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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/14/2016

Guests: Rick Tyler, Rand Paul, Deanna Bass, Steve McMahon, Michele Bachmann, Robert Costa, Carly Fiorina

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 14, 2016 Guest: Rick Tyler, Rand Paul, Deanna Bass, Steve McMahon, Michele Bachmann, Robert Costa, Carly Fiorina

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. I smell the blood of a Canadian.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Well, it`s here. The latest polling on the Republican presidential fight has Donald Trump weighing in with his highest percent ever. Cruz, the man he branded last week as an illegal immigrant as far as constitutional eligibility is concerned, has plunged. It`s now Trump 33 percent, Ted Cruz falling down to 20 percent, from a 5-point gap in the last poll to a 13- point gap in the one just out today.

Well, Trump has Cruz losing it in other ways, I think, in a weird attempt to counter the fact that he, Cruz, was born in Canada and therefore arguably not a natural-born citizen, in any geographic or constitutional sense, Cruz now attacks Trump for being from New York, believe it or not, questionable the people of Iowa like being talked down to this way as people fearful of the big, bad metropolis.

Anyway, the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" numbers tonight show where the Republican race does stand. And as I said, Donald Trump has increased his lead. There are the numbers. One third of Republicans now back Trump. That`s up 6 points since last month, since December. It`s his best showing, as I said, so far in the NBC survey. Ted Cruz is second with one in five Republicans. He`s down a bit.

Here`s another new reality. The number of Republicans who can say -- or say -- that they see themselves backing Trump in the end, if it`s necssary, has shot up -- 65 percent, just about two thirds now, say yes, they can back Trump if it comes to that. And that`s compared to only 32 percent who said the same thing in June when Trump first announced his run.

NBC`s Katy Tur and Hallie Jackson join me now in North Charleston. I want to go to Katy.

Katy, you`ve been a veteran of this campaign. You are in it from square one, from day one. This acceptability -- and maybe that`s not something you can read out on the trail because you`re with the true believers, but it is kind of impressive that now two thirds of the Republican Party says they can back Trump if it comes to it.

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think this was only inevitable, Chris. I think in the beginning days of this campaign, he was seen as somebody who was a bit of a sideshow, and people didn`t really know what to make of him. They didn`t think that they could support him.

But as it`s gone on and as he`s gotten a groundswell of support, as he`s gotten more headlines, the people have come out and found it more acceptable to like him in their social circles. I think it was only inevitable that acceptance level among GOP voters would rise.

We`ve seen that among a lot of the GOP insiders, as well, that they`re seeing Trump as more of an inevitability now and they`re trying to rally behind him and get behind him -- not all of them, of course. We had the Nikki Haley rebuttal to the president, who was basically a rebuttal to Donald Trump. There`s certainly a big faction of the Republican Party that is not behind him.

But I do think that this was only something that was going to be inevitable. The more Donald Trump is in the press, the more he gets headlines, the higher his poll numbers go, the more people are going to end up liking him because they`re going to see him as maybe the only option out there right now.

MATTHEWS: You know, Ted Cruz has now used Donald Trump`s home town of New York as an attack in recent days. I don`t get it. There`s a hell of lot of people from New York -- a hell of a lot of people who love the city and certainly love it since 9/11.

Let`s watch.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values. And listen, the Donald seems to be a little bit rattled.

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

Anyway, Trump responded in an interview with Bloomberg Politics. Here he is, Trump.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I embrace -- I look -- in New York, we took a big hit with the World Trade Center, worst thing ever, worst attack ever in the United States, worse than Pearl Harbor because they attacked civilians. They attacked people having breakfast.

And frankly, you know, if you were to have been there and if you would have lived through that, like I did with New York people, the way they handled that attack was one of the most incredible things that anybody has ever seen.

When people want to knock New York -- first of all, you shouldn`t be doing it because you have a massive population there. But when you want to knock New York, you got to go through me. New York is an amazing place with amazing people.


MATTHEWS: Thanks, Katy. Let me go to Hallie Jackson. Why would anybody attack the town so nice, they named it twice, New York, New York? Why would anybody attack a city that`s our major city in this country, the chief financial center of this country? And by the way, and no who -- no one knows that better than Donald Trump, who`s been up there at the old -- you know, the old till looking for money himself, raising money for his campaign from Goldman Sachs. Why is he knocking the hand that feeds him?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It appears to be, apparently, Chris, a values issue, right? It`s this idea that folks from New York aren`t the same necessarily as folks who live in Iowa, folks who live in New Hampshire. A campaign aided, with a little bit of a subtle dig, said, Hey, New York`s great. It`s the center of the news media. It`s where the entertainment industry is based, subtly pointing out that folks who live in parts of the country that aren`t urban centers may have a perception of New York that`s different than the perception that, as an Easter Coaster, some of us might have.

MATTHEWS: But you see, there`s a stupidity to that line. And I mean, a stupidity. The people who grew up in New York in the boroughs...

JACKSON: Well...

MATTHEWS: No. The people who grew up in the boroughs -- for example, Brooklyn, known as the borough of churches, for example, and temples -- it`s very regular and very religious. Sure, the big shots who move to Manhattan because they`re famous or make it in show business, yes.

But New York isn`t the show business crowd that shows up, the beautiful people with bold print names. It`s the 99.9 percent of people who are New Yorkers, who talk with a New York accent...

JACKSON: Yes, but you say that because you know New York and because you live in New York.

MATTHEWS: Well, why does he...


MATTHEWS: Why is he assuming the people of Iowa...

JACKSON: ... in Des Moines may not.

MATTHEWS: ... don`t know anything? Why would he -- why would he play to people`s lack of knowledge? That is an insult to them!

JACKSON: It`s a strategy, apparently, that Cruz believes may help him with the people who he needs to propel him to victory in a place like Iowa.

MATTHEWS: So is he running to be...

TUR: Can I jump in here on this, Chris?

MATTHEWS: ... president of the United States -- sure. I want to go to Katy, because is he running for president of the United States except for New York state? I don`t know what he`s talking about. Go ahead. I`ve never heard of a president...

TUR: I`m not sure that this...

MATTHEWS: ... writing off a state.

TUR: I`m not sure this line of attack is going to work for Trump`s supporters. What he`s done on this entire time is owned all this, quote, unquote, "negatives." Yes, he`s rich. Yes, he`s brash. Yes, he`s sometimes politically incorrect. He`s not the ideal politician. He doesn`t always say the right thing. He`s from New York, and he`s owned all of these things.

And I think that`s what`s resonated with a lot of his supporters out there because they don`t see him as being insincere. They don`t see him as playing a part, as many other politicians do. (INAUDIBLE) a lot of people out there that are supporting Trump who look at Ted Cruz and maybe see him as somebody who is insincere.

This is also, though, Trump`s greatest weakness. Trump is alienating a lot of people in this country, not necessarily the Republican base who really likes him, but others who think that he is too loud, that he is too politically incorrect, that he`s divisive, that he`s sowing the seed of discord, that he`s race-baiting at times.

He`s also making other countries question his ability to lead. The UK is going to debate a petition to ban him from their country. A German politician wants to do the same.

So is he the best leader for America? Well, that`s certainly going to be debated, but his supporters right now like all of that about him, that he is unapologetic for who he is.

MATTHEWS: And he`s also a New Yorker and he`s talks like a New Yorker. Anyway, thank you very much, Katy Tur, and thank you, Hallie Jackson.

This is interesting and it`s getting better. In her State of the Union response, Governor Nikki Haley identified Donald Trump as one of the angriest voices in our party -- her party. At a rally in Florida last night, Donald Trump embraced that label. A large part of Trump`s campaign since last summer has, of course, been to exploit the anger in the country. And by the way, anger`s real and anger`s legitimate.

Here`s the "mad as hell" candidate himself.


TRUMP: Right now, the state of our union is a mess. We can`t beat ISIS. Our military is falling back.

PETER FINCH, "NETWORK": A dollar buys a nickel`s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street!

TRUMP: I`m running because we`re not going to have a country soon. We don`t have borders. We don`t have law and order. We don`t have -- I mean, our country`s going to hell!

FINCH: We know things are bad, worse than bad. They`re crazy. It`s like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don`t go on anymore.

TRUMP: If I go to a doctor, if I have to wait, like, nine minutes, I`m like, Get me -- I go crazy!

FINCH: I don`t know what to do about the depression or the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you`ve got to get mad!

TRUMP: I`m very angry because I hate what`s happening to our country. I am angry. I`m very angry!

FINCH: I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, I`m as mad as hell and I`m not going to take this anymore!

TRUMP: I don`t like this mic. Whoever the hell brought this mic system don`t (INAUDIBLE) the son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to put it in, I`ll tell you. No, this mic is terrible. Stupid mic keeps popping! Do you hear that, George? Don`t pay him. Don`t pay him!


MATTHEWS: Anyway, those scenes from "Network" were obviously the work of Peter Finch, the actor, and their brilliant screen writer, Paddy Chayevsky, one of the most -- by the way, a great preview of what television has been like all these years.

Anyway, Michael Steele`s the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst, and Rick Tyler is spokesman for the Ted Cruz campaign.

Rick, are you part of the "I hate New York" crowd? Where are you on this one?

RICK TYLER, CRUZ CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: I love New York. You got to be kidding. It has been...


MATTHEWS: What happened to Billy Joel and "A New York State of Mind?" I thought we liked that.

TYLER: No one said they were bad values, it`s just different values. Look, it`s Peter King...

MATTHEWS: Oh! Pullback time.

TYLER: ... or Steve King...

MATTHEWS: Pull back. You`re pulling back.

TYLER: No, I`m not pulling back. There`s a difference...

MATTHEWS: You said it`s not a statement of bad values to say he`s got New York values?

TYLER: You said that.

MATTHEWS: Your candidate!

TYLER: No, you said that. Chris, they`re different values. Look, it`s Steve King or Peter King. It`s -- in Texas, we can have open carry. You can`t even have a weapon in New York City. You`d be arrested, OK? It`s the people that they send to Congress. They send -- New York sends liberals, Texas sends conservatives. It`s attitudes on marriage. It`s attitudes on...

MATTHEWS: How long did it take you to come up with this, Rick? How many hours of desperate struggle and spin led to, We`re not knocking this guy for having New York values? We`re not really knocking him.

TYLER: It`s just different...

MATTHEWS: Separate but equal, right? Is this separate but equal, different values but -- you know, I think separate but equal`s not going to win here like it did win in the courts back in `54. I don`t think you can argue...

TYLER: They`re just different...


TYLER: Are you saying your values...


MATTHEWS: ... it`s about one question. What does Ted Cruz mean when he attacks New York values?

TYLER: He didn`t attack them. He said they were different than Iowa values. Are you disputing that? Are you saying it`s different? I think they`re different. Anybody would know that. Look at the -- look at the voter registration compared to New York anyway. They don`t send Republicans. They don`t send conservative Republicans. They send liberals.

MATTHEWS: Who`s running for the president of Iowa? Is that what he`s running for? He`s running for president of the United States and they`re having Iowa caucuses...


MATTHEWS: ... New York part of the United States, isn`t it?

TYLER: New York values are different than most of the rest of the country. Not all, but most of them.

MATTHEWS: Oh. Oh, they`re different than the rest of the country now. So it`s not just New York...

TYLER: Mostly.

MATTHEWS: ... and Iowa, it`s the entire United States has different values than the city of New York. The city of -- how about the whole state of New York? Where are you on this one?

TYLER: Well, let`s go through the policies. So can you carry a weapon openly in New York? No, you can`t because they...


MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Michael. I want to let you guys debate. I think Michael`s big-city enough to handle this one. Michael, this looks like the city mouse being attacked by the country mouse.


MATTHEWS: This is worse than high school. This is...

TYLER: Come on, Michael!

MATTHEWS: ... fairy tale. Go ahead. Your thoughts.


MATTHEWS: What do they mean by "New York values"? Does that mean -- was it about ethnicity? Was it about pushiness, loudness?

TYLER: No. No. Stop!

MATTHEWS: What are the implications here?


STEELE: Actually, Chris, it`s not about any of that. And this is...


STEELE: This is -- this is -- this is Ted Cruz speaking to a particular constituency and point out -- and I think very much as Rick has -- this idea that their values are different from yours. And that is the difference that he wanted to contrast with Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: OK, which...

STEELE: ... that he comes from...

MATTHEWS: ... Trump value is -- which Trump value is different than Cruz`s value?

STEELE: Well, I mean, it`s a lot...


MATTHEWS: Why isn`t he talking about the guy he`s running against?

STEELE: No, but Chris, it`s a lot about what Rick has just said. I mean, it`s the -- it`s those things that impact people every day. It`s their outlook on the world. It`s how they see problem solving. How they address issues in their own lives.

There are differences. And what Cruz, I believe, was trying to do there, in a very real political sense...


STEELE: ... was to draw that stark contrast between a Donald Trump, who is an East Coast New York Republican...


STEELE: ... from a Ted Cruz...

MATTHEWS: ... help me out here...

STEELE: ... who is a southwest...

MATTHEWS: OK, help me out.

STEELE: ... Texas Republican.

MATTHEWS: What are you guys, on a date? You both guys agree so much...

STEELE: No! It`s just...

MATTHEWS: ... it`s driving me crazy.


STEELE: Chris, you want us to say something that just doesn`t exist.


STEELE: ... doesn`t happen!

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to particulars. Is there a difference in New York and Iowa in how to fight ISIS, Rick Tyler? How`s the difference? Explain its relevance to the campaign issues. How to fight ISIS -- what`s the difference between New York values and Iowa values?

TYLER: Look, there`s -- Chris...

MATTHEWS: No, in fighting ISIS!

TYLER: ... there are differences...

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m just trying to go through different cases.

TYLER: You want to...

MATTHEWS: How about putting out a fire when there`s a fire somewhere?


TYLER: ... the entire city of New York on how they would address ISIS, compared to...

MATTHEWS: Well, you brought it up. Your candidate...


MATTHEWS: But go ahead. Your thoughts.

TYLER: If you just -- no, I`m not (INAUDIBLE) New York. I`m saying it`s different. I mean, I think everybody in America would agree New York values are not the same as our values. And so let me give you an example.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

TYLER: Let me give you an example. Every morning show you would turn on, right, where does it come from? Comes from New York City, right?


TYLER: So When was the last time we did -- we did the cool hunting gear that was coming for the hunting season (INAUDIBLE) Well, that`s important to a lot of Americans. But (INAUDIBLE) doesn`t -- New York City doesn`t cover that. There are a lot of issues. They don`t cover NASCAR. They used to make fun of country music. Now they have them on because they get ratings. But there`s a lot of differences between...

MATTHEWS: These are values issues? No, they`re taste differences...

TYLER: Yes, and...

MATTHEWS: ... but that`s not values.

TYLER: There`s also a difference between...

MATTHEWS: It`s not values!


MATTHEWS: ... that`s taste.

TYLER: There`s also a difference between the New York media covering the birther issue, which is great entertainment, but nobody in Iowa asks us about that. That`s a different...

MATTHEWS: OK, well, that`s very clever.


MATTHEWS: You know what? You are in retreat. You`re in retreat.

TYLER: Oh, no. No.

MATTHEWS: It`s a knock on New York. No, it`s a knock on New York.

TYLER: No, full speed ahead, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It`s a knock on Trump. When you say New York values...

TYLER: I love New York.

MATTHEWS: Look, I know the whiff.

TYLER: I love New York.

MATTHEWS: I can hear the...


MATTHEWS: By the way, you know, I talk for everybody watching right now. Everybody watching knows that you`re hiding. Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele...


MATTHEWS: ... and thank you, Rick Tyler.

TYLER: Come on.

MATTHEWS: I`ve had to do spin in my time, too. That`s what you`re doing.

Coming up -- and Michael, you`re defending him and you shouldn`t be -- much more on tonight`s Republican debate. Will one of the establishment candidates finally break through tonight, or is this really coming down to the two guys we`ve been talking about, Trump and Cruz? I think it is Trump and Cruz, but maybe -- maybe Rubio, too.

Anyway, plus, Bernie has the momentum. The Bern is working. Hillary`s on the attack. I`ll show it. There`s a lot of noise right now about whether progressive icon Elizabeth Warren, maybe the most well-known, most respected progressive out there, might endorse either of these candidates, maybe Hillary. That would make a lot of difference. If she endorses Bernie, that may not be much of a difference.

Anyway, the field is shrinking. Seven candidates tonight are going to be on the big stage. Only three took part in the happy hour debate. That little table`s getting littler. And Rand Paul wasn`t among them. He refused to sit at the little kids` table when he was bounced there, but he`s with us tonight. We`re going to give him the big table tonight.

Finally, Mark Halperin and John Heilmann, the hosts of "WITH ALL DUE RESPECT," join us tonight, Republican debate night. And after the debate tonight, come back to MSNBC. Believe it or not, tonight, two-hour edition of HARDBALL with all the highlights, analysis of the 2016 race. It`s coming up here, so you don`t have to watch any other network tonight. Watch us at 11:00 on to 1:00 PM AM Eastern -- 1:00 AM, not 1:00 PM.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



TRUMP: When you want to knock New York, you got to go through me.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. We`ve got a hot one brewing tonight. Trump has thrown down the gauntlet with Cruz after Cruz took a shot at his New York values.

Anyway, that`s not the only fight we`ve got brewing ahead of tonight`s Republican debate. Time`s running out for the party`s establishment wing - - remember them? -- to take out the hell-raisers. Can they raise or rise to the occasion after Tuesday night`s rallying cry from South Carolina governor Nikki Haley?

And it`s abandon ship on the Carson campaign, you might say. They need a big boost from tonight.

Robert Costa`s national political reporter with "The Washington Post," Deanna Bash is the national press secretary with the Carson campaign, and Michele Bachmann`s a former, obviously, presidential candidate and U.S. congresswoman from Minnesota.

Congresswoman, I want to start with you, since you`re the only one of us ever elected to anything, I believe.

How do you see this race? Do you think it has come down to Trump and Cruz, or is there a lot of real potential among what we call the establishment candidates?

MICHELE BACHMANN (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, it certainly isn`t over by a long shot.

But I think it is safe to say that Donald Trump has occupied the lead position for a long, long time, and he`s only managed to increase market share. After the last debate, you saw Ted Cruz move up, and I think that again tonight could be a breakout moment for almost anyone on that stage, but in particular I would say those who are in third, fourth, fifth place, they have a real chance to move up.

And so I think debates are very important and I think we could see movement after tonight.

MATTHEWS: Deana, what is your candidate`s plan? Can you give us a tease as to what he is planning to do to get back in this race?

DEANA BASS, BEN CARSON CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Sure. Absolutely. First of all, thank you for having me.

And Dr. Carson recognizes that this is a chance for him to share his vision with the American people. And he will be -- I think you will see a more assertive Dr. Carson. He is a statesman, not a showman. So, you won`t see wisecracks. You will see wisdom.

But Dr. Carson is definitely prepared to be more assertive to share his vision, to get his time on the stage.

MATTHEWS: What do you mean by more assertive? Tell me. Give me an example. You have obviously worked with him. He is very likable. Everyone likes him. They are very impressed with his credentials in the medical field, of course.

And his behavior has been exemplary. He has done nothing wrong, but he`s failed to light up the charts. What is going to do to make that happen?

BASS: One thing that you see when Dr. Carson is out on the trail, the crowds are enthusiastic. They really enjoy him. They believe what he has to say.

We believe that what we want to see and what Dr. Carson will do is, if there is an opportunity for him to interject or to share his vision, he will do it. We know that Dr. Carson is a soft-spoken man.


BASS: But the soft-spokenness does not mean that he is not strong. What you will see on the stage tonight is -- he even said he has more pep in his step. You will see a more assertive Dr. Carson.


MATTHEWS: In all respect, do you think he will talk faster?

BASS: I don`t know if he will talk faster. But when he has the opportunity to talk, we know that he will say things that resonate with the American people, because that`s what he has done so far.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Robert Costa.

Your assessment of this. You have been covering the top front-runners. Are they going to hold their lead, these two guys, Cruz and Trump, throughout the next week after tonight?

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It`s like two prize fighters, Chris, eying each other in the ring.

Talking to people close to Cruz and close to Trump, they don`t really want to provoke each other tonight, but they both come to this fight ready to engage. And the question looming over Cruz is how does he handle if Trump brings up his Canadian birth, if Trump brings up the Goldman Sachs story and the Cruz loan?

This is hovering over -- Cruz is under a test tonight, probably his biggest test so far in this campaign.

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he just ask Cruz, what do you -- you`re a constitutional lawyer. What do you think the founding fathers had in mind when they said only natural-born Americans should be eligible for the presidency? What could the phrase mean natural-born American mean other than born here? What else could it mean? And why would they put it in if they didn`t think it was important?

COSTA: Based on my reporting, Chris, Trump is not going to get into the semantics. He is not going to get into the definition of natural-born citizen.

MATTHEWS: Semantics. How about the right to bear arms? That`s semantic. And the conservatives love those phrases.

COSTA: I`m not talking politics.


MATTHEWS: No, I`m serious. Conservatives believe in literal interpretation of the Constitution. And some of them believe in literal interpretation of the Bible. Fine. But you can`t believe in literal interpretation of the Constitution and then say, but not on this, baby. Oh, no, this is inconvenient. Natural-born, we`re not going to use that against our guy, because he`s the most right-wing candidate out there.

BASS: Chris, if I might, we understand...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Deana...

BASS: ... we understand that those are issues that people are talking about within the Beltway.

But my hope and I think Dr. Carson certainly hopes that tonight on the debate stage that we`re not talking about those kinds of things. Dr. Carson and I`m sure the other candidates want to use this time tonight to talk about the real issues that are facing the American people. And more than anything, that`s what we should be using the time for, not...


MATTHEWS: That`s you`re arguing a normative argument there. But do you think that the debate moderators are not going to bring up and Ted Cruz is not going to be confronted with the question of whether he`s eligible to run for president? That`s a fairly central question. Are you eligible to run for president?

How could there be something more important to talk about, Deana?

BASS: I don`t think that people aren`t concerned about that. I think that most Americans are concerned about how will Ted Cruz and Ben Carson and others keep more money in their pockets at night?


MATTHEWS: No, I got to go to Michele.

Congresswoman Bachmann, this issue is a strange one. I never thought it would have come up, but when I read this and listen to people like John McCain`s lawyer, and I listen to this lawyer from Widener College Laurence Tribe, I`m hearing people say, natural-born means natural-born, born here.

BACHMANN: I don`t think Ted Cruz is afraid of this question at all.

He is a constitutional scholar, and he will stand up and he will give the answer. I think this is something that would come up any time someone is born out of the country, just like John McCain was born out of the country.

And I think that the voters deserve an answer. I don`t think he`s a afraid of it at all, because I think he will have an answer for the voters. But, again, I would agree with Dr. Carson`s press person that what we`re going to hear about tonight, these candidates, I think, want to give an answer to the State of the Union address.

There are a lot of people who were not real happy with that State of the Union address.

BASS: Absolutely.

BACHMANN: So, I think you`re going to hear these candidates give kind of their own form of the State of the Union.

The other thing I think you`re going to hear a lot about is this huge issue that happened this week with Iran, taking these 10 U.S. soldiers hostage. And the other thing I think you`re going to hear is Gitmo. You`re going to hear a lot about Gitmo, because we just had 10 terrorists released from Gitmo to Oman. There are 10 Yemeni terrorists that were released.

That will be an issue. And the big question that is in everyone`s heart is this. Will President Obama give the land at Gitmo to the communists in Cuba? Will he give it to them? Because if he gives it to them, you might as well consider that he`s giving it to either the Iranians, the Russians or the Chinese. And we could have in our own backyard, 90 miles from Cuba, a malevolent force that has a physical presence for the first time. That`s a big...


MATTHEWS: OK. Well, Cuba is already there. We can`t move it away.

Anyway, thank you so much, Robert Costa. Thank you, Deana Bass and Michele -- Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Much more ahead on this Republican debate night. It`s going to a hot one tonight. I think they`re going to talk about eligibility under the Constitution, because it`s a great trump card.

Still ahead, we are going to talk to two of the candidates running for president, and this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Democratic race is certainly tightening up in Iowa. The "Des Moines Register"/Bloomberg Politics poll shows that Hillary Clinton leads with 42 percent. But look at this, Sanders at 40. They`re so close. And that`s within the margin of error, obviously, and Clinton has lost six points in the last month. It`s getting more in Bernie`s direction, more Berning out there.

Anyway, Sanders` popularity is surging, of course, and he`s out with a tough campaign ad today. Let`s look at the new ad.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street. One says it`s OK to take millions for big banks and then tell them what to do. My plan, break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes. And make them pay their fair share. Will they like me? No. Will they begin to play by the rules if I`m president? You better believe it.



Well, Hillary Clinton responded to that TV ad tonight when she spoke to MSNBC`s Rachel Maddow.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders has said repeatedly he doesn`t do that, he doesn`t engage in negative attacks.

And I take him at his word on anything personal. We don`t do that in our side of the debate. We engage on substantive differences, and we have some. And he`s been pointing out what he believes to be differences for quite some time now, from his point of view.

So I have been pointing out what differences are, because I think the voters expect us to have something of a spirited debate.


MATTHEWS: Well, you can see more of that interview tonight, of course, on "The Rachel Maddow Show."

Nationally, Hillary Clinton still far outpaces Sanders among Democrats, with a new national poll from "The New York Times" that shows Sanders has the edge with voters under 45 and among men, while Clinton firmly has the advantage with women of all ages basically all taken together.

Anyway, joining me now is NBC News White House correspondent, my friend Kristen Welker and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

This is a tricky situation -- I want to start with you -- about Hillary Clinton, because, clearly, Sanders is to the left of Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton somewhere center-left. On some issues, she may be further left, on others, further right, like on war and stuff like that. She`s seen as more hawkish. How does she attack a portion of the party she absolutely needs to win the general election?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it`s interesting, because what she`s doing right now is, on guns, she`s attacking him from the left, and on health care, she`s attacking him...

MATTHEWS: But she`s putting him off on the right on guns.

MCMAHON: Yes. she`s putting him to the right on guns. And she`s putting him actually too far left on health care. So, she`s attacking him from the right on health care reform.

MATTHEWS: Is there such a thing as too far left?

MCMAHON: Well, I don`t think there is, actually. I think it`s kind of a misguided attack, because Bernie Sanders wants a single-payer system, which is what most liberals wanted at the beginning and still want today.

MATTHEWS: From the time that President Obama took office, we heard the pound from our people -- constituency out on the progressive side, a lot them who watch this program and others, wanted a single-payer.

MCMAHON: That`s right.

And so I think Bernie Sanders is in a good position in that conversation. But the bottom line here is, Hillary Clinton is running a general election campaign even today. She moves as far left as she needs to, to check Bernie Sanders, but she`s not going to go any further left than she has to. Bernie Sanders is just running to get the nomination. He`s not even thinking about the general.

MATTHEWS: I know. It`s called November doesn`t count.

Kristen, it looks to me like the way they`re -- I`m looking at the ad buys and the way they`re starting. They`re not just planning, the Bernie people, on winning in Iowa and winning in New Hampshire. They`re talking about winning in Nevada now. It looks like they`re trying to run the table now so that she either quit -- well, she`s not going to quit, but to cause some sort of panic, I guess.

KRISTEN WELKER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, and they`re trying to have a plan B and a plan C.

I have been stumping with her in a lot of the Southern states, the Super Tuesday states, Nevada, as you point out. She wants to make sure she has a firewall in case she loses New Hampshire, which they`re bracing themselves could happen, in case she loses Iowa as well, Chris, which is a possibility if you look at those polls.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much. We have to cut it short because we have a candidate coming on right now, Kristen Welker and Steve McMahon. I`m sure we will have you back around midnight.


WELKER: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: We got plenty of room late tonight.

Let`s back now to the Republicans actually running for president. They`re all in South Carolina for their sixth debate. And one of the candidates who just wrapped up the undercard debate is former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

She joins us now.

Ms. Fiorina, thank you so much for joining -- I don`t think we have ever met, but that was a tough shot you took tonight.


MATTHEWS: Where have we met? Tell me where.

FIORINA: Yes, we have met.


FIORINA: We met in someone`s home, in a cocktail party in Washington, D.C., as a matter of fact.

MATTHEWS: Oh, my God.

FIORINA: But that`s all right. Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: How incestuous.

FIORINA: And I served with your wife on the board of Ford`s Theatre.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good cause, Ford`s Theatre.


FIORINA: I served with your wife on a board.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Let me ask you about your chart about -- "Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband."

Which is the other woman in the race? Who?

FIORINA: Oh, come on, Chris, you know. You know.


FIORINA: Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Well, why would you talk about another person`s marriage?

FIORINA: She is the other person in the race. She is the other person in the race.

Well, look, Chris, Hillary Clinton is, you know, rolling out her husband to campaign for her. But she is also talking about her husband`s administration as an example of Democrat policies and how successful they have been. So I think it`s pretty clear that Bill Clinton is fair game.

MATTHEWS: Well, do you think all marriages are? I noticed you picked one out. But did you -- have you studied the movements of other married couples and seen how often they spend time together or not? Why this couple?

FIORINA: Because she`s running for president, Chris. Hello?

MATTHEWS: No, I meant among the other candidates. The other candidates and their spouses, have you checked all their relationships to see their travel movements and schedules?

FIORINA: No, absolutely not.


MATTHEWS: Well, why focus on the movements of the Clintons?

FIORINA: You see, there`s only -- there`s only two women running for president, Chris. There`s only two women running for president. I`m one and Mrs. Clinton is the other.

So there are only two men who are potentially going to be first dude or whatever we`re going to call them, my husband and her husband. That`s it. That`s all there is.


OK, let me ask you this. Because everybody does it to me, I`m going to ask you it to you. I think it`s relevant whether somebody under the Constitution is eligible to run for president. And someone like Michele Bachmann just told me, well, let`s talk about the important things.

And I will say, well, constitutional eligibility would be pretty central. What`s the centrality to you of the relationship between Hillary and Bill Clinton to the debate over who should be our next president?

FIORINA: Chris, I think everything about all of our lives is relevant. You know why?

Because you cannot lead unless people trust you. They cannot trust you unless they know you. And that`s why I have been open about all aspects of my life, whether it`s the tragic death of our daughter Lori or the fact that I was fired at Hewlett-Packard and why.

People cannot trust you if they do not know you. And Mrs. Clinton`s biggest problem is that people do not trust her, and there`s so much evidence as to why they don`t. I mean, we have run out of gates to explain all the scandals that have dogged Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton Global Initiative is like a Ponzi scheme to buy influence to this government. And Bill and Hillary Clinton sit on top of it. The truth is, Mrs. Clinton has escaped prosecution more times than El Chapo. Maybe Sean Penn is standing by waiting to interview her.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. Well...

FIORINA: Trust, trust is central to leadership. And she does not have the trust of the American people.

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s your answer.

FIORINA: But she`s on her way to become the Democrat nominee. MATTHEWS: I will let you -- I will let -- just like when people say I don`t like New York values, but won`t tell me what they mean, I`m going to ask you this.

Do you believe the Clintons have a real marriage? You seem to be implying they don`t.

FIORINA: They have been married for a very long time. They have been married for a very long time.

MATTHEWS: So, it`s a real marriage?

FIORINA: They have been married for a very long time.

MATTHEWS: So, it`s a real marriage then? You will say that?

FIORINA: They have been married for a long time.

MATTHEWS: Why are you hiding from an answer?

FIORINA: I`m not. I`m answering your question. They have been married for a long time.

MATTHEWS: Because you brought up this very unpleasant subject.

Just so -- the audience for to under...


FIORINA: Wow, Chris, there are so -- there are so many other things we could talk about...

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m quoting back to you what you brought up in the debate.

FIORINA: ... like the fact that Mrs. Clinton wants to go -- Mrs. Clinton - - Mrs. Clinton wants to go to the White House. She`s qualified for the big house. She should be prosecuted.

She has not been prosecuted for things that took a great warrior out of office, David Petraeus. So, let`s talk about that, Chris. Let`s talk about how amazing it is that this woman, who cannot be trusted, who should have been prosecuted by now, has just raked in more money than any single candidate.

Let`s talk about that and what that says about the Democrat Party and what that says about people`s desire to keep the political establishment in place. She`s inside that establishment. And people like Donald Trump are outside that establishment. She rakes in millions, sitting inside government, selling access and influence. And Donald Trump rakes in billions buying people like Hillary Clinton.

Let us talk about that.


FIORINA: Until we are willing to challenge the establishment of both parties, we will never take our country back, and crony capitalism will continue to explode. And she`s right at the center of it.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Carly Fiorina.

FIORINA: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Still ahead this hour: Rand Paul could have taken part in tonight`s undercard debate. But, instead, he wants to take his message directly to the people. Is that a winning move in Iowa or New Hampshire to skip out? Well, Senator Paul is going to be here to explain why he`s not showing tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: We are back with a little over an hour now to go before tonight`s main event. All eyes will be on Donald Trump, of course, and Ted Cruz secondarily. Now that they were going at each other, who will throw the first punch?

I`m joined by MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman of "The Huffington Post" and Elise Jordan, former policy advisor to the Ron Paul campaign.

Elise -- Rand Paul. Why are you former, first of all?

ELISE JORDAN, FORMER RAND PAUL CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I`m a former because I wanted to live full-time in New York and your network offered me such a great position I couldn`t say no.


MATTHEWS: She went for the gold.

Anyway, Howard, I want to go at you back here, Howard, there`s talk among our producers that maybe Rand Paul, not Rand Paul that Ted Cruz will fight tonight, that he`ll want to fight for the first time.

FINEMAN: Oh, yes. I think --

MATTHEWS: No more sheepishness.

FINEMAN: No, I think he has to. I think Trump has challenged him. Now, it`s a question of manhood, which I think is Texas values here.

MATTHEWS: Well, manhood is a good point. Not that I believe in macho. You notice how Rick Tyler pulled back. I`m not saying there`s anything wrong with New York, it`s just different. Then, he goes into these taste bud issues.

FINEMAN: Oh, come on.

MATTHEWS: It`s a shot at New York City.

FINEMAN: You know what? That`s a dog whistle politics through a blow horn. That`s what the fog horn, that`s what that is. That`s saying all those people up there --

MATTHEWS: I know, they like gay marriage and stuff --

FINEMAN: Chuck Schumer, gay marriage, et cetera. Peter King versus, you know the other King.

MATTHEWS: Peter King versus Steve King, I would go with Peter King in five seconds, but that`s my view.

FINEMAN: Right, and I thought Trump`s answer was to mention 9/11, was a very smart patriotic answer. And I think he`ll save the Goldman Sachs references for later on.

MATTHEWS: You didn`t mind coming up here for the money. I mean, that is what they all go. They don`t come to Washington for the money. You see them on the shuttle.

JORDAN: They all love to talk about how --

MATTHEWS: Flying up there to get some money.

JORDAN: How they`re so opposed to bank bailouts and taking on Wall Street and that`s who`s lining their pockets. So, yes, it is a very --

MATTHEWS: Tonight`s fight, who`s going to throw the punches?

JORDAN: I think Cruz and Trump are definitely going to go at it. It will be interesting to sew how Cruz fares. Other people have attacked Trump, it hasn`t gone that well for them. We`ll have to see. And the Canadian birther issue is catching some force.

So, how is Cruz going to handle that?

MATTHEWS: He was born up there.

JORDAN: He was born in Canada.

MATTHEWS: Natural born Canadian. Ha!

FINEMAN: Canadian, what are Canadian values?


MATTHEWS: Thank you, guys. More time, we`ve got all night tonight. This is going to be a big night here. It is going to be a big night here. It is going to be a big night. The first debate of the year for the Republicans, Howard Fineman, Elise Jordan.

We`re coming back right back with Senator Rand Paul himself. He`s coming here, he won`t sit at the little kids` table, but he`ll sit at ours.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul decided to boycott tonight`s undercard debate after being bumped if you will from the main stage by the RNC and Fox Business Network itself.

Moments ago, Rick Santorum appeared to take advantage of Paul`s absence to plead for extra time. Here`s Santorum.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know I`m out of time. But I`m going to take some of Rand Paul`s time here for a second.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Senator Rand Paul.

Senator Paul, one of the weaknesses of tonight`s early debate and it will be probably the weakness of the debate later on tonight is there`s no one to question this interventionist regime change mentality of some of the people in your party. I mean, when you read the paper the last 48 hours, you think that people wanted to go into a shooting war with Iran over those ten sailors. They want a war over this thing.

Your thoughts?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what I think is important is we have a real spirited discussion, the Republican Party, and frankly in the Democrat Party about whether or not our intervention in the Middle East has been a good idea or a bad idea, because frankly, not only is it bellicose Republicans, but even Hillary Clinton has been very much for regime change in Libya, thinking that we would be safer.

But I think when we`ve got Gadhafi and Gadhafi is gone, we toppled Gadhafi, what you wound up with was, I think, chaos, the rise of radical Islam and now a failed state in Libya and a third of Libya pledged allegiance to ISIS. I`m worried about the same people who liked toppling Gadhafi want to do the same to Assad in Syria. And I don`t think it`s a good idea. I don`t think it will make us safer.

MATTHEWS: This morning, I went to a student group this morning, and it was a libertarian young man there, he`s quite thoughtful and he came up and asked about the libertarian thinking. Without you in the race or in the debate, who`s going to represent libertarian thinking in the Republican world?

PAUL: You know, I don`t think there is anyone else in the race when you talk about collecting phone records, even some who might be more conservative like Cruz say they want to collect more of your cell phone records, he`s supported reform because he`s for collecting 100 percent of the cell phone records. He`s now switched his position on Snowden. He thought Snowden did a service to the country, but now saying Snowden is a traitor.

And really, I think, there`s a lot of issues like that where we`re going to have to question and those who lean libertarian or liberty were going to have say, really is Ted Cruz the authentic messenger or is he somebody who wants to have it both ways on too many issues?

MATTHEWS: Do you think there are big government conservatives, in other words, they want big military, they want a big involvement in the world, and that means having to pay for it and raise taxes to do it? I mean, there`s no way around it, whether you`re Bernie Sanders or anybody, everybody talks about saving money, you got to change policy to save money. You can`t do the same stuff or more of the same stuff and have less government and less spending and less taxes.

PAUL: The biggest clamor for more spending in Washington comes from the right that wants more military spending, but the only way they can get the military spending is if they give the left spending for domestic programs. So, we really end up with both and we end up borrowing a million dollars a minute and I think the deficit is out of control. But I don`t blame it on just one party. I`m pretty ecumenical and that I think there`s blame to go around to both parties.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re right. I think from the progressive side, they gave the military more money so they can get more for domestic programs. It`s clearly a sweetheart deal.

Thank you so much, Senator Rand Paul. You`re on here tonight. I`m glad you were.

PAUL: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, fight night, a final look at what the candidates need to do and say tonight. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann are coming here.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`re back and gearing up for tonight`s big showdown in South Carolina, as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the rest of the Republican field go to war.

I`m joined right now by my new colleagues, the host of "WITH ALL DUE RESPECT", Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Gentlemen, Mark, my tough question to you, then to John. Whose names going to be in the headline tomorrow morning major papers after tonight`s debate? Whose name will appear in the headline?

MARK HALPERIN, CO-HOST, "WITH ALL DUE RESPECT": I think Ted Cruz. He`s going to be both under the microscope tonight, as well as tries to play defense by playing offense and taking off not just after Trump, necessarily, but I think after some of the others, as well.

MATTHEWS: John, name in the headline?

JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-HOST, "WITH ALL DUE RESPECT": I think that`s right, Ted Cruz, but I think it could very much equal with Donald Trump. I think you could see a real knockdown drag-out between the two of them tonight, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Mark, how do you assess this New York thing as the counterpunch to the birtherism question going after New York and then, of course, we had Rick Tyler on tonight, he made it sound like a difference in taste buds or something. It`s a shot at New York, and I don`t know what it means anymore. Is it -- I don`t know exactly what it means. What do you think he`s getting at for the Iowa voters?

HALPERIN: I think he`s playing the notion of east coast liberal elite. You know, look, you see this all the time from the other campaigns, here and around the country, which is what is going on that our party`s front- runner was a liberal Democrat just a few years ago on a number of issues, close to Nancy Pelosi, close to Hillary Clinton? And I think the best shorthand from Cruz`s point of view right now is New York City.

Trump`s answer to us in the interview we did last night, defending New York, invoking 9/11, was one of the best moments he`s had in his campaign, I think. And I think Cruz is probably going to back off, particularly since between Princeton and Harvard, he`s got a fair amount of East Coast on his resume, as well.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, John --


MATTHEWS: Look, I think most people watching tonight will not have heard that brilliant retort from Donald Trump so far. Like we always make the mistake thinking everybody`s heard what we heard. If you don`t watch everything, you know, the average person watching tonight for the first time you could hear Trump give that for cri de guerre for New York, which is going to blow the seats out.

HEILEMANN: Yes, I think that`s right. I think there`s a chance Trump will bring it up if Cruz doesn`t use the New York line against him, I think there`s a chance Trump will bring it up unprompted so he could make that defense to New York.

I`ll say one other thing, in addition to what Mark said, Chris, which is that I think also doesn`t just an East Coast elite, also says secular, not evangelical, says not a man of faith. I think there`s -- Cruz believes that Trump -- I think Cruz believes Trump is a phony on the question of his godliness and that`s an advantage for Cruz. I think that`s part of what Cruz is trying to say. He`s a secular liberal from New York City, and I think Trump would love, love, love to have that fight where he could cloak himself in 9/11 and New York and hit back.

MATTHEWS: Just keep showing pictures of Peter King. That will scare them.

Anyway, thank you so much, Peter King versus Steven King.

Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, it`s good to have you as my lead-in every night.

By the way, you can catch mark and John`s show, and please do, "WITH ALL DUE RESPECT", weekday nights at 6:00 Eastern here on MSNBC.

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

Join us tonight at 11:00 Eastern after the Republican debate for two hours of highlights and analysis. It`s always fun after these debates. We have fun because we go at it.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.