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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/16/2015

Guests: John Heilemann, Nomiki Konst, John Feehery, Laura Coates, April Ryan, Jeff Mason

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 16, 2015 Guest: John Heilemann, Nomiki Konst, John Feehery, Laura Coates, April Ryan, Jeff Mason

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Can Republicans handle the truth?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We can see what`s happening in the Republican fight for president right now. The outsiders, led by Donald Trump, are winning voter support, like it or not. They include Ted Cruz, and to a declining degree, Ben Carson. All the outsiders are doing great. So the outliers, based on now consistent numbers in the polls, are getting the lion`s share of Republican support. We get it.

The establishment types, on the other hand, led, rather sadly, I must say, by Jeb Bush, are shrinking in support, moreso I think in confidence. And as I said, the numbers are starting to harden. All the bold talk of last summer about Trump and the mavericks fading by fall is gone as we approach the cold, dark reality of winter.

Well, the question is, can the establishment boys, the governors of this country, Republicans, the state party chairs, the Koch brothers take it? Can they handle the very near reality now that they may be nominating a birther for president in Donald Trump or a persistent "burn the house down" type in Ted Cruz? Well, last night, it was this reality that burned through.

John Heilemann`s the co-host of Bloomberg`s "With All Due Respect," and Eugene Robinson`s a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with "The Washington Post."

We begin tonight with the national establishment, the embarrassment, I should say, of Trump`s birther talk, which is reviled by many establishment Republicans who know it`s a killer for them. We saw it all up close and personal last night when I interviewed Trump on this show after the debate.


MATTHEWS: Is Donald Trump honest when he says that Barack Obama isn`t a legitimate president?



MATTHEWS: ... a good question because...

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


TRUMP: I didn`t say you couldn`t. I knew you were going to...

MATTHEWS: You can`t stop it.

TRUMP: ... because, you know, I should -- I should -- 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, and you know what I`ll say?

MATTHEWS: Well, because it`s the president of the United States!

TRUMP: I don`t talk about that anymore. Here`s the story. I don`t answer because you know what? If I do answer it, that`s all people want to talk about. So I never...


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


MATTHEWS: Catholics believe in confession. You say you were wrong and you move on.

TRUMP: OK, well...

MATTHEWS: You really believe this guy`s an illegitimate president?

TRUMP: I don`t want to answer the question.


MATTHEWS: Well, I didn`t end there. Today, at Trump`s rally in Arizona, there was more birther talk. Donald Trump was introduced by Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, one of the first public officials in this country to declare the president`s birth certificate a fraud.


SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ: If you recall, five months ago, I introduced Donald Trump. At that time, I said a few things. We have something in common. The birth certificate investigation, which is still going on...


MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Gene, I brought it up last night. I`m proud I did. I said I think this is ethnic. I think it`s a racial question here. You wouldn`t be doing this for other guys, the fact he`s not American.


MATTHEWS: And he won`t change. He won`t take it back.

ROBINSON: Yes, and nor...

MATTHEWS: And yet he`s running at 40 percent.

ROBINSON: Nor does he raise the issue, for example, that Ted Cruz was born in Canada.


ROBINSON: ... if you want to go on the issue. Look, this must be something that Trump still believes, right? I mean, it -- and it seems weird and crazy that someone who is a birther and believes this crazy mythology actually is leading the Republican process for the nomination for president of the United States. But that`s where we are.

MATTHEWS: So his -- the theory, John Heilemann, just to run through this one more tragic time -- if Gene`s right, then Trump`s crazy because the presumption that some white Kansas woman went to Africa for the particular purpose of having her baby born over there to an African so she could sneak back to Honolulu and have announcements made at the hospital that the kid was born there -- In other words, doing it all on purpose to make him illegitimate to be president, so that this kid, who she then named Barack Hussein Obama as part of her plan to make him president -- the whole thing is loony toon unless you`re playing the ethnic card here, the racial card.

It`s the only reason I`m not Eugene. I`m going to be tougher. I don`t think he thinks it. I think he thinks it`s a game he can play and help him (ph) with the bad guys out there. Your thoughts.


MATTHEWS: Why is he doing it?

HEILEMANN: I think -- I`m afraid I think that you`re exactly right. I don`t think he`s crazy at all. I don`t think he believes it for one minute. I think that, you know, he started in a systematic way to build up a certain kind of base in the Republican electorate when he was thinking about running for president in 2012.

We all said, Oh, he`s not going to run, he`s not going to run. It turns out, on the basis of my reporting, you know, he was pretty serious about running in 2012, and now we see him running in 2016. He started to build his base then and now he`s expanded that base by playing the same kind of ethnic cards, by talking about rapists from Mexico, by talking about banning Muslims from coming here to the United States. He`s playing the race card all over the place. It`s part of what his appeal is, and...

MATTHEWS: OK, how --


ROBINSON: Well, but he plays the race card, obviously. And he did it with Mexicans. He`s doing it with Muslims. He did it before he even thought about running for president with African-American. I mean, that`s part of who Trump is.

I just don`t see what the purpose is of persisting with the birther stuff at this point for him, even with his base. He`s got his base.


MATTHEWS: Without naming them left, right or center, there are a lot of public officials and public figures who`ve spent their life covering a story that isn`t true.


MATTHEWS: They just don`t want (INAUDIBLE) because they want their friends and family to ever know that they were BS`ing it the whole time. They were lying the whole time.

ROBINSON: Well, yes, OK, but at some point, I think, if he...

MATTHEWS: He could have done it last night! He could have said, I think he`s legitimate.

ROBINSON: Yes, well, he didn`t.

MATTHEWS: That`s all he had to say, he`s a legitimate president.

ROBINSON: Well, he didn`t. He didn`t.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, last night, Jeb Bush attacked Trump with new-found energy, I think, although I think a lot of this was sort of pre-fab, somebody fed him these lines. But it was Trump who landed the biggest blow. Watch Trump smashing the feeble attempts of the erstwhile establishment front-runner, Jeb Bush.


JEB BUSH (R-FL), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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...


BUSH: ... a leader that is...

TRUMP: You`re tough.

BUSH: You`re never going to be president of the United States...

TRUMP: You`re really tough.

BUSH: ... by insulting your way to the presidency.

TRUMP: Well, let`s see. I`m at 42, and you`re at 3.

BUSH: Doesn`t matter.

TRUMP: So, so far, I`m doing better.

BUSH: 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: That is schoolyard, and it`s schoolyard pure and simple. We all grew up with that in regular -- you know, regular high schools, not just toughest high schools. That`s the way you behave, schoolyard bullies.

It`s looking like Hail Mary time, however, for the guy who`s getting bullied here, Jeb Bush. In this curious form of disloyalty to his party, Politico reports today, prior to last night`s debate, senior Bush aides began looking into the possibility of making a clear break with Trump potentially with the candidate stating that if Trump were the nominee, Bush would not support him. The option may still be on the table.

My thought, John, when I heard about Trump last night, when he said at the end of that conversation last night in the CNN debate that he was going to support the winner, he had gotten that word and said, OK, I`ll trump the guy. I`ll promise to be loyal, while he`s out there saying -- or thinking of saying, I won`t be loyal to the nominee.

HEILEMANN: Right. I think there`s a reasonable chance of that, Chris. He`s very well plugged in and his organization is very well plugged in to the kind of scuttlebutt that runs around the Republican Party.

Look, you know, John Kasich said a couple weeks ago that he might not support Trump if he were the nominee. I thought that was the question that begged to be asked after Trump came out and said that he wouldn`t run as an independent, or at least -- I think he still has left the door open a little bit.

But it was the question I wanted the moderators to go around and ask everyone on the stage whether they would support Trump if he were the nominee. That would have been a news-making question.


HEILEMANN: I wish they had asked it.


HEILEMANN: I think there are a lot of -- I think there are a lot of people on that stage, frankly, a fair number of people on that stage, who would either consider or definitely not support Trump if he ends up being the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS: Well, today, Trump rallied crowds in Arizona and took some swipes at Jeb. Here he is today.


TRUMP: There`s a movement going on, folks. This isn`t just like, Let`s go and have a good time. Somebody said, Oh, Trump`s a great entertainer. That`s a lot of bull(EXPLETIVE DELETED)!


TRUMP: I`ll tell you. We have a message! We have a message, and the message is, we don`t want to let other people take advantage of us. I have endorsements from incredible people, the people that I want. You know, I don`t care if a guy like Jeb Bush never endorses me. It wouldn`t bother me at all. I think it`s a negative if you -- I get these massive numbers on terrorism. Like, everybody wants Trump for the protection because they know I know what the hell I`m doing!


MATTHEWS: You know, I just watched this. We fight with our audience sometimes (INAUDIBLE), Why do you show Trump? Because the other guys seem like deadheads, and they don`t even know how to knock him off!

And some of this is, let`s be honest, way back to the days of Lincoln giving those three-hour speeches, you know, the great debates -- I think they threw in some laughs once in a while just to keep the audience standing out there in the heat.

ROBINSON: Yes, no, he`s a -- he`s he`s an amazingly talented political performer, Donald Trump is. He definitely knows how to draw attention to himself. He gets, you know, more free media than you could ever buy, right, even with his money. What we`re really seeing is the food fight that the Republican Party has become, basically, and...

MATTHEWS: What did you make...


MATTHEWS: What do you make of these -- I think these hurt him. I think if I were an opponent of Donald Trump, I would get these faces, these ridiculous mugging he`s doing out there...


MATTHEWS: To me, it showed lack of what he`s usually good at, quick response with a word or two. He didn`t have the right word, so he made faces.

ROBINSON: He made faces, but they were effective faces.

MATTHEWS: You think?

ROBINSON: Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS: I thought they were too much.



MATTHEWS: What did you think, John? You think that -- we`ll get to that in the show with our roundtable -- all that mugging last night, it just got, I thought, too much. Your thoughts.

HEILEMANN: There`s no doubt it`s theatrical, Chris, but I have to say, you know, the thing about Trump that has always been true throughout this race -- he comes across like he`s having fun. He looks like he`s having fun on the stage. And you can say that about very few of the other Republicans, especially someone like Jeb Bush...


HEILEMANN: ... who has looked kind of miserable throughout the race. Donald Trump look likes he`s having a ball, and I think that`s pretty appealing to a lot of voters.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about this romance going -- bromance, if you will. The establishment was hoping for a case of mutual destruction between Trump and Cruz, who`s the runner-up right now. Well, they`re going to have to keep waiting. Cruz refused to go after Trump last night, and Trump made public display of affection for Cruz during the debate and in the spin room after it.


TRUMP: He has a wonderful temperament.


TRUMP: He`s just fine. Don`t worry about it.




TRUMP: You know what I like about Ted Cruz, though? He was with me when nobody else was. When I was saying things that were strong, and now people sort of came back and they said, You know, Trump turned out to be right, whether it was illegal immigration or so many other things, Ted Cruz was the one person that really backed me. He was with me. And I have to respect that.


MATTHEWS: Well, this is what the Republican establishment -- I think we got to come up with a new word for it, John, because there isn`t one.

ROBINSON: Yes, there isn`t one.

MATTHEWS: The sense there`s a bunch of party elders that meet in the Waldorf Astoria, like in the old days -- they did -- the Waldorf Towers and they would pick Eisenhower, and that would be it. Today, there`s nothing like that. They`re just watching these two outliers or outlaws in the party dominate the numbers.

ROBINSON: It`s a full-fledge insurrection. The Republican Party is not what it was 20 years ago. It`s different. It`s...

MATTHEWS: Why does it look weaker than the Democrats after the Democrats on the -- President Obama and Hillary -- she`s getting her share of it. All the hanging fire the Democrats have taken for leading the country or not leading it, if you will -- they`ve taken a lot more incoming, but the Republicans -- yet the Republican leadership is in tatters.

ROBINSON: It is in tatters, ironically, at a moment when Republicans control both houses of Congress. They have done fantastically well in the statehouses. What they have been able to agree on...


ROBINSON: ... is that they want power.


ROBINSON: But they haven`t been able to agree on...


ROBINSON: ... other very important things.


MATTHEWS: I want this as my most important statement last night. I never heard anybody say this, having been lucky enough, like all three of us, to live through the cold war because people of calm leadership discernment on both sides, including the Russians over in Moscow, knew that we shouldn`t go to war with each other. We`re two well armed, too big, too proud to fight with each other. It would be earth-destroying.

Last night, somebody didn`t get the message. The other establishment hope, if there is one, is Chris Christie, the governor over there in Trenton who`s rising in New Hampshire somewhat. Christie`s brand is brute force, but he can also get himself into trouble.

Last night, Christie took an uber-hawkish stance with Russia. He said he would risk war with Putin over a no-fly zone violation. This morning on CBS, Christie again went further, talking about shooting down Russian planes premeditatedly and saying so on national television that he`s going to do it. Here he is.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s what a no- fly zone means, don`t fly. And if they fly there, their pilot will get shot done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And your response to Senator Paul, who indicated that that may cause World War III?

CHRISTIE: See, the problem for folks like Senator Paul is they don`t realize we`re already in World War III.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if Russia is our ally against ISIS, should we be shooting down their planes and -- because we`re not engaged in World War III with them?

CHRISTIE: You`re assuming that Russia`s our ally in the fight against ISIS, and I don`t believe that that`s the case.


CHRISTIE: Well -- well, you know, listen, then that makes it absolutely certain that I`m right. The fact is, Russia`s been stealing our lunch money on the entire time from the Obama administration.


CHRISTIE: They are aligning with the Iranians to try to create an Iranian empire across the Middle East. I don`t call that a friend.


MATTHEWS: You know, Charlie Rose is so much more intellectually competent and relevant in this debate to actually be president of the United States than that character, that character from Trenton.

You know, John, Charlie was trying to bring sanity to that conversation, and he kept trying to bring him into it. What happens -- why do we want to go to war with Russia by shooting down their plane? And he couldn`t -- he wouldn`t -- the guy would not stop, Christie. He wouldn`t stop being crazy.

HEILEMANN: Well, Charlie -- Charlie! I agree with you, Chris, that that`s what Charlie was trying to do. I think Chris Christie, to the extent that he has risen in New Hampshire, to the extent that he`s been one of the people who`s gotten some -- gotten some elevation out of this post- Paris, post-San Bernardino moment, it`s been by being a tough guy, right, projecting strength, brute strength, brute force, as you put it before.

And I think that he, looking at Trump`s example and the way that Trump has gained in this moment by saying some very provocative, very indiscriminate things -- he`s trying to be a slightly more reasonable version of Trump. He thinks that`s in his political advantage. I`m not sure he`s wrong.

MATTHEWS: If we had him during the Cuban missile crisis, we wouldn`t be here now.

ROBINSON: Well, exactly.

MATTHEWS: We wouldn`t be here!

ROBINSON: Trump is smart enough to pick people he can beat up, basically...

MATTHEWS: Well, Charlie Rose is so much smarter than him, it`s not even...

ROBINSON: Right. But -- but Trump`s targets, you know, illegal immigrants, foreign Muslims who want to come to this country, people who are not physically a threat to him. Russia is one of the countries on earth that the United States cannot go to war with. It can never happen because...


ROBINSON: ... because, you know, Russia -- Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons, as do we...

MATTHEWS: And they`re at least as nationalistic as we are.

ROBINSON: That`s called Armageddon. So -- and to talk like that I think definitely contradicts or tends to take back...

MATTHEWS: What right do we have...

ROBINSON: ... any momentum that Christie...


MATTHEWS: And what right do we have to pick some country in Middle East called Syria and say, Anybody who flies over Syria, we shoot them down? Where did the idea of any kind of sense of what rights we have in the world -- this craziness of the neocons now has gotten so out of hand, we can pick anywhere in the world and say, If you do something we don`t like, we`ll kill you.

Last thoughts from you, John.

HEILEMANN: Guys, I just -- I`ll -- I just think that, like, there`s a lot of crazy talk going on in this nomination fight on the Republican side. But I do think that, you know, you`ve seen this on (INAUDIBLE) both parties over years have passed -- people say stuff that they don`t -- that would not actually be the policy of their administration. It`s hard for me to believe that Chris Christie, if he were president, would actually pursue the ideas that he espoused this morning on CBS.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an "if" I don`t think most people should take -- take a danger -- a dangerous approach to.

Anyway, John Heilemann, thank you. You were laughing when you said that. I`m not laughing at Chris Christie. Those days are over. It`s one thing to yell at some call-in person during a call-in show and being unpleasant to her or him, it`s another thing to start talking about World War III.

Coming up -- you couldn`t miss the Republicans trying to go after Hillary, tie her, by the way, to everything that`s gone wrong in the world. It used to be Obama`s responsible for the weather, everything. Now Hillary`s responsible with Obama for every single thing that goes wrong in the world. They did it consistently last night, constantly. They`re looking for -- to run against a third Obama term. I know what they`re up to. Can Secretary Clinton present herself as a fresh start? Can she beat this rap?

And who does the Clinton campaign, by the way, want to face in the general election and who are they most afraid to face? That`s interesting tonight.

Plus, a mistrial in the first of those closely-watched cases relating to -- those police cases relating to the death of Freddie Gray. The city of Baltimore is on edge tonight, as we might have expected.

And among (ph) the top candidates who helped their cause last night heading into the Christmas holiday, and more importantly, who didn`t. We`re going to check on all of that tonight, lots of politics tonight with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the worst thing anyone said in last night`s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas in that fight before Christmas.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, they had more -- I guess they had a lot of time on their hands. National Public Radio`s politics team has compiled a list of talk time in last night`s debate. Ted Cruz came out on top with just under 16 minutes of talking. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump each clocked in at 13 minutes, 13-and-half minutes. At the bottom of the pack, no surprise, John Kasich -- hard to get a word in there -- and Carly Fiorina.

You can catch the Democrats in their debate, of course, Saturday night in New Hampshire right here -- and then -- no, you don`t watch it here, but you`re watching (ph) us afterwards. Then join us afterwards for a post- debate show on MSNBC here on Saturday night, 10:00 o`clock. I`ll be here with all the highlights and a lot of stuff, interesting stuff.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

To hear the Republicans -- we`re talking about going to the Holy Land.

Anyway, to hear the Republicans tell it last night, Hillary Clinton was practically a co-president with Barack Obama the last seven years. Republicans over and over again last night tied the former secretary of state to President Obama. Watch how they do it in this montage.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Hillary Clinton says her theory against ISIS will be just about the same as the president, then get ready for more unrest and more murder and more violence in the Middle East.

What has Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton done to this country?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama`s strategy is to lead from behind.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are responsible for the growth of ISIS.

CHRISTIE: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the reckless people. It`s so dysfunctional, the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, through their foreign policy, have betrayed the American people.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton has aligned herself with Barack Obama on ISIS, Iran and the economy. It`s an alliance doomed to fail.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing bringing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to this country.

He`s far too often supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. President Obama and Hillary Clinton. President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. What I can tell you is all nine of the people would make an infinitely better commander in chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.



MATTHEWS: That`s like one name now.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia is a Hillary Clinton supporter here to discuss this.

You got a free platform here, Senator. And I just think they have a plan, which is to tie these two together and drown them together. What is your approach to this discussion?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Well, Chris, two things. First, I ran for the Senate in Virginia in 2012. And that was the Republican plan against me to brand me as a Barack Obama supporter. And every negative ad they ran, 50 percent of the people ended up liking me better.

They are making sure that everyone who supports this president -- and in Virginia, there`s huge percentages -- are going to very much support Secretary Clinton in her quest for president.

And the second thing is that whole line of attack last night it`s a blame America first attitude. Things are going wrong in the Middle East? Oh, it`s got to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton`s fault. It`s not the fault of radical jihadism. It`s not the fault of bad governments in the Middle East. No, it`s got to be America`s fault, and it`s got to be President Obama`s fault.

I don`t think the Americans want to blame America first or its president, and that`s the way all these guys are running. And I don`t think that`s going to be appealing to the American public.

MATTHEWS: Has Hillary put herself -- by taking the job of secretary of state, which I was very impressed by -- that was a very patriotic thing to do, to accept that and give up her Senate seat, which she didn`t have to do, and to become, to some extent, a partner of the president`s.

But is it harder for her to talk about her accomplishments? I mean, she did so much work as secretary of state. But you don`t hear her saying that. Would you if you were her be saying more about what she did overseas, or all those trips overseas with big-shot leaders?

KAINE: You know, I think that is important for her to do.

She gave a speech yesterday in homeland security. And it got less attention, obviously, than the debate last night. But if you watch that speech, it`s the difference between an adult in the room and people who are throwing around sound bites who don`t know what they`re talking about.

And I think that the work that she`s done as secretary to follow the work as a senator, to follow the work as first lady, gives her a gravitas, maybe especially on these foreign policy and international security issues. And I think the contrast between her and anything you heard last night in the Republican debate is very, very sharp.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look, Senator, at what some of Republicans were saying yesterday about foreign policy and national security last night.


RUBIO: If you are an American citizen and you decide to join us with ISIS, we`re not going to read you your Miranda rights. You are going to be treated as an enemy combatant.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to go massively, like we did in 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 of ISIS.

CRUZ: ISIS and radical Islam terrorism will face no more determined foe than I will be. We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys.

CHRISTIE: 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 Oval Office is right now.



MATTHEWS: That`s a lot of tough street-corner talk there by guys, none of them who have served in military, ever been in combat. But they`re all talking like Curtis LeMay.

KAINE: Well...

MATTHEWS: Like we`re just going to carpet-bomb, turn them into a parking lot.

You know, that`s the kind of stuff Frank Rizzo, the mayor of Philly, used to talk like. But nobody thought of him as a commander in chief. That`s just barroom talk.

KAINE: Well, Chris, I`ll tell you, it`s more than barroom talk. Two of the clips you just played are from U.S. senators who`ve been in this body during 16 months of war, and rather than have a debate about the war and vote to authorize it, they`ve been hiding under their desks. They talk tough on TV shows.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. They don`t want a resolution.

KAINE: They don`t want a debate. They don`t want to vote. They don`t want to be held accountable. They want to criticize the president, but they want to hide under their desks. And that`s the kind of presidents they`d be.

MATTHEWS: You`re great.

Thanks so much, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

KAINE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, a common theme last night, each candidate promising they were the best option to beat Hillary Clinton.

Let`s watch that setup.


KASICH: Our message has to be big and bold and positive.

If we do it, we will beat Hillary Clinton and we will run the White House.

FIORINA: And we need to beat Hillary Clinton to take our country back and keep our nation safe.

TRUMP: 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 will do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton, I can promise you.



MATTHEWS: Well, Nomiki Konst -- or Konst -- is the executive director of the Accountability Project. There she is. And John Feehery, right here with me, is a Republican strategist.

Let me ask you, is this it? Who is she most afraid of, do you think, Hillary, of all the candidates?


JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think they`re most afraid of Marco Rubio, all the Democrats I talk to, because...


MATTHEWS: Because he`s young and cute?

FEEHERY: Young, new generation, Hispanic.

MATTHEWS: And maybe he`s cute, right?

FEEHERY: Pro-immigration. Could probably get some Hispanic votes.

MATTHEWS: But every time he talks, every time -- Nomiki, every time he talks, I hear a tape recording. I hear a guy who has got speech parts, just like we`re going to the Hall of the Presidents. He`s already skipped being president. He`s already down there in Florida, Orlando, or Disney World, and he`s reading these scripts like they`re the great speeches of Marco Rubio.

He`s already given them and now we`re hearing pieces of it. He doesn`t go uh or uh. There`s no hesitation. It`s all software. It`s software.

NOMIKI KONST, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It`s 24/7 repeat to you and I.

But to the majority of Americans, majority of the Republican base who is not here -- who is watching him carefully and not watching him on the stump, it`s still fairly new to him.

But with all that being said, he is still somebody who -- for instance, last night, he said he doesn`t want to read the Miranda rights to the terrorists, but he`s more than willing to prevent -- to allow them to continue to buy guns on the terror list.

This is a man who is using fear-mongering and this inflammatory rhetoric to ignite the base. But it`s all a red herring, because he doesn`t want to talk about the economy, he doesn`t want to talk about the fact that he doesn`t show up to vote to improve our security so that we can fight ISIS, so that we can increase troops to fight ISIS.

He doesn`t talk about any of these things. He`s talking specifically to a base because he`s trying to steal that momentum away from Ted Cruz. And I don`t see that happening.

MATTHEWS: What is the idea of that? Let me ask you, John. You know politics. I`m not going to read the Miranda rights. Well, that`s one way of getting the guy off, because he`s got an immediate appeal.

KONST: Oh, sure. MATTHEWS: You can`t -- the guy would walk if you didn`t give him his Miranda rights. Anyway...

FEEHERY: Well, let me tell you, I think that Rubio did very well last night, especially countering your friend Ted Cruz. I thought it was a good debate.

MATTHEWS: Yes. My friend. Yes, I don`t think so.

FEEHERY: That was a good debate between those two. I think it was an important debate.

I thought the other good debate...


MATTHEWS: You think people followed that?

FEEHERY: I don`t know.


FEEHERY: I thought it was -- I thought that Cruz actually shot at and missed Rubio. I thought Rubio was stronger than a lot of people thought he was going to be.

I also thought there was a debate between Jeb and Trump. And I thought Jeb really hit Trump very hard, which is very helpful. I think the other guy who could be really strong against Hillary is Jeb, even though he`s way down in the polls, because he`s got the credibility to be...

MATTHEWS: How does he handle the 42-3 charge? Nobody likes you. You`re practically not on the stage. How does he handle that?

FEEHERY: Well, you just got to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving forward.

MATTHEWS: You know, Nomiki, I thought that Jeb Bush came on last night with some prepared snappers, as we call them in politics, snappers, one-liners.

He`s not a snapper kind of guy. He doesn`t deal in that kind of repartee. He`s a slow, nice, considerate -- considerate, and also a considering kind of guy. And he`s out there trying to snap this guy like with a whip. He doesn`t look real to me, and whereas, Trump, that`s his forte.

KONST: Well, he`s trying to answer. He`s trying to keep the momentum and the funding that he`s receiving from his funding base, which is spilling into Marco Rubio.

And this is really his last chance. I don`t see him growing from here. I don`t see him continuing to raise money. When you look at the other candidates, when you look at Ted Cruz, when you look at Marco Rubio, they have a lot of cash on hand. They are raising and they`re keeping that cash on hand.

Jeb Bush is outspending everyone. And he`s really on his last life right now. And I don`t know how he`s going to be able to rise up above this right now.

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t Jeb Bush leave with class and say what he really believes about assimilation, education, which he`s really good on, very conservative, and how his family has shown how America can grow with Hispanic people as part of your family and how we have to be open, and say what believes, instead of all this malarkey he`s dropping?

FEEHERY: We haven`t seen the first vote yet. I think that Jeb is -- you shouldn`t count him out. I still remember when John McCain was at 4 percent.

MATTHEWS: OK, Jack Germond.

FEEHERY: I`m just saying...


FEEHERY: I`m not saying he`s going to win. I think that Marco is probably the better odds, although...


MATTHEWS: He`s the only hope you guys have.

FEEHERY: He`s our only hope.


FEEHERY: If it`s Trump or Cruz, we`re in big trouble.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president was born here?


MATTHEWS: No, Obama.



What do you think, Nomiki? Do you think the president of the United States is a legitimate...


KONST: I`m not even going to answer that question.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

FEEHERY: He was born in Hawaii.

KONST: But Ted Cruz was not born here.


MATTHEWS: Do you think the president of the United States is here legitimately, or is he a usurper, an interloper?

KONST: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: OK. Just wanted to see what sane minds agree.

Anyway, thank you, John Feehery. And thank you, Nomiki Konst.

Anyway, we will be right back with politics in a minute with the HARDBALL roundtable.

But, up next, mistrial, trouble probably in Baltimore, a hung jury in the first trial of a police officer charged with manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray, you know, the guy who was in the paddy wagon.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, the trial -- the trial of a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of a prisoner, Freddie Gray, ended in deadlock today. A judge dismissed the jury, saying it was clear they would not be able to reach a unanimous verdict.

William Porter was the first of six police officers -- there he is -- to stand trial in the death of Gray. Prosecutors said he failed to get medical attention for Gray. And Porter was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct and reckless endangerment. And he pleaded not guilty to all those charges.

Baltimore`s mayor called for calm and said anyone who chooses to protest should do so peacefully.

Here she is.


rMD-BO_STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE (D), MAYOR OF BALTIMORE, MARYLAND: All of us, if we believe in justice, must have respect for the outcome of the judicial process. If some choose to protest, they must peacefully demonstrate. That is their right. We will not and cannot be defined by the unrest of last spring.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Laura Coates, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Laura, thank you so much.


MATTHEWS: You know, when you hear a mistrial, it sounds like somebody did something wrong, but, of course, you know that doesn`t mean that. it means, we couldn`t get a verdict.

Tell us, why do you think the judge gave up on that jury reaching a unanimous jury in this very hot case?

COATES: I know.

You know, after 16 hours of deliberation, you would think that that would not be enough time to actually have a thorough and full deliberation process. But, in reality, what you saw here was just that, Chris.

You had seeds of reasonable doubt that had been planted throughout the trial by the defense team. And you had some real deficiencies in the prosecution`s argument. So, what likely happened here is, they all said they couldn`t come together and unanimously decide on even one charge, which, frankly, is a little shocking to the community.

We all in the community thought that it was a tough uphill battle on certainly the manslaughter charge, but misconduct in office, reckless endangerment or assault?


COATES: And the reason for this, Chris, is because the fundamental flaw of the case is that the premise is that we`re punishing him for something he did not do, as in he failed to seat belt in Freddie Gray and he failed to get medical attention.

And people are not used to that sort of a standard for a police officer.

MATTHEWS: Well, is there -- it sounds like a reasonable standard to me, but is there a precedent for this kind of standard being used in a case as important as a manslaughter case, not doing something?

COATES: It is. And it`s almost like the idea of a police officer having to have a different standard in all sorts of cases.

I mean, keep in mind that people fundamentally trust the police over any other citizens and over any other group. And so it`s not a flawed concept to say that you can be punished for failing to do something, especially if you, as a police officer, your entire job hinges on you actually being proactive...


COATES: ... not just reactive.

And, here, William Porter was the last person allegedly to hear Freddie Gray`s dying declaration for help. And you just can`t escape that really bad fact.

But it`s far from over, Chris. What people have to understand is that this is a real chess game in a way. There`s a reason officer William Porter`s trial went first. There`s a reason that the very next trial will be the van driver, whose has far more serious charges. We have got to wait. There is a strategy and a plan.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks so much, Laura Coates, for that expertise about the Baltimore trial.

COATES: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It`s going to get hot.

Coming up: Who is in a stronger position today than they were headed into last night`s debate? The fight before Christmas, who was the winner? Our roundtable is going to tell us. They`re going to break down who is ahead of the pack right now and who fell back in the pack. That`s coming up next in a minute.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


(NEWSBREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Well, the emerging candidates are hoping to get out from behind Trump`s shadow all turned on solid performances last night. But how did the debate help them in the early contest? All paths to the nomination historically go to the early states. Candidates have to win New Hampshire or before that win Iowa. And right now, they`re all focused on that. Ted Cruz apparently is focused on winning Iowa. You hear. And Chris Christie`s one chance to be the nominee of the Republican Party, if he has one, is to win New Hampshire. No candidate was ever won the Republican nomination for president without winning one of these states. However, none of them have ever won both. So, this is a strange situation. It`s very hard. In fact, nobody has ever done it, won both Iowa and New Hampshire. But you damn well have to win one of them or you`re not going to be the nominee. So, I love the math. We`ve got the situation now. Let`s ask Chris Christie, one shot, win New Hampshire. Did he do something last night to advance that goal? JEFF MASON, REUTERS: So, he started last night or one of the bigger moments of the debate was when he looked straight at the camera and said if your eyes are glazing over from what Rubio and Cruz said, then you`re in the same boat as I am -- MATTHEWS: This is like the Frank Underwood aside that comes out of those bozos. Let`s see it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 Senate. I mean, endless about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who have 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 actually knows what they`re doing to make these decisions? (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Anyway -- MASON: See, how does that help him in New Hampshire is the state that likes people that are independent, who like the straight talk that might help him there. MATTHEWS: Jeff Mason of "Reuters". April Ryan, of course, American Urban Radio Networks, of course, Jonathan Capehart in "The Washington Post". I want to go to you, do you think aside, they remind me, you know, of Frank Underwood turning over and saying, you know, "The House of Cards", did you like those clowns? APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Well, but you know what, Frank Underwood also spit on the crucifixion of Jesus and fell down, too. So, let`s go there. But that kind of plays into, I mean, I shouldn`t -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: It`s the roundtable. Do what you want. RYAN: But no, here`s the deal, though. Seriously, and when you -- and it`s interesting that you make that analogy because New Hampshire is state that`s more secular and New Hampshire is a state who is concerned like any other state about issues of terror. And for him to come out there and say, it kind of lessens the Bridgegate issue, but let you know that he`s been poised to know what terror looks like, or at least to know to handle it and persecute. MATTHEWS: Does it work? Did it work for him last night? JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, remember, this wasn`t the first time that Governor Christie has done that whole look at the camera thing. He`s done it at every debate. And I think it`s very effective because he`s leapfrogging the moderators, leapfrogging everybody else in the stage and going right into the person`s living room and saying, look at me, trust me. And I agree completely with you, Jeff, that that`s what he is appealing to the New Hampshire primary voter who values independence, independence from the party -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Let`s go onto Ted Cruz. He might have scored points last night, Cruz did, when he said political correctness is preventing the Obama administration from stopping terrorist attacks. Let`s watch this number. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s not lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. Because of political correctness, the Obama administration, like a lot of folks here, want to search every one`s cell phones and e-mails and not focus on the bad guys and political correctness is killing people. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, there he is saying only go after people who seem like they are from the Middle East or Islamic in some discernible way, and skip everybody else when we check people at airports. That seems to be what he`s saying. I don`t know what else he could be saying. RYAN: Yes, and a lot of those candidates to include Ted Cruz, walked down a very dangerous path last night. They even called it out. It`s a religious war basically saying it`s -- MATTHEWS: We`re talking Iowa. Does this help in Iowa? RYAN: Iowa is a very savvy group of voters, OK? MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) RYAN: They`re very savvy, and, of course, they`re very politically aware. They know what they heard. MATTHEWS: They picked Santorum last time. They picked Robertson -- RYAN: But you know what? Yes, they did. MATTHEWS: They picked Huckabee. RYAN: But they`re very savvy, but they listen to the issue. They listen to the issues, not necessarily the person. And what he did is showed he was -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: The theory that what he`s doing is selling nativism. RYAN: He showed he was a fighter, whether you like or not. MATTHEWS: What he`s doing there is selling nativism. We don`t want to focus on the white people basically. We want to focus on people that seem foreign in some way. They`re the ones we should focus on. That`s nativism. CAPEHART: Well, right. What do Santorum, Cruz and one other name you mentioned earlier, what do they all have in common? The language that they use, Huckabee, the language they use in their campaign is red hot. It`s so red hot, it goes it comes up to the line -- in terms of Huckabee, it goes over the line. That apparently works in Iowa. Yes, there`s Iowa nice but the Iowa nice only relates to in between candidates. They don`t want -- (CROSSTALK) HUCKABEE: Why do you home school your kids? The keep them away from the influences. MASON: He`s taking page out of Donald Trump`s book there, too, because he`s saying basically -- Trump is succeeding with this attack on political correctness. I`m going to keep doing that too. That`s going to help -- MATTHEWS: OK, speaking of Trump -- RYAN: The reason was Lindsey Graham last night, I hate to say it. MATTHEWS: I didn`t catch the early act. RYAN: He called out to George W. Bush saying he missed him. That was something different. But he also said that this is -- we shouldn`t go down this road. This is not a religious war. This is -- you shouldn`t just lump everybody together. MATTHEWS: Maybe it is in Iowa. Let`s take a look at Donald Trump`s body language. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I thought he really hurt himself in a comic way last night with his multiple occasions he made grimaces, and he was making these weird faces, he`s mugging the camera. Let`s take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He gets his foreign policy experience from the shows. SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you`re going to kill the families of terrorists. BUSH: We need to have a leader that`s real tough. (BOOS) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who would be -- I just can`t imagine somebody booing. BUSH: This is -- this is troubling because we`re at war. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: It`s John McEnroe stuff from tennis days. That just the thing he used to do when he didn`t like the call. CAPEHART: Right. But, you know, we`ve seen the faces since the first day. RYAN: Exactly. CAPEHART: The act hasn`t exchanged. If you look at the other candidates on the stage, they`re acts have changed. They`ve got -- MATTHEWS: Does that help him or hurt him? CAPEHART: What, those faces? I eventually think it hurts him. MATTHEWS: Eventually, what year? (LAUGHTER) CAPEHART: I`ve gotten out of Trump predictions. MASON: It`s not hurt him at all. It`s part of his shtick. It`s part of his thing. (CROSSTALK) RYAN: It`s that confidence and that arrogance. MATTHEWS: What? RYAN: It`s that confidence and that arrogance that people love. MATTHEWS: The bully. The bully is on your side, it`s one thing. But it`s a bully against you. We`ve got to decide that. That`s the voters` decision. The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, tell me something I don`t know. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: President Obama plans to meet with relatives of the San Bernardino shooting victims. The president will meet privately with family members this Friday. That`s a couple of days from now before heading to Hawaii for his Christmas vacation out there with his family. The December 2nd attack left 14 people dead and more than 20 others wounded. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable -- Jonathan. CAPEHART: So, wedged in the omnibus -- MATTHEWS: Tell me something I don`t know. CAPEHART: Well, here`s what you don`t know, Chris -- wedged in the omnibus bill is $750 million for security and development for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And why is that significant? Remember in the summer of 2014, 50,000 unaccompanied minors streaming over the south border largely coming from those countries. MATTHEWS: To make it easier for them to say. CAPEHART: Yes. RYAN: Somebody that you don`t want to talk about too much, but I`m going to talk about it, Dr. Ben Carson. There was a lot of talk in the Baltimore, about a lot of people wanting to go to Dr. Carson when he was a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, and they were saying they couldn`t see him. And I kept asking why, and then I found out to ask him. He said he had a cash-only business for two years. Cash only, meaning, he served -- MATTHEWS: No insurance, no Medicare. RYAN: And people who could afford it were the ones that could go there. MATTHEWS: Pay for service. RYAN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Go ahead. MASON: Also in that spending bill, for decades, the United States has not been allowed or oil producers are not allowed to export U.S. crude. The White House has opposed that for a long, long time. And now, that`s part of the bill and the White House is removing its opposition or it`s going to -- MATTHEWS: What`s that going to do to gas prices? MASON: It probably won`t do anything because oil is so low. But it`s interesting the president is now backing off on that. It may create problems for him with environmentalists after having -- MATTHEWS: OK, I thought we`re going for energy independence. We don`t give it away. Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Capehart, thank you, sir. Thank you, April Ryan. And thank you, Jeff Mason of "Reuters". When we return, let me finish with the worst thing anyone said in last night`s debate, I think, and I think I`m right. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the worst thing anyone said in last night`s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, the fight before Christmas, if will you. There was no doubt about it, Chris Christie`s call to shoot down Russian planes over Syria. We got through the 20th century by one simple rule: don`t go to war with the Russians. That rule got us through the anger millions of us felt about the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe following World War II. It got us through many dangerous episodes of Soviet actions during the years of the Cold War -- the killing of an American colonel along the Berlin Wall, the downing of a Korean passenger airliner. These in addition to the larger wars fought with surrogates, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and most dangerously, this practice of not attacking the Russians got us through the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which would have gone nuclear. Chris Christie has either never picked up a history book, never read the newspaper growing up, and this is the worst possible assessment of what he said, there`s not now care about the future safety of this country or the world we share with others. I hope the Russian people know that the American people are sane enough to keep Christie in Trenton where the only damage he can do is local. And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END