Show: HARDBALL Date: January 4, 2016 Guest: Heidi Przybyla, David Drucker, David Yepsen, Robert Costa, Dan Gross, Megan Murphy, Jay Newton-Small
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: It`s 2016, and HARDBALL has come to Iowa and to Hillary Clinton.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in Des Moines, where a pitched battle is on right now between the two party front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Clinton accuses Trump of a penchant for sexism. Trump says this makes Bill Clinton fair game. All this is preview to my sit-down interview tomorrow night with Secretary Clinton, her first of 2016.
Well, the Iowa caucuses are now exactly four weeks away, and the two biggest forces in American politics today each is taking the stage tonight. Donald Trump is about to speak at a campaign rally in Massachusetts. Hillary Clinton is here in Des Moines already holding a town hall. NBC`s Katy Tur joins us from Trump`s rally in Massachusetts.
But first, Donald Trump has launched an assault on the Clintons. In interviews with Fox, CBS and CNN, Trump went after Hillary Clinton`s husband.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She`s got a problem. She`s married to a person that`s a serious abuser. And I mean, at the highest level. And she -- you know, she`s not an innocent victim. She was the one that would go along with him in this whole game that they play. She`s not, like, the innocent person sitting by the side, and you know, with tears in her eyes.
I`m the only one that`s willing to talk about his problems. I mean, what he did and what he has gone through, I think, is frankly terrible, especially if she wants to play the woman card.
She`s got one of the great women abusers of all time sitting at her house, waiting for her to come home.
I don`t really care about Monica Lewinsky other than I think that, you know, Hillary was an enabler and a lot of things happened that were, you know, obviously very seedy. I mean, he was impeached, for heaven`s sake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s attacks came as candidate Clinton brought Bill Clinton into the campaign for the first time.
Here`s what he told NBC`s Andrea Mitchell while working the rope line up in New Hampshire after a rally there for Hillary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: How do you feel about the kind of campaign Donald Trump is running, sir?
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republicans will have to decide who`s going to be nominated. How I feel is only relevant with respect to (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you.
BILL CLINTON: We`re trying to win a primary (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, and here`s what Hillary Clinton told crowds here in Iowa when she was asked to respond to one of Trump`s attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`ve adopted a new year`s resolution.
(LAUGHTER AND CHEERS)
H. CLINTON: I`m going to let him live in his alternative reality, and I`m not going to respond.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Katy Tur, that`s interesting because, you know, it seems like Trump responded to the charge that he had a penchant for sexism. Those were the words used by Secretary Clinton. And now the Clintons decided enough, I guess, of this back and forth. They`re not continuing the volleying here.
KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, but I don`t think they`re going to be able to ignore it for as long as they may want to ignore it. Jeb Bush tried to ignore Trump earlier on, Marco Rubio did, John Kasich. They`ve all tried to ignore Donald Trump.
But the problem with that is they may not need to directly respond to him, but reporters continue to ask them about this when they are on rope lines and they have media availabilities. And so they can`t quite avoid responding to them, even if they`d like to.
And also, he`s just so loud. He has such a platform right now. He gets national media attention. He`s out there -- he`s tweeting to more than five million followers, and those are resonating across the social media sphere for their outrageousness at some points. So they`re not going to be able to ignore him the entire time, as much as they may want to.
And they realize that this is in some ways a sore point for them, a weakness for them, the idea that Bill Clinton is not as much of an asset as Hillary Clinton may want him to be, bringing up his past infidelities, his past problems, also bringing the Clinton Foundation into it and the money that they take for speeches, and the questioning what ties they have from all that. So as much as they want to ignore Donald Trump, I don`t think they have much of a choice. They`re going to have to respond at some point.
MATTHEWS: How does this fit into Trump and what he`s up to with the paid media campaign now in Iowa? Does it look to you like he`s trying to win Iowa now? He`s not going to let, you know, Cruz win one and then he comes back in New Hampshire?
TUR: I think that he`s trying to win Iowa, certainly. I think his ground game in Iowa is formidable. Remember, he has Sam Clovis on his team there. He has Chuck Laudner. Chuck Laudner drove Rick Santorum all around the state last cycle and drove him essentially to the win. So they do know Iowa politics. They know what they`re doing. To count Trump out would be unwise.
But Ted Cruz is very popular there. He got the endorsement of the Family Leader. He got the endorsement of all the evangelicals out there. So he is a formidable candidate.
But Donald Trump may still want to win Iowa, may still be trying to win Iowa, but he is already trying to lay the groundwork for a potential loss out there saying that the media is hyping it up too much, that if he does lose by a couple of points, it`s not that big of a deal, he`ll take it in stride and he`ll move on to the next state.
Whether that will work for him remains to be seen. He has been campaigning this entire time on being a winner. And if he loses Iowa, he essentially is, at least in Iowa, a loser out there. And how that will change his position in the mind of his supporters, we`ll have to find out.
I don`t think it`ll be that big of a deal if he loses Iowa. I think if he loses by a couple points and moves on to New Hampshire, he`ll be fine. But I do think he`s laying the groundwork because he does know that it`s going to be a really hard state to take away from Ted Cruz.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, NBC`s Katy Tur out there. Stay with us a moment, if you can.
Hillary Clinton was heckled during a rally in New Hampshire this weekend by a Republican state representative who told reporters she wanted to ask Hillary about allegations against her husband, Hillary`s husband. It was quite a scene. Let`s watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.CLINTON: I`m not going to take your question because other people have been -- yes, right there. And we`ll bring you a microphone. Here you go. There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
H.CLINTON: OK, let me see. Right back there, this man right there is...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
H.CLINTON: Here we go, right there.
You are very rude, and I`m not going to ever call on you. Thank you.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: Well, Heidi Przybyla is the senior political reporter with "USA Today" and David Drucker`s a senior correspondent with "The Washington Examiner."
Well, let`s talk about this thing, Heidi, and this question. If Hillary Clinton takes a shot at Trump and says he`s got a penchant for sexism, he comes back and goes after Bill Clinton. Then the Clintons apparently have this strategy now that they`re to let it go at that.
Does that mean they made a mistake in going after Trump in that way because Trump`s now going back and calling Hillary Clinton an enabler? I`ve never heard anybody say that about her. This is pretty personal and I would think over the line, that she`s some kind of enabler of her husband. I don`t think anybody`s ever said she had anything to do with Monica Lewinsky.
What do you think of this? This is really personal, and I don`t know how Trump can walk back and say, Well, that`s just campaigning. It was a direct personal shot at her.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": It`s not a mistake, Chris, because if you remember the origination of all this was over Hillary Clinton criticizing Trump over ISIS, and his counterpunch was then to go after Hillary Clinton about her bathroom break and the "schlonging" comment. And then that`s where the "penchant for sexism" came up. So it`s been this volley that I think was almost unavoidable.
But if you are asking about the Clinton campaign`s approach to this, I think they`ve made clear they are not going to respond to specific attacks and get in the mud on Monica Lewinsky or any other of the women from Bill Clinton`s past, but they are going to comment on his tactics.
And you know, Bill Clinton did that today. We -- you played back the clip of Andrea Mitchell, but there were later comments that he made basically insinuating that Donald Trump is just trying to, you know, change the narrative, steal the election, whatever have you.
But you know what, Chris? Part of their strategy is also to have other people point out -- which I`m really surprised hasn`t been pointed out yet -- which is that here`s Donald Trump trying to make the argument that, Hey, I`m not the sexist, Bill Clinton`s a sexist. But in so doing, he`s making an inherently sexist argument that Hillary Clinton is somehow to blame for her husband`s infidelities.
And you`re already seeing -- starting to see women from all political stripes speak out on this. And you know, it`s just something that I don`t think sits very well with all women.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to David Drucker on that because the decision to bring Clinton into the campaign was interesting, to do it in the very beginning of the year. Was it considered to be a helpful -- bringing a bit of a joy to the campaigning? Clinton is sort of the happy warrior. And Hillary`s been a little more of -- you know, more of a trudge do far, not as delightful as Bill Clinton is as a campaigner so far.
Was it to bring joy into the campaign? And if so, is that going to work?
DAVID DRUCKER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, look, I think Bill Clinton`s one of the more natural communicators and more happy, just quite frankly, talented campaigners that we`ve seen.
DRUCKER: And Hillary just isn`t any good at it. She`s just not. She -- there are a lot of selling points for her presidency. Her ability to communicate to people and get people to like her are not among them.
And so I think you bring Bill Clinton in now because you want to check the box and not take the primary for granted. You want to lay the groundwork for the general election. And so I think that if she can use Bill Clinton properly -- and it`s a little bit delicate because he`s not just the ex-president, he`s her husband -- then he can be a major asset in the way that he was for President Obama in 2012.
But it is a little dicey because she wants to be her own person. And this is -- you know, I think this is the first time where the first spouse will be a former president, and a pretty formidable one at that. And so it`s a lot trickier for her than it was for him when he ran.
And remember, Chris, that famous line, "two for the price of one." And then he had to make clear, Well, look, I`m the only president. I`m going to be making the decisions here. And so in a sense, it`s reverse for her, but a little bit trickier.
MATTHEWS: I want to go back to Heidi, and then I`m going to go back to Katy Tur on this. You know, for Donald Trump -- I guess I`ve been following politics as well as anybody out there, including all you guys, and I have never heard anybody go after Hillary Clinton and say she`s an enabler. Nobody`s ever blamed her for Monica. She was shocked by Monica, and I believe that story that she had no idea something like that was going on in the White House. And she was hurt by it. People could see the hurt in her face, what it had done to her.
Why would -- why would this Trump guy say go out and say that somehow, she was in cahoots with this whole mess? I don`t get that as even a reasonably honest statement. I just don`t see that.
TUR: I understand where he`s coming from. I think his supporters don`t like Hillary Clinton. They don`t see her as a human figure. They see her as somebody who is divisive. They see her as the enemy, almost, some of them. They don`t -- they`re not going to vote for her. They`re not going to feel sorry for her in this instance.
So you talk about -- you bring her name up out here at his rallies, they say Hillary for jail time. They`ve vitriolic in their anger towards her in the same way that they`re vitriolic in their anger towards President Obama.
There`s not a lot of sympathy or empathy for her I think now or even from back then, especially now since it`s been so long after all that. The humanity she may have shown after it, the shock, the sadness isn`t in the top of their memory any longer. Now there`s just a lot of anger and there`s a lot of divisiveness that he`s playing off of.
And Donald Trump, I don`t think you should be surprised by him saying anything or crossing any line. I think he`s proven time and time again that there is no line for him, that he`s willing to say anything, he`s willing to go there when nobody else is willing to there.
TUR: We saw it with the proposed Muslim ban. We saw it with calling Secretary of State John Kerry a -- a -- it`s just -- I`m sorry -- calling Secretary John Kerry a -- a -- a putz a few months ago. He`s calling for the execution of Bowe Bergdahl. I mean, he says things that nobody else will say -- calling John McCain not a war hero.
TUR: So the idea that this has gone too far or this is not something that you should say is just -- it doesn`t hold water with Trump any longer, He`s willing to go there when no one else is. And his supporters don`t mind it. They don`t mind it at all.
MATTHEWS: OK. Katy, thank you so much for giving us that report from Massachusetts.
Let`s go back to Heidi for just one second. Heidi, you are on to something here. Women will react to this in what way? Because I do believe that anyone who covered that whole situation in `98, left, right or center, knew that Hillary Clinton was shocked by it, knew that she was overwhelmed by the horror of the whole thing, humiliated by it, you might say. Of course, she came back strong and showed her resolve and went out and campaigned for Chuck Schumer and (INAUDIBLE) build her own political career.
But she was able to do that through strength. But nobody I`ve ever heard has ever said see was an enabler of Monica Lewinsky. It`s -- it`s beyond indecent, I think. Your thoughts.
PRZYBYLA: Chris, look at when Hillary Clinton -- over the lifetime of her career in the public eye, when her approval ratings were the highest. They peaked when she was secretary of state. And another time when they were very high was when she was going through all of that because, exactly like you said, people really believed that she was a woman who had been betrayed by her husband in the most public of ways. And the sympathy meter went up for her.
So I think that Trump has to be very careful here over the long haul if he`s going to make this a continuing theme. I think he`s facing a bit of a quandary, frankly, because his whole campaign has been really built around and skyrocketed off of personal attacks. You know, Jeb is low testosterone.
PRZYBYLA: Rubio is sweaty. Well, he tried it on Hillary the other week with the bathroom break comments, which I think even some of his supporters thought wasn`t very tasteful, and it didn`t work quite so effectively.
So he`s struggling. So up persona -- he made some personal attacks on Bill. And I think he`s going to have to, if he makes it into a general election, find out a way to attack her on issues because it just doesn`t work as well against his Republican -- as it does against his Republican male competitors.
MATTHEWS: And by the way, just to make the point clear here, it wasn`t just sympathy for Hillary. I think the way she showed her strength after that whole incident and the way that she put herself together, dealt with the situation, carried on as a partisan and came on as much more of an independent political figure than she had been before.
MATTHEWS: A lot of strength was shown there. Anyway, thank you, Heidi Przybyla. Thank you so much, David Drucker. More with you next time.
And a reminder HARDBALL has the first interview of 2016 with Hillary Clinton tomorrow night. We want you to know what you have to ask us. Give us some ideas. Tweet us your questions using the hashtag #HRConHardball -- #HRConHardball -- or send us your questions via Facebook. Find us at Facebook.com/hardball.
Coming up -- the all-out battle for Iowa. Ted Cruz has the edge, of course, right now, for now. But Trump`s on the attack, as we said, against the senator from Texas and he thinks he can beat Cruz in Iowa. Could Trump be out to take Cruz out early in this campaign? If he knocks him out in Iowa, Cruz is in real trouble.
Plus -- President Obama`s making good on his promise to act on gun safety with or without the Congress. His big move today has sparked a big fight from the right.
And my interview with Hillary Clinton, as I said, her first of the new year. Big question. What`s her answer to the rise of Donald Trump? And what`s her alternative to what he`s been promising?
Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the revolution erupting in the Republican Party right now.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m here in Des Moines this week, and of course, tonight we`re just 28 days away from the Iowa caucuses. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls out here, Hillary Clinton has a 13-point lead over her rival, Bernie Sanders, here in Iowa. She averages 50 percent support in the latest Iowa polling, with Sanders at 37 percent and Martin O`Malley at 6.
But let`s not forget she had a big national lead over Barack Obama heading into Iowa eight years ago. I`ll be speaking with Hillary Clinton tomorrow night about her Iowa prospects in my exclusive interview at 7:00 PM Eastern here on HARDBALL.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two weeks ago, every candidate in the field, or just about every candidate in the field, was attacking Donald Trump. Now just about every candidate in the Republican field is attacking me. I guess something has changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, Senator Ted Cruz earlier today as part of his six-day, 28-stop bus tour through Iowa this week. With just 28 days until the caucuses, Cruz still leads the pack in the Hawkeye State with 31 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls.
Trump is in a close second with 27 percent. And Marco Rubio is a distant third at 12 percent. Well, despite holding his fire against Cruz in the past, it appears that Trump is now trying to undercut him on immigration policy.
Here is Trump yesterday on "Face the Nation."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was watching the other day, and I was watching Ted talk, and he said, we will build a wall, the first time I have ever heard him say it.
And my wife, who was sitting next to me, said, "Oh, look, he`s copying what you have been saying for a long period of time."
Ted Cruz is trying to step up his whole game on amnesty and on illegal immigration, because it was actually quite weak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Trump was also asked about his past statements questioning whether evangelicals like Cruz can come from Cuba. Here`s Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")
JOHN DICKERSON, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": When you say about Senator Cruz not too many evangelicals come out of the Cuba, what does that mean?
TRUMP: Well, it just means that Cuba, generally speaking, is a Catholic country. And you don`t equate evangelicals with Cuba. I don`t.
I think of evangelicals, and I have a -- I guess I am. I`m Presbyterian. I`m Protestant. But I don`t see it as coming out of Cuba.
DICKERSON: But you`re not questioning whether -- as far as you know he could be more devout than you are.
TRUMP: It`s possible. Certainly, it`s possible. I`m not questioning. And I say it in a somewhat smiling manner, but there`s a little truth to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today, NBC`s Hallie Jackson asked Cruz about that attack. Take a look at what he said then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: Oh, listen, politicians behave a certain way when they`re panicking and they engage in attacks. They engage in personal attacks. That`s human nature. I understand that. I`m not going to get drawn into that muck.
I`m going to keep -- I`m going to keep the focus on the issues that matter. The reason everyone`s attacking is because conservatives are uniting. And that scares them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by NBC`s Hallie Jackson, as well as David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, and former political editor, of course, of "The Des Moines Register."
Let me go to Hallie first of all, that interview there.
The use of the word panic, I think, is interesting there. Does he think he can than spin that word into reality, that somehow Trump is panicked by Ted Cruz?
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that may be the spin that the Cruz campaign and frankly other campaign would want to talk about here in Iowa, that maybe Donald Trump is panicked.
But, at this point, let`s look at what we have seen from Donald Trump in the past. Yes, he is losing in the polls here. He looks poised to not win. And his whole campaign is built on winning. But what has Trump talked about at his rallies? What has he said in interviews? He said if I lose by a couple of points, people are going to say it`s a big deal. Whatever. He sort of blows it off.
He talks about the fact that he is still winning, as he says, 49 other states, that he still has a strong showing in places like New Hampshire.
MATTHEWS: But if he gets beaten in Iowa, if Trump actually beats Cruz in Iowa four weeks from today, really beats him, it is death for Cruz.
MATTHEWS: If he can`t win out here among the homeschoolers and the fellow evangelicals, where can he win?
JACKSON: And that`s the thing, Chris.
We talked about this. I asked the senator about this exact topic. And he said, we don`t consider any state a must-win. He said to me that Iowa is not a must-win state for him. And, frankly, that`s I think raising a lot of eyebrows amongst political observers, because if he doesn`t win Iowa, I think it`s tough to see a path where he then does pick up enough momentum to do well in New Hampshire and to pick South Carolina and so on, even if he does have a strong showing in the SEC primary states.
Those states, as you know, don`t exist in a vacuum come March. They are going to be influenced by what happens in February too. So, surprising to me that Cruz doesn`t consider this a must-win or at least is not publicly talking about it as a must-win. But it is clearly a state where he is investing a ton of resources and a ton of time, as we`re seeing this week on his 28-county bus tour.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s possible that when Trump refers to Senator Cruz as coming from Cuba, his father did, he didn`t, that he somehow -- he was born in Canada, actually -- that somehow that is going to be part of the immigration problem to the people that are anti-immigrant? Oh, this guy is coming from Cuba, remember? Remember? He is one of them. He`s one of those people that came here from another country.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me that`s a pretty obvious shot by Trump at Cruz`s background, maybe trying to include him among the immigrants that they don`t like.
JACKSON: And we have seen this before, Chris, Trump doing these sort of insinuations attacks. It`s not the necessarily blunt force over the head that we sometimes see from Donald Trump.
It`s that sort of low-level insinuation about something. But I`ll tell you what might be an effective way for the Cruz campaign to combat this, is to bring out Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz`s father, who is Cuban, who is popular among evangelicals. He`s a pastor. He goes around speaking to churches and speaking to evangelicals on his own campaigning for his son and could be an effective tool to bat back any of those attacks against Trump, whether they be insinuated or outright.
MATTHEWS: Well, he is from Cuba. Interesting how the whole thing is going to develop.
Anyway, "The Washington Post"`s Robert Costa is with us now. He has just interviewed Donald Trump before his campaign rally up in Massachusetts, where Katy Tur has been.
What do you got for us, Robert? What do you know about this big ad campaign -- we`re going to watch a bit of it in a moment -- that Trump has decided? It`s basically saying what he says on the stump, but he`s doing it with paying for it by a buck and a quarter. He`s spending $1.25 million this week just in Iowa. Is he going to try to knock off Cruz in Iowa? Is that what`s going on here?
ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He is. He thinks he can close the gap with Cruz in Iowa. He thinks Iowa is within sight. His whole strategy is to try to get a big bounce out of Iowa and then sweep into New Hampshire and down to South Carolina.
He`s been reviewing ads for the past 24 hours. He was in high spirits backstage. He thinks the ad campaign right now has gotten a lot of attention in the press and he thinks it can help him control this message on the airwaves.
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at it. Hang in there, Robert. Here it is.
It all comes with this debut of this TV ad of the campaign, the first one that Trump`s ever paid for, highlighting his policies on immigration and terrorism, including his controversial proposed Muslim ban. It`s set to run in Iowa and New Hampshire starting tomorrow. Here`s a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: The politicians can pretend it`s something else, but Donald Trump calls it radical Islamic terrorism. That`s why he is calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out what`s going on. He will quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he will stop illegal immigration by building a wall in our southern border that Mexico will pay for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, PolitiFact today pointed out that the footage used to show Mexicans crossing the southern border of the United States was actually filmed by an Italian television network in Morocco in North Africa.
Anyway, on the decision to use that footage, Trump`s campaign manager told NBC -- no expletive right there, of course. We can`t say what he said. "It`s not the Mexican border, but that is what our country is going to look like. This was 1000 percent on purpose."
They later put out a more official statement on that regard.
Robert, why didn`t they use all kinds of footage which is available from our network and elsewhere that has watched people running across the border, our southern border from Mexico? Why would they choose to use the other picture from Morocco? Why would you do it on purpose?
COSTA: Trump told me, Chris, he had two key aims with this ad. It wasn`t so much about the images, but the images had to be bleak. They had to be dark, almost apocalyptic, to paint a picture of the United States and the way he views the United States and where it`s trending, and that he wanted to make sure he had some rally footage to really capture what he thinks is his energy at these events.
That was his goal. It was not so much about getting U.S. footage or news footage.
Well, let`s go to David Yepsen right now.
And I`m not sure where this kind of phony baloney ad campaign, where you throw in something from North Africa and you say this is what it looks like at the border with Mexico, I don`t know why you -- I honestly -- if I were Trump, I would be running around trying to fire somebody. I wouldn`t be saying what a great idea to show "Casablanca" scenes here to make my point, David.
DAVID YEPSEN, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY: Well, I don`t know why he did that either. But I call it artistic license.
I do have to say, I don`t hear a lot of Iowa Republicans going around today saying, oh, my goodness, Trump has a hokey TV ad, PolitiFact didn`t like it, so we are not going to be for Donald Trump. I think it`s a little blip.
MATTHEWS: You think it`s a blip.
Well, let me ask you about Trump. Do you think he is going for the win out here in Iowa? No more of this I will take the loss, I can get by the homeschoolers and evangelicals, I will go back to where the more mainstream conservatives live in New Hampshire?
YEPSEN: Yes, I think he is going for the win here. And I think that explains a lot of what he`s been doing out on the stump.
Ted Cruz has two main legs to his campaign, Tea Partiers and evangelicals. And these comments that Donald Trump has made in the last few days are designed to try to kick those legs out from under or at least take part of those Tea Partiers back, take a back part of those evangelicals.
And getting into it with Bill and Hillary Clinton, that is great red meat for -- especially for Tea Party Republicans. So, all Trump is doing, in my estimation, is designed to try to get him back in a better position here in Iowa.
Yes, he`s down by four points, or five points. That is margin of error stuff in these polls. Most Iowa Republicans are either undecided or they say they could be persuaded to change their mind. This race, yes, it`s only 20-some days to go, but it has a long way to go in the minds of some Republicans who have yet to make up their minds.
MATTHEWS: What about this reference by Trump to -- about Cruz being a family from Cuba? Are there many evangelicals out in Iowa who have Hispanic backgrounds?
YEPSEN: There are some. They`re not a substantial part of the electorate in Iowa.
I think you have to be careful about dragging somebody`s father in and questioning the sincerity of their religious faith, because that can really backfire. And the suggestion has been made here that Ted Cruz might send his father out here to say a few things to evangelicals in Iowa.
So, I think Trump has to be careful how he uses that. He`s obviously trying to get at the immigration issue and Cruz`s base in the evangelical community. That`s what he`s trying to do. We will see how that works.
MATTHEWS: OK. Great. Thank you very much, David Yepsen, expert out here, Hallie Jackson, as always, covering the campaign of Ted Cruz, and Robert Costa, my friend from "The Washington Post," with that update from Trump himself.
Up next, with no willingness from Congress to act, President Obama goes it alone, announcing executive actions on gun safety reforms. He is doing it today. But the moves are sure to trigger fire from the right.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country. It`s not going to prevent every mass shooting. It`s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal. It will potentially save lives in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Obama, of course, in the Oval Office earlier today announcing he is poised to take executive action on gun control. The White House says he will reveal details in his speech tomorrow morning, but he promises his actions would be legal and would respect the Second Amendment in the Constitution.
Well, Republicans immediately went on the attack against President Obama for his effort to curb gun violence. Here is Donald Trump and Ted Cruz both.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, pretty soon, you won`t be able to get guns. It`s another step in the way of not getting guns.
So, he is going to sign an executive order having to do with the Second Amendment, having to do with guns. I will veto that. I will un- sign that so fast.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CRUZ: I fully intend to delight in rescinding whatever illegal and unconstitutional executive actions President Obama takes to try to undermine our right to keep and bear arms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, even after those horrific mass shootings of 2015, the year that just ended, like the Charleston church killings and the attack at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, polls show President Obama has a tough sell increasing gun control laws. Joining me right now is senior NBC White House correspondent Chris Jansing, and Dan Gross, a gun control advocate and president of the Brady Campaign.
Dan, I will get to you in a minute. I want to go to Chris.
Politically, I look at Hillary Clinton and it shows a lot of guts, a profile in courage, if you will, to be talking about gun safety in a presidential election year, because states like Pennsylvania, lots of gun owners up there, lots of hunters, lots of NRA people. You have got people in Ohio and Kentucky and states that she will need to carry like Ohio and Virginia. It`s a tough one.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
And I think they looked at this on a couple of levels. And the first level is, first and foremost, that they see that the majority of Americans are for commonsense gun reform. So, that means things like closing a little bit or narrowing this gun show loophole, which is one of the -- probably the main thing that the president is going to do of the 10 provisions that he is going to unveil tomorrow.
There obviously is a lot of politics involved in this. You immediately heard Paul Ryan, for example, coming out and saying they are trying to usurp legislative power. You have heard virtually everyone on the campaign trail on the Republican side going after her.
But they think they have got a strong case to make. It`s been a source of frustration for this White House since Newtown that they were not able to get strong gun legislation passed, Hillary Clinton obviously a part of that. And so even though you might not hear her perhaps speak as strongly as we are going to hear from the president tomorrow, the Democrats think that this is a really key issue for their base, and they also think that when sort of the heat of the moment goes by -- and things really did change with San Bernardino, because this was a terror attack, right, very different from what happened in Newtown and some of these other mass shootings.
But they look and they see that the average American, they believe, will support these laws, which are fairly narrow, because, as you know, an executive action does not require congressional approval.
MATTHEWS: Chris Jansing, thank you so much.
Let me go to Dan Gross on this.
Dan, one of the problems that Chris mentioned, they need to keep the heat on. Gun owners, gun rights supporters never seem to change their tune. They are always ready there to defend their rights. They never change the subject even. But a lot of people have other things on their mind. They may have concerns about jobs or inequality of income and all kinds of foreign policy questions.
They occasionally think about gun control and gun safety. How do you keep their minds on that in November?
DAN GROSS, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: That`s really what`s changed.
And, yes, Hillary Clinton being out front talking about this issue and certainly the president`s executive actions tomorrow are indicative of a real tipping point that is happening with the American public. The American public really is coming together, not just after each of these terrible mass shootings, but because of the daily terror that we experience in our country, where 89 people are killed every single day, to say, enough.
The president has used those terms. And, tomorrow, the president is going to demonstrate that he`s had enough. And he is going to take meaningful action. It`s classic how these presidential candidates on the Republican side are coming out criticizing it, saying it`s unconstitutional, without even knowing what it is.
All the president is going to be doing tomorrow is going to be clarifying and enforcing laws that already exist and laws that are focused on keeping guns out of the hands of the people that we all agree shouldn`t have them, and laws that I might add that 93 percent of the American public when it comes to expanding Brady background checks, 93 percent of the American public supports.
So, it appears as though it`s a bold action, but the reality is, if you message this correctly and you show that this is just about keeping guns out of the hands of the people that we all agree should shouldn`t have them, that it`s actually a very politically safe and smart place to be.
Well, you have got to tell that to the members of Congress, because they are very antsy about this stuff.
Thank you so much, Dan Gross, for coming on. Keep up the good work.
GROSS: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ... Clinton vs. Trump. The two front runners take each other on while ignoring their primary rivals. What`s going on? They are acting like -- well, they are acting like they are the nominees. Hillary Clinton may have a leg up on that, but Trump, he`s acting like he`s going against Hillary Clinton. What`s the politics about? We are here in Des Moines live, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWSBREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I want to clarify something that`s personal to me. Every presidential election, people run and believe it or not it`s kind of scary this year -- but believe it or not, most everybody actually tries to do what they say they are going to do when they`re running. They`re telling you what they believe and so you`ve got to take them seriously. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, the great man, former President Bill Clinton today on the stump the first time in his wife`s campaign this year. It follows weeks of attacks by the Republican front-runner Donald Trump. He called the former president fair game and accused him of abuse of women. Those are Trump`s words. Tomorrow, I will sit down with Hillary Clinton here in Iowa, a critical state for her. It`s her first interview of 2016. I`m going to ask her about Trump`s attacks on her and her husband, and does she understand the appeal of Trump for millions of Americans. But also, what Senators Sanders and Rand Paul are saying about her arguing, but left and right, as they`re arguing that she is a political hawk in terms of foreign policy. I`m joined right now by tonight`s HARDBAL roundtable, "Bloomberg`s" Megan Murphy, "Huffington Post" global editorial director Howard Fineman, and "Time Magazine`s" Jay Newton-Small. Let me ask you about this general. I want your all response about. By the way, she wrote` "Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works". Howard, Megan and Jay, all in that order, just tell me what you think this is, this weird thing kind of thing it is where Hillary Clinton made a comment about Trump`s penchant for sexism. Trump went wild on this thing, accusing her of enabling Bill Clinton`s misbehavior in the White House, the whole works. And now, it seems Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are going to shut down this conversation. Megan, you first. MEGAN MURPHY, BLOOMBERG: Look, I think it`s going to help him a lot more it`s going to help her. I mean, one of the things is that her biggest advantage is continuing to look presidential, continuing to sort of stay the above the fray, to set out detailed policy proposals to really target the changing demographics with certain proposals. I think here`s the thing -- you don`t want to bring a knife to a gun fight. If you get into a gun fight with Trump, you are going to lose. He has shown no aptitude for drawing the line anywhere, of drawing the line on taste, to drawing the line of where he`s going to go. And for his base, this plays squarely into it and into those people, which is a large portion of people who just actually can`t stand Hillary Clinton. Anything he says gains some points with them. For her, I think it`s a much more difficult. If she lowers the tone, if her husband who has gone out the first day today lowers the tone, I think it could really start to hurt her in terms of just amount of vitriol he might back on her and where that leads us as this continues on toward Iowa. MATTHEWS: Howard? HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, I think what the Clintons were up to and I talked to some people in their camp is that if people are going to talk about Bill Clinton in a certain framework, they are going to change the framework and they`re going to put Bill Clinton in his best situation, which is Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail making the case for his wife. I think that was the thinking. But I agree normal political calculations about putting Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail in Iowa or New Hampshire which might make sense in another era, in another context, in a less caustic, toxic political environment, I mean, that kind of thinking doesn`t work with Donald Trump. I think if Donald Trump smells weakness or retreat, he`s going to come right after him again. He`s going to try to get under Bill Clinton`s famously thick skin. He`s going to attack Hillary frontally. As Megan said, it`s catnip to Trump supporters and undecided Iowa caucus-goers. The more any Republican beats up on the Clintons, the more they ridicule them, the more they attack them on whatever basis, it`s all bets are off. No rules. That appeals especially to the angry base of the Republican Party. MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Jay Newton-Small on this one another question. Another personal attack besides accusing her of enabling her husband`s misbehavior, he says she doesn`t have the stamp in or strength to be president. Is that ageism, or sexism or what the hell is that? That`s what Nixon did against Helen Douglas back 65 years ago, going after her for being a woman and not being able to take the pace of a campaign. What do we make of that? JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE: Hillary`s entire appeal is to women voters, to female voters, and the more Trump attacks her, the more it actually helps her with female voters because women get really upset by this. They feel personally attacked. MATTHEWS: Republican women? NEWTON-SMALL: Even Republican women with, especially ageism. If you look at -- MATTHEWS: Do they? NEWTON-SMALL: Certainly. Look at the way Carly Fiorina, look at the way, you know, she was the only person who actually got a dent into the Trump and in a debate was when Carly Fiorina went after Trump for his sexist comments. Megyn Kelly, as well. I mean, this is the only place really does suffer is with female voters, even Republican female voters. And this is something if he keeps up the attacks, I think it`s very hard for him to be successful. FINEMAN: Chris, can I also add -- can I also add that Donald Trump is older than Hillary Clinton. MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. FINEMAN: He`s 69, she`s 68. What else could it be but sexist? What else could it be but sexist? MATTHEWS: OK. Well, we`re going to hear that resound, I think. Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us. Up next, they`re going to tell me what I don`t know, and that`s probably a lot. Tell me something I don`t know, coming up. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: As I`ve said, we`ll be interviewing Hillary Clinton here tomorrow night in Iowa. Let me know what you think by the way. What do you think I should be asking the Democratic frontrunner in questionings tomorrow night? Share your questions on Facebook or tweet me using #HRConHardball. Be sure to tune for the show itself tomorrow, 7:00 Eastern, for Hillary Clinton`s first interview of 2016 here on HARDBALL. And we`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back. Megan, tell me something I don`t know. MURPHY: Get ready for the ballot of who can be tougher on Wall Street. Bernie Sanders going to release his financial reform plan tomorrow. It`s going to focus not just on breaking up the big banks but being tougher on fines, penalties and sanctions against the big banks. MATTHEWS: Well, that`s going to be a big one. Howard? FINEMAN: I`m going to stick with Bernie Sanders, Chris. I was talking to one of his top people a little while ago. They`re flush with money. They`ve got almost as much money as Hillary does. They`re already buying ads in states such as Nevada. They`re big in Nevada, which is going to be an early and important state. They`re in it for the long haul and they`re planning for that. MATTHEWS: I sense a comeback there. Jay? NEWTON-SMALL: Well, in my interview with Hillary Clinton for my book last year, I asked what foreign leader she`d most like to resemble if she were elected president and she said Angela Merkel. Let`s look forward to an America that looks like Germany? (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: OK. Anyway, thank you, Megan Murphy, Howard Fineman, and Jay Newton-Small. By the way, your book, "Broad Influence," comes into bookstores tomorrow morning early. Get there and get the book. We`ll be right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this remarkable campaign year of 2016. The Republican Party seems to be coming apart at the seams. The people doing well in the polls, Trump and Cruz, are running against the party itself. The person who personifies the Republican Party establishment, the son and brother of a Republican president, Jeb Bush, is getting low single digits. My sense is there`s revolution in the air. Remember the French revolution when anyone with even a taint of the aristocracy had their heads chopped off? It`s like that today in the Republican Party. The only candidates that are trusted enough, the only ones getting any good numbers in the polls are the ones who have never held any public office whatsoever. The people in trouble are those who have held office. Their resumes are being treated like rap sheets. They are the ones being marched to the guillotine. I think there`s a good chance that no establishment candidate, no Bush, no Rubio, no Kasich, no Christie will win a single caucus or primary -- certainly none of the important early ones. And that is a statement of what voters in the Republican Party think of the party. That the only people getting any respect are those running on their lack of respect for the party. And that`s HARDBALL for now. It really is. And 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