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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/11/2016

Guests: Abby Phillip, Nomiki Konst, Liz Mair, Ann Coulter

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 11, 2016 Guest: Abby Phillip, Nomiki Konst, Liz Mair, Ann Coulter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Is Ted Cruz an immigrant?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

What`s the worst thing a guy like Donald Trump can call you? How about illegal immigrant? Is that roughly what he`s calling Ted Cruz, an immigrant trying legally to become president? Is he saying that the Canadian-born Cruz who came down here from Calgary is running for president even though the Constitution says you have to be natural born to serve in the country`s highest office?

Think Trump doesn`t have an issue here? I`ll give you three reasons -- or actually, three people who think he might -- Laurence Tribe, the country`s top liberal constitutional expert, who calls the question of Cruz`s eligibility to the presidency murky, Iowa governor Terry Branstad and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

So Trump may have something. Facts matter. President Obama was born in Honolulu, the state of Hawaii, which is part of the U.S. Cruz was born in Calgary, the province of Alberta, which is part of Canada.

NBC`s Katy Tur is in Manchester, New Hampshire, tonight. Robert Costa is national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Hallie Jackson is NB -- MSN -- actually, NBC News correspondent.

Well, Donald Trump zeroed in this weekend and today on the issue of Cruz`s Canadian birth. Here he goes.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz has a real cloud hanging over his head! So the question is, is Ted Cruz -- is he a natural born citizen?

If he was born in Canada, whether we like it, don`t like it, he lived there, he was there, he was born in Canada.

He has to solve this problem because the Democrats will sue him if he`s the nominee.

You can`t have a person running for office -- even though Ted is very glib and he goes out and he says, Well, I`m a natural born citizen -- the point is, you`re not!

You can`t have a nominee who`s going to be subject who be thrown out as the nominee. You just can`t do it! I`m sure Ted is thrilled that I`m helping him out, but I am.


TRUMP: I am. I mean, he`s got to go and he`s got to fix it.


MATTHEWS: As I said, Iowa`s governor, Terry Branstad, gave Trump`s attack more action- oxygen today, telling reporters, When you run for president of the United States, any question is fair game. So let the people decide.

Well, Robert -- no, let`s go to Katy Tur on this and see how this is working out in the country here. You know, you don`t want to cause questions about whether the other side is going to be able to have litigation against your candidate if you nominate him. I guess that`s the way he`s going to play this, knowing the Democrats are not going to get a prior review from the Supreme Court and they`re certainly not going to try to get one because they`ll probably enjoy this if it comes their way.

If Cruz is the nominee, they`ll play the same game, the same way Republicans used Willie Horton after Al Gore brought it up. I mean, people play the same weapon. If it`s thrown to them, they use it. Go ahead.

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And they`re going to let the Republicans fight amongst themselves because they only think it`s going to hurt both of the candidates.

And Donald Trump -- what he`s doing is he`s casting doubt. He`s trying to raise questions about Ted Cruz, whether or not he`s eligible, make voters think, Oh, no, maybe I don`t want to vote for him because there`s going to be issues down the line.

Whether this works for him remains to be seen. He did get big cheers in Reno over the weekend and he got some cheers today in New Hampshire for this line of attack. Remember, we said he was testing it out in the press last week to see how it would play, how conservative commentators would regard it. And so far, it seemed like they were OK with that line of attack.

I`m not so sure it`s going to work in a place like Iowa, where Ted Cruz has that strong base of evangelical support.


TUR: I`m not sure this is enough of an argument for them to change their minds about Ted Cruz and go to Donald Trump.

Right now, Iowa is the state for Ted Cruz to lose, in many ways, although if there is a larger turnout, Donald Trump certainly is favored to win there, if that is the case.

But a place like New Hampshire, a place certainly like Nevada, potentially even a place like South Carolina, I think this line of questioning will eventually -- potentially, I should say, work for Donald Trump in casting the doubt in voters` mind whether or not they think that he will be a sure enough bet to beat the Democratic nominee when Donald Trump is saying, I`m here. I`m strong. I can beat Hillary. I`m stronger than Hillary. I can beat Bernie. I`m stronger than Bernie.

So what he wants to do is, essentially, Chris,is just make voters question Ted Cruz.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and of course, Trump has a great advantage. He was born in New York City, in Queens, actually, not in Alberta.

Anyway, Senator Cruz responded to questions about Trump`s attack this weekend. Let`s watch him.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand that a lot of candidates in the field are dismayed. They`re dismayed because they`re seeing conservatives uniting behind our campaign. As that happens, you`re seeing candidates trying to throw whatever rocks they can. That`s fine. That`s their prerogative.

I like Donald Trump. I respect Donald Trump. He`s welcome to toss whatever attacks he wants. We`re at a time of enormous challenge and crisis. I recognize that there are candidates in the field that don`t want to talk about those issues and they want to instead encourage the good people in the media to go down rabbit trails and engage in circus sideshows. I don`t think the American people are interested in that.


MATTHEWS: Well, the governor of Iowa and Laurence Tribe and John McCain like that rabbit hole, Robert.


MATTHEWS: People are enjoying this for one reason. Nobody likes Cruz. And if he`s got a little problem, a little kurfuffle with claiming -- proving that he`s eligible to run for president...

COSTA: Some people like...


COSTA: Conservative activists like...


MATTHEWS: Do they know he`s from Canada?

COSTA: They`re getting to know it this week.

MATTHEWS: White House didn`t they know it until now? He never told them?

COSTA: It wasn`t on the radar and it wasn`t part of the Cruz persona.

MATTHEWS: I thought it was part of his -- you know, they`ve argued before that this was part of his success story, that somehow, he came down from Calgary, Alberta...


COSTA: He talks about his personal life a lot on the campaign trail, about his father, his mother`s relationship...

MATTHEWS: But he skips where he was born.

COSTA: He doesn`t skip it, he just doesn`t make an emphasis of it. And I think Cruz is relying on these hard-core conservatives in Iowa to stick with him regardless of...

MATTHEWS: But they`re anti-immigrant, the people.

COSTA: They`re anti-illegal immigrant.

MATTHEWS: Yes. OK. And what about the fact that -- would he be the first person in our history to be born outside the United States who`s president? Does that bother them?

COSTA: It doesn`t bother them in the sense that when I`m in Iowa and I`m in New Hampshire, they rely on him being a constitutional scholar. They say, Hey, he says it`s fine by the Constitution. He...

MATTHEWS: He says it!

COSTA: He says it.

MATTHEWS: Laurence Tribe doesn`t agree with him.

COSTA: Well, it`s an open question. As Trump says, it`s a cloud.

MATTHEWS: Of course he would say it!


MATTHEWS: What`s he supposed to say, I`m not eligible to run for president, even though I`m running? Of course he`s going to say he`s eligible to run!

COSTA: Cruz is...

MATTHEWS: I have a thought here. In the next several days, we`re going to find out how this thing tests. Hallie, we`re going to find out what Cruz is trying -- rather, what Trump is trying, whether it works or not. If it works with those very conservative people, you know, very isolationist, very home-grown, home-schooled people that don`t like foreigners and strange people around them all of a sudden Say, Wait a minute, I didn`t know -- we`ll see.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, remember, though, Ted Cruz wrote about his -- he hasn`t made a secret of it. He wrote about it in his book. He talked about it being part of his success story. I`m not sure that that`s the case they make. It is part of it in that his father abandoned him and his mother...


JACKSON: ... while they were living in Canada and moved to Texas, and then came back. I think that -- my sense is the campaign is not overly concerned with how this is playing and how this is resonating with voters, at least not yet. But let`s look at what we saw this weekend, which is Trump bringing this up on his own, not when he was asked about it. If he continues to do that, let`s see if that changes minds.

COSTA: Numbers are so close in Iowa right now. I mean, you really see Trump...


COSTA: ... closing the gap. I`m not sure it`s because of Canada. We haven`t seen data...


COSTA: ... to back it up. But since Trump has brought -- talked about Canada, the numbers are narrowing in Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Remember how George Bush, Sr., made fun of -- made sport of Pete Dupont when he called him during the debate, Let me help with you that one, Pierre? Do you think Rafael`s going to hurt with people up there in Iowa? Rafael is his real name.


COSTA: His father is Rafael...


COSTA: One of his biggest assets in Iowa is father, Rafael.

MATTHEWS: And so the Latino background doesn`t bother people, and the Canadian roots.

COSTA: They know it. His father is Rafael Cruz and he goes around Iowa...


MATTHEWS: ... find out all this. But you know, every time we read something about Iowa Republicans, it`s very culturally conservative and very much resistant to anything new (INAUDIBLE)

COSTA: He`s got the Steve King guy in western Iowa on his side.

MATTHEWS: The guy who talks about cantaloupe legs.

COSTA: He`s with Cruz.

MATTHEWS: Yes. He doesn`t like immigrants too much, does he.

COSTA: He`s with Cruz.


JACKSON: ... message that Cruz has hit, which is he is the conservative in this race. He is more consecutive than Trump and...

MATTHEWS: OK. Did -- did Cruz ever speak out when Trump was making fun of the president saying he was born in Kenya? Did he ever once attack the whole notion of discrediting a president because he`s African-American by saying he was born in Africa?

Did he ever once -- the reason I`m enjoying this to some extent is there`s a little bit of payback, a little bit of blowback going on here. The people that enjoyed like hell -- the 20, 30 percent of the country, close to 30, who let the president be pilloried out there as some sort of interloper, some usurper who came here some magical way through Kenya, are now saying we shouldn`t bring this up about Cruz.

JACKSON: So you`re saying Cruz is getting a taste of the Trump medicine now.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And he never once fought it before when it was not (ph) attacked on him.

Anyway, I mentioned Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, a liberal Constitutional scholar, says it`s anything but settled, this question of whether Cruz is eligible to be president. Tribe, who taught Ted Cruz when he was a student at Harvard law, says questions about what constitutes natural born are murky.

Let`s listen.


LAURENCE TRIBE, LIBERAL CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR: A lot of people, including me, think it`s a pretty un-American concept to say that members of Indian tribes and tens of millions of naturalized citizens can`t become president. But without amending the Constitution, or getting a definitive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, it`s just wrong to say, as Senator Cruz has tried to say, that it`s a settled matter. It isn`t settled.


MATTHEWS: Settled, Robert, or not?

COSTA: Well, according to Trump, it is. I`ve got a good story about this...

MATTHEWS: I mean, Trump says it...

COSTA: Trump`s watching Laurence Tribe on "Last Word" and -- this is how he runs a gut-level campaign. My sources close to Trump say he`s watching "LAST WORD," sees Tribe and says, That`s my argument. I`m taking Tribe from his MSNBC appearance and putting it in the center of my campaign. That`s the campaign Trump`s running. He goes with what he finds.

MATTHEWS: He lives off the land.

COSTA: Lives off the land.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, there are a slow of new polls out that show he`s close this is getting in Iowa and New Hampshire, showing the state of play in the Republican race.

In Iowa, the contest is a two-man race now between Cruz and Trump. An NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows Cruz edging out Trump by 4 points, within the margin of error. But a Quinnipiac poll just out today shows Trump -- Trump -- with a slight edge in Iowa, 31 to 29, also within the margin of error. So all this is within margin of error stuff.

In New Hampshire, the story`s different. In all the polls, Trump has soared to a commanding lead. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll there shows Trump at 30, ahead of his nearest competitor, Marco Rubio, by 16 points. Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Jeb -- poor Jeb Bush -- are clustered behind all of them.

A Monmouth poll of New Hampshire Republicans shows a similar story. Trump leads by 18 points in the Monmouth. Ted Cruz and John Kasich are tied at second at 14. But no establishment, or we used to say, moderate candidate comes close to challenging Trump`s lead.

Hallie, this is an amazing race. So we got a very tight race in Iowa, with the home schoolers and the very culturally conservative evangelicals just - - they probably think Donald Trump is who he is, a pretty cosmopolitan, big city, secular guy. They can spot him. He`s not one of them, right? He`s not a country mouse, right?

But up in New Hampshire...


MATTHEWS: ... where they like gritty -- where they like gritty and independence (INAUDIBLE) they like the mustang up there, the wild one, Trump`s their guy.

JACKSON: But here`s what`s interesting to me when you look at the Cruz campaign and what their strategy is in Iowa and New Hampshire. They`re leaving Iowa. They`re going to New Hampshire this week and next week to try to make a play there. And to me, that`s a sign the campaign is feeling very confident about where they are right now, a campaign...

MATTHEWS: Who`s talking confident?

JACKSON: They`re not -- they`re not...


MATTHEWS: Trump is.

JACKSON: Ted Cruz, feeling good about where he is in Iowa-

MATTHEWS: Is Trump going to spend some money to win Iowa or not?

JACKSON: He`s going to spend some money to win Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Is he going to go for it, or let it go?


COSTA: He`s spending about a million on the air each week in Iowa, and he`s...

MATTHEWS: Can he buy it, if he has to?

COSTA: No. It`s all grass roots in Iowa. He`s got Santorum`s guy. He`s hired him for a year. He`s...

JACKSON: But look what happened...


MATTHEWS: OK, let me...

JACKSON: He changed his tone a little bit. I mean, he was a guy who -- and I`m sure Katy can speak to this, too -- who prior to this weekend had sort of said, Well, it`s just a couple of points here and there. This weekend, we saw him say, We got to win Iowa.

MATTHEWS: OK, what do you think, Katy? That`s the big question. Will Trump win both?

TUR: You know...


TUR: ... I think that he`s going both ways. I think he`s going both ways. I think he certainly wants to win Iowa for his ego. I think that would be a big boost to his ego for him. I don`t think he would like to lose it. But he is also laying the groundwork that he might not (sic) lose it. He is saying it is Ted Cruz`s state to lose.


TUR: I think he understands that Iowa isn`t his stronghold, but he does want to at least come in within a few points.

Of course, he wants to win. This is Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but you know...

TUR: But he is banking a lot on New Hampshire right now. He`s going to be here every Monday. He is winning by a ton today. Today, Chris, he showed up at a diner. He showed up at a diner -- Donald Trump at a diner today! And that was a massive surprise.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, it seems to me the best way to win New Hampshire, if you`re Republican, is to lose Iowa. Iowa has been voting for people like Santorum and Pat Robertson and, my God, all the -- and Huckabee. I mean, God, is that the route to success? I can`t believe it. It`s not the yellow brick road to get to the nomination.

Thank you, Katy Tur. Thank you, Hallie Jackson. Thank you, Robert Costa.

Coming up -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in tight races in both Iowa and New Hampshire. They`re neck-and-neck in both. That`s why Clinton`s turning up the pressure on her rival on the issue of guns. Bernie`s not quite as good on guns as Hillary.

Plus -- Donald Trump has broken all the rules for Republican Party politics. He`s soaring in the polls, but the party establishment, such as it is, wants him stopped. (INAUDIBLE) Ann Coulter and Liz Mair (ph) debate, mano a mano, if you will, whether Trump`s broadening the Republican Party or destroying it.

And the White House is promising big changes to President Obama`s final State of the Union address tomorrow night. Gone is the laundry list of issues he wants to tackle this year. Instead, the president is expected to frame the 2016 presidential debate and talk about where we need to go as a country after he leaves office.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the story of a public service, and a public and personal (INAUDIBLE) police officer in Philadelphia. What a great story of heroism.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, in this year of voter frustration, voters are at or near all-time lows for party identification. Catch this -- 29 percent of U.S. adults say they`re Democrats. That`s an historic low -- historic low, according to Gallup. 26 percent say they`re Republicans, just 1 point off the all-time low. And 42 percent of U.S. adults identify themselves as political independents.

Big news. Think about it. It explains so much.

We`ll be right back.



TRUMP: Oh, would I love to run against Bernie! I tell you, I would -- I mean, can you imagine? Remember, they took the microphone away -- get off the stage. They told him. This is our president. He goes like this, Oh, excuse me.


TRUMP: And everyone`s out there saying, Get off the mike. We wanted to hear him. He walked back like a little puppy. This is going to be our president. I would love -- please, FBI, please, go after Hillary! I want to run against Bernie!



MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, Donald Trump earlier today, though, saying that if he`s the Republican nominee, he wants to run against Bernie Sanders.

Well, according to the new NBC News/Marist/"Wall Street Journal" poll out just yesterday, the contest on the Democrat side is now a real race to watch. It`s a toss-up in Iowa, as we said, where Hillary Clinton leads Sanders by just 3 points, 48 to 45. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Sanders is on top 50 to 46. Both polls have a neck-and-neck quality within the margin of error.

But Sanders outperforms Clinton in hypothetical general election matchups in Iowa and New Hampshire, both of which are likely to be swing states come November, In Iowa, Clinton beats out Donald Trump by 8 points among registered Democrats (sic), but Sanders leads him by 13. In the New Hampshire area -- in New Hampshire state, Clinton rubs out Trump by 1 point, while Sanders beats him by 19.

For more on the battle over the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, let`s bring in NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker on the trail in Des Moines. Kristen, I`m -- I actually am surprised -- people tell me it`s the independents -- that Senator Sanders is doing better against a potential race with Donald Trump in both Iowa and New Hampshire than Secretary Clinton would do.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it`s the independents. It`s the progressive voters. I think it`s this issue that you and I have been talking about, Chris, this authenticity factor.

Bernie Sanders has it, so he has excited a number of voters not only in the Democratic base, but of course, the independents. It`s also, Chris, the fact that you have Senator Sanders who has gone up with ads in November here in Iowa. Essentially, he wasn`t on the air. Now he`s up on the air. That`s why you`re seeing the race get tighter here in Iowa. That`s why you`re seeing him surge ahead when it comes to going after Donald Trump.

But it`s certainly a fascinating race, Chris. And I think that it`s actually getting closer between Clinton and Sanders than a lot of people were anticipating if you look at the race here in Iowa. I think New Hampshire, not as big a surprise, but they weren`t expecting to see this here in Iowa.

And that`s why you`re seeing Clinton really change her strategy. In recent days, she`s been going after Republicans. Now she is drawing very sharp lines of attacks against Bernie Sanders, taking him on over the issue of guns, health care and taxes today.

So, I think that you are seeing the Clinton campaign respond to these polls. It`s making them a little jittery, although the official line from the Clinton campaign is, look, this is what they always expected to see. But it`s a real race now.

MATTHEWS: All right, great, Kristen Welker of NBC on the campaign trail in Iowa.

As Kristen just said, Secretary Clinton was in Iowa today, appealing to caucus-goers there for their support and sharpening her attacks on Senator Sanders.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m asking to you make a decision to come caucus for me. And I have two very worthy opponents, people that I have known, people that I have served with, people that I respect.

And I`m asking to you choose to caucus for me over either of the other two. I just have a difference with Senator Sanders. He has a different plan. His plan would take Medicare and Medicaid and the Children`s Health Insurance Program and Affordable Care Act, health care insurance, and private employer health insurance, he would take that and he would take it all together and send health insurance to the states, turning over yours and my health insurance to governors like Terry Branstad.


MATTHEWS: Well, Perry Bacon is a senior political for NBC News, and Nomiki Konst is a Democratic strategist.

Nomiki, I want to start with you.

Is there any surprise that Hillary Clinton is now turning her, well, I hate to use the phrase, guns on Bernie Sanders on the gun issue, that she has to find -- it wasn`t just that sort of grab bag thing about social programs being sent back to the states, which seems a little wonkish.


MATTHEWS: No, it`s the kind of issue you dig for, your research team comes up with, but it`s not the kind of thing that move the voters.

KONST: Right.

MATTHEWS: Guns, however, I think does have it. I may be wrong, but you don`t want a pro-gun Democratic president.

KONST: That is about the harshest shot she can take on Bernie Sanders, and it might move the needle a little bit.

But I think at this point, after she spent three times as much money as Bernie Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, not including super PACs, if she hasn`t moved that already and she has all the media, all the endorsements, everything lined up from the local party leaders in Iowa to Planned Parenthood to the national anti-gun organizations, I really don`t see how she is going to be able to move the needle.

I think it`s going to be about getting people out to vote. And she just has to keep reminding her support in Iowa especially that these are the issues that make a difference.


MATTHEWS: How about the fun factor? Let`s not get too deep here, Nomiki. How about the fun factor? It`s fun being for Bernie. He`s a lefty. And there is nothing wrong with that.

KONST: Sure.

MATTHEWS: In the Democratic Party, lefty is a good word. He is a socialist, no problem.

KONST: Right.

MATTHEWS: And he is sort of a mustang, a renegade like Trump in a different way, a very different way. But it`s fun. You can make a statement.

If you vote for Hillary, you are basically voting for the Democratic Party.

KONST: The establishment.


MATTHEWS: Yes. And that`s not as -- it doesn`t cause you a giggle in your stomach when you vote. It`s not a, ooh, this is wild.

KONST: Right. Right.

And going back to what you said about 42 percent of independents -- of Americans being independent, think about that. A lot of those people are young. And those are the people supporting Bernie Sanders. Those are the people who aren`t watching those TV ads the way that the Hillary Clinton -- the older demographics are. In a way, he`s been able to have a fun campaign.

MATTHEWS: Because they are not watching TV.

KONST: Exactly.


KONST: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

Let me get Perry here in a minute, but good thinking there.

Anyway, Secretary Clinton called into HARDBALL, as we know, on Friday. She made one of her toughest critiques of Senator Sanders to date. Sanders reacted to what she said over the weekend.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it really mattered, Senator Sanders voted with the gun lobby and I voted against the gun lobby. So, this is a significant difference, and it`s important that, you know, maybe it`s time for Senator Sanders to stand up and say, I got this one wrong.

But he hasn`t. He defended his vote time and again.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what you had was a complicated piece of legislation. There were aspects of it that were absolutely right. There were aspects of it that were wrong.

I am absolutely willing to take another look at that legislation and get rid of the onerous provisions. When gun manufacturers, for example, are selling guns into an area and know that those guns are going into the hands of criminals, absolutely, those gun manufacturers should be held accountable.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a pretty narrow distinction. In other words, when a gun producer somewhere in some factory is making a gun, they are making it for a criminal on the streets that they know about, and know him by name, in fact.

That`s kind of -- that`s an absurd...


MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he just give up and say, like Hillary did -- finally did on Iraq, OK, wrong vote?

BACON: I am confused with this. He should go ahead and apologize. Democratic voters support gun control, period.


MATTHEWS: I`m not going to defend the gun manufacturers anymore.

BACON: Interestingly enough, this feels like December 2007 to me.

At some date last time, Hillary started attacking Obama really aggressively. And the sign of it was, oh, she`s in trouble in Iowa. And you can tell that again, this last -- she was sort of cruising, talking about...


MATTHEWS: Will it work? Will it work? Come on, expert. Will it work?

BACON: I think it will work. I think she needs to have a little bit of a gain among progressives and a little bit of a gain among voters under 45.


Can you convince young voters or old voters, either voter, middle-aged voters, can you convince them that this guy with a Brooklyn accent who seems liberal, left, progressive, on everything about him -- everything about him says that -- that he is some sort of Charlton Heston? Is that sellable?

BACON: I think it`s the reverse, that Hillary has to convince them that she is close to being as progressive as him. I think it`s more about Hillary`s -- her credibility to the progressive...


MATTHEWS: Thank you, buddy.

Nomiki, thank you. Please come back.

Nomiki Konst and Perry Bacon, thank you.

KONST: Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS: Up next, the great debate among the Republican Party, or we should say between the Republicans, has Donald Trump destroyed the GOP or has he fired up the Republican voters` base? Ann Coulter and Liz Mair will debate the Trump effect here coming up next in a minute.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald, as the gifted self-promoter, went out there and pitched this as I got the project done that the New York City government couldn`t get done.

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "GODLESS: THE CHURCH OF LIBERALISM": I think you see the same instincts coming out now that you did with the Wollman Rink, with Trump being frustrated at how inept and useless government is and jumping in and saying, I`m going to fix this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was conservative columnist Ann Coulter in my documentary "Citizen Trump" there talking about Donald Trump`s first foray into politics in New York City back in the 1980s.

For his supporters, Trump is bucking the party establishment and finally channeling the outrage that Republican voters have felt for a long time. But, to his detractors, Trump represents the end of the Republican Party as we know it.

In his column last week, former Bush speechwriter -- that`s W. Bush speechwriter -- Michael Gerson said that: "All presidential nominees to some extent shape their parties into their own image. Trump would deface the GOP beyond recognition."

Well, I`m joined right now by Ann Coulter, as well as Republican strategist Liz Mair, who runs the anti-Trump super PAC Trump Card, LLC.

I was just quoting to you, Liz, during the break that Richard Nixon once said whenever you hear of a stop X movement, bet on X.


Aren`t you leading a stop X movement?

LIZ MAIR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I am. And I aim to prove Richard Nixon wrong about that, in addition to many other things.

MATTHEWS: So, you think you`re right?

MAIR: I hope I`m right. I hope I`m right.


MATTHEWS: Do you believe he`s, in the words of Michael Gerson, defacing the Republican Party?

MAIR: Yes, I think he is. And, inherently, I don`t think that there is necessarily a problem with destroying certain aspects of the Republican Party as it exists.

I think that there are many of us in the Republican Party who have a real problem with the establishment and the way that it`s run things. But, from my perspective, of somebody who is a legitimate economic and fiscal conservative, I do have a problem with Trump and where he stands on an array of economic and fiscal conservative issues, and the fact that he is very close to Hillary Clinton on those, in some cases, actually to the left of hers.


Let me go to Ann.

How do you review that thought, that set of thoughts?

COULTER: Well, I think it`s all about immigration. It doesn`t really matter what a Republican`s position is on saving Social Security or how they are going to reform Medicare.

Americans are being outvoted by foreigners. And Americans have been begging their own party to shut it down, to stop this endless immigration for decades now. Both the media and elected Republicans and Democrats have tried to push amnesty through three times in the last decade. And every time, it was shot down, not by a presidential candidate, not by some big media figure. It was the American people getting wind of it and rising up in rage.

Donald Trump is the first one to finally take America`s side on immigration. That is why he is sweeping the polls.

MAIR: Well, I think that that is a patently ludicrous notion.

I mean, most of the time, when we have been looking at amnesty fights, supposedly, they have actually been shut down by a set of groups that are funded by a population control enthusiast liberal who is actually involved with zero population growth in the Sierra Club.

That`s who has actually shut it down. It`s not actually in any way advancing the economic interests of the American people. Free market economists across the board agree with that. The only people who take the stance that Trump is taking with regard to immigration and who actually believe that what he is proposing would be a good idea are hardened liberals who adhere to the same economic policy line of unions out of the 1970s.

MATTHEWS: You want to respond to that, Ann? Because I think you`re right in this.

COULTER: I think it`s crazy.

MATTHEWS: I will give you a broader...


MATTHEWS: I think a couple things. I think Trump is appealing to nationalism.



MATTHEWS: No, a sense that the country has been sold out by the elite on immigration, on jobs, and on these wars we shouldn`t be fighting.

MAIR: Yes. I don`t disagree with that. But to say it`s just about immigration or even primarily about immigration is bogus.

MATTHEWS: But that`s how he got in the door. Why did he come in that door if it didn`t work? He came right in the door on immigration. That is the issue that gave him his ticket.


COULTER: Not only that. If I could say, that was his opening -- look, his announcement speech announcing he was running for president was about Mexican rapists and drug dealers.

His very first policy paper, for this guy who allegedly isn`t giving us details, was an immigration policy paper. When he was talking at that Values Voters Summit and he said something untoward about Marco Rubio, the crowd starts to grumble and turn against him. How does he attack Rubio? He instantly goes to immigration.

Every day, he is giving speeches before thousands, tens of thousands sometimes, of Americans, regular, ordinary Americans. He knows what gets them on their feet. He knows what is getting him the standing ovation. And over and over again, it is immigration.

To try to say it`s some guy I never have heard of, and they are the only people who are opposed to immigration, no. Immigration was shut down -- or amnesty three times now, when the American people rose up and shut down the congressional switchboard.


MAIR: Yes, that`s patently false. It was driven by Numbers USA, which is a John Tanton-funded group. You can Google it and read about it in "The New York Times." They have a great story about it that deals with what happened in 2007.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about today and this weekend. What do you make about the fact he`s talking about another guy who came in the country at the age of 4 or whatever, Ted Cruz? Rafael Cruz,, the guy came in the country from Canada.

Now Larry Tribe, one of the top -- maybe the top liberal constitutional lawyer, says it`s a big open question whether he should be allowed to run for president, because he may not be naturally -- a natural-born American.

MAIR: That is completely bogus.

MATTHEWS: Tribe is bogus?

MAIR: Yes. He is bogus.

MATTHEWS: Why would he be bogus on this one? He`s been respected up until now, by the liberals, certainly.

MAIR: Well, liberals have a vested interest in trying to kick the crap out of Ted Cruz. They hate him and everything he stands for, the same as Donald Trump, who, by the way, is another liberal. He just happens to have an issue with Mexicans.


MATTHEWS: How about Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa?

MAIR: Again, he has a vested interest.


MATTHEWS: A vested interest in supporting...

MAIR: Yes, the Republican establishment hates Ted Cruz. That`s hardly new.


Where are you on this, Ann? Where are you on the issue of his eligibility to run for president? This thing about natural-born, it doesn`t say native-born. But it says natural-born. But then you have to ask, what did the originalists think, if you want to get back to Judge Alito and Scalia. What would they -- well, you are a lawyer, aren`t you? How do you do this? Go ahead.


And since my very first book, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," I find it, to use a Smith College word, tiresome that constitutional law provisions are supposed to be interpreted based on what we would like the Constitution to say.

The Constitution is the Constitution. Natural-born has a meaning going back to 1608. We have a half-dozen Supreme Court cases interpreting it. It means other things, too, but you have to be born within the country.

MAIR: That is not true.

COULTER: And I have been saying that when Cruz was the only candidate I had. I had no idea Trump was going to run.

So, it`s not that I want him not to be a natural-born citizen, but it`s not an answer to you`re not a natural-born citizen to say, but I`m a conservative.

That could be. And I don`t know. Maybe I will have to write this up, but I don`t see the point. He`s not going to be the nominee. The nominee is going to be Donald Trump, so why bother?

MATTHEWS: Why do you think they phrase in, Ann? Excuse me, Ann.

Why do you think, Liz, they put that in the Constitution, the phrase must be natural-born?


COULTER: We know why.

MAIR: No, we do know why, Ann. And you should know why, a somebody who actually has...


COULTER: I said we know why.

MAIR: No, you don`t, because, in 2013, you were out there saying that Cruz was a natural-born citizen and was eligible to run for office. People can check my Twitter feed. I retweeted your tweet from 2013 earlier today.

COULTER: I changed my mind.


MAIR: You were right then. Well, you know what? You were right the first time.


MATTHEWS: Were both of you guys clean on birtherism? Do you think Obama was born secretly in Kenya?

MAIR: Absolutely not. Of course he is eligible. He was eligible to run for the presidency.


MATTHEWS: Did you ever go that way on Obama being born outside the country?

MAIR: My newspaper, along with many others, shot it down. As you know, it was raised by Hillary Clinton. But if...


COULTER: If Ted Cruz is a natural-born citizen, then there would be no problem with Obama being born in Kenya.

So, what was the issue with that? If he had been born in Kenya, nobody disputed that his mother was an American citizen.


MAIR: Now Ann is dabbling in Obama birtherism as well.


MATTHEWS: Can we go back to what I like, horse race call?

Ann, you`re good at horse race. What is your bet on Trump winning this win, 50/50? Where would you put him, one-to-one bet here? Where is right now?

COULTER: From the week after he announced, I said he is going to win the nomination and he`s going to win the presidency.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to win. He`s a favorite? He`s your favorite? OK.


COULTER: Not a favorite. He is going to win.

MAIR: Ann also said that Mitt Romney was the perfect and best Republican candidate.

COULTER: He was. There was no Trump back then.

MAIR: And she kissed Chris Christie`s backside up the wazoo.

COULTER: Until he went bad on immigration.


MAIR: This is not -- which has nothing to do with conservatism.

COULTER: In fact, my ideal ticket is Trump/Romney. That`s what I`m really hoping for.


MAIR: And that is the proof right there that you are in no way conservative and in no way interested in conservative policy.


MATTHEWS: Would Romney join that ticket, Ann?

COULTER: I wish he would. He seems to love -- one of the things I like about Romney and Trump and Ronald Reagan is, these are three men who, by running for president, and being president in two cases, I suspect, made their lives immeasurably worse.

For most of these guys, like Rubio, what else is he going to do but run for president? These are people who are running because they love the country and they want to help fix it. So, I don`t think it`s out of the question that Romney would be -- would serve the country.

MATTHEWS: You mean it won`t be a salary increase for Donald Trump.

Thank you so much, Ann Coulter, for coming on.

Thank you, Liz.

You have been feisty, and I like that.

COULTER: We try.

MATTHEWS: Up next, legacy building, a look ahead to tomorrow night`s State of the Union address, President Obama`s last and perhaps the most ambitious speech of his presidency.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.




Well, there is no bigger stage for American politics than the president`s State of the Union Address. And this year will be President Obama`s final State of the Union, coming just 20 days before the Iowa caucuses.

What the White House is promising here is, promising a nontraditional address. This will not be the usual laundry list of policy proposals. Instead, they say it`s going to be billed as a rallying cry against the doom and gloom of the Republican candidates for president, especially Donald Trump.

Well, the president will have to walk a fine line, of course, being loony tune optimistic and funeral dirge of the Republican field.

Here is Trump`s assessment of the State of the Union yesterday on "Meet the Press."


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now, the State of Our Union is a mess. We can`t beat ISIS. Our military is falling back. It`s not being properly taken care of. Our vets aren`t being taken care of.

Obamacare, as you know, is going to fail very soon, probably in `17, our healthcare. We don`t have borders. We don`t have anything.

I think if I`m there, in two years and I`m making a speech, I say we`re getting better fast.


MATTHEWS: We don`t have anything.

Here is the White House chief of staff Denis McDonough previewing the president`s response to that.


DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: What I see is an America that`s surging, 292,000 new jobs just the other day, the fastest reduction of unemployment in more than three decades over the last two years, and the biggest job growth in two years since the 1990s.

I do not understand why the Republicans, each of them including the one we saw, continue to run down America. You`ll hear a big optimistic, generous view of the future of America from the president on Tuesday.


MATTHEWS: Well, tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable, Kasie Hunt is MSNBC political correspondent, David Corn is Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones", and Abby Phillip is a political reporter with "The Washington Post".

Abby, you`ve got to -- you`ll start here.

How does the president keep us up but not sound loony tune optimistic?

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, I think that`s going to be the big challenge.

MATTHEWS: Seventy percent of this country according to our latest poll thinks this country is headed in the wrong direction.

PHILLIP: I mean, the baseline numbers favor him. Unemployment is at 5 percent. It`s been that way for quite some time. Job numbers that came out Friday were good for him.

MATTHEWS: They were at 290.

PHILLIP: Yes. But the problem is Americans are feeling insecure, both economically and in terms of national security. He has to speak to that. If he ignores it, it will come across as out of touch.

MATTHEWS: Tell me, how does he bolster us?

PHILLIP: Well, I mean, this is something that you see on the campaign trail with Democrats. It`s about the fear of a Republican future that turns back from the progress that`s been made. I think that`s what -- where he is going to go.

We are moving forward. Republicans are trying to take us back. You know, it`s going to be looking towards a Republican future and pointing out the threat that that poses to Americans, and you know --


KASIE HUNT, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think if that`s, in fact, what happens, you`ve got (INAUDIBLE) to a certain extent running on a climate of fear, right? Republicans saying, you need to be afraid of terrorism, you need to be afraid of economic insecurity, et cetera. And Democrats on the flip side saying, you need to be afraid of, in Obama`s case, the unraveling of my legacy, right? That`s a lot about what this speech will do.

Now, whether that plays into Hillary Clinton`s hands or Bernie Sanders` hands -- I thought that was interesting McDonough saying over the weekend that the president won`t endorse before the Democratic primary is over.

MATTHEWS: What does that tell you?

HUNT: I think it tells you that -- I mean, look at the numbers that are coming out there for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It says in many ways the same thing that the Republican numbers tell you, that people are hungry for a system that doesn`t seem to only work for itself. That`s on both sides of the aisle.

MATTHEWS: But what the president`s tendency would be to endorse Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state. Not doing that tells you there is something troubling him about it.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Obama for the last six years or so has tried to tell a story of America, political story, which is highly ideological. He doesn`t call it ideologically, but he says there are basically two types of approaches to our collective problems, both overseas and domestically. Republicans take one approach. We saw it in the Bush years. We`ve seen in Reagan trickle down economics. We saw it with the neocon-led foreign policy. I try to see something different. You know, communal investments in our economy, a different approach overseas.

I think tomorrow night is his basic opportunity to say, I won. I had results.


MATTHEWS: Can you sell in the American polity today the argument we are all in this together, which is what you`re saying? The American people don`t feel we are all in this together right now. You think?

CORN: I think we are highly divided and polarized and it`s hard case to make. But he is not going to win over the Trump supporters. He wants the suburban independents to say, you know what? The auto industry is great. The economic number is OK, still a lot of economic insecurity. But this is much better than if you let Paul Ryan do what he wanted to do --

MATTHEWS: We`ve got to figure out why people are grouchy. We need to figure out they`re not going to be grouchy. But they are grouchy. Seventy percent say we are going in the wrong direction.

The round table is sticking with us. And up next, these people will tell me something I don`t know. I hear Abby`s got has a wild one. I don`t know what this is.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: You`ve got to tune in tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We`ve got a special edition of HARDBALL ahead of President Obama`s final State of the Union Address. At 8:00 p.m., Rachel Maddow and I will bring you full pre and post-speech coverage with full analysis of the president`s address, as well as reaction from top lawmakers and journalists, and the Republican reaction.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Back with the roundtable.

Abby, tell me something I don`t know.

PHILLIP: Well, over the weekend, white nationalist groups began airing robocalls for Donald Trump, essentially saying he`s the candidate who understands that what America needs is more white immigrants and white people who --

MATTHEWS: That`s an original idea. Let`s follow up on that awful thought. Let`s take a listen.


JARED TAYLOR: I`m Jared Taylor with American Renaissance. I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America. We don`t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.


MATTHEWS: I wouldn`t think so. But I mean, that`s probably a nice thing to say.

David, tell me something.

CORN: Like many people today, I`m saddened by the death of David Bowie. But I was surprised that the German foreign office sent out a tweet, a message thanking David Bowie. Why? Because they think he helped bring down the Berlin Wall. He gave a concert at the wall a week before Reagan was there and gave his speech. It caused riots. And his song, his very popular song "Heroes", was adopted as the unofficial anthem of citizens of East Berlin.

HUNT: On a less artistic note one thing that this week I think is reaching fever pitch is the Republicans in Washington are finally entering the acceptance phase of Donald Trump --


HUNT: -- and Ted Cruz.

The number of people that I have talked to who are just at the point where they think that the establishment has almost no hope and they`re going to have to figure out -- many of them have worked in --

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. What`s after acceptance? I forgot the list.

CORN: Dessert.

HUNT: Lots of drinking.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Kasie. I do love the way you said that.

Kasie, thank you. David, you big heart. And Abby Phillip for stumping me with this horrible racial crap.

When we return, let me finish with a story of public service and personal bravery.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a story of public service and personal bravery. You know, with all the bad stories about police work of late, I was thrilled to see the real-life account of a Philadelphia police officer`s grace under pressure. Since so much good day to day, night to night police work goes unnoticed and un-praised, I was glad too to see it all on television.

We`ve all seen the surveillance tape by now of the assailant on that West Philadelphia street shoving his arm in the squad car, his getting off at least 11 shots at point blank range at the police officer inside. And yet, and yet we saw -- all of us saw too what followed. We saw the police officer seriously wounded with three bullets in him pulling himself from the car, racing up the street past the camera after the assailant he knew to be armed and mortally dangerous, finally firing a shot that caught the fugitive and led to his arrest by Officer Hartnett`s backup, who arrived on the scene.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he couldn`t say enough about how Officer Hartnett conducted himself. Perhaps this is how all police officers are expected to act under fire. Perhaps it comes with their training and approach to the difficult, dangerous job they have. But when you see it right there in front of you. When you see the guts of this guy recorded on camera. You have to ask, where do we find such men?

It tells us that even in a dangerous world with street crime and terrorism about us, we have real public servants ready to take it on, all of it, to fight the bad guys on their own rotten terms, that even with the criminal able to set the time and place, to demonstrate for all of us, to see the god-given instinct to defy the danger, to fight back, to confront the attacker even on the worst of nights and save justice for us all.

Here`s to Officer Jesse Hartnett of the Philadelphia police department. Get well. Thank you for your service and your courage.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.