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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/13/2016

Guests: Kristen Soltis-Anderson, Carol Lee, Ken Vogel, Michelle Bernard, David Catanese, Sam Stein, Haley Barbour

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 13, 2016 Guest: Kristen Soltis-Anderson, Carol Lee, Ken Vogel, Michelle Bernard, David Catanese, Sam Stein, Haley Barbour

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Is Ted Cruz a Canadian anchor baby?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.

Well, the Republicans hooted and hollered that President Obama was born in Kenya. They forced him to show his birth certificate showing he was born in Hawaii. And now Trump is going after Ted Cruz, saying he was born in Canada. What`s Cruz going to do about it, show his birth certificate, prove Trump is right?

And isn`t this a problem for those strict conservative readers of the Constitution? Doesn`t "natural born" mean "natural born"? Anyway, something is causing Cruz to lose control.

NBC`s Hallie Jackson is in Charleston, South Carolina. Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for "The Washington Examiner," and a Republican pollster, and Carol Lee is a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."

And as I said, a new poll out of Iowa today shows Ted Cruz dropping, Donald Trump edging up. "The Des Moines Register" and Bloomberg poll shows Cruz still in the lead but just by 3 points. Cruz has lost 6 points since December, Trump`s gained 1.

Hallie Jackson, give us a sense of how it`s affecting both campaigns.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think what you can take away from this new poll, Chris, is this idea that over the last month, Ted Cruz, as he has risen to more prominence as one of the front-runners in Iowa, has also come under more scrutiny, right? So you`ve seen him be an increased target on attacks from, for example, Marco Rubio on immigration and national security, Donald Trump on that issue of the birther, his Canadian birthplace, as you talked about.

I would say that another part of the poll, let`s point out, shows that 15 percent of Iowa Republicans, likely caucus goers, say it does bother them that Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother. And while 83 percent of that segment polled says it doesn`t bother them, 15 percent is nothing to sniff at, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And by the way, it`s not clear exactly what his family was doing up there. His father was not an American citizen at the time when they moved to Canada. Were they an American couple moving to Canada, or was he a Cuban guy who had come to America and got some schooling in America, but then headed up to live in Canada? Was he emigrating a second time?

Is that what they were doing up there in Canada. Were they -- were they -- he was never an American during this. The mother was, but not the father.

JACKSON: Well, as you know, Rafael Cruz came from Cuba, right. They had moved up there to work and do some ventures in the oil and gas industry. So they went up there. They spent about four to five years there and then came back to Texas, moved to Houston, at that point, which is where, as you know, Ted Cruz grew up.

I would note that during that time period, Ted Cruz`s father left the family, essentially, as Cruz writes in his memoir, abandoned Ted Cruz and his mom. Alcohol was an issue.


JACKSON: That`s when Rafael Cruz went down to Texas, found -- found Jesus, found faith, and then reconciled with his family.

MATTHEWS: Well, also didn`t become an American until what, 2005. So it`s interesting about his nationality.

Anyway, Trump continued hammering at Cruz today over his Canadian birth. Let`s listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How can you vote for somebody that -- where there`s a question? I`m not saying right or wrong, I`m just saying there`s a big question. And you can`t have your nominee with a question. It`s impossible to do. He`s going to be running and people are going to be suing to say that he`s not allowed to run.


MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, another constitutional scholar has come out challenging Cruz`s eligibility to run. Mary Bridgid McManahan -- Manamon, rather, a constitutional law professor at Widener University law school in Delaware, wrote in "The Washington Post" today that Trump is right about Cruz.

Quote, "The framers of the Constitution required the president of the United States to be born in the United States. According to `The Des Moines Register" poll, most Republican caucus goers say Cruz`s Canadian birth doesn`t bother them. That`s what they`re saying. What`s not clear whether these voters know what the Constitution says on the matter.

The Washington Post`s" Chris Cillizza says the Canadian issue is working for Trump and against Cruz. Quote, "Rather than Cruz spending the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses touting his social conservative credentials or railing against the Washington cartel, he`s playing defense on a legally fuzzy matter that simply can`t be resolved to the satisfaction of Trump and his allies. In short, Trump wins."

Let me go to Kristen Soltis-Anderson. Let me ask you about this issue. It is an oddity (ph), after all these years now of the Republicans getting a chuckle out of the president being on the ropes and having to prove, to some success, that he`s an American, American born, that now they got one of their own on the ropes for having actually been born outside the country.

KRISTEN SOLTIS-ANDERSON, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": There`s a certain level of irony that it`s Donald Trump who`s been the ringleader of allegations both times. I mean, think about...

MATTHEWS: But they`re true allegations.


MATTHEWS: He was born in Canada.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: Think about what Donald Trump`s core message has been all along. It`s this emotional, I`m a winner, aren`t you tired of losing, vote for me because I know how to win, message. And everyone that he`s gone up against in this primary who he`s attacked, it`s always been about feeding that -- or planting that seed of doubt about whether the other person is a winner or a loser.


SOLTIS-ANDERSON: Jeb Bush is low-energy. Marco Rubio looks so young. Ben Carson -- well, he`s kind of iffy. It`s not necessarily even on issues. It`s, These guys might not be winners, because there`s nothing Republicans want more than to defeat Hillary Clinton by planting a seed...

MATTHEWS: And nationalism...

MATTHEWS: If nationalism is at the heart of this, Carol, the nationalist urge -- and I do believe it is, a sense of betrayal by the establishment, political establishment, both Democratic and Republican, and sense of being betrayed on immigration or citizenship isn`t being valued enough, on trade, we`re losing jobs, good jobs to China, bad jobs to immigrants. People are fighting wars they don`t -- are not really helping the United States. And now we have a guy who`s not from America.

I`m not going to beat this drum too more -- too much, but I will beat it enough to get even...


MATTHEWS: ... for the way they treated the president, who was born in America. Go ahead.

LEE: All that you need if you want to get at Cruz is to have it muddy the waters, a little bit, and that`s exactly what it`s doing. And this is classic political strategy. You know, you don`t -- it doesn`t matter if it`s true or not. You just -- you want them talking about it and being on the defense.

But this also, to your point, plays to this whole idea of authenticity...


LEE: ... and it raises that question. And...

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he tell everybody he`s from Canada? Why does Trump have to tell everybody?

Anyway, Senator Cruz opened the geographical cultural attack of his own against Donald Trump today, going after something called "New York values." Here he was yesterday on the Howie -- Howie Carr`s a conservative, kind of trouble-making talk show guy and columnist for "The Boston Herald." I`ve known him forever. I get along with him somewhat.

Anyway, Trump is also using the theme song of his campaign now, "Born in the USA" at his campaign events as an obvious dig at the man born in Canada.


HOWIE CARR, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What`s he getting at there, Senator Cruz, with "Born in the USA?"

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I think he may shift in his new rallies to playing "New York, New York" because, you know, Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values. And listen, the Donald seems to be a little bit rattled.


MATTHEWS: What does "New York values" mean to anybody? I`m trying to guess. Wide open.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you`re in Iowa, it`s -- it`s, like...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... you`re not accessible, it`s Democrat, it`s liberal, it`s -- it`s just not -- it`s to make him unrelatable.

MATTHEWS: OK. Anyway, Megyn Kelly...

JACKSON: But it`s also day to day, right? I mean, it`s this idea...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

JACKSON: ... that if you`re in New York, you don`t hunt. You don`t go to church. You don`t cook your own meals. Those are all things that people in Iowa do.

MATTHEWS: Except, having worked in a political campaign in Brooklyn, the "borough of churches," there`s not a possibility to walk into Brooklyn and not see a church somewhere...

JACKSON: I`m not...

MATTHEWS: ... from any corner. There`s churches...

JACKSON: But what`s the perception?

MATTHEWS: ... everywhere.

JACKSON: Right? If...


MATTHEWS: The idea -- OK, you made my point. Thank you. And you made your point.

Well, Megyn Kelly on Fox asked Cruz what he meant by "New York values" last night on Fox.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: What are "New York values"? As a lifelong New Yorker, what -- what do you mean, "New York values"?


KELLY: What are you getting at there?

CRUZ: You know, I`ll tell you, the rest of the country knows exactly what New York values are.



MATTHEWS: I don`t know!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a line of attack that rumor had it was being tested by the Cruz campaign because an Iowa political science professor got called by a pollster earlier this week asking questions about whether or not Donald Trump represented Iowa values or if he was a New York liberal.

Remember, Donald Trump`s whole message is, I`m a winner, I`m strong.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ted Cruz`s message is, I`m a conservative who shares your values. And so this is his attempt to try to distance himself from Trump, but do it soft enough where he can still, hopefully, absorb Trump supporters if it comes to the point where one of them is falling out of the race.

MATTHEWS: It seems so small to go after somebody for having New York -- I just think it`s small.


MATTHEWS: Why does he want to be the small candidate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t -- he`s -- I mean, these two are locked in a very tight race. They`re just trying to peel people off the...

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think you`re right. Anyway (INAUDIBLE) get somebody that (ph) gets you (INAUDIBLE) floats your boat. I guess you go, Well, I don`t like New York values.

Anyway, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley delivered the Republican response last night to the State of the Union, but it was her dig at Donald Trump that got the most attention.


GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every day how blessed we were to live in this country.

Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.


MATTHEWS: I thought that was so well said. On the "TODAY" show this morning, she said she was, in fact, talking about Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to be clear here that when you were talking about those loudest voices, those angriest voices, in that context, you were referring to Donald Trump, correct?

HALEY: He was one of them. Yes. He was one. There`s other people in the media. There`s people in my state. I think we`re seeing it across the country. But yes, Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump responded on MSNBC today.


TRUMP: I`m very strong on illegal immigration. She`s weak on illegal immigration. I mean, she`s very, very weak on it. And it`s a problem. She`s big on amnesty, but very weak on illegal immigration. And so therefore, we have a disagreement.

I mean, she comes up to my office when she wants campaign contributions, and I`ve given her tremendous contributions over the years. But I guess now that I`m running, she doesn`t like me quite as much.


MATTHEWS: You know what`s amazing? He has this formula. He just (INAUDIBLE) back and checks his contribution list, and if they`re on it, he nails them as hypocrites every time.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: Or he chose (ph) and he checks poll numbers. Hey, I`m ahead in the polls in South Carolina, you know...

MATTHEWS: Well he is.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: Those are sort of his two default speeds (ph). Look, when you play that clip right now of Nikki Haley defending herself, sort of doubling down on her statement the morning after, I got a smile on my face. I`m glad that someone`s saying...

MATTHEWS: I agree.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: ... there`s more than one way to be a Republican.

MATTHEWS: By the way, I think it`s win-win. I think he likes to be attacked. I think she`s...

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: Oh, I`m sure he does.

MATTHEWS: ... very good attacking.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: He loves conflict.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts, Carol.

LEE: Well, first of all, this is, like, the first State of the Union response that we`re talking about that is not a disaster, right? It`s actually, like, an interesting conversation, you know?

MATTHEWS: You are so right.


MATTHEWS: That`s the most salient fact, that she`s ahead of where she started. They usually end up behind where they start.

LEE: But this is the -- I mean, this embodies the debate that the Republican Party is having. And I`ll be very curious to see if she backs down because she doesn`t seem to be showing signs that she will.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think she was great. I think it`s her second big win...

JACKSON: She hasn`t...



MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Hallie. Tell us.

JACKSON: She was in an event today -- well, she was at an event today where she said she stands by her speech. She is not backing down from that, to answer you guys`s (sic) question.

You know, I saw Kristen tweeting last night about her response to Nikki Haley`s State of The union. What I find most striking is Donald Trump was nowhere near Washington last night, yet he was all over Washington and he`s all anybody`s talking about today, from the president to Nikki Haley to all of us.

MATTHEWS: I think Nikki Haley is that rare figure in American politics, a leader.

Anyway, Hallie Jackson, thank you, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Carol Lee.

Coming up -- what happened to Hillary Clinton? Just 19 days ago -- or actually, 19 days now before the Iowa caucus, and Bernie Sanders has the momentum. Can he pull off what was once unthinkable, a daily double, Iowa and New Hampshire, sweep them both?

Plus, Nikki Haley`s State of the Union response we talked about is the Republican establishment`s latest effort to stop Donald Trump. But as Richard Nixon once said brilliantly, if you ever hear of "Stop X" movement, bet on X.

Former party chair Haley Barbour`s here tonight to tell us who he`s betting on, Trump or the establishment.

And the Republicans running for president jumped all over the news yesterday that Iran seized two boats of American sailors. Well, today, our people, our sailors are free, and that`s because of diplomacy and not war- mongering.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the problems facing that Canadian anchor baby from Alberta province. And there he is.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Senator Rand Paul told my colleague Steve Kornacki he`ll support Donald Trump if the billionaire wins the Republican nomination. And he had some interesting reasoning why, with Paul citing his own experience as an outsider candidate.


STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL REPORTER: If Trump were, though, to win the Republican nomination, could you support him as a general election candidate?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. I think it would have to happen, but I think we`re a long way away from deciding who the nominee is. The reason I say I`ll support the nominee is when I won and beat the establishment, they all came around and supported me. So that`s the way party politics work, is people do group around the nominee.


MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only do we have enough money to wage a very strong campaign in Iowa and in New Hampshire, we are working hard in Nevada, in South Carolina and in many other states, as well. Our message is resonating all across this country. And yes, we have the energy, we have the funding to take this to the convention.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Senator Bernie Sanders says he has what it takes to go all the way to capture the Democratic Party`s nomination for president. And new polls are showing he`s surging. In a brand-new "New York Times" national poll, Hillary Clinton is at 48, Sanders has moved up to 41, within striking distance. A month ago, he was 20 back, 52-32. He`s gone from 20 back to 7 back in just a month.

In the key state of Iowa, Sanders is ahead of Clinton, picking up 9 points since last month. In New Hampshire, Sanders is in the lead, gaining 8 points in the last month.

Clinton was asked this morning about the new numbers.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Secretary, good morning to you.


GUTHRIE: Are you nervous?

CLINTON: No, I`m not nervous at all. I`m working hard and I intend to keep working as hard as I can until the last vote or caucus goer expresses an opinion. I`m excited about where we are.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, joining me right now is NBC`s White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who is on the ground in Keene, New Hampshire -- that`s a nice place -- where former president Bill Clinton has been out campaigning.

Kristen, that was a great question by Savannah. That was a gig. Are you nervous? And of course, your jaw tightens. The very notion of, "Are you nervous?" guarantees you will be nervous. That was a pretty tough question.

But are the Clinton people worried about the fact this guy is closing?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It was a pretty good question, wasn`t it, Chris? What is so fascinating is that everyone in team Clinton seems to be on message, echoing what you heard from Secretary Hillary Clinton on the "TODAY" show today, that they`re not nervous, that they expected this.

I just spoke with former president Bill Clinton once he wrapped up his event here. I asked him the same question, Are you nervous about these poll numbers? Are you worried that she`s going to lose the nomination? He said he`s surprised that these poll numbers didn`t get closer several days ago, several weeks ago. He said this is what happens in a campaign. This is what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Everyone is on message, Chris. But the reality is, look at their strategy changing. We`ve been talking about this for days, the fact that Secretary Clinton ramping up her attacks against Bernie Sanders on the issue of guns and health care.

But then her campaign today, Chris, held a second conference call with reporters this week to go after Bernie Sanders. And then they have this "all hands on deck" approach, sending out her top surrogates, the former president, and of course, Chelsea Clinton. President Bill Clinton, by the way, Chris, has three events here in New Hampshire today.

So they`re saying they`re not nervous, but the reality is their actions speak to a very different point...

MATTHEWS: So well said.

WELKER: ... which is that they are feeling the heat. And they know that they could afford a loss here in New Hampshire but not in Iowa. That would be devastating, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I think so. Well, thank you so much, great reporting, NBC`s Kristin Welker.

On Tuesday, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter, of course, of the president -- the former president and Secretary Clinton, came out against Bernie Sanders during a solo campaign event in New Hampshire. Here`s Chelsea Clinton.


CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT AND HILLARY CLINTON: Senator Sanders wants to dismantle "Obama care," dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, dismantle private insurance. Senator Sanders wants to devolve the authority to set up state health insurance programs to individual state governors.


MATTHEWS: Well, Sanders has a lot of momentum with younger voters, of course. Is Chelsea the Clinton antidote?

Joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst Joan Walsh of "The Nation" magazine and Sam Stein of The Huffington Post.

Joan -- I want you to both take over on this, because I think Kristen Welker said it to a T. When you start shooting your guns out the window, someone is attacking and you`re worried.

Why -- well, I love her coming on the show. I really do.


MATTHEWS: And everybody else at MSNBC wants her on. She is making the rounds rather heavily and deploying her daughter in an aggressive role.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Not as my wife`s -- my mother is great or she is a great grandmother, but nailing the other guy is unusual.

WALSH: But I don`t know that it is that unusual.

I mean, it was going to tighten once people were paying attention in January. This is a great -- Iowa is a great state for Bernie Sanders. It is heavily white, 90-something percent white. Lots of college students. They can vote this time. They can caucus this time around, which they couldn`t do easily for Barack Obama.

So, they never expected this to be a cakewalk. When her numbers went way high after Vice President Biden said he wasn`t going to get in, they thought that was a fluke. So, I don`t see anything that weird about what they are doing. And I also think -- I love Senator Sanders, but let`s figure out how single-payer would work, without getting too wonky and making everybody`s eyes glaze over.

MATTHEWS: But how do you attack a guy for being too left or too complicated or whatever? Because I`m not sure I -- all I see is they are attacking, but I don`t get the message of their attack, Sam.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Well, they are being deft about it, because they are not attacking him from the left here. They`re attacking him from the right, theoretically.


WALSH: I don`t know about that.

STEIN: No, that`s true. They went after him for single-payer health care. They went after him for saying that he would raise taxes on people below $250,000 threshold.

WALSH: That`s true.

STEIN: Those are both progressive planks that they went after him for.

And we do have a journalistic responsibility to say that a lot of what Chelsea Clinton said there was misleading. She herself has been a fan of universal health care and she has encouraged Democrats not to fight over it. For her to then turn on him over this suggests that she is a little bit...


MATTHEWS: You mean she is for public option.

STEIN: Yes, of course. Most Democrats are for a public option.

Now, is it complicated, is it costly? Yes, of course. And those are things that they are going to have to have it out on. But what Chelsea Clinton said on that segment was...


MATTHEWS: If that is the case, wouldn`t the follow-up from Bernie, who -- Bernie Sanders, Senator Sanders -- he is quite clever and adept and deft, to use your word. Why doesn`t he just come and say, look, are you or are you not for single-payer?

STEIN: In fact, what he did today was, he tweeted a picture of Hillary Clinton thanking him for his longtime support for universal health care. I mean, there`s complications to that attack that she gave.

WALSH: I have got to say, Sam, I think when Hillary Clinton does something that is just political, she gets so much crap for it that other people don`t get.

STEIN: I would give Bernie crap for this then, too, because Bernie Sanders has said consistently that he would put out the pay-fors for his single- payer plan.

And today he said they might not come before the Iowa caucus. I`m not trying to pick on one person or the other. But you do have a responsibility to say, why is she attacking Bernie Sanders for single-payer health care? And it`s partially because there is not much room to the left of him.


MATTHEWS: OK. My daughter is in college...


STEIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: ... right now. And she tells me everybody in her whole campus is for Bernie. Is that going on right now in the campuses?

WALSH: Well, as you know, my daughter works for Hillary. So, she is a fly in that theory.

But, yes, she is working with college students. She`s seeing a lot of people feeling the Bern. And it is great. They are getting people into this process. But the idea that there are not young people, and particularly young women, who are passionate about Hillary Clinton, I think, is...


MATTHEWS: Of course. But I feel a return of what happened many years ago.

But it is so crystal clear, what has happened, to me. The Democrats had a really solid front-runner for the nomination back against Nixon, Ed Muskie. Now, he is forgotten pretty much now. But he was a solid front-runner. He had been on the ticket the year -- four years before. He was Lincolnesque.

STEIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: And along comes George McGovern from the left on the anti-war movement, and killed him.

So, Bernie is running from -- it`s very hard for a centrist -- I`m sorry -- center-left Democrat like Hillary Clinton to defend against the left, when that is where the action is in the party, isn`t it?

STEIN: I think the tricky part for Hillary Clinton is this, which is that if she attacks Bernie Sanders, it comes off as desperation, because he is not supposed to be on her stature.

Now, the only thing...


MATTHEWS: It`s also, everybody knows he needs her voters.


WALSH: But if she takes him for granted, then she would be going for a coronation.

STEIN: Exactly. Exactly.

I think the one thing I would disagree with is that Hillary does have this advantage, which she is a historic candidate, whereas Muskie was not.

WALSH: Right.

STEIN: And so that was complicated in `08 because Obama himself was historic. But at this juncture, I wouldn`t rule out the possibility that a lot of people when they go to vote think about that and say, do I want to cast this ballot against potentially the first female president?

MATTHEWS: Do you think that is salient right now?

STEIN: Of course.


MATTHEWS: Right now?


MATTHEWS: Then why is Bernie doing so well in the polling?

STEIN: Polls go up and down all the time. I think once you actually get to the ballot and you count and you have to make that decision, I do think that is a motivating factor for a lot of voters.

WALSH: And once you get to the caucuses, which, remember, are very public and involve people, neighbors confronting, cajoling neighbors.

MATTHEWS: I think gender can be very helpful to Hillary if she employs it at the right time, but not too early, because then it blots out all the other issues. And then Bernie grabs all the other issues.

If you say gender, then he grabs all the other issues while you are talking gender. You have got to compete with him on the issues, and then at the last minute, like you say, and if you have to make a tough call here, why not go with history?

Anyway, thank you.

STEIN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Joan Walsh, I`m thinking about this.

Anyway, Sam Stein.

WALSH: Obviously.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Republicans up to their elbows in alligators. Many in the establishment want to stop Trump, but is he a better candidate for the party than Senator Cruz? Could he be? I will speak with one of the top minds in the GOP, former Governor Haley Barbour, next.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With just 19 days until the Iowa caucuses, time is running out for the candidates hoping to emerge as the establishment alternative to the current Republican front-runners, Trump and Cruz.

As conservative columnist wrote Ross Douthat wrote last week in "The New York Times": "Trump is a genuinely disruptive force. And if his coalition holds together, it could make genuinely unlikely outcomes, Cruz as the most right-wing nominee since Barry Goldwater, a battle on the convention floor, far more plausible than they would have been without him."

But if the establishment is panicking, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is trying not to show it. He said last week that if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz wins the nomination, he is sure the entire party will rally behind them.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Right now, the two leaders in the polls by far are Trump, Cruz. Some establishment people hate them. Do you believe in your heart that you are going to be able to pull the party together if they win?

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I -- 100 percent. And the unifying thing about what I have to do is that no matter who you are for, everyone can agree that we have to have a national party and infrastructure that has its act together.

I honestly -- Sean, I talk to all of our leaders in our party. Everyone is going to get behind whoever the winner is.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who served as chair of the Republican National Committee.

Governor, I have a question. And you probably won`t want to answer it. But this is -- can either major political party deny the nomination to the candidate, the presidential candidate, who comes to the convention with the most delegates? Is it possible to have a so-called brokered convention and deny the delegate leader the nomination? Is that even feasible?

HALEY BARBOUR (R), FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: Well, I don`t think that that will happen.

I think it is unlikely that will come to the -- that we will have a convention where somebody doesn`t have a majority when they get there. If nobody has a majority, if it is a contested convention, most likely, the person with the most delegates who gets there without a majority will ultimately win. Not impossible, but I think it is very implausible.

MATTHEWS: But what is all this talk about a brokered convention, if it isn`t to deny Trump the nomination if he comes in short of a majority?

BARBOUR: I think it is a news media invention. I think it`s just a fairy tale.

I don`t -- first of all, there is nobody that can -- quote -- "broker a convention." I went to the last convention and participated in the last contested convention, 1976, Ford and Reagan, very close. Neither one of them had a majority.

We could have that happen. It could actually happen that you go to a convention this time where nobody has a majority and there is still more than two candidates, three or four candidates. That would make it even more complicated.

But the idea that there is somebody that can -- quote -- "broker the convention," that is baloney. Our nominee is going to be picked by the voters and the primaries and the caucuses. And if nobody gets a majority, those people selected by them are going to work that out.

But I think the most likely outcome is, we will get there and somebody will have the votes.

MATTHEWS: Well, last time you were on this show, Governor, you said this about Trump`s chances of winning the Republican nomination.


MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump could win the nomination, could?

BARBOUR: Could -- of course he could.

The American people can pick whoever they want to. Do I think he will? I think it is unlikely.


MATTHEWS: Where do you -- what is the number for it now? Unlikely, plausible, still unlikely?

BARBOUR: I think it is unlikely.

Frankly, I don`t think any of our candidates, because it is a very large field, I don`t think anybody has got a 50 percent chance of winning the nomination right now. It is going to shake out. People are going to do well, not do as well.

As the field gets smaller -- and this was an enormous field. It`s still a large field. But I would say today there`s nobody who has got 50 percent or better odds, nobody.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the way it always seems to work, that somebody wins in Iowa, and then somebody comes back and almost like New Hampshire says, let`s get even with what happened in Iowa? It just seems such a pattern.

We can all imagine Cruz nicking it out over Trump, going into New Hampshire, Trump winning New Hampshire. Then they go to the rubber match down in South Carolina. I mean, it`s -- there is a pretty strong pattern now, isn`t there?

BARBOUR: Well, it has happened very often.

It`s not very often that somebody wins both Iowa and New Hampshire. And in this race, it is a large field, and the winnowing out process apparently is beginning very late. And when you have got an extraordinarily large field and late winnowing out, we may be much later than normal shaking out and seeing where we are going to be.

MATTHEWS: Are you stunned that...

BARBOUR: But I want to say something about what Reince Priebus said.


BARBOUR: What unites -- what is going to unite Republicans is, Republicans know our country can`t stand four more years of what Barack Obama has been doing.

And Republicans believe Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, either one, will be a third term of Barack Obama or worse, because they`re running to the left of his record, if you can believe that.

MATTHEWS: Well, here is a sugarplum for you, Governor.

I have been asking this of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I have been asking it of candidates, like Hillary Clinton herself. And nobody will give me the answer on the center-left or left side. What is the difference, in your schooling politically, between a Democrat and a socialist?

BARBOUR: There was a day, Chris, when that was very clear.

When I first got to know you, and you worked for Speaker O`Neill and I worked for President Reagan, there was a huge difference. Today, I can`t tell you the difference.

MATTHEWS: I gave you that. I gave you that.

BARBOUR: And here is the -- the number two and gaining, number two and surging candidate of the Democratic nomination is a self-proclaimed socialist and he is gaining ground every day.

And the person we thought was going to be crowned the Democrat nominee is running towards socialism as fast as her feet will take her.

MATTHEWS: What do you think would be the result if the Democrats did nominate Senator Sanders? What would your party say about his identification as a socialist? How would you employ that in the general election?

BARBOUR: Well, his policies are more dangerous to his chances of winning a general election, because those policies are to the left of what President Obama has done, and what President Obama has done has left us with the weakest economic recovery after a recession since World War II, median household income down during his presidency.

National security has people alarmed across this country of all parties; 65 percent of Americans think America has been going in the wrong direction. They do not want a third term for Obama. And they see Bernie Sanders as somebody who is -- when he opposes Obama, it is because Obama doesn`t -- he doesn`t think Obama is far enough to the left.

MATTHEWS: Yes, what would you be saying if the Republican president, if there was one, had a 5 percent unemployment rate and was creating jobs, almost 300,000 jobs a month? What would you be saying? Would you be saying he was a failure?

BARBOUR: Well, if it was Ronald Reagan, 22 times in the Reagan recovery, we created -- the country more than 300,000 jobs a month.


BARBOUR: It has happened seven times in the Obama recovery in the same number of months.


BARBOUR: The way that we have gotten unemployment down from 10 percent to 5 percent primarily in the Obama administration is by people dropping out of the work force.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s not...

BARBOUR: And 48.7 -- 48.7 percent of the adult Americans have a full-time job today. That is incredibly low in American historical standards.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. We will see how it goes.

Thank you so much, Haley Barbour.

By the way, if you had to choose, Trump or Cruz right now, where would you go?

BARBOUR: If I had to choose which one I think would win?

MATTHEWS: No, which one you want to win, if you had to choose between those two, Trump or Cruz?


BARBOUR: Well, the good news is, I -- the good news is, I don`t.

MATTHEWS: You don`t want to pick?

BARBOUR: I don`t have to pick.

MATTHEWS: Would you be enthusiastic supporting either one, were he to be the nominee?

BARBOUR: Against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, yes, sir.


And you think Trump would be a great president if he were nominated?

BARBOUR: You know, I have been a party leader, and I understand party leaders don`t tell the rank and file, and they must trust the rank and file.

I`m willing to do that, and particularly to prevent us from having a third term for Barack Obama`s policies.

MATTHEWS: OK. So, you`re not saying.

Anyway, thank you, Haley Barbour, as always, being smart and not answering the questions that should be answered. But I understand why.

Still ahead, 10 American sailors released from Iran. Were the 2016 Republican candidates too quick to blame the president on this one? The roundtable is coming here next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.




We are continuing to follow the dramatic confrontation with Iran as 10 American sailors were detained overnight, and then released by Iranian military forces after drifting into its territorial waters. Iranian state television has released footage, there it is, of the soldiers in camouflage pants and beige shirts with their hands in the air while being watched by armed military guards. The video also shows the sailors on the floor eating some kind of meal. Those figures, the Iranians also released footage of a U.S. soldier apologizing.


U.S. SOLDIER: It was a mistake. That was our fault and we apologize for our mistake.


U.S. SOLDIER: I believe so.


MATTHEWS: We should note that we do not know the circumstance under which this video was shot and we do not know if the sailors were asked to participate in the video under duress.

These images, by the way, sparked quite the reaction on the American campaign trail. Here is Marco Rubio speaking at a rally today in South Carolina.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t know if you saw these images, they are really horrifying and they really made really angry this morning to see American sailors on their knees, hands behind their head. A female sailor forced to wear a head scarf, pinned up in a jail cell. You know why these things happened? Because they know they can get away with it when Barack Obama is in office. They know they can humiliate us. That is why, on my first day in office, in that Oval Office, I am going to cancel this ridiculous deal he has cut with Iran.



MATTHEWS: And here is Donald Trump on his network earlier -- this network earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): These ten wonderful soldiers who went through hell, by the way. When I see pictures of them with their arms up in the air and guns pointed at them, I wouldn`t exactly say that`s friendly.


MATTHEWS: Tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable, David Catanese is a senior politics writer with "U.S. News and World Report", Michelle Bernard is president of the Bernard Center, and Ken Vogel was the chief investigative reporter with "Politico".

Ken, I don`t -- I`m not surprised. Is this just political kabuki dancing? We have an incident overseas, a bit embarrassing, and the opposition jumps on it as a sign of weakness.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Sure, it makes perfect sense, and it makes perfect sense not only because they get to differentiate themselves from the Obama administration, but also that they get to take a shot at Hillary Clinton on foreign policy, an area where she is really strong, a lot stronger for the most part than most Republicans.

MATTHEWS: How`s this hit Hillary?

VOGEL: Because she supported the Iran deal. They are suggesting that the Iran deal exposed some kind of weakness, that the Iranians are trying to test. I think that`s a little bit of a canard. The Iranians have been testing us for years and years and years, well before we entered negotiations with them about this nuclear deal.

MATTHEWS: Michelle?

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER FOR WOMEN: Well, you know, like, for example, you`ve got Chris Christie who did an interview recently where after the problems we had with North Korea recently, and he came out and he said, you know, this is Hillary Clinton/President Obama problem because they both have been playing footsies with the Iranians instead of looking - - you know, looking to see what is going on in North Korea. So --

MATTHEWS: Let me, let him speak now. You introduced in that.

Even though sailors were released, Republicans like Chris Christie of New Jersey sounded like they are itching for a war. Here he goes.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You think it is coincidence that they did this on the day of the president`s State of the Union? They have no respect for this guy and they have no fear.

If we don`t show people that you are willing to fight back, they will steal your lunch money every day.


MATTHEWS: David, I wonder what fighting with your guard would mean. I mean, I guess I don`t know what they mean by fighting? We`re going to war with this?

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: No one -- none of these Republicans are saying that, and none of them are saying what they would have done, right? You don`t hear the specific, well, we would have gone in, we would have sent troops. I mean, they are saying we would rip up the Iran deal, but you hear these guys, it`s all -- hey, it wouldn`t happen if I was there. That`s basically the argument, which is hard for really stomach.


MATTHEWS: Last night, they liked it.

CATANESE: It`s a layup for them.

BERNARD: It`s a layup for them. It happened at the time the president was about to give his final State of the Union Address and they wanted to dumb down everything that we think about Obama.

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t like they thought for a moment, deciding what to say.

Look at this, Republicans telegraph their outrage regardless of the outcome in the instant. In fact, before the outcome, when word of the incident first broke before the president`s State of the Union, the Republican field pounced on it with doom and gloom. You would have thought the guys were never coming home.

Jeb Bush tweeted, "No more bargaining, Obama`s humiliating weak policies is exposed again", which was followed by a chorus of Republican candidates.


TRUMP: The Iranians like to taunt us because they don`t have like respect for our leaders, right?

RUBIO: Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration`s resolve. And they know the boundaries are wide that the administration is willing to let them get away with many things. You are only seeing this accelerate. You`re only going to see a continued pattern of provocation as long as a weak president like Barack Obama is in the White House.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, it`s a manifestation of the weakness of President Obama`s foreign policy, that our enemies do not fear us and we need a commander in chief to keep this country safe.


MATTHEWS: Well, every time I hear Marco Rubio, I hear somebody sending a love letter to Shelly Adelson, to the neocon king, asking for more money. It`s just always the same. We must be militarizing the Middle East, we must be the main military power in the Middle East, we must move in with everything we`ve got, and somehow big foot Iran in the Persian Gulf. We must be there with all our strength, because that`s what Adelson wants.

VOGEL: The Republican field this time around is pretty much a neoconservative`s dream. There was ideological diversity. You had the Rand Pauls of the world who were a lot more in the case of Rand Paul noninterventionist. But you see all those folks have fallen by the way side and right now, the competition between the folks --

MATTHEWS: Of course, all of the guys have a long military career. Have you noticed? They`ve all been in uniform and spend a lot of time serving the country in uniform. They are all experts on this.

VOGEL: Donald Trump had a foot problem. That is why he got --

MATTHEWS: Some of them are obvious. Anyway, some of their physical problems are obvious.

The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, these three are going to tell me something I don`t know.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Be sure to tune in tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. for a preview of the Republican presidential debate tomorrow night and come back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. We`re going to have a full analysis of the night`s best moments, for a two-hour post game show tomorrow night, right here on my late night edition of HARDBALL. I love these nights.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with HARDALL roundtable.

Michelle, tell me something I don`t know.

BERNARD: So, Hillary Clinton might actually have something to worry about when we talk about the women`s vote. A couple days ago, Debbie Wasserman Schultz suggested that millennial women are not that enchanted with Hillary Clinton because they don`t care about issues of abortion.

And then, recently, Nancy Pelosi did an interview with our friend Melinda Henneberger over at "Roll Call" and defended Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but added to it`s not the abortion issue. It`s that young people are more interested in Bernie Sanders on a variety of issues.

Hillary Clinton needs women and she needs young men as well.


VOGEL: I`m hearing that some Ted Cruz`s closest allies are becoming increasingly frustrated with some of the mega donors supporting the super PACs that are supposed to support his candidacy. Two in particular have collected $25 million, these two super PACs. They`re being run by the mega donors and their close allies and they haven`t spent really any money. One of them has spent zero dollars and the other has spent a quarter million dollars out of $15 million that it raised.

They`re saying, what are you waiting for, you need to spend the money now with the run-up to Iowa. But the mega donors, part the reason they were so enthusiastic about giving, not because they support Cruz, but also because they could control the PAC, and now the people who set them up are wondering, we should have kept control --

MATTHEWS: Can`t get them up on the phone because that`s illegal.

VOGEL: Can`t do it.


CATANESE: I interviewed Ted Cruz on his campaign bus in Iowa last week for 45 minutes. We talked about a range of topics that will be on "U.S. News" later tonight. I asked him, what about running mates? If you`re the nominee, what`s your first criteria --

MATTHEWS: Oh, God. You`re making me miserable.


CATANESE: Who do you look to?

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

CATANESE: The first thing he said, I would look to my competitors. Who has run a good campaign against me, and who has put together a good coalition. To me that says he would look at Marco Rubio.

VOGEL: Trump.

CATANESE: Or maybe Trump. But the first instinct he said was look at the people who run against him, who has put together a good campaign because it shows organization, and who has put together coalition, because it brings voters.

MATTHEWS: They`re going to call him the Cuban heels?

CATANESE: Possibly. That`s part, we`ve got to put --

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, David Catanese, for the worst news of the night. It could be true and God awful. Double down on the bad.

Anyway, Michelle Bernard. Thank you, Ken Vogel.

When we return, let me finish with that Canadian anchor baby himself from Alberta province.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with that Canadian anchor baby from Alberta province.

Here`s the lay of the land. Were Ted Cruz actually elected, he would be the first U.S. president born outside this country. In other words, from abroad.

Does this raise the question among American conservatives that this would violate the requirement of the founding fathers that to be eligible for the White House, you must be a natural-born citizen?

Let me put it to the Republicans of Iowa. Was it or was it not the intents of those who wrote the Constitution in Independence Hall back in 1789 that presidents be born in this country? And if so, wouldn`t the inauguration of a foreign-born person in that office be a strict but clear violation of that constitutional intention?

And don`t those who answer no who say it`s not a violation of the founders` intent have some explaining to do? Are you listening in Iowa? Are the teachers listening? Are the home-schooling parents listening? Isn`t this a tricky lesson to teach our people, that what the writers of the U.S. Constitution clearly intended should be dismissed?

I thought conservatives believed in the strict reading of our founding documents, especially the Constitution, which binds the states together. And don`t Justice Antonin Scalia know who follow him who believe in original intent, see that it`s crystal clear that when the founders said natural-born, they meant just that. And why I have to ask people who believe so religiously and solemnly that the right to bear arms means just that. Now flinch from reading natural-born to mean just that, natural born.

So, I put it to the good Republicans of Iowa, the question: Do you believe in the United States Constitution or is it a reference guide to be used when helpful and convenient, left in the drawer at the public library when it gets between you and picking the right wing candidate now at the top of your political shopping list? It`s getting near time to vote for the Constitution or what it quite clearly says quite clearly, or ignore what Al Gore calls an inconvenient truth. And pick the guy from Calgary, Alberta Province, Canada.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.