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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/20/2016

Guests: John Feehery, Omarosa Manigault, Dan Kildee, Rand Paul, Clarence Page, Susan Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 20, 2016 Guest: John Feehery, Omarosa Manigault, Dan Kildee, Rand Paul, Clarence Page, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Politics gone wild.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews.

You know, I`ve been watching politics since I was a six-year-old asking my dad about General Eisenhower. Well, that was 1952, the year the political order was thrown out the window. It`s when the hero who had accepted the Nazi surrender accepted the Republican nomination for president. It`s when a small group led by another war hero, Henry Cabot Lodge, decided they were not going down to defeat the same old losing candidates.

Well, we saw another shakeup in American politics eight years later, when a young war hero from Massachusetts broke all the old rules and got elected even though he was young, Catholic, and wasn`t part of the Democratic establishment.

I wish I could say we`re in for the same kind of excitement in 2016, the kind of excitement that leads to positive change, to resolution of our politics and a period of united government. What we`re seeing now is something different than a coming to power, however brief, of a new order like Ike in `52, Kennedy in `60, Ronald Reagan in `80, Barack Obama in 2008. No, I don`t think so.

What I see now is not a movement forward in our politics, not a move toward resolution of our arguments, toward solid conclusion, to some period of united action. No, what I see happening in this early stage of our presidential selection process is not something that follows in the tracks of our successful political history, getting together after the election and moving forward as a country.

What I see is not something that comes from our history but what comes from the crappy, useless, cantankerous politics we`ve seen in the U.S. Congress the past years. I mean the bills that don`t get passed, the budgets that never get approved and honored, the immigration problem that sits out there festering, the infrastructure that rots under us, from the water systems to the old train systems, to the bridges that creak, to the old public school buildings that crack and peel, putting our kids to sleep.

What we`ve seen on Capitol Hill, that single-digit-approved Congress, the bad, bad, bad approval ratings, the treatment of public records as criminal rap sheets, this is what has moved like a tsunami into our presidential politics -- the noise, the personal insults, the hatred, the speeches that sell not results or resolution but simply stir more anger. And this is just what we`ve seen in politics on the congressional level for years now.

It just doesn`t jump at us on television, like the newly infected presidential kind. Well, today we see Trump dump on Cruz. Cruz, a hated man in Congress, is now winning support among the haters who now send people like him to the Congress.

Bernie Sanders runs on a program that will, with all its idealism, simply add another level of argument and opposition to the existing traffic jam of anger on Capitol Hill.

My question is how the selection of Trump, Cruz or Sanders will add to or subtract from the disaster we now face in a Congress unable to act, a government that does not solve problems, only keeps a tally as the problems accumulate. Yes, it is bad.

And the politics of this presidential election seem at this early beginning to be not a solution to the problem but only as a symptom of the mess that has seeped now out of the Congress into the light and noise of a presidential campaign.

Could it be that this entire year-long progress -- process in which we`re now engaged could lead to a crash of egos and interests that makes the Congress of the United States suddenly appear not so bad?

NBC`s Hallie Jackson is in Concord, New Hampshire. At a Trump rally in Oklahoma today, Sarah Palin took on the Republican establishment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE: Even today, the GOP machine -- they`re attacking their own front-runner and his base of dynamic, diverse, very patriotic supporters! They`re attacking you because they can`t afford for the status quo to go! Otherwise, the gravy train -- it stops and they can`t keep slurping from it.

The GOP machine, all of a sudden -- they`re saying we`re not red enough, we`re not conservative enough. And I say what in the world do they know about conservatism?

They`re telling us we need to just chill. And I say they`re stomping on our neck and they`re telling us just chill? No, we won`t chill! In fact, it`s time to drill, baby drill down on what`s going on and hold them accountable!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was done in the oil patch, so "Drill, baby, drill" makes a lot of sense, Hallie, politically. But what did that statement mean? I had a hard time -- what is her role going to be besides a couple votes in Iowa? Is this a one-state stand?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I don`t think so, Chris. If you`re going to look at Sarah Palin`s impact on where she could help Donald Trump, I think that she will hold sway with conservative grass roots voters in the South in some of those SEC primary states in places like potentially South Carolina.

But I think right now, at least, in the short term, her biggest asset is helping to continue to drive earned media coverage for Donald Trump. Look what happened last night when she endorsed him, what happened today. He gets a lot of attention. He`s back in the headlines, and frankly, so is she, both of them helping out each other here.

MATTHEWS: Well, she served half a term as governor of Alaska and walked away from a job she had taken an oath to serve. That`s important as part of a record, you walk away from a job with no clear reason for doing it.

JACKSON: To be the vice presidential nominee.

MATTHEWS: No, she did this afterwards. She left her job.

JACKSON: Right. I`m saying but she was the vice presidential--

MATTHEWS: And then she--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- and I`m not sure she helped the ticket. I think the "Game Change" was meant to be an ironic conclusion of the book written about it by Halperin and Heilemann. And I just wonder, what does she add besides a little sparkle for a couple of weeks?

JACKSON: But it`s a key couple of weeks. Just playing devil`s advocate here, but we`re just a couple of weeks out to Iowa, so if she can add that sparkle for the next, you know, 11 or 12 days, is that enough?

MATTHEWS: Well, it may be. Anyway, Trump -- Donald Trump continues to dominate national and state polls, as you said, also the news. In the latest Monmouth University poll released today, Trump leads the field at 36 percent nationally. That`s about near his top, 19 points higher than Cruz, who`s not really making it nationally.

Meanwhile, in a brand-new poll from Florida, Trump has the support of nearly half the Republican voters. That is impressive. He now leads that field by 32. He`s at 48. That is way up by the -- beyond the ceiling people have put on him.

He also leads in Georgia by 10 points and Nevada by 13 points -- these are margins -- in South Carolina by 14, in Maryland by 17, and in a brand-new poll from New Hampshire today -- in this new poll, Trump is up by 20 in that one. The contest is closer in Iowa, where Trump is up by 2, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

So do you have a sense, Hallie, whether she`s going to go back in and campaign a lot in Iowa the next two weeks -- the next week-and-a-half, actually?

JACKSON: Look at what she`s done so far. She`s already within 24 hours of endorsing him been out on the campaign trail for her (ph). Her super-PAC is out asking supporters to raise money so that Palin can, in fact, travel and do some of this -- some of this surrogacy, if you will, for Donald Trump. So it would be sort of a misfire for him not to deploy her out on the campaign trail over these next couple of weeks.

You talked about his standing here in New Hampshire. Well, Palin, at least with undecided voters that I`ve talked to in New Hampshire, may not sway some of those men and women. Donald Trump is still up by about 20 points now in that new poll over the second place candidate, Ted Cruz, by the way.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Hallie Jackson up there in New Hampshire.

On the "TODAY" show this morning, Donald Trump was asked if he would consider Sarah Palin as a running mate. Well, this is gotcha journalism, if there ever was. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, "TODAY": Would you consider her as your running mate?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don`t think of -- to start off with, I don`t think that it would be something she`d want to do. She`s been through that.

GUTHRIE: But to the question--

TRUMP: So I haven`t -- I haven`t--

GUTHRIE: -- would you consider it?

TRUMP: -- discussed it with her. No, I haven`t discussed anything with her about what she`d do. But she`s somebody I really like and I respect, and certainly, she could play a position, if she wanted to.

GUTHRIE: You wouldn`t rule her out as VP.

TRUMP: Well, I don`t think she`d want to do it. I have to win before I start thinking about that. There are a lot of good people -- in the Republican Party, there are a lot of good people. But certainly, there`d be a role somewhere in the administration, if she wanted. And I`m not sure that she does want that. But there would certainly be a role.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Savannah had to ask that question, and he clearly had to answer it the way he did.

Omarosa Manigault is a professor at Howard University and a Trump surrogate. Thank you. And John Feehery`s a Republican strategist.

Omarosa, let me ask you this. I think there are -- do you agree with me -- well, let me ask you something. I`ll be a little tougher than I usually am here.

I think a lot of people in the suburbs, people that do think and read the papers and keep up with things, sophisticated people who see themselves as sort of middle-of-the road Republicans who would vote Republican against Hillary in some cases, will -- in most cases -- think of Trump as a smarter guy than he puts on. They think he has clownish qualities, but those are for the road, that when you get back to business -- and he has been in business -- he`s a serious as hell guy who is somebody you can believe in as a grownup.

But the language used by her yesterday suggests that she can use the same language as he, but nobody believes that she`s a person of accomplishment or achievement like Trump is or a person of deep, down ability like he is, achievement and ability, because they think they talk the same way, appeal to the same audience in some cases, but Sarah Palin is no Donald Trump.

And is there a danger in putting her out there as a surrogate? Yes or no.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Listen, as a surrogate--

MATTHEWS: Yes or no!

MANIGAULT: -- she`s going to do exactly what she needs to do. First of all, there is always a risk when you take on a surrogate or you take on someone who`s going to go out and speak a message for you, and you want to make sure that they are consistent with what you`re trying to advance.

Number one, she has huge, huge support in Iowa. And that`s where we`re marching to.

MATTHEWS: I know all that!

MANIGAULT: We`re only two weeks from Iowa and--

MATTHEWS: But behind all that support and class background and regional support for her and people that see her as a countrywoman like them and -- I understand the whole appeal--

MANIGAULT: OK.

MATTHEWS: -- of the way she takes on the establishment. But peel it all off, is she the person you want to see in the White House as president?

MANIGAULT: In the White House doing what?

MATTHEWS: Being president or vice president.

MANIGAULT: You`re saying--

MATTHEWS: Would you want to see her in the White House as president, Omarosa? Sarah Palin?

MANIGAULT: Clearly, I want to see Donald Trump as president--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Would you want -- under any circumstances, would you want to see Sarah Palin as president? Any circumstances.

MANIGAULT: As president?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MANIGAULT: I want to see Donald Trump as president. I have no--

MATTHEWS: No--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- because you`re out here selling Trump--

MANIGAULT: That`s a gotcha!

MATTHEWS: -- and he`s got her as a surrogate. I`m asking you--

MANIGAULT: He didn`t announce her--

MATTHEWS: -- is she qualified to be president of the United States?

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: -- running mate. He announced her--

MATTHEWS: Is she qualified--

MANIGAULT: -- as a surrogate. And none of the surrogates have to go through a vet like they`re running for president. They just have to--

MATTHEWS: OK.

MANIGAULT: -- accomplish what you want them to accomplish.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MANIGAULT: And in this case, she`s going to help him win Iowa.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MANIGAULT: That`s why she is endorsing him--

MATTHEWS: So is it really on the table that--

MANIGAULT: -- right now.

MATTHEWS: It wouldn`t even be on the table for her as VP, then.

MANIGAULT: I don`t believe so.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think I got your drift here.

John Feehery, this is the problem. And I think Omarosa`s great. I think -- I consider you a civilian, Omarosa. You`re not a political person. You`re not running for office. But there`s a reasonable reaction she said, What are you crazy?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That was basically her reaction, what are you, crazy? Of course, she can`t be president. And that is a problem!

MANIGAULT: I have never said that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You have an illustrative (ph) personality. Let me go to--

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think the bigger problem for Donald Trump is Sarah Palin going rogue and saying crazy things, which she did yesterday. I don`t know -- it was like performance art. It wasn`t really even a political speech. Sarah Palin is not going to be this big asset for her (sic), especially after Iowa. She`s going to be a huge liability and--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- you heard yesterday that was--

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Oh, I don`t know, just all kinds of -- it was like a bunch of poetry. I don`t know what it was. It was just -- it was non-connected, didn`t make sense.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FEEHERY: And she`s not that great of a surrogate, and I think this could be a problem. She dragged McCain down.

MATTHEWS: Is there a cabinet post you would trust her in?

FEEHERY: No! God, no!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Not even (INAUDIBLE)

FEEHERY: Nothing! No.

MATTHEWS: Nothing! Nothing!

FEEHERY: God! No. No.

MATTHEWS: Not transportation, nothing.

FEEHERY: Nothing!

MATTHEWS: Omarosa, let me ask you this, then. What is the role to be played by Sarah Palin now? I mean, you`re a great surrogate. I think you can do it. What is -- what is her plan for the next couple weeks? What do you see her possibly doing, helping him win Iowa, right?

MANIGAULT: She will help win Iowa. She`s going to help him go into -- with great momentum into New Hampshire. But she brings the grass roots of the conservative movement. She brings the Tea Party. She brings enthusiasm.

And that`s what the caucuses are all about. You want to see him roll into Iowa with the excitement and enthusiasm that he needs to win, and she brings that. And the media covers everything that she says. He called it poetry. You know what? I call it politically savvy.

MATTHEWS: You think he`ll bring her to a place like New Hampshire. Well, that`s -- you think, John, she (sic) should bring her to New Hampshire?

FEEHERY: Oh, she`ll be a disaster in New Hampshire!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think so, Omarosa. I think -- you really think he`ll bring her --

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: I said rolling into New Hampshire. I didn`t say--

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: -- take him with her.

MATTHEWS: -- "live free or die" state is really waiting for her! Anyway, we`ll see.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I think she`s going to be cauterized. She`s going to be sequestered in particularly places like Oklahoma and Iowa, where they have a lot of home schoolers--

MANIGAULT: But what about the states that she and John McCain won in 2008?

MATTHEWS: Well, you know--

MANIGAULT: She`s going to be key in those states.

MATTHEWS: -- they didn`t win the states that -- they didn`t win the -- the key states are the ones they lost, I think--

MANIGAULT: But the ones that they won, she`ll be an asset to.

MATTHEWS: -- the states that matter in this country.

Let me tell you the states that matter in America. I say it over and over again because they`re the only states that matter in presidential elections -- Ohio, Virginia--

MANIGAULT: Where I`m from.

MATTHEWS: -- Colorado and sometimes even Pennsylvania. Those are the states that sort of decide our presidential elections. I threw in Pennsylvania because I like it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Omarosa Manigault, thank you. You`re a delightful guest--

MANIGAULT: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: -- and I think you have spoken such truth to us, even if you didn`t want to.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Coming up -- a tale of two insurgents. New poling shows Bernie Sanders out with a big lead in New Hampshire. Now the knives are out. Look at people coming for him now. Can the Democratic establishment do to Bernie what the Republicans are trying to do to Trump? Can they stop their outsider from winning?

Plus, the big story off the 2016 campaign trail, that water horror out in Flint, Michigan, where you can`t drink the water. The governor apologized and says he`ll fix it. Today, President Obama travelled to Michigan, but should he do more?

And Marco Rubio`s allies are cutting down Ted Cruz now. I love this. Look at this. They`re playing the Canada card.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s Canadian about Ted Cruz? His tax plan. Cruz wants a value added tax, like they have in Canada and European socialist countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, they`ve got Cruz`s head and the Canadian maple leaf up there! We`ve got more of the latest and the greatest campaign ads with the HARDBALL roundtable. You got to stick around for that tonight. It is -- I love ads, especially the nasty ones.

Finally tonight, the HARDBALL roundtable are going to tell us -- well, they`re going to tell me something I don`t know.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, as we told you, Trump`s ahead in Florida, but we`ve got more numbers on the race in the Sunshine State. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Among Florida Democrats, Hillary Clinton beats Bernie Sanders by more than 2 to 1. It`s Clinton 62 percent, Sanders 26. In the potential general election matchups, Trump has 3-point lead over Clinton. It`s trump with 47, Clinton 44. That`s a surprise. And against Bernie Sanders, Trump`s lead in Florida grows to 5 points, 47-42, very close as general election prospects.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, if I were Secretary Clinton and I had started this campaign as the inevitable, kind of anointed candidate in the Democratic Party, I would be nervous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "I would be nervous." Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hillary Clinton`s chance to become the first woman president is somewhat in danger as Bernie Sanders surges in New Hampshire. A new CNN/WMUR poll out of New Hampshire shows Sanders leading Clinton now by 27 points among Democratic primary voters. Now, remember, she won the New Hampshire primary eight years ago against Barack Obama.

The numbers have national Democrats panicking and they`re sounding alarm bells about the possibility of a self-described socialist as the Democratic presidential nominee. Missouri senator Claire McCaskill told "The New York Times," quote, "The Republicans won`t touch him because they can`t wait to run an ad with a hammer and sickle." Wow.

Missouri`s governor, Jay Nixon, said, quote, "We like our politicians in the mainstream, and he is not. He`s a socialist. It would be a meltdown all the way down the ballot."

Delaware governor Jack Markell says, "Candidates in purple states would face serious problems with him on top of the ticket."

But the Clintons know the art of political comebacks, of course. And the comeback kid himself, Bill Clinton, was back in New Hampshire today making the case for his wife.

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has turned into an interesting election.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: It took longer than I thought. I`m just telling you, you can discount what I say, but I -- you have been good to me. You have been good to our family. I trust you. And three weeks is an eternity in politics. In New Hampshire, it is an eternity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Kasie Hunt is an MSNBC political correspondent. And Ed Rendell is a Clinton supporter, of course, and the former governor of Pennsylvania.

Kasie, I want to start with you on the reporting here. What is this word panic? Can we actually say that based upon four or five people that have come out and said, oh, my God, this guy is a socialist, he will kill us? That is a panic. It is more like an attempt to poison the well, I would say.

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m not sure it is a panic attack, but it`s definitely sounding the alarm.

I think it really sends the signal that suddenly the Clintons are in a place that they didn`t use to be and they are frankly taking a risk by going this route. If they anger too many these Sanders supporters, a lot of whom are very, very excited about idea of voting for him, and, honestly, the Clinton supporters coming out and saying that he is a socialist and hitting him for that, they risk alienating some of those people and potentially causing more of a problem for themselves.

It is pretty clear they have decided that that risk is worth it, which is definitely a change over the course of the last couple of weeks.

MATTHEWS: Yes. It`s like in a basketball game you have to foul the other side to get the ball back. It never looks good. You may end up losing anyway, but if you don`t get the ball back by fouling, you lose.

Anyway, Kasie, you spoke to Senator McCaskill about her comments and Bernie Sanders earlier today. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: One of my colleagues said the Republican attack machine has chain saws for hands. And I think the point I was trying to make is Bernie has not felt those chain saws, and they would come out with a vengeance if he was our nominee.

HUNT: Do you think a socialist, a self-declared socialist could win the presidency of the United States?

MCCASKILL: I can only think for my state. I think it would be absolutely impossible. You have got to win states like Missouri if you`re going to win the presidency, states like Indiana, states like Ohio, states like Pennsylvania.

It is very hard, I think, for most Americans to see how socialism would cure the problems that we are facing right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did you get a lead on her that she would say this or were you just good in reporting it and she just came out with this?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: No, it is interesting that both the people speaking out about the problems of a socialist winning are both from Missouri, which is a tough state for Democrats, of course.

HUNT: It always has been, Chris.

And I think that we have been more used to Republicans sounding the alarm in places where they need to win. That has kind of been the trend in the latest presidential elections. It wasn`t that long ago that the flip side was true and that Democrats were in some ways afraid of the liberal label.

And to a certain extent, there are echoes of that here. Right? After Senator McCaskill made those comments to "The New York Times," it seemed as though this was the argument that she was trying to make. And she went pretty hard after it. She has been one of the most aggressive Clinton surrogates so far. I think it will be interesting to see if she keeps this line up or if there is some backlash against this attack against Bernie Sanders and suddenly some of these people who were really being noisy about it start to back off.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, congratulations on getting an interview in Dirksen Building. I don`t know how you did that. But that was impressive.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Kasie. You are a pro.

HUNT: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Governor Rendell.

Governor Rendell, you have been through a lot of these races for mayor, for DA, everything. And the feeling of this seems to be there`s kind of this weird slippage going on to the left and it seems like it is just happening. It`s like sand coming out of an hourglass. And I don`t know how you stop sand from coming out of an hourglass.

What do you do if you are Hillary in this case or Bill Clinton helping her?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my advice would be no panic and no jitters.

First of all, that poll in New Hampshire that you cited is an outlier. All the rest of the polls have it within seven and three points. That`s number one. Number two, there was a poll in Iowa last week that had Hillary up 21 points. Nobody -- everybody discredited that poll because it was an outlier. And it probably is.

And we also know, Chris, that New Hampshirites make up their minds a couple of days after Iowa votes. You remember, after Barack Obama won in Iowa, the next poll that following day, he was up 20 points in New Hampshire and he wound up losing by four points to Hillary.

I don`t think there is any reason for panic. If you look at the numbers -- you quoted Florida. If you look at the numbers in Florida and South Carolina and Nevada and places like that, Secretary Clinton is showing no significant slippage at all in those places.

I think you have got two very liberal states that happen to come first. And I think there`s no reason for panic at all. And I agree with Kasie. Panic and attacks on Bernie Sanders comes with some risk.

Look, Bernie Sanders has performed a service for the nation. He`s brought these issues front and center and they are going to stay front and center all the way through November. I think we Democrats should appreciate what Bernie has done.

MATTHEWS: Let me help you make your case. Suppose that one of your successful races for governor of Pennsylvania, you heard gone into Bucks County or Montgomery County -- Bucks County, better -- and announced a week before the election, I have to admit this, I have never told this to anybody, but I`m a socialist.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: What would have happened? What would have happened?

RENDELL: I would have picked up about 20 votes and lost about 10,000.

MATTHEWS: That is what I thought. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

RENDELL: Simple as that. Socialism -- and Bernie is going to explain it. He is a Democratic socialist. Listen to my ideas. That is going to be the effort.

Will it be successful? I doubt it. I just think we are a nation that these days latches onto labels. And as you said, liberal is considered a bad label in a presidential election. Socialist, my gosh, my gosh.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think you are right.

Thank you so much, Kasie Hunt. Great reporting.

And thank you, Governor Rendell, for seasoned wisdom.

Up next, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder -- he`s not so seasoned -- says he is sorry and he will fix the Flint water crisis. My God, it doesn`t even look good. His apology a little too late, a little too little?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight, as I have before, I am sorry, and I will fix it.

No citizen of this great state should endure this kind of catastrophe. Government failed you, federal, state and local leaders, by breaking the trust you placed in us. I`m sorry most of all that I let you down. You deserve better. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know that the buck stops here with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologizing for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where multiple missteps led to the city`s water system to become contaminated with lead. The problem started way back in April of `14.

And tonight, Flint`s 100,000 residents still can`t drink the water from their home taps.

President Obama went to nearby Detroit today to talk up the auto industry, and though he did not visit Flint, he acknowledged the crisis there in his remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am very proud of what I have done as president, but the only job that is more important to me is the job of father. And I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids` health could be at risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, now, joining me right now is U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee, who represents Flint. He also was central to another important news story this week, the release of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who was held for three-and-a-half years over in Iran.

Well, congratulations, sir, and thank you for your service in getting Mr. Hekmati back.

Let me ask you about this situation. Explain how water that you drink, you drink out of a fountain, you drink for breakfast, you make orange juice with it, you do everything with it, you drink it just as a meal, part of your meal, how this could get lead in it.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: Well, a state-appointed emergency manager appointed by the governor made the switch from the Lake Huron water source to save a few dollars to the Flint River, which is sort of beyond comprehension.

That river water is 19 times more corrosive than lake water. And the lead pipes, including lead service lines that are privately owned, went for months with untreated river water corroding the lead, which, of course, caused lead to go into the home distribution systems, and kids and others were drinking that.

It could have been handled just simply by treating the river water with corrosion control, but not even that was done; $140 a day is all it would have cost, even if they wanted to use river water, to treat it for corrosion control. It was a failure.

I do see that the governor has acknowledged it. But I want him to make it right. Apologizing, that is fine. He needs to make it right.

MATTHEWS: Well, who knew about it at the time? It`s like Watergate. Who knew and when did they know it and why didn`t they yell?

KILDEE: Right.

MATTHEWS: I am only hearing -- Rachel Maddow is doing great reporting on this now for a long time. She has been at other stories from the very outset.

But why weren`t the people screaming at the city council level? Why weren`t they screaming at the mayor`s level? Why weren`t the citizens saying you are poisoning our kids and us? Why weren`t they yelling?

KILDEE: Well, they did yell. They did yell.

It did -- it became -- it was a local story for a long, long time. Until we knew there was lead in the water, which was sometime over the summer, it was simply a matter of poor-quality water. At least that`s what people thought.

MATTHEWS: Yes, smelly water.

KILDEE: I wrote to the governor back in -- yes, right.

I wrote to the governor in September asking him to seek federal help for this. So, there were a lot of people who were raising the question, but the state was entirely in control of the city of Flint and they were making all the decisions, and obviously they really blew it. But, in this case, there are real serious consequences for that, lifetime consequences.

MATTHEWS: Do you think an apology from the governor is enough?

KILDEE: No. It`s not nearly enough. He needs to make it right and he needs to get nutritional help, educational support.

Lots of opportunities for these kids need to be paid for by the state, because kids can potentially overcome lead exposure, but they need a lot of help to do it. So, it is not just a matter of fixing the pipes and switching the water. They have got to help these kids.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee.

KILDEE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst and global editor of The Huffington Post, Howard Fineman.

Anyway, the two GOP front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, once so close, but now can`t even agree on an approach to Flint`s water crisis. Trump is always talking about building walls. But when there`s a question of tackling contaminated water in American cities, he seems stumped here. Cruz goes after the politicians, but doesn`t offer really an answer to how to fix the problem.

Well, take a listen to both of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it`s a shame what is happening in Flint, Michigan. A thing like that shouldn`t happen. But, again, I don`t want to comment on that. They have got a very difficult problem and I know the governor has got a very difficult time going. But I shouldn`t be commenting on Clint.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What has happened in Flint, Michigan, is an absolute travesty. It is a failure at every level of government. It`s a failure of the city officials. It`s a failure of the county officials. It`s a failure of the state officials. And the men and women of Michigan have been betrayed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there is a common theme.

Those are interesting rhetorical devices. One doesn`t want to talk, doesn`t want to offend the governor or the political establishment of Michigan. And the other guy does his usual angry rant.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

Well, one guy is oblivious and ignorant, and the other guy is purposefully antagonistic. And that summarizes why these two guys are in the lead.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, he got the word betrayal in there.

FINEMAN: OK. Yes. Exactly, in the sense of doom and everything.

I think it summarizes the political situation in the country and the conversation as a whole. The sense of community and the role of government in the community in basic things has been hollowed out in this country by debt, by politics, by disengagement, by disdain.

And there is no greater symbol of it than Flint. I have been in Flint. I know the story of Flint. I grew up in Pittsburgh. I knew that story as well. And the commitment of the governor and the state was not there in the details. And the reason why is many communities in Michigan have gone bankrupt.

They don`t have the tax base and they don`t have the full financial support of the state. So, the state sends people in to oversee and cut costs to try to reach a bottom line in bankruptcy, without any real feel for the local community and the warp and woof of those communities.

MATTHEWS: And cost-cutting doesn`t get you to greatness.

FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.

And so -- but both Trump and Cruz in their own way -- first of all, Trump wants to abolish the EPA altogether. Cruz claims not to want to get abolish the EPA, but wants to get rid of virtually every program in the EPA.

That is their attitude, and their antagonism to government is what Flint is all about.

MATTHEWS: Trump should act more like the builder and less like the showman.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman, for a great introduction to that for a lot of us.

Still ahead, Kentucky senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul is going to be here.

And later, ad wars. This is going to be fun. With days to go before Iowa and New Hampshire, we have got the best ads -- and some of them are really, really rough -- in the 2016 race.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In a speech yesterday endorsing Donald Trump, Sarah Palin also offered some words of praise for one of his rivals, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Let me say something really positive about one of those individuals, Rand Paul. I`m going to tell you about that libertarian streak in him that is healthy, because he knows you only go to war if you`re determined to win the war. And you quit footing the bill for these nations who are oil rich we`re paying for.

Some of their skirmishes have been going on for centuries where they are fighting each other and yelling "Allahu Akbar", calling jihad on each other`s heads forever and ever. Like I`ve said before, let him duke it out and let Allah sort it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

What did you make of that endorsement of you, a sort of a sideline endorsement of your libertarian views on war?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, she endorsed me in my Senate race, and I think it is because she does have a little bit of a libertarian streak as far believing that intervention isn`t always the answer.

Sometimes Donald Trump does, too. You know, he says he was opposed to the Iraq war and so was I.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAUL: The difference is that I think now his view of the Middle East is that, you know, we are going to go in like Ted Cruz, we are going to make the sand glow and we`re going to bomb the hell out of them and carpet bomb `em.

And I have a different approach. I don`t think that we -- I think we may end up creating more terrorists than you kill if you`re going to do indiscriminate bombing. So, I don`t think that`s really the answer.

MATTHEWS: Well, not to ask you to explain Sarah Palin, but she did endorse you somewhat. So, maybe you are stuck with her now. She said she wants to use, her phrase, she is into kicking ISIS`s ass. So, that sounds pretty hawkish.

PAUL: Well, there is the rub is how you are planning on doing that. I don`t think ground troops over there is a good idea and I think ultimate victory is gong to have to come from Sunni Muslims defeating Sunni Muslims. So, if you`re in Tikrit, you`re never going to accept Americans there.

We can win. We can defeat ISIS. We can push them out of Tikrit, but if you`re going to leave 1,000 soldiers there or 5,000 soldiers there to patrol Tikrit, ultimately, there becomes the back current of Sunni Muslims planting bombs wherever our soldiers are. They will accept a victory and it`s an important victory for Islam.

Sunni Muslims need to come together and say that ISIS does not represent our religion and really that`s when the big victory over this aberrant ideology will come.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Palin`s role. I don`t want to bug you with Palin`s role, that`s not your job. Let me ask you -- where do you think libertarianism is going to end up in this race, whether you win or lose? Is it going to have an impact to 2016 in your party?

PAUL: Well, I think libertarianism is a growing influence. When you talk about, if you want to say in general whether or not regime change is a good idea, we have a good niche that opposes many leaders in both parties. So, Hillary Clinton and Rubio have a similar foreign policy and that they both want to topple Gadhafi.

The libertarian point of view is regime change made us less safe and I think the facts are overwhelmingly in our favor. There is an overlap also with another school that I would call foreign policy realism. I think Brzezinski and Scowcroft, they represented some of the more realistic foreign policy and I feel like I have a lot in common with them.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you.

Well, thank you. I hope it doesn`t hurt you, but I`m with you. Anyway, I`m also with Scowcroft and Brzezinski. Anyway, Senator Rand Paul in Kentucky.

HARDBALL is back after this.

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MATTHEWS: You can always catch us at 7:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. But you can play HARDBALL all week long online. Find us on Facebook by searching "Hardball" and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @hardball. We have interviews, behind-the-scenes photos and complete analysis for the race for 2016.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The only thing wilder than the circus of the campaign trail are TV ads floating the airwaves. The Rubio camp is out to brand Ted Cruz, for example, as some kind of Canadian socialist. Karl Rove is taking a page from the Bernie Sanders playbook, and Ted Cruz makes a mean duck gumbo apparently. We can make this stuff up.

I`m joined right now with the HARDBALL roundtable: "The Chicago Tribune`s" Clarence Page, "USA Today`s" Susan Page, and "The Washington Post`s" E.J. Dionne, who by the way is author of a great new book, "Why the Right Went Wrong".

We begin with the big fight on the left and Hillary Clinton`s message to primary voters that it`s time to get real about this race. The Clinton campaign is out with a new ad portraying her as battle-tested for the job. Here`s part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

AD NARRATOR: The person who lives here has to solve problems as big as the world and as small as your kitchen table. That`s the job every day. And now, the first lady who helped get health care for 8 million kids, the senator who helped a city rise again, the secretary of state who stood up for America and stared down hostile leaders around the world is the one candidate for president who has everything it takes to do every part of the job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Susan, what`s that ad intended to? Remind us that Hillary Clinton is the person we`ve always known she is?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: Yes, she got a long resume, very impressive resume. The trouble is, don`t we all know that already?

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s what I thought.

S. PAGE: So, if you`re trying to persuade people that are not necessarily for you to come to be for you, wouldn`t it make more sense to address some of the weaknesses, some of the vulnerabilities? So, I think this ad is true and it`s not like it`s a terrible ad, but I think it`s perplexing strategically.

E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think they must have research that shows there are a lot of people or enough people who want to vote for Bernie to send a message, but still like her. And they`re trying to pull a few of them back to her and that`s the sole purpose.

MATTHEWS: It`s hard to do that in February. It`s easier to do that in October.

DIONNE: Well, but they`ve got to get it done, because this is very close.

MATTHEWS: Well, Bernie Sanders is getting an assist from an unlikely ally, maybe not a wanted ally. Karl Rove of all people. Rove`s group, American Crossroads, has hit the airwaves in Iowa with an attack on Hillary Clinton that place directly to Bernie`s anti-Wall Street bona fides. Let`s watch this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

AD NARRATOR: Ever wonder how Hillary Clinton can afford so many ads? Chances are, they were paid for with Wall Street cash. Hillary Clinton has gotten 54 times more money from Wall Street interests than from all of Iowa. Hillary rewarded Wall Street with the $700 billion bailout. Then, Wall Street made her a multimillionaire.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I represented Wall Street.

AD NARRATOR: You sure did, Hillary.

Does Iowa really want Wall Street in the White House?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was an unpleasant ad. We should note the multiple layers of irony in there. Karl Rove was a senior adviser to President Bush who signed the Wall Street bailout. Got it? And Rove`s Crossroads group has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from investment bankers.

What are they up to here? They`re trying to build up Bernie, because they think Bernie is an easier November opponent, right?

C. PAGE: Yes, I think this is what conspiracy theorists call a false flag operation here, because they want to pump Bernie.

MATTHEWS: False flag, I love it.

C. PAGE: They want to pump up Hillary -- excuse me, pump up Bernie in order to undercut Hillary.

I don`t know how well Karl Rove and the rest of his group are at communicating with people on the left. I think we`ve seen --

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re bashing themselves in order to get the right candidate to run against.

DIONNE: The reply ad from her doesn`t answer any of that. It just says why is Karl Rove interfering, messing with our primary?

C. PAGE: That`s all you`ve got to say.

MATTHEWS: The same reason Claire McCaskill --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Trying to pick your opponent.

Anyway, a new ad from Marco Rubio super PAC drapes of rival Ted Cruz in his native, (INAUDIBLE) right here, Canadian flag.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

AD NARRATOR: What`s Canadian about Ted Cruz? His tax plan. Cruz wants a value added tax, like they have in Canada, and European socialist countries. Obama and Pelosi say they`re open to it.

President Reagan hated it. Conservatives called the Cruz scheme a liberal`s dream because it makes it so easy to raise taxes.

Ted Cruz, wrong on taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Todd Harris` work, probably. That`s great stuff.

But why is Rubio going after Cruz? He`s -- I thought he was in that bantamweight division, trying to win the establishment battle?

S. PAGE: Yes, I mean, that`s true. But isn`t it -- give me a little humor in an ad.

MATTHEWS: I just love it.

S. PAGE: Love connecting two completely unrelated things, the Cruz tax plan, with the fact that he was born in Canada.

DIONNE: Do you know the beautiful thing about that --

MATTHEWS: He`s on the maple leaf.

DIONNE: -- is the announcer says Canada, but the word on the screen is France. The Republicans hate France. He probably eats freedom fries.

MATTHEWS: How does it show France?

DIONNE: Just in the words. At the moment, he says Canada -- big word that Republicans see is France.

MATTHEWS: OK.

C. PAGE: People who think Canada is still part of France.

MATTHEWS: Who needs Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz has an endorsement of "Duck Dynasty`s" Phil Robertson. Here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

PHIL ROBERTSON, DUCK DYNASTY: My qualifications for president of the United States are rather narrow. Is he or she godly? Does he or she love us? Can he or she do the job? And finally, would they kill a duck and put `em in a pot and make `em a good duck gumbo?

I`ve looked at the candidates. Ted Cruz is my man. I`m voting for him.

(GUNSHOTS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, that`s a duck call, but I tell you, I am so alien from that.

These three are going to tell me something I don`t know, coming back.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with a round table.

Clarence, you first.

C. PAGE: Well, Bernie Sanders has been getting hit by the Black Lives Matter folks, and now he`s being criticized for posing a racial reparations and favoring class view. He was criticized heavily by Ta-Nehisi Coates and expects other people will be following.

But it turns out Bill Clinton took the same position back in the `90s, and Hillary Clinton hasn`t addressed it directly, she probably has the same position. So, I don`t --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Socialism and reparations. There`s a winner.

C. PAGE: Not too much, right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Susan Page?

S. PAGE: Martin O`Malley could matter in Iowa.

MATTHEWS: By the way, I do believe it`s reparation if he could figure out what it would be.

C. PAGE: That`s right, that`s right.

S. PAGE: Martin O`Malley could matter in the Iowa caucuses and here`s how -- you have to reach 15 percent to viable in a caucus. He`s not going to reach 15 percent, maybe anywhere.

So, that means his small number of supporters, 5 percent of the Iowa electorate are up for grabs. And if you have a very close race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, which you may have, those supporters and where they go could make a difference.

MATTHEWS: E.J.?

DIONNE: In the book, I tell the story --

MATTHEWS: Name of the book?

DIONNE: It`s "Why The Right Went Wrong." Thank you. And in the book, I tell the story of this remarkable controversial video that the Goldwater campaign made back in 1964, and it showed rioters and African-Americans, law-breakers everywhere, contrasted with comforting scenes of boys reading the pledge of allegiance and the Constitution.

It was a "take your country back" ad 50 years ago. It was so controversial, they ended up pulling it, but they showed it around the country, and it could run today as a Donald Trump ad, and it prefigured hundreds of Republican ads for the next 50 years.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to have you back more on the book later. Of course, the great E.J. Dionne. And thank you, Clarence Page, and thank you, Susan Page.

That`s it for HARDBALL. Thanks for being with us tonight.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END