`re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency, that`s not going to happen. And I do have the strength.


TRUMP: I thought it was very unfair that virtually the entire early portion of the debate was Trump this, Trump that, in order to get ratings.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump, it`s not CNN, I was on CNN last night --


TRUMP: Excuse me. I think it`s very unprofessional.

HEWITT: But it wasn`t CNN. I watched you last night for 60 minutes, it`s not CNN. It`s not CNN. It`s America`s watching you.

TRUMP: OK, fine.

HEWITT: It`s Americans watching you.

BUSH: So I was -- I was -- I was mentioned, so I can bring up something, I think, right? Look, the simple fact is, if you think this is tough you`re not being treated fairly --

TRUMP: This isn`t tough and easy. I wish it --

BUSH: -- imagine what it`s going to be like dealing with Putin or dealing with President Xi.

TRUMP: I wish it was always this easy as you, Jeb.

BUSH: Or dealing with the Islamic terrorism that exists.

TRUMP: Oh, yes.

BUSH: This is a tough business to run for president.

TRUMP: Oh, I know. You`re a tough guy, Jeb. I know.

BUSH: And it`s -- and we need --


-- to have a leader that is --


TRUMP: You`re tough.

BUSH: You`re never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency.

TRUMP: Well, let`s see. I`m at 42, and you`re at 3. So, so far, I`m doing better.

BUSH: Doesn`t matter. Doesn`t matter.

TRUMP: So far, I`m doing better. You know, you started off over here, Jeb. You`re moving over further and further. Pretty soon you`re going to be off the end.


MATTHEWS: OK. You know, that wasn`t very grown up, but it`s clearly a case.

Kasie, thanks for joining us there. You`ve got Rand Paul.

I just got to make one point, there`s Jeb Bush, clearly giving words to use tonight. We call it software. I don`t think it made a difference.

Kasie, take over.

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC POLITICAL REPORTER: Chris, I`m standing here with Senator Rand Paul who you`ve been talking quite a bit about and taking a different stand.

And, Senator, I`m wondering, where do you think the voters are on this question of where the Republican Party should be in standing alone?

PAUL: Thank you, thank you.

HUNT: You really took a different stand from candidates like Chris Christie.

PAUL: Well, I think to be successful, to be a strong country you can`t do it from bankruptcy court. We can`t keep spending ourselves into oblivion, war is very expensive and we have decide, are we going to always be responsible for deciding all the leaders in the Middle East? And has it worked? Has it helped us?

When we toppled Gadhafi, did it make the world safer? No, I think it made the world more chaotic and it actually allowed us to have a failed state in Libya. Now, they`re a nest of terrorism.

So, I think we did have a good debate. And it`s an important debate. I think the first time you`re really seeing a real demarcation and separation within the Republican Party over what is the appropriate and best foreign policy.

I`m hoping this leaks a little bit into the Democrat debate, because, frankly, Hillary Clinton, you know, is a big supporter of regime change. She and Marco Rubio are actually very similar. And so, it`d be interesting to actually get her into the mix and for people to ask her, is regime change a good idea.

These were good Republican questions. We`d like to see some of them in the Democrat debate, too.

HUNT: Do you think Marco Rubio has the same foreign policy as Hillary Clinton? Is that what I`m hearing you say?

PAUL: Almost identical. I think they`re both neoconservatives in the sense that they both believe in regime change, they both believe in a no- fly zone over there. They both believe in confronting Russia.

You heard Chris Christie, my goodness, World War III`s around the corner if we get Chris Christie. He`s ready now to shoot down Russia jets. We went 70 years in the Cold War trying not to have a confrontation. What we want is a commander in chief is someone who`s sane, rational and not reckless.

HUNT: Thank you very much. Thanks, Senator. I appreciate it.

There you have it, Chris, calling both Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio neoconservatives.

MATTHEWS: That is great. You got a great byte from him, he`s saying basically that the ideological line there is no longer between Republicans and Democrats, it`s got Hillary and Rubio on the same side against him, Trump, Carson, and Cruz. Those are the ones that are the hesitant ones. No one engages in knocking off governments anymore.

HUNT: Right. And, you know, very interesting, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz coming down on the same side of this against Rubio in particular, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I thought it was a great debate in that sense. Thanks -- keep it up. You`re somewhere in the room, I know you are. In fact, I think you`re behind me somewhere. Thanks for being with us --

HUNT: I`ll find you somewhere.

MATTHEWS: I want to go out to Michael Steele.

Your party`s got a real debate tonight.

STEELE: I love it.

MATTHEWS: I mean, there was a lot of crazy high school stuff, but in the middle was a balanced debate between those who say have been on the right course of knocking off governments, Libya, we knocked off Iraq, we helped bring down Mubarak, we`ve been trying to do something with Syria.


MATTHEWS: Gadhafi, and we just seem to knock off these jokes and these dictators and getting worse. We always get somebody worse.

STEELE: If the idea is that we go in and on the premise of regime change, no one asks the question, so when you change the regime, what are you left with? What is the stabilizing fact?

You see right now, and this has been going on, it goes back -- I got into trouble when I was chairman making this point. Other Republicans have been drowned out as you mentioned before, Ron Paul. Now, it`s got a space and a voice in the party and the presidential debate. I think overall, it`s a healthy space for the party to be in for the country that really come to grips and terms.

I think before they decide, stand closer to where the people of the country are as well as the large number --

MATTHEWS: Does Rubio know he`s putting the old war here? The old neocon war that doesn`t look too good with the party right now?


MATTHEWS: Money people like it.

COSTA: Money people like it. I think this Cruz/Rubio dynamic on foreign policy is the central dynamic right now in the Republican debate.

MATTHEWS: It`s a debate.

COSTA: It`s a real debate. And you see Rubio trying to cast Cruz as more Rand Paul than Ronald Reagan on foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think he wants to be there. I don`t think he`s resisting it.


COSTA: I think Cruz is trying to balance. Cruz is trying to see a balance. He wants to be between Rand Paul, Ron Paul, and John McCain. He wants to be so and he`s not totally for intervention in the way some of the old hawks are, the old war.

MATTHEWS: Steve, figure this out, you have to consult these guys. Is there a middle position between the party of George W. Bush and the party of what was a couple months ago, couple years ago, the Rand Paul, Ron Paul party?

SCHMIDT: You know, Chris, I don`t think the Ron Paul analogy is the right now. I think Ron Paul is a legitimate isolationist in the tradition of Taft. You know, he was repudiated by Rudy Giuliani because he essentially blamed the 9/11 attacks on the American foreign policy, not the hatred of the jihadists.

What we`re having a debate about is a restoration to a Reagan era foreign policy. Ronald Reagan was not a military adventurer. In the president of that generation who lived through World War II. These were presidents who argued for restraint in the practice of American foreign policy generally.

We didn`t want to have a direct confrontation with the Soviet Union. We wanted to limit nuclear weapons. We wanted to be very circumspect about the use of force. We go back to the Powell doctrine. We have a strategy about how we send the American Army to war.

We have the support of the population. We have a clear plan for victory. We use overwhelming force. We have an exit strategy.

What all of this debate is about tonight is time and time again, whether it`s Hillary Clinton and President Obama in Libya or in Iraq, we topple these regimes with no idea, no plan for what comes next. And Ted Cruz is on the right side of this debate, in terms of public opinion.

FINEMAN: What Ted, Chris, what Ted Cruz is trying to do and Robert eluded to it, is that on the one hand, he`s say, no, we don`t want regime change. And I think that he and Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Rand Paul, all are in agreement on that.

And the fact that the dominant players in the race are saying that is a great significance. But what Ted Cruz is trying to do that Ronald Reagan didn`t do is talk with a blustery, Texas swagger about what he`s going to do militarily to ISIS, at least from the air. And so, he`s trying to blend that caution, that caution, that Steve is talking about with a bluster about ISIS that will satisfy and try to calm the fears of the American people. And he`s very shrewd about how he`s approached it.

But I think Donald Trump, Donald Trump is trying to stand the stride both of these things on regime change and immigration and so far, he`s still remains somebody that those other two people have to get passed -- meaning Cruz and Rubio. And they didn`t necessary deploy it tonight.

SCHMIDT: Can I just add though, you know, to Howard`s point? One of the stories, it`s a big story in conservative media in this country, are the rules of engagement concerning the air strikes that are under way against the Islamic State and the bombing of Raqqa. Enormous number of air missions return with their ordinance under the wing of the plane because the target list is not approved at a political level, not so different than the Vietnam War.

And so, when Ted Cruz is doing that, he`s signaling to a Republican audience, listening to conservative media, that he will kill the fighters of the Islamic State. But that is proportional. That is not talking about wholesale regime change or culture change in these countries.

FINEMAN: Although I don`t know that Ronald Reagan would ever say he wanted to make the sand glow.

SCHMIDT: No, in a tempered statement. In a tempered statement, in commander in chief, for sure.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I was impressed tonight with the debate. And I think one of you guys, reporters, maybe you, Michael, that suggested the real debate tonight was going to be between Cruz and Rubio. And I didn`t think it was going to be on foreign policy, but it was.

And it`s clearly Cruz drawing this line, a sort of Reaganite restraint, but at the same time macho. It`s an interesting mix, I thought. Not being the adventurist going into countries, trying change to their cultures, getting us into the kind of mess we`ve been in, in the Middle East for all these recent years.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. My friend, Thank you, Robert Costa, who`s Michael Costa. Robert Costa, Steve Schmidt, probably a good guy, and Howard Fineman, are all sticking with me.

Coming up, much more on tonight`s main debate and more from the candidates. They`re all coming here.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from Vegas.

We have to talk about Trump saying he`s not going third party. That`s a big development, I think. And I think it`s because he`s the front runner and thinks he`s got it maybe.

We`ll be right back.


CRUZ: If I`m elected president, we will secure the border. We will triple the border patrol. We will build a wall that works, and I`ll get Donald Trump to pay for it.




RUBIO: If you elect me president, we will have a president that believes America`s the greatest country in the world, and we will have a president that acts like it.


MATTHEWS: We`re back to Las Vegas, site of the last Republican presidential debate of the year.

Again and again tonight, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz clashed over starkly different world views, Senator Rubio accused Cruz of talking tough on ISIS, but not backing it up with action, here we go.


RUBIO: He also supported by the way a budget that is called the containment budget. And it is a budget that would radically reduce the amount of money we spent on our military. You can`t carpet bomb ISIS if you don`t have planes and bombs to attack them with.

CRUZ: ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism will face no more determined foe than I will be. We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys and one of the problems with Marco`s thought foreign policy, he`s far too often supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, undermining governments in the Middle East that have helped radical Islamic terrorists. We need to focus on killing the bad guys and not getting stuck in Middle Eastern civil wars.

RUBIO: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama`s strategy is to lead from behind. It sounds like what he`s outlining is not to lead at all. We cannot continue to outsource foreign policy, we must lead. We are the most powerful nation in the world. We need to begin to act like it again.



Rand Paul joins us now.

Senator, thank you. When you get in these debates with Rubio, it must be easy, just talk to a neocon. He`s just as a neocon. He wants to knock off every Middle Eastern government. He wants to -- once we knock off like a Iraq and Libya, go back and do it more with Syria and knock off more.

PAUL: But, you know, the interesting thing is I thought we had a substantive debate of regime change. And this is something --

MATTHEWS: Your father would have liked this. It happened back then.

PAUL: This is something that actually unites Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton because they both believe in regime change, they both supported the regime change in Libya, supported it in Syria, but I`ve been arguing the opposite. They were actually less safe when we toppled these regimes.

If we were to topple Assad in 2013 when Hillary Clinton wanted to, President Obama wanted to, Marco Rubio, John McCain, all the neocons wanted to, ISIS would be in charge of all of Syria now. So, it`s a wonderful debate to have because maybe we`re going to finally learn from history, the history of the Middle East is -- regime change hasn`t helped us to become more safe.

MATTHEWS: But I can`t understand, if you really care, some neocons say they`re -- ready to go? Let`s go. Kasie Hunt`s got Donald Trump.

We`ll be right back to you.

Kasie, take over.

HUNT: -- you accuse him of being?

TRUMP: No, it`s not that. He has to go out and do his thing. He`s a 3 and poll just came out, I`m 42. So I think I do the exact same thing.

I thought it was a little unfair that CNN was leading him along, the last question where they led him along, Mr. Trump said. But, I really enjoyed this evening. I think Jeb tried very hard. He`s having a hard time, let`s face it.

HUNT: Senator Cruz didn`t follow through with any attacks on you tonight, and you seemed to back off some of your earlier criticism. Are you --

TRUMP: No, I get along great with him. I mean, he`s been backing me all along, he`s been really the one person that backed me with virtually everything, and we have a very good relationship. And I was very happy to see that he backed off his statement that he made, you know, in the closed doors. I respect him for it. I have a lot of respect for him, he`s a good guy.

HUNT: You did call him a maniac. You`re not going to do that again?

TRUMP: Yes, but you know what? Time goes by.

HUNT: There you go, Chris, Mr. Trump, again for you, not repeating his criticism of Ted Cruz as a maniac as you saw Cruz not willing to go after Trump in tonight`s debate, even though we anticipated that clash. So, we`re going to have to wait and see if there`s going to be more to this storyline, if we are going to hear more about whether Cruz has criticized Trump more aggressively in public as some people are privately saying has happened.

MATTHEWS: Thanks, Kasie Hunt, who was with Donald Trump, of course.

What do you make of this politics where Cruz makes snide comments about Trump in a fundraising group, then shows up and says I`m not going to repeat that in public? What`s that about?

PAUL: I think the most important exchange was when I made sure that voters knew that in order to close the Internet, you would have to get rid of something, this little troublesome thing called the First Amendment to the Constitution. And so, people need to realize how outlandish the things that he is saying, what they would amount to.

When he says, oh, we`re going to kill the families of terrorists, he`s talking about just I don`t know, there are four-year-old kids or something. That would go against the Geneva Convention and against most American`s sensibilities to kill women and children.

And people need to understand that. Donald Trump`s what he`s proposing --

MATTHEWS: Why do you think three out of five Republicans say they like his proposal, for at least a temporary ban on Muslims coming into this country? Your party likes that idea.

PAUL: I don`t think they`ve yet heard everything he has to say or considered the implications of it. That`s why I brought it up again. He said, I just to want close that Internet thing. But to do that, you`d realize that it would contravene the First Amendment, no more speech on the internet. And I think that people have to realize that his propositions are even more outlandish than you can imagine.

MATTHEWS: You can take them literally like the Old Testament. You believe that take them literally what he says? Or they like his -- say I`m going to do something about immigration. So, I say, I`ll build a wall, but I`ll get serious about enforcing the law.

PAUL: I think there`s a possibility people aren`t really listening, but I think as the election gets closer, I don`t know if people --


MATTHEWS: Come on, I get his point, but he`s not going to go that far.

PAUL: Perhaps, but I think that`s a big part of debate now, his opponents, myself, we need to explain to people that what he`s talking about is outlandish, getting rid of the First Amendment of the Constitution, a pretty big deal.

MATTHEWS: We had Governor Huckabee here a moment ago, and former Governor Huckabee said that one of the requirements is to be reciprocal call and to back in that he`s the nominee. Would you back him if he`s the nominee? He says he will run as a Republican. He will not run third party, does that mean you guys should support him if he wins?

PAUL: I think --

MATTHEWS: Would you support if he wins?

PAUL: I pledge to support the nominee. I`m a Republican.

MATTHEWS: Trump, even Trump?

PAUL: I pledge to support the nominee, but I can tell you that it won`t be with a great deal of enthusiasm. So, I can tell you that I`m concerned that he would be the nominee. I think he would be wiped out in a landslide. I don`t want him to be the nominee. I will do everything in my power to keep him from being the nominee, by pointing out the things that he`s for really aren`t good for America.

MATTHEWS: Howard Fineman is on the line.

Howard, give a question to Senator Rand Paul.

FINEMAN: Well, Senator Paul, I wanted to know --

PAUL: Relay to me, I don`t have a --

FINEMAN: Why where you go next in trying to make that case. In as the biggest imperative in this race, to explain Donald Trump to the American people in the way you think it`s urgent that he be explained. And how does that take place? Is that the number one priority for everybody else in the race?

MATTHEWS: Great question. Howard had a great question.

How do you interpret and get people to think about what Trump, the consequences of what sounds right from Trump?

PAUL: I think by putting them out there. And you have to characterize them and re-characterize them and make people think, they might as first say, yes, we don`t want terrorists on the Internet, but what is the implication of that? Shutting down the Internet, the implication is, we will no longer allow speech on the Internet, because you can`t shut down certain parts of speech and part of the First Amendment frankly for those of us who live in the country, is that sometimes we will have objectionable things that we have to hear.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator.

PAUL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming over.

Let`s go now to Kasie and, this time, she snagged or got a hold of, Dr. Ben Carson.

HUNT: Chris, nice to see you, we`re standing here with Dr. Ben Carson who`s currently talking about his potential trip to rally Israel, let`s take a listen.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only to monitor it, but put out alternative messages and we need to use cyber warfare. We need to be working with their servers and taking those down if they will not cooperate.

We also need to be working with the imams and with the clerics and with the moderate Muslims. They need to work with us to help identify radicals and radicalized elements because if they can`t identify them, how are we supposed to identify them? And if we can`t identify them, that`s going to affect our policies.

So, it will work out -- you know, much better if they will join our efforts than if they sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

HUNT: Dr. Carson, can I just jump in for a second, we`re live with Chris Matthews.

I just want to ask you -- you worked hard to tie your biography into your national security experience tonight, do you feel like you`ve succeeded? You`ve fallen quite far here in the polls as the race turns towards terrorism.

CARSON: I don`t know that I spent a lot of time tying my biography into what I was talking about tonight. So, I`m not sure the premise of the question is correct, but I am very pleased with what happened tonight, because you know, there`s a false narrative out there that he can`t possibly know anything about foreign policy, and I think I demonstrated that I do. I could demonstrate it to a much bigger degree.

HUNT: You talked about how you don`t think that people have to be rude to be heard in this presidential race. Do you think that Donald Trump is being rude? Do you think that he`s somebody that`s saying, Iowa voters who often, you know, we would say they might be Iowa nice will go for it?

CARSON: Well, you probably notice I don`t spend a lot of time talking about other people. I`m not going to start now.

HUNT: All right. Thank you for your time, Dr. Carson. We appreciate it.

Chris, back to you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Casey.

I`ve got Governor John Kasich.

You know, tonight`s debate was a number of lines. One of them was: we need people with experience and executive decision-making. You, Governor Christie, I`m not sure who else has executive experience, I guess Trump in his own business world as a billionaire.

But then you look at the fight, it seems to be right now between two freshman senators, saying that they`re better than Trump. And they don`t have any more experience than he has. I mean, it really is kind of an interesting battle, these guys right behind him in the polls, Cruz and Rubio don`t have any experience in executive government.

KASICH: Look, the polls.

MATTHEWS: Where is your party at when it comes to executive ability?

KASICH: Let me tell you, you know what, like 53 or 54 days, you`re going to see New Hampshire and then we`re going to know. We`re going to see Iowa before that, but then we`re going to see New Hampshire and we`re going to see who emerges.

I was really happy with what happened tonight. I was given time. I was able to talk in depth about ISIS and in depth what we need to do with Assad. I was able to talk about encryption, able to talk even a little bit about the economy. I was very pleased with tonight.

MATTHEWS: Did you like the fact there was a real debate between four candidates against five on the issue of war policy? A real break?


MATTHEWS: Those who believe in regime change and those who don`t.

KASICH: Yes, but, Chris, these things are complicated. Look --

MATTHEWS: Pretty stark tonight.

KASICH: Well --

MATTHEWS: You were on the side with Christie and with George W. Bush --

KASICH: Wait a minute.

MATTHEWS: -- and Fiorina.

KASICH: I`m for regime change in Syria --


KASICH: But I never would have been for regime change in Iraq --


KASICH: -- if Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction. No.

MATTHEWS: But you were for it at that time.

KASICH: Well, because I thought he had weapons of mass destruction. Look, I had a seminal vote --


MATTHEWS: So, you`re for knocking off governments who have weapons of mass destruction.

KASICH: No, I thought he did.

MATTHEWS: For any government has weapons of mass destruction.

KASICH: In that case where we thought he was a threat to us.

But let me back --

MATTHEWS: Who was he a threat to?

KASICH: I thought he was going to be a threat to us. So, you know --

MATTHEWS: How was Iraq going to attack United States?

KASICH: So, the whole world with Saddam --


MATTHEWS: Who thought Iraq was going to attack the United States? It never had.

KASICH: Chris, when he had weapons of mass destruction, even Colin Powell, one of the most respected national security generals ever --

MATTHEWS: He saluted his boss.

KASICH: OK, look, I have a history of this. We went to war in Lebanon.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, one of his great regrets, says that Colin Powell think what he did --

KASICH: Well, if he hadn`t known there were weapons of mass destruction, there was no way I would have thought we should go.

So I had a vote in Lebanon. And President Reagan wanted to have the troops in Lebanon.


KASICH: And I was one of the 14 Republicans to say no. And your old boss supported it at the time. I didn`t support it. I`m not believe -- I don`t believe we should get in the middle of civil wars. In Syria, I don`t think our troops should be there to remove Assad.

That`s why we have -- we should support these people who want to remove him? Why do I want to remove him? Iran, Russia, Assad.


KASICH: That`s sophisticated.

MATTHEWS: No, I just think it`s more -- I think its` neocon.

KASICH: No, look, I don`t think it is.

MATTHEWS: It`s adventurism, us getting involved in areas we don`t belong in. What did we gain of knocking out Iraq? What did we gain out of taking apart Libya? What did we gain going after Syria? What do we gain knocking off --


KASICH: Well, you know what we`ll gain if we knock off Assad? It will stop -- you know who his big funders are, it`s Iran. Iran wants to own Syria.


KASICH: Who else? The Russians, who are also aligned with Iran. Having the rebels take Assad out will be a good thing for the world that the Saudis are willing to get in the middle and settle it down. How about the Saudis coming out today and saying they`ve got a coalition of 35 or 40 people to go destroy ISIS. That`s pretty impressive.

MATTHEWS: We`ll see.

KASICH: But we have to lead.

MATTHEWS: I know. I think we made a mistake in going into these countries, but thank you, because you have a different position and you expressed tonight really well including right here.

Thank you, Governor John Kasich, who remembers Tip O`Neill.


MATTHEWS: When we come back, we`re going to hear from Donald Trump.

You`re watching HARDBALL, a place for politics, live from Las Vegas, the Republican presidential debate, the last of the year.


MATTHEWS: We`re back from Las Vegas.

And Robert Costa of "The Washington Post" is joining us right now.

I want to go to Robert, you`re in the business of running main bar news stories. So, the question is, what`s the main bar story tonight?

COSTA: Trump was calm, trying to protect his front runner status. Cruz and Rubio really defining the party when it comes to policy battles.

MATTHEWS: What about the decision by Trump to lay on the line and say, I`m going as a Republican, I`m a Republican candidate, there`s no third party option for me?

COSTA: He underscored it with a big marker. He sees the nomination in sight. He`s trying to signal to the party, I`m with you. He was not as pugnacious as usual, had some exchanges with Bush and others, but was pretty steady.

MATTHEWS: Was that a statement by him that he thinks that his lead is solid?

COSTA: I think he thinks his national lead is solid. He`s trying to reassure those people who are really engaged in Iowa and New Hampshire, he`s not going to bolt.

MATTHEWS: How will this help -- how will this translate and crosswalk to a better show in Iowa?

COSTA: I think he showed a steadiness on foreign policy. He didn`t become full of insults tonight, and those Iowa voters, they care about temperament. Every time I`m there --

MATTHEWS: They do, don`t they? They don`t like nastiness.

COSTA: Much more than New Hampshire. New Hampshire, they kind of like the fight. They like the anti-immigration reform rhetoric. They like the hard line, words and insults. But in Iowa, it`s more of an evangelical crowd.

MATTHEWS: They`re the kind of people that drive past a car accident and don`t look.

COSTA: Or maybe they stop.

MATTHEWS: I`m serious. I think they do look, but they like to say they don`t.

COSTA: Right.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Republican Party, what I`m stunned by is a couple things. First of all, three out of five Republicans, when you polled them, say they like, they`re very tough, perhaps, unconstitutional position of saying no more people of the Islamic faith allowed in the country for a while. They know, they must know it`s illegal.

COSTA: You have Bush trying to call Trump out on this front, but whether it gets him any traction, who knows? People -- they`re trying to play truth teller to Trump. But whether that`s a path of nomination at this point dominated by Trump, it`s kind of with Trump on that issue.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You know the question I was trying to get to with Rand Paul. And I said, really people like biblical scholars take Trump at his word, like they really take everything there`s going to be a wall or really hear from him, at least this guy`s going stop illegal immigration? Is that what they hear? That`s what I hear, what do you think the people hear?

COSTA: When I talk to voters, they like that he projects strength. That`s what they`re looking for, a boss, someone who`s going to come through who`s an anti-politician. They`re not so much enamored by the enthusiastic rhetoric or the proposal, that`s what he projects.

MATTHEWS: What has happened the last two or three weeks from 25 to almost 40, over 40? Was it Paris? I think it was Paris, what do you think?

COSTA: It`s not just Paris, because everyone`s trying to capitalize on Paris politically to say they`re the leader, the hawk. It`s because he`s different, he`s different. He`s a contrarian voice when it comes to his proposal for Muslims in immigration. Party leaders think it`s going to cost him in the general election, but in a primary, it`s helping Trump.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at Jeb on Trump. This is Jeb trying to get back to the fight. I think he looked very coached tonight. Everything he said was prepared, and Trump sort of like, he just pushed him back. Let`s watch.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two months ago, Donald Trump said that ISIS was not our fight. Just two months ago. He said that Hillary Clinton would be a great negotiator with Iran. And he gets his foreign policy experience from the shows.

TRUMP: Oh, come on.

BUSH: That is not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through, that can lead our country to safety and security.


MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Howard Fineman in this, Steve Schmidt, both of you guys.

I -- when he lectures him like that, I don`t know. It`s not for his benefit. So, who is he actually letting him? For our benefit? We`re supposed to be impressed by the way he lectures Donald Trump. There`s something schoolmarmy about it to me. I don`t know.

Your thoughts?

FINEMAN: Yes, although, I thought towards the end there as the debate wound down and Trump was waiting to get off the stage without blowing his stack -- and Robert is right, he kept his cool -- I thought that those practiced lines by Jeb got a little bit under Donald Trump`s skin at the very end. It didn`t in the end matter at all.

And what Jeb is trying to prove, I don`t know. He criticized Donald Trump for being a man of one-liner and sound bites. But every one of those attacks was carefully rehearsed. I think some of them were pretty clever. Some of them were funny.

I don`t know that it`s going to help Jeb Bush at all. And it`s certainly not going to slow down Donald Trump.

So, in the end, it was kind of a sad side show, and kind of quota to Trump`s continuing on on his march. And Jeb not really -- not really being able to gain any kind of traction.

I wanted to mention one other thing about Trump and his demeanor that Robert was talking about. It`s not just the demeanor in Iowa, where they do like Iowa nice. The other thing they like in Iowa is Iowa is not a military state. There isn`t a single big military installation in Iowa.

Even among Republicans, it`s a very popular thing to say, no regime change, let`s be careful about what we`re going to do. And that`s one reason why Cruz has done well and one reason why Donald Trump still has a fighting chance in that state.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Steve.

Steve, you`ve counseled or consulted with candidates a lot. I just think that -- let`s put it this way. Jeb Bush is not a one liner guy. He`s not a Borscht Belt snapper. You know, when you give him these one liners, they just don`t seem to fit him. He`s diffident, he`s professorial. He`s -- they don`t look like him. He doesn`t look like himself.

And every time he does it, Trump says you`re only say this to win. You`ve been given these lines and people go, yes, he probably was.

SCHMIDT: No doubt. Look, you know, over the arc of the campaign, Jeb Bush has gone from center of the stage to the edge of the stage. He`s out of room to maneuver. He`s at 3 percent. It`s at the middle of the December.

You know, increasingly, as you look at some of the candidates on the debate stage tonight, it`s not just Jeb Bush. But it`s Jeb Bush, it`s Carly Fiorina, it`s Rand Paul. It`s very, very difficult to articulate what their path is to a comeback to the nomination, to an early stay win.

So, he`s got to say something. He`s got to show some fight. Clearly, the way you show fight, you show strength is by going after the toughest guy in the room. But I think for Jeb Bush, it`s late in the game and the days are getting short.

MATTHEWS: It`s late in the game.

You know, for example, these are little cosmetic things. I wear glasses when I read and I wear them for the movies. And I wear them in my car. I`m supposed to wear in the car.

There`s nothing wrong with wearing glasses. But here`s a guy who never seemed to be in public in glasses and, all of a sudden, he`s showing up with these professorial glasses. Wire rimmed glasses. There`s something intellectual and tired about -- or what`s the right word? Diffident is a good word.

FINEMAN: Chris, he looks -- he doesn`t even look like George W. Bush. He doesn`t look like George H.W. Bush. He sort of looks like Prescott Bush. He`s like burrowing back into the --


FINEMAN: He`s burrowing back into the Connecticut Yankee history of the family, for something to grab on to in terms of his identity.

And look, the whole thing has been misbegotten from the beginning. I`m convinced, not having known and covered Jeb, that I never thought his heart was in it, even if he had $100 million in his bank account. I don`t think he was ever really gaited for this, especially in the atmosphere we`re in right now.

It`s just -- it just -- it just has been all wrong from the very beginning. And, you know, I think he could take a little satisfaction that he got under Donald Trump`s skin a little bit tonight. But that`s the most pyrrhic of victories. I mean, who cares at this point?

With Donald Trump practically did the Barack Obama thing --

SCHMIDT: You had the "Saturday Night Live" sketch this week. Of course, with President Bush reentering the race, you know, the brilliant Will Ferrell. But you also had the skit of Jeb Bush to the sound of the Sarah McLaughlin song, the Humane Society setup, you know, donate to help Bush.

You know, it`s just like he`s gotten a place in the race, it`s real tough to dig out of, for sure.

MATTHEWS: Well, Chris Christie took time out to contrast his executive experience with that of his rivals from the Senate. Now, take a look at this.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to talk to the audience at home for a second. If your eyes are glazing over like mine, this is what it`s like to be on the floor of the United States Senate.


I mean, endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pen from people who never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position. The fact is, for seven years, I had to make these decisions after 9/11. And yet, they continue to debate about this bill and the subcommittee. Nobody in America cares about that. What they care about is, are we going to have a president who knows what they`re doing to make these decisions?

This is the difference between having been a federal prosecutor, actually doing something, and just spending your life as one of 100 debating it.

Let`s talk about how we do this. Not about which bill these guys like more. The American people don`t care about that.


MATTHEWS: Could it be, guys, the reason he keeps talking about his history as a federal prosecutor, not his history as a governor, because the one executive decision we all imagine he made was stop the traffic on the bridge and screw the mayor from Ft. Lee, because otherwise, he wasn`t in charge.

Steve, you handle this hot one. He`s bragging about his executive about, his control of events. How he has to make the tough calls. And there`s one thing we`ve been dealing now and the trials are yet to come. Did he or did he not exercise executive control over the people in his immediate governor`s office or didn`t he? Why is he bringing that up?

SCHMIDT: Look, Chris, I think Republican voters care less about the bridge even than Democratic voters care about Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. It`s not an issue in the Republican primary.


SCHMIDT: You know, one thing about Chris Christie, you should understand, is that the endorsement of "The Union Leader" in New Hampshire, the fact that Marco Rubio is not particularly present in the state, you look at where Kasich is -- I thought Kasich had another middle to not too great debate performance out on the stage. Chris Christie has got some growth in New Hampshire yet to come. I think he`s going to collapse Kasich`s numbers. He`s going to take a point or two out of Fiorina.

Chris Christie has a path to win this New Hampshire primary. And if Chris Christie wins this New Hampshire primary, he gets to go forward. He`s a formidable politician, he`s a gifted communicator.


SCHMIDT: We`re at the stage of the race now, you have to win somewhere early. You can`t get deep into this without winning anywhere. And candidates that can`t point with a realistic scenario where they`re going to win early, you know, in the first couple of states and then out to South Carolina, Nevada and beyond, they`re not long for this race. And Chris Christie is not one of those candidates.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you so much.

We`re coming right back with another hour here in Las Vegas.

We`ve got some tough analysis. We think we had Donald Trump working his way over here.

We`re also going to talk to a Vegas oddsmaker who`s going to tell us who`s got the inside track now to win this nomination. I love the betting stuff because that`s where the money is.

And our coverage continues after this.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m back in Las Vegas here. And I got sitting with being me front-runner for the Republican presidential nominee. He is about 40 percent right now, if you average it out. Maybe 42 by his count. Jeb Bush who was supposed to be number one is at three. What happened?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t know. He is a nice man. I mean, I got to like him a lot. Although, he was a little aggressive tonight. He tried to - you know, I think I would probably be doing the same thing if I were him. But you know what? He`s a good man. And I understand what he is doing.

MATTHEWS: You are acting like a winner tonight. You said tonight that you would run as a Republican. No third party option. What changed your mind? Because you have talked about that. You said if they don`t treat you fairly in the Republican Party, you were going to pull.

TRUMP: I mean, basically if you look what`s happened, I`m number one by a lot, I think by 27 points. And since what am I going to do? Leave and run as an independent? You know, it doesn`t. And over the last four or five month, I have got into a lot of great Republicans. And I think they are all going to come together. They are going to coalesce and we are going to do very well. I have had some terrific poll against Hillary. You know, FOX came out last week where we beat her by five points. And I think we`re going to --

MATTHEWS: But those polls are crazy. One of the poll shows like Carson beating her. Do you believe that?

TRUMP: Well, you never know. I mean, you will never know. He`s a quality guy. I mean, we were talking to him before. He is a very high quality guy.

MATTHEWS: Let me try a reciprocal question. As a good Republican now, would you endorse and support whoever wins on your party`s side?

TRUMP: Yes, I would.

MATTHEWS: With enthusiasm?

TRUMP: With enthusiasm. I mean, I`ve gotten to know most of them pretty well. I like a lot of them. I can`t say I love everybody, but I like a lot of them. And I respect quite a few of them.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about something that grabbed me. There is Malani over there. Hello, Malani, thank you for standing here and letting us have you hear.

You said that if we hadn`t gone into these wars -- and a lot of people who what watch this show agree with me about this. This is war in Iraq, I don`t buy the theory of WMD. I don`t think they - I think they one in the force. They believed in it. They cooked up the term WMD. What was that? They did say it was to get into war. All these things knocking off Libya, knocking off Gadhafi, and knocking up Mubarak. You said if we hadn`t go in that, we could spent that $4 trillion or $3 trillion to build this country up.

TRUMP: I don`t even have any idea how much it is. And not only that. How about all the lives?

MATTHEWS: How do we go forward and find that money again to rebuild the country?

TRUMP: Well, we are just going to have to do it. I mean, we are going to have to stop all the nonsense. We totally destabilize the Middle East. The war in Iraq was a disaster. And you know, look. You and I have known each other a long time. You went to give me the University of Pennsylvania many years ago. And I have a lot of respect for you.

The fact is that if you look at what we did in Iraq, we just totally destabilize the Middle East. And I`ve been against it from 2003, 2004. You see articles all over.

MATTHEWS: Four guys tonight, Carson, you, Cruz and Paul. You had a pretty good fight going with the neo-con crowd led by Cruz.

TRUMP: What did we get out of it?

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry, Cruz is on your side. Rubio is the other side. It was a good fight.

TRUMP: We spent $4 trillion. We have a country that`s falling apart, our infrastructure, our roads, our highways, our schools, our hospitals, our airports are falling apart. I go all over the world. I go to some of these countries where they have airports the likes of which we never see.



MATTHEWS: I took the train with my son two weeks ago. I took a train in (INAUDIBLE). You can go on a train in Zurich and you put the diet coke on the armchair and it sits there for the whole trip. You try that on Amtrak. So, are we going to rebuild our rail system?

TRUMP: We have to rebuild our country. But we can`t do that we are going to spend trillions of dollars doing all of this stuff. Look, the question is, would we have been better off if Gadhafi was there. And I mean, the answer is what did we get out of it? We got nothing out of it. I tell you what we got out of it. We got death out of it. Look at all the people on both sides.

MATTHEWS: I`ve got another question for you.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: You have great numbers nationally. Real Clear Politics (INAUDIBLE), you have 40 in this poll. Just ABC just came out, 38, 41, let`s adds up to 40. But you`re not doing it in Iowa. And Iowa seems to be fading over to the religious rights.

TRUMP: Well, PPP just came out, I`m leading in Iowa. In the CNN, I was up by 13, but nobody ever reported it.

MATTHEWS: What I don`t understand, you know, I saw the book you put out (INAUDIBLE). Can I read it through? It was all very phallic, by the way, all these big buildings you put up. Everyone stall. They all look great. One page after I said why doesn`t this guy run a TV campaign like that in Iowa? He talks about his built. Say you the builder against this guy, the debater. You want a debater and you want a builder. You want a 6`3" builder or a 5`8" debater? I would play tougher than you. Why don`t you talk about building? Why don`t you build?

TRUMP: So I happen to be watching. You know what, I happened to be watching. And I said what a great idea. We are going to do it. You know, what I said? Why don`t you take like even for a couple of seconds each, I build so much between everything I build, buildings all over?

MATTHEWS: What has Cruz ever built?

TRUMP: Well, I don`t want to get into because he has been so nice to me.

MATTHEWS: He`s not going to stay nice to you.

TRUMP: No. At some point, he has to.

MATTHEWS: He was hedging towards you tonight. He was moving towards you.

TRUMP: He was. He was very nice. I mean, I think he was very nice, very respectful. I respect him. But you gave me a great ad. I`m doing the ad. I`m doing the ad.

MATTHEWS: Is that a good thing?

TRUMP: No, it is great. I said, you know, what, I came out -- at first, I listened I said wait a minute, that`s a great idea. I`m doing an ad like that.

MATTHEWS: OK. I ask you last question before you leave. You can leave, but I would like you to stay. Is Donald Trump honest when he says that Barack Obama isn`t a legitimate president?

TRUMP: So I knew you were going to ask me that question.

MATTHEWS: It`s a good question.

TRUMP: I didn`t say you couldn`t. I knew --

MATTHEWS: You can`t stop me.

TRUMP: Because you know, I should really -- no, I can`t. I should not tell you this, but I do watch you a lot. So I knew you were going to ask that question.

MATTHEWS: Because he is president of the United States.

TRUMP: I don`t answer that anymore.

MATTHEWS: You answer the questions you like.

TRUMP: by the way, this guy is a total professional. I have to tell you. Here is I said. I don`t answer, because if I do answer, that`s all people want to talk about.

MATTHEWS: If you answer, it`s over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re going to have to answer it in a general election.

MATTHEWS: If you take the oval office, the president leaving the office is illegitimate?

TRUMP: But I don`t answer that question, because once I answer the question, they don`t want to talk about the economy.

MATTHEWS: No, it`s over. You know, we, Catholics believe in confession. You say you were wrong and you move on. You really believe this guy isn`t a legitimate president?

TRUMP: I don`t want to answer the question. I don`t want to answer the question. Did you have a good time? Was it a good interview?

MATTHEWS: What this? Well, I watched you for a longer time, but thank you, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: We will do it again. I would love to.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Trump, I do think that is a blemish. I think it is your original --.

TRUMP: No, I know how you feel.

MATTHEWS: I think because I am American. I think our president should be respectful. And I think he is a little ethnic aspect to and I don`t like it. He`s African-American and we`re saying he`s not a real president? I don`t like that. It is not a good thing about you. I`m allowed to say you`re a mixed bag. Thank you. We`ll have you for an hour.

TRUMP: Thank you. Take care of yourself.

MATTHEWS: We will have for an hour.

TRUMP: We`ll do it.

MATTHEWS: We`ll go to Wharton.

TRUMP: We will do it the same.

MATTHEWS: We will pay for the whole thing.

TRUMP: The cathedral, right?

MATTHEWS: That`s right. Thank you, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: You take care of yourself.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Come here, come here, Robert Costa, he covers this guy.

What is this great man`s problem? He won`t solve his original sin? Why won`t he admit this?

ROBERT COSTA, JOURNALIST: Well, he doesn`t want to answer it because he knows he is running on the Republican primary and he is a Republican voter, he needs the same voters I meet before. They still have questions about President Obama, so he is playing right to him. But that is problem for the Republican Party in a general election is that non-answered play. I mean, middle of the road voters, swing states. They`re not going to chuckle the way some Republicans chuckle knowingly about that answer.

MATTHEWS: I think we would be a better country (INAUDIBLE).

And Howard, what do you think of this interview we just did?

HOWARD FINEMAN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I thought it was utterly fascinating. And that`s a guy who thinks that he`s this close that he can smell it and taste it. He might have a little problem with Ted Cruz, but I think when it comes down to it, he`s going to get after Cruz. My theory of how he could do it is to challenge the notion that Ted Cruz is really an outsider. That he`s really a force from the outside. Because Ted Cruz is backed by big Wall Street money. His wife works at Goldman Sachs. He`s a senator of the United States, even though he doesn`t want to admit it half the time. He worked at a big Wall Street law firm. As you said he is a debater, not a builder. It`s going to come down to that at some point. I think Trump is going to have to take on Cruz. He may not do it full bore in Iowa, but if Cruz wins Iowa, then it`s -- you talk about making the sand glow. That`s what Donald Trump is going to do heading into New Hampshire. Because Trump absolutely has to win New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS: If he loses Iowa, yes.

FINEMAN: If he loses Iowa, he absolutely has to win in New Hampshire. And I think that`s a guy who still feels he hasn`t put the pedal to the metal at all. That he has got a tremendous amount of reserve in there. And it is going to power him a long way. That`s my sense of it. And I thought you were very right and did not only the right thing, but the moral thing to question him about how he really and produced himself back in 2012 which is as birther guy. And you`re right. That`s at the very beginning of the fear element of his politics. And he`s going to have to answer for it. The past is never the past. It`s still with us. And that`s going to dog him all the way to Election Day if he gets that far.

MATTHEWS: You sound like (INAUDIBLE), but that is true. Anyway, thank you.

Let me go to Steve Schmidt. Steve, Iowa, Trump has tremendous resources. He is a multibillionaire, and yet he hasn`t spent the money. Does money work? If he were to do a really good ad campaign on TV in Iowa, would it win for him? Or is it all grass roots and religion out there? But I assume people watch television in Iowa.

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it`s a caucus state, Chris. And I think the question that we just don`t know the answer to, how sophisticated is Donald Trump`s ground operation? How sophisticated is the data operation. Are they collecting data at these events? Or they utilizing it? Is he going to be able to turn out voters who haven`t previously participated in the process?

But one things I think is curious, and I agree with Howard`s assessment, he looks like a man who can smell it. He sees it in sight now. And I think he is really starting to think about how he closes it out. But I wonder how much he knows about the recent electoral history of the Republican Party. The fact of the matter is no Republican nominee has won both Iowa and New Hampshire. It`s usually a split decision. He doesn`t have to win Iowa, and he`s not going to win every state. He needs to do well in Iowa. And I think he`s positioned to do well. But I think so much of his message is predicated on the self-fulfilling prophesy of winning. I`m winning, I`m winning, I`m winning, winning all these polls. But at some point, it`s important when he goes to Iowa to set expectations so he doesn`t deleverage himself in New Hampshire if the Republican Party performs historically as it always has which is giving the Iowa --.


MATTHEWS: Dot those i`s and cross those t`s. How do you go in to Iowa and say I`m probably going to lose the state by seven or eight points? Don`t take it seriously. How do you take that? How do you discount it like that?

FINEMAN: Can I say one thing for one second?

I know for a fact that Ted Cruz is superbly, and I mean, very superbly organized in Iowa. They are doing things like renting apartment blocks for kids from instate and from out of state to come in and help canvass. They know they have an incredibly sophisticated data operation.

When you go to a caucus, the Republican caucus is a little less onerous procedurally than the Democratic one, but you still have to go. You still have to spend a lot of time. You have to go in the Republican side. Put your paper ballot in the box or whatever. It is a public display where organizations is maximum. We have no way of knowing whether Trump`s people will be willing to do that. And I don`t think Trump has nearly the organization on the ground in Iowa that Cruz does.

If Trump - if Trump was serious about wanting to try to close it out early, he would have to make that kind of commitment. He hasn`t made the commitment that Cruz has. And Cruz has every evangelical supporter. He has got the radio people. He has got the preachers. He has got the evangelical vote nailed down in Iowa. Trump is not going to get anywhere near that in that state.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that, Steve?

SCHMIDT: Well, look. Again, I think whether Trump turns out a Trump voter that we haven`t seen before, we are just not going to know until we know. But you know, in terms of dotting the i`s and crossing the t`s on that, look, I think what he`s got to say is that, you know, the one candidate that`s been nicest to me, Ted Cruz is, you know, the other candidates that`s doing well in the state, you know. He has followed in my slip stream for a while in the campaign. I`m going to do my best there. I`m going to try to do so that no one is ever done before which is to, you know, have the Miami Dolphins` perfect season. That I`m going to win the first, I`m going to win the second. But hey, you know, you don`t win them all. But I`m going to win most of them. And set himself up, you know, to go into New Hampshire, go to South Carolina.

Once this race gets south, and if the candidates in this race are numbering four, five and six, Donald Trump is in good shape. He gets into a two- person race against Ted Cruz, this becomes a binary choice against the conservative candidate in the race and the ideological candidate. Donald Trump gets into the trouble in that pretty quickly.

Now, Trump has been at a four - I`m sorry, a ceiling of around 35. Now he is up around 41. So the Trump ceiling has kept moving up in this race. We`ll see if he can get to 50. And if he gets to 50 in a binary race, the person who gets over it, you know, is the winner. But until you do that, you need three candidates in the race.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know, I`m a big question mark. I`m not sure Trump doesn`t sell in the south (ph) as well as he sells everywhere else. I think he`s more like itself than it is different anyway.

Thank you Robert Costa. Thank you Howard Fineman. Thank you Steve Schmidt.

Much more coming ahead including the mayor of Las Vegas is coming here. And top reporters are going to break down tonight`s biggest moments for you. Let`s show you some of the clips if you missed it.

This is "Hardball" the place for politics live from Vegas, the last Republican debate of the year. The fight before Christmas.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald, you`re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That`s not going to happen. And I do have the strength.


BUSH: And leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people. Leadership is about creating a serious strategy to deal with the threat of our time.




HUGH HEWITT, HOST, THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW: Are you ready to reassure ensure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?

TRUMP: I really am. I will be honest. I really am. I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front- runner. And I think I will do very well if I`m chosen. If I`m so fortunate to be chosen, I think I will do very well. Polls have come out recently saying I would beat Hillary. I would do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball" live from Las Vegas.

That`s Donald Trump saying he won`t run third party. That is big news tonight. He made it right near the end of the debate. There are there were a number of clashes tonight between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. And one of them was over our Syria policy. Cruz argued against topic Bashar Assad and warned the United States to stop getting involved in the Middle East civil war. This was a great debate. Let`s watch.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe at American first foreign policy far too often President Obama and Hillary Clinton and unfortunately more than a few Republicans have gotten distracted from the central focus of keeping this country safe. If we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria and it will worsen U.S. national security.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anti-American dictators like Assad who help Hezbollah, who help get those IEDs into Iraq, if they go, I will not shed a tear.

CRUZ: It`s more than not shedding a tear, it`s actively getting involved to topple a government. And we keep hearing from President Obama and Hillary Clinton and Washington Republicans that they are searching for these mythical moderate rebels. It`s like a purple unicorn. They never exist. These moderate rebels end up being jihadists.


MATTHEWS: Wow. NBC`s Katy Tur is with us right next to me along with Jon Ralston, the host of "Ralston Live" in Nevada TVS. Thank you -.

And Katy, you know, I love this debate here because I`m watching and you, John, I`m watching Rubio sing his song to Sheldon Adelson and all the money guys on the neo-con big money side. He is still trying to woe them with all of his (INAUDIBLE). I`m going to be the Mideast hawk. I`m going to do this. I`m going to do that. I`m going to be pro-Israeli like nobody. I`m going to knock out all Israel`s enemy. And yet it`s not working. When is Adelson going to loosen the change and give him some help?

JON RALSTON, HOST, RALSTON LIVE: Well, he is trying to win the billionaire primary.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Singer. I think he got Singer.

RALSTON: Yes. And he met with Adelson while he was here. Four of the candidates met with Adelson.

MATTHEWS: We are in his hotel now.

RALSTON: Yes. Adelson likes Rubio, Chris. He really does.

MATTHEWS: When is he going to sprinkle some dust on that guy?

RALSTON: I have asked that question. And here is what his people say. You know, he invested all that money in Newt Gingrich. That was down a rat hole. But that was a personal thing that went back 20 years. He didn`t think he was going to win. He wants to be with the winner this time. I think my guess is he`s choosing between Rubio and Cruz.

MATTHEWS: But Cruz is singing a totally different song. Cruz is saying no more adventurous wars in the Middle East that killed us.

RALSTON: But here`s what Adelson wants. I don`t think he wants Trump even though he met with Trump. What he likes - what Rubio is saying and he think Rubio as a lot of Republican establishment does, he is the most viable candidate against Hillary Clinton. He want to be with the winner. But if Rubio is not doing well after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, I don`t think he`s going to invest money in him. If Cruz is doing well, I think he would choose Cruz as an alternative to Trump.

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS: Ted Cruz is not going to able to beat Hillary Clinton.

RALSTON: He is worried about that. And that`s why ultimately I think he will load up on Rubio, but he want to wait. Some people think he will wait until the first votes are taken in Iowa. I think he will probably have to signal beforehand that he`s getting a lot of pressure from some of his friends to do that.

MATTHEWS: And you are out there all the time. If you add up the votes of those who tend to be anti-war, the ones -- let`s not get involved in more of these wars, certainly Trump, certainly Cruz, Carson and Paul. There`s four of these guys that are well over 50 percent now, who says no more of these foreign adventures like Iraq.

TUR: But Trump is going back and forth on that. He is saying no more wars. We should let Russia take care of this. But he is also saying we need to cut ISIS off at the head. We have to bomb the hell out of him. But his supporters are able to cherry pick what they want out of that. If they want to go to war and they want to get in there and fix things then they will take what Trump says about that.

MATTHEWS: They want to (INAUDIBLE) without getting ours pick.

TUR: They are able to have whatever they want with him essentially because he is so vague about what his position actually is. Is he for boots on the ground? Yes, if it`s necessary. Is he for staying out of it? I would like to stay out of it. But it is not a concrete theory.

MATTHEWS: Here we are in Nevada, south west. Immigration, here we are, another major clash tonight between senators Rubio and Cruz was over immigration. Very stark. Let`s watch the sides.


RUBIO: I am personally open after all of that has happened and after ten years in that probationary status where they have a work permit, I personally am open to allowing people apply for a green card. That may not be a majority position in my party.

CRUZ: There was a time for choosing as Reagan put it where there was a battle over amnesty. And some chose, like senator Rubio to stand with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer and support a massive amnesty plan.

RUBIO: As far as Ted`s record, I`m always puzzled by his attack on this issue. Ted, you support legalizing people who are in this country illegally. Ted Cruz supported a 500 percent increase in the number of h-1b visas that gets workers that are allowed into this country.

CRUZ: I understand that Marco wants to raise confusion. It is not accurate what he said, that I supported legalization. Indeed, I led the fight against his legalization and amnesty bill. And, you know, there was one commentator that put it this way, that for Marco to suggest our record is the same is like suggesting the firemen and the arsonist have the same record because they`re both at the scene of the fire.

RUBIO: Does Ted Cruz rule out ever legalizing people in this country illegally now?


CRUZ: I have never supported legalization and I do not intend to support legalization.


MATTHEWS: Well, there I think Cruz won for boring right there for the simile of the year, the fireman and the arsonist like boring. It is interesting. Two Cuban-American guys, they both come from that heritage fairly recently. Absolutely adversarial positions on whether you get to be a citizen if you came here illegally.

TUR: Yes. And both of them, though, say -- they`re both not people who are opening their arms to immigration, though. And it does -- it`s a stark contrast to where they`re from and how they come in this country. A lot of the critics out there have said this just doesn`t make any sense. How can you be the children of immigrants and not open your arms to immigrants? Look at the opportunity you`ve been able to get yourself here in America. And that`s where they`re having to draw a much harder line because Donald Trump has taken this entire party --

MATTHEWS: Is Cruz really more -- I`m not into ethnic stuff generally. But Cruz obviously comes from a Cuban background. And I`m sure he is proud of it. In fact, he is political view. He`s very anti-communist, you know. I think he has the experience with Castro has a lot to do with his think, with his parents. And yet he has this very tough line on becoming a citizen here.

RALSTON: Yes. I think Katy described it very accurately. But I have to say, what`s interesting about Rubio --

MATTHEWS: By the way, he doesn`t speak Spanish. I mean, somebody asked him if he speaks Spanish, he got angry about that.

RALSTON: Rubio has always had that vulnerability lurking, right. He has not really come up in the race that much about the gang of eight, which he wants to rewrite history on all that where he supported a path to citizenship. Because of the Trump effect and because he`s running in a Republican primary, he`s now trying to paper that over. And he is trying to sound tough on it and he is trying to muddy the waters as you saw there by bringing up, by saying Cruz wants legalization as well.

But what was interest about Rubio, he also came under attack from Paul on this same issue tonight. And this was the first time we have really seen Rubio under a sustained assault. And the guy is so smooth, Chris. I mean, he just --he pivots off of it.

MATTHEWS: Did you notice he went right up to the edge to get a green card but he didn`t say citizenship.

RALSTON: He won`t say that.

TUR: Trump has taken them so far to the right. You`re not -- you can not --

MATTHEWS: What will get him to go all the way?

TUR: You cannot be for a path to citizenship in the Republican Party right now because Donald Trump will hammer you on that.

RALSTON: Hillary Clinton knew about that right away, right?

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much Katy Tur and Jon Ralston. We will be right back.

Up next, the top Vegas odds maker tells us who has got the numbers on her side heading into 2016. Her side, there`s a giveaway.

This is "Hardball" on Vegas, the last Republican presidential debate of 2015, the fight before Christmas.


BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But let me just complain a little bit. IT is the first time I spoke and several people had multiple questions. So please try to pay attention to that.




BUSH: I won`t get my information from the shows. Whether if that Saturday morning or Sunday morning.

TRUMP: I think it`s very sad that CNN leads Jeb Bush, Governor Bush down a road by starting off virtually all of the questions, Mr. Trump this, Mr. Trump -- I think it`s very sad.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball." We are live in Las Vegas tonight. And what a good night it was. A good fight night, I think, here without putting a little wager on it after tonight. Will the feed narrow in the odds change?

I got right now by La Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman and former mayor Oscar Goodman. They are somewhat related. (INAUDIBLE) legendary odds maker, Jimmy Vaccario.

Jimmy, let me ask you about the odds. Is Hillary still the favorite?

JIMMY VACCARIO, ODDS MAKER: Hillary is the big favorite. And first of all, hello to Carol and the ex-mayor. They`re always nice to talk to. Yes, Hillary is a one to ten favorite. Obviously, it`s like out here in Las Vegas. There is no one in front of her. She will be the nominee for the Democratic side.

MATTHEWS: How about the general?

VACCARIO: The general, obviously, you know, for the Republican side, I`ve got three favorites now. Cruz, Trump and Rubio. They`re all at three to one. The ones that showed well tonight I though was Christie. So I change him from 75 to one down to 50. And I thought Ben Carson, even though he is a soft spoken guy, I gave him a little credit, too, from 25 back to 20. I will give you something that is interesting, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, give me the line on November. I want the line on November.

VACCARIO: It`s not in November, Democratic to retain the White House is six to five.

CAROLYN GOODMAN, LAS VEGAS MAYOR: I`m glad he doesn`t own a hotel.

MATTHEWS: OK. That means - explain that to the public. Is that mean Hillary`s favored or the Republican`s favored?

VACCARIO: The Democrats are favored. They are favored $1.20 for every dollar you want to win. Naturally, she is going to be the favorite going into November, but obviously, I can tell you this, it`s very cap tank rouse and very -- a lot of people responsive to the things we are talking about, especially the odds I`m putting out.

I will tell you one thing that I did, Chris, was drew a lot of attention was I put up a couple of days ago, will Donald Trump go independent? And at that time, I put it up, he was a three to one favorite not to. Naturally, with the proclamation tonight, I went back up ten to one. So it is going to be interesting.

And one thing you ought to think about, the Iowa primary is in the first week of November. That`s about six days before super bowl Sunday. You ought to come to that weekend and see a cross section of the world here and ask them who they`re going to vote on. I think you`ll be quite surprised.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me thank you tonight for that. I think those odds made perfect sense to my better head. I think Hillary is favored. I think she will probably win the general, probably. I think if she runs for re- election, which I expects she will that be even tougher. That`s going to be tougher than this one. I think it`s very hard for a party to stay in power more than 12 years. It is just very hard.

C. GOODMAN: You`re an east coast guy all the way. I can tell that.

MATTHEWS: I think like this. Let me ask you about this city. Cold weather out here?

C. GOODMAN: Briefly.

MATTHEWS: It is cold. It is warmer in D.C. But this fight tonight was a good fight. I though it were going to be a lot of clips coming out of here. A lot of talk in Vegas, mayor.

C. GOODMAN: I`m so excited about it. And you know, we`re having the final debate on October 16th at the Thomas and Mack center. And that`s what really - yes, next October 16th. And this tonight was another interesting night. But we`ve got 11 months to go. So a lot of things are going to happen. I`m confident.

MATTHEWS: Who`s your best for the gate here? Is it Trump? Trump/Hillary?

C. GOODMAN: You know, I think I remember somebody in the last election by the name of Palin who everybody loved to listen to. I think Donald Trump is very exciting candidate and he draws the media. And so he`s got that spotlight.

MATTHEWS: Oscar, let me ask you, former mayor, your honor, how does it work for a Philly guy out here? Pretty good?

OSCAR GOODMAN, FORMER LAS VEGAS MAYOR: It is the best. It gets so better. I mean, the weather wasn`t cold. You just thought it was cold. It was bomb here today, OK. It is always the greatest.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

O. GOODMAN: But we have, you know, we had a great (INAUDIBLE). We had the national finals rodeo last week. We have the football game between BYU and Utah which is huge.

C. GOODMAN: But more importantly, we have Bryce harper and Chris Bryant that were celebrating Thursday night downtown.

O. GOODMAN: Both Las Vegans. Both native Las Vegans.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Great baseball players. Thank you so much Mayor Carolyn Goodman and former mayor but always Mayor Oscar Goodman. Thank you both.

Jimmy, Vaccario, sir, thank you for this betting odds tonight. I will remember them and perhaps use them.

Up next, our focus group of Republicans. We had them on earlier tonight. We`re going to see if they`re still thinking the same way. The GOP-leading independents, they are called, telling us what they think now after watching tonight. Has event tonight affected their positions?

You`re watching "Hardball," place for politics live in Vegas. The Republican presidential debate, the fight before Christmas.


MATTHEWS: Welcome to "Hardball`s" coverage of the Republican debate out here in Las Vegas. It was a rowdy night. And since (INAUDIBLE), how will the Republican voters respond to what they actually saw.

My colleague Steve Kornacki is in New York right now with the focus group of Republican and Republican-leaning voters from the tri-state area.

Steve, take over.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: All right. That`s right. Well, here we are with our panel of eight undecided Republicans Republican-leaning independents. We should say they`re all from the tri-state region here around New York. So, if that`s a different kind of Republican at all, we just want to make sure that that`s out there. Some people would make that case, but OK.

So at the start of the night, we took your temperature. You guys just watched this debate with the rest of the country. And I want to just go from the top row down to the bottom row. I want to ask each of you first of all, you watched it for two hours. Who in your judgment had the best night tonight? Andrew, start with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Best night would be Rubio, I think. He came off very clear and I really liked his message. And Trump seemed very, very relaxed.

KORNACKI: Relax. Glen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think Trump was actually very on his game and stayed cool. And he spoke about some issues pretty clear and he was very convincing, I thought.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chris Christie. I thought he had a great night. I think he showed why I think governors potentially make the best presidents. He got to those points and I thought he did very well this evening.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Carly Fiorina really shone tonight. Very strong. I think she was concise. I think she had a real good command of what she was saying. I agree. Christie also came up strong. And in the Cruz/Rubio, I think Cruz edged out Rubio.

KORNACKI: Yes. We`ll get into that in a minute, that dust-up, a couple of dust-ups. But you know, best night. What did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was happy to see that Jeb Bush came across very earnest and thoughtful and I think that he knows a lot more than comes across in the debates. And also Carly Fiorina, I thought she very well spoken and really gets her point across.

KORNACKI: Jennifer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris Christie showed up today. He`s the guy I wanted him to be six months ago. It`s like where have you been? And he finally showed up today. He`s my guy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think Jeb. I think he had his best night tonight. I love how he stood up to Trump, finally. That was awesome. And Carly, I think she had a really good night, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Chris Christie really showed himself as a leader today. We need a leadership to break away from the pack and I think Chris Christie did that. Rubio stepped up also. I can give him some credit for his performance tonight.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you guys then. So a couple of you mentioned the Jeb Bush/Donald Trump. Jeb Bush really came to go after Donald Trump, it seemed like. Show of hands here n that exchange between the two of them, who here thought Donald Trump got the better of that exchange?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, obviously, Donald Trump only did because he was - - he`s so bold. But I think tonight, as far as I`m concerned, I think Jeb Bush has definitely made the cut and he`s moving on. And I think Chris Christie really did show up and he`s absolutely back in the game.

KORNACKI: Let me take the flip side of this question. Jennifer, I`ll just ask you, worst night. Who had the worst night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Rand Paul had the worst night. I mean, you know, the poor guy. It`s just -- I feel badly for him and also Dr. Ben Carson, you know. He said I`m here, you know. It was almost like a "Saturday Night Live" skit, you know. Like he was there, but no one was talking to him.

KORNACKI: So Ben Carson was at the top of the polls just a couple of weeks ago. Let me ask you guys, who here after tonight would consider voting for Ben Carson?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just have to say, he`s certainly a million times better than what`s on the other side. In this field, he`s being, you know, plowed under by, you know, all of this rhetoric that`s going on. But in terms of intellect, in terms of clarity, in terms of being a human being, I think he`s head and shoulders above everybody on the stage. Unfortunately, that`s not the contest. This is a -- not a cage fight, but it`s close to that. That`s our politics.

KORNACKI: We`ve got a bunch of love here for Chris Christie, as we said. A tri-state panel. We`ll check in with them again later, Chris. But that`s the early verdict from our panel.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much. I`m going to ask you secretly what you learned there. But interesting, very much an east coast crowd.

Let`s bring in Ruth Marcus, Ben Ginsberg and -- where are you? It doesn`t have it written. I know it is Tom Davis.

Anyway, thank you all.

Ben, what did you hear from them? I heard jersey people talking about Christie. And some people a little more inclined to Fiorina than I would have thought.

BEN GINSBERG, FORMER RNC SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: A little home cooking maybe. It`s tough to see how this debate is going to change the dynamics of the race going into the Christmas holiday. But it`s good to know that the hometown guy scored well with your focus group.

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: I don`t know, the hometown -- it`s my home state, but he`s not polling so well in my home state. So if that`s home cooking, I guess it was --

MATTHEWS: Tom, both of you guys -- then I`ll get back to Ben. All three in any rope. What do you think the voters -- and people -- I`ve got to assume a lot of voters watched tonight and ones who are actually going to cast a vote in a next couple of weeks, months.

TOM DAVIS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: That`s correct. Three more debates before New Hampshire. Think about it. You have one in South Carolina, and they have one in Iowa, and one -- there`s still a long way to go, still very volatile as you look at this. And they are all speaking to different constituencies. You know, Christie, Bush, Kasich, are all in that same space over there looking for independence who can vote in New Hampshire. You`ve got the group on the right. You got Trump, kind of stands out by himself. Trump isn`t about issues to him. It`s identity politics, basically. Alienated groups right now who are looking at Trump who represent her anger.

MARCUS: Look, Jeb Bush helped himself a little tonight by showing some energy against Donald Trump. Probably not enough. I think --

MATTHEWS: When he leaves the campaign he won`t look so bad? He`s not going to win.

MARCUS: He helped himself a little bit tonight. And you know, anything can happen. Ask John Kerry.

MATTHEWS: No. Not anything can happen.

MARCUS: Anything can happen.


MARCUS: Actually, the person who hurt himself tonight, though he didn`t need to hurt himself anymore, in the focus group had it that way was Ben Carson. I think that Trump is Trump. And how you feel about him depends - -

MATTHEWS: The monotone voice of his finally got to people?

MARCUS: Trump?

MATTHEWS: No, Carson.

MARCUS: Carson, yes.

MATTHEWS: Trump is not monotone.

MARCUS: No. I think people -- maybe he could have shown some dazzling grasp of foreign policy tonight but he didn`t.

MATTHEWS: OK, I want to suggest a loser tonight. You know when you play pool, you play 8-ball, you scratch? So that is about how you do it in the game. If you scratch, you scratch.

Ben, you`re chuckling. I believe that Chris Christie scratched tonight when he said he wants to shoot down Russian planes. A nuclear power. Reagan wouldn`t do it. We avoided fighting with the Russians since `47 when the cold war start to heat up. It began. We`re not going to fight with the Russians. That`s not we do. It doesn`t work. You know, when Anderson was killed along the line there, dead man`s line in East Berlin, Reagan said I`m not going to go to war over that. He wouldn`t let us get drawn into a war. And here is Christie said yes, go out. Let`s go knock down Russian planes.

GINSBERG: I don`t think it`s a killer statement. I think he was playing to his audience. I mean, I think all the candidates tonight were to an extent playing to an audience. There was an Iowa primary message. There was a New Hampshire primary message. And a couple of candidates were playing to national audiences. And I thought that nobody in the top tier of candidates hurt themselves or will particularly change the dynamics of the race after tonight.

MATTHEWS: So what camp is Christie playing to? The World War III buffs?


GINSBERG: We`ve had World War III a couple of times. But he was playing to a crowd of people who were basically fearful for all the reasons you heard on the stage. Basically stemming from the Obama administration. And he`ll be fine.

MATTHEWS: OK. Headlines tomorrow, who`s going to have their name at the top? Who`s going to say they won? Who is the press, AP wire, the Rueters? There is such an objective standard anymore, who`s going to be the winner?

MARCUS: I don`t think there was a winner.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Ben.

GINSBERG: Well, I think Cruz and Rubio and Trump will all be helped. Jeb Bush will get a nod. That`s positive. Chris Christie came across as who he wanted to come across to. They will all each get points for that.

DAVIS: I think Cruz and Rubio going ach each other really demeans him a little bit.

MATTHEWS: Yes. That was a kind of spirited discussion. Were we brought in on that debate?

DAVIS: It was Senate speak.

MARCUS: I`m going to -- it was Senate speak and it wasn`t an obscure discussion, but I thought actually each of them did come off as substantive and knowledgeable and in contrast with certain other people --.

MATTHEWS: Read more about it in the Federal Register.

MARCUS: Well, I like the Federal Register.

GINSBERG: They`re playing to their voters.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Ben, you`re great.

Ben, when you get another horse, let me know. I mean, I like your horse, Scott Walker. You have to get another one in this fight.

MARCUS: Get back in the subtle.

MATTHEWS: Then we can use it.

GINSBERG: It`s fun being with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It is always fun.

Live from Vegas, right after this. We`ll be right back. This is "Hardball."


MATTHEWS: Well, the dust has settled now here in Las Vegas after the fifth Republican debate. Amazing. My question is now, what will the headlines say tomorrow morning?

Joining me right now is "the Guardian`s" Sabrina Siddiqui and former RNC chair Michael Steele.

You know, at the top of the hour, by the way, this hour, Donald Trump was right here in that seat, Sabrina`s seat. And here`s a bit of my exchange with him.


MATTHEWS: Would you endorse and support whoever win from your party`s side?

TRUMP: Yes, I would.

MATTHEWS: With enthusiasm?

TRUMP: Yes, I would do that. With enthusiasm.


MATTHEWS: With enthusiasm. So I just wanted to, you know, finish out that news he made tonight. I think that`s the headline.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: That` definitely the headline. Although, I think what is also notable is that Donald Trump is largely in the background in tonight`s debate. He wasn`t really a factor. And I think that`s good for him in some ways because he is happy to let these other candidates spar with one another. He is happy to have Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio battle it out on the stage. Jeb Bush did take a more aggressive tact toward him but we don`t lose evidence that that is how --.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it strange to have these two Cuban-American guys fighting. One guy saying I believe in immigration ultimate but I won`t go all the way to citizenship. Like citizenship is what immigration is. You become a citizen eventually. And he said well, give them a green card. We are not going all the way against the residents. I just thought that was -- and yet the other guy was like no way, Jose. You`re not getting in here. That was a tough line by Cruz.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: For me, the headline tomorrow is, Republican fissures exposed. And I think that`s a good thing. I think it is healthy for them.

MATTHEWS: I loved the debate on war.

STEELE: Whether it`s a war or immigration, where the two center pieces tonight, where you saw those delineations between the Cruz`s and the Rubio`s and the Trump`s and, you know, others who were different than he on foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: So we are looking at the guy who owns this casino. We`re in the Venetian now, you know. The bridge of sighs, (INAUDIBLE) and everything here 37. That guy, who is a zillionaire, casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, he cares mostly about an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East, he`s watching tonight. And he must have watched Rubio singing his song. But there was Cruz singing the opposite song. And Trump, his fellow casino owner, no way are we going to any more wars in the Middle East. That`s a pretty good debate.

SIDDIQUI: Right. And I think Marco Rubio has had this consistently hawkish approach to U.S. foreign policy. He met with Sheldon Adelson yesterday. He supports him very aggressive Marco Rubio then he corded.

MATTHEWS: They`re not on the same page.

SIDDIQUI: This is a significant division within the Republican Party and what the U.S. role should be overseas and that is something we are seeing.

MATTHEWS: It was a debate. Michael?

STEELE: The neo-cons and the real lists --

MATTHEWS: I like the way you put it there. I think you and Steve Schmidt put it together really well.

Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you so much and Michael Steele.

And that does it for us in Las Vegas. Thanks for being with us here. Join us again tomorrow night for "Hardball" back east in Washington.

Don`t forget this Saturday, Democrats will debate. Join us for special for "Hardball" Saturday. I just love working Saturday night late. But it will be another big debate. Bernie Sanders has to make his move. See you then.