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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/27/2016

Guests: Hillary Clinton, Ann Coulter, Carol Lee, Cornell Belcher, Jeanne Shaheen, Angus King

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 27, 2016 Guest: Hillary Clinton, Ann Coulter, Carol Lee, Cornell Belcher, Jeanne Shaheen, Angus King

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Last chance debate.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Hillary Clinton wants another big night with Bernie. The former secretary of state says she would be happy to hit the stage with Bernie Sanders and Martin O`Malley next week in New Hampshire. Clinton told me earlier today she hopes the Democratic National Committee and the campaigns will agree to sanction the February 4th debate hosted by "The New Hampshire Union Leader" and MSNBC.

Meanwhile, the contest between Clinton and Sanders is getting heated. In Iowa, a new Quinnipiac poll today shows Sanders now leading Clinton 49 to 45, according to that latest poll.

Sanders was in Washington today, where he met privately with President Obama in the Oval Office for more than an hour. The meeting came days after the president praised Hillary Clinton and seemed to dismiss Sanders`s appeal with an interview with Politico. The president said, You`re always looking at the bright, shiny object people haven`t seen before. That`s a disadvantage to Clinton.

Well, earlier today, I spoke with Secretary Clinton about debates, about Bernie Sanders`s attacks and the historic nature of her own candidacy.


MATTHEWS: You know, we`re getting near closing time and closing arguments in the big fight in Iowa, and then in New Hampshire coming on quickly. Donald Trump is not going to debate on Fox tomorrow night.

Will you debate on our debate? Will you show up?

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): Look, Chris, what I`ve said through my campaign is that I would look forward to another debate. I am, you know, anxious, if we can get something set up, to be able to be there. And so let`s try to make it happen.

MATTHEWS: Well, someone has to lead from the front. Will you be there, no matter what? Will you show up and wait and see? Will you be there waiting for Bernie Sanders and Martin O`Malley?

Would you, in other words, lead the pack in showing up and committing to doing that?

CLINTON: Look, I`m ready for the debate, and I hope Senator Sanders will change his mind and join us. And I think the DNC and the campaign should be able to work this out. I`ve said for -- you know, for a long time that I`d be happy to have more debates, and I hope we can get this done.

MATTHEWS: Well, if he doesn`t show up, will you?

CLINTON: Well, let`s hope that we can get it worked out. I don`t want to -- you know, I don`t want to jump the gun and create more problems for everybody trying to get this worked out, so we can all come to agreement that the voters of New Hampshire and America deserve to see us, you know, debating before the New Hampshire primary.

MATTHEWS: So you won`t be there -- just a last question on this. You won`t be there unless Bernie`s there.

CLINTON: Well, I`m not committing to that, either, Chris. I think we should have another debate. I think people want it. They have called for it. Folks have moved forward trying to get it set up. We`ve got, you know -- look, 24 hours in a political campaign is an eternity.


CLINTON: We`ve got a little time to try to get everybody on board, which would certainly be my preference.

MATTHEWS: OK, you believe candidates should have the courage to face each other before the -- before the caucuses, in other words. You think you should be there and he should be there.

CLINTON: I do. I think that -- you know, I agreed, we all agreed to go with the process that the DNC had set up. And you know, I`ve been saying for a while that if they come up with more debates, I will be there. And now we`ve got a real, live possibility, and I -- I personally think it would be great for the -- you know, the primary. We`re moving into the caucus, as you know so well, on Monday.


CLINTON: And then once we come out of there, whatever happens, we should agree to debate in New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS: In other words, you`re sticking to your commitment, I will be there.

CLINTON: I will -- I will debate. Now, as I say, I`d want -- I want all the campaigns and the DNC to agree. That is my preference.


CLINTON: That`s what we`ve tried to, you know, do in our side of the ledger here.


CLINTON: And I`m pushing people to come to agreement so we can all get out there and debate before the New Hampshire primary.

MATTHEWS: Well, this is getting very sharply worded as we get closer to the caucuses. The word in "The New York Times" this morning, Madam Secretary, is that Senator Sanders is readying an attack ad against you. We don`t know whether he`s going to use it, but the language is basically that you`re in hock to Wall Street because of the speaking fees you`ve taken from Goldman Sachs.

How do you respond or how will you respond to an eleventh-hour attack like that?

CLINTON: Well, first, it`s really disappointing, Chris. You know, Senator Sanders has started to get increasingly personal with his attacks. He even compared me to Dick Cheney last week, which, you know, is kind of a low blow. So it would be another escalation and a breaking of his pledge not to go negative.

One of the things that I think has been great about the Democratic side is we really have focused on issues, while the Republicans have been hurling insults. And I think the people in Iowa want to go to the caucuses thinking about which one of us as president can actually make a difference in their lives, and that`s the case I`ve been focused on making.

So you know, it would be a sharp departure by Senator Sanders. And you know, the other part of this, is anybody who knows me knows you can`t buy me. I mean, honestly, I`ve been standing up and fighting and getting knocked around for years, trying to get things done that I think would improve people`s lives. And I`m not going to stop, and that includes anybody trying to, you know, mess with our financial system. / MATTHEWS: Well, when he uses phrases like -- dark phrases like, You can draw your own conclusions, as to whether you`re in hock to Goldman Sachs or anyone -- is that -- is that a low blow, You can draw your own conclusions?

CLINTON: Well, I think he`s trying to go to the line without going over it. And you know, clearly, some of the journalists covering us are starting to notice and call him out on it.

But I feel very -- you know, very positive and energized by what I`m seeing happening here in Iowa. And I know that I have the best plan to rein in Wall Street abuses, to make sure it doesn`t ever happen again.

Lots of folks, from Barney Frank to Paul Krugman, have said that`s the case because I don`t just go after the big banks. You know, we already have the authority to do that under Dodd-Frank, and I have said I would use that authority if they were posing a systemic risk to our economy.

But equally importantly, we`ve got to go after the shadow banking sector. You know, let`s not forget Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide, Rapovia (ph). And let`s also remind people, Chris, that, clearly, the billionaires, as Bernie likes to say -- the billionaires have chosen sides. They`re running ads against me and trying to, you know, kind of hoodwink Democrats into voting against me because they know exactly what I will do because they`ve seen me in action.

So whether it`s, you know, Karl Rove or the hedge fund guys with their own super-PAC, or Joe Ricketts jumping in now with a kind of ham-handed effort to look like he was, you know, going against Bernie, when the real point was to, you know, stir opposition to me. I take that as perversely flattering and as the single best refutation of what Senator Sanders is trying to imply.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re giving us a real rogue`s gallery here of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, let me ask you about the slogans. You used a phrase the other day, these shouting slogans. Now, I know what you mean -- I`m going to build a wall across the Rio Grande -- across -- along the Rio Grande River. I`m going to make the Mexicans pay for it.

But on the Democratic side, Senator Sanders says things like free health care, or rather, government-paid health care for life, as a right. He talks about free tuition when you go to a great school like Berkeley or Madison, Wisconsin. Free! Free!

Is that what you mean, this -- we had a young guy on yesterday from South Carolina who switched from you to Senator Sanders, and he -- I went through this list of free things and I said, Where`s the money come from? And he says, Well, we put a man on the moon. We can do this.

And that kind of fantastic -- what do you call it -- appeal. And then I heard from Sanders the other day that they`re going to stay left, right to the general, they`re not going to make any appeal to the middle.

How do you beat somebody who promises to go hard left, right to November, and offers all this stuff to people who are 20 years old, 22 years old, and they don`t have to pay much taxes now, but you say, Look, you`re going to get free -- no more tuition bills, no more bills! You`re going to have no health care the rest of your life, so forget having to buy insurance.

It`s a pretty good offer. Is that what you mean by shouting slogans?

CLINTON: Well, I was really more referring to the Republicans, as you pointed out initially. And I have been, you know, pointing out the differences in the approach between myself and Senator Sanders because I know that it`s more important we actually make progress than fall back into gridlock.

And let`s take health care as an example. You know, we`ve been trying, as Democrats, since Harry Truman to get on the path to universal coverage. Before it was called "Obama care," it was called "Hillary care," and I have the scars to prove it. And I was thrilled when President Obama passed and signed the Affordable Care Act.

We are now at 90 percent coverage. I sure think we ought to improve it. I`ve got plans to get the costs down and make sure we do go after high prescription drug costs and some of the other drivers of health care costs. But I think it`s a lot smarter to try to go from 90 percent to 100 percent than to throw our country into another contentious debate about health care.

Where`s the money going to come from? Who`s going to be paying it? If you have health care you like, if you`re under a private plan, do you have to give it up? If you`re on Medicare and you work, do you have to pay more taxes? All these questions that would be thrown back into the public arena and we`d have to start all over again from 0 to 100 percent.

I just think we want to stay on the path of making progress. Now, some people, you know, say, Oh my gosh, that`s so pragmatic. It`s not, you know, soaring, or whatever they say. Well, I`m out there talking to people who prescription drug costs have gone up from $200 to $14,000. I`m talking to people whose insulin cost has gone up three times. That`s not a new drug. That doesn`t have any new research in it.

I`m talking to people who are thanking me for the Affordable Care Act because the lifetime limit, the cap has been lifted. And a man yesterday in Davenport said to me, I`m so grateful because I`ve got a granddaughter with a congenital heart condition.

These people can`t wait, Chris. We can`t wait for another big debate that promises, you know, the sky when we know we`ve got to deliver on the ground. We`ve got to help people deal with the problems, the issues, the challenges they`re facing right now.

We have to restore faith that our government can work. And that is what I intend to do as president, and I`m going to keep fighting for that. And I respect the goal because Senator Sanders and I share the same goal. We want to get to universal coverage.

I think my way will get us there faster and provide the health care that the people here in Iowa are telling me they are desperately, desperately in need of.

MATTHEWS: Last question, and it`s so important to this campaign. I think so. I know you think so. It has to do with history. And it`s not the only issue in the campaign, obviously, but if you look at the American Constitution -- and you`ve studied constitutional law -- and the fact is that it wasn`t until after the civil war that African-American men were given the right to vote in the 15th Amendment. And then women didn`t get it until after the First World War. There`s a long lag there.

Obama was elected president. You might get elected president. You may well get elected president. Do you think it`s -- you think young American women -- say, young women in college, 18 to 22, 23 -- do they get it, how long this struggle has been and the fact that it`s a precarious struggle that could fall back?

Do they know that all the rights to choice, to equality at workplace, where they do get it, all were fought for? Do they get it? That`s my simple question. I don`t know if they do. Do you think they get it?

CLINTON: Look, I think that a lot of young people -- and I wouldn`t limit it to women. I think young people of every background, every racial, ethnic, religious background, are, you know, trying to understand how best they can participate in our political system and what the stakes are for them.

And of course, you know, if you haven`t been through a lot of these struggles, it`s easy either not to know about them or to think they didn`t go far enough or that, you know, everything is taken care of. So we`ve got the two extremes of the argument.

But here`s what I`m hearing, at least from the young women who come to see me. They say, Hey, OK, you`re for equal pay. What are you going to make sure I get it? I had a young woman the other day here in Iowa say, I want to go to law school. How can I be sure that if I work hard and do well and get a job, I`m going to get equal pay?

And I said, OK, that`s the right question because we`ve been fighting for this. We`ve made progress, but not near enough. Here`s exactly what I think we need to do to get it.

Or young women who say, you know, I can`t balance family and work. I had a young woman come to see me holding her 9-month-old baby and she said, you know, I can`t go back to work until I get my baby stabilized. I need paid family leave. What are you going to do about it?

So I think what`s happening is, as the campaign goes on, a lot of young people -- and let`s focus on young women -- are moving from the sort of general, either we haven`t gone far enough or those fights are over and I don`t have to worry about it, to being much more specific.

And that is a good development because at the end of our efforts here in the primaries, and if I`m so fortunate enough to get the nomination, then I think we fight out an election between a party that believes we`ve got to continue to address the lacks in our drive for equality, our drive for justice, whether it`s racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it -- we need to address those gaps, and the other side doesn`t even want to admit they exist.

So I think we`re going to have a very positive reaction in the general election between, you know, the big deniers on the Republican side, and you know, Let`s make progress, get things done, on my side.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. One last -- just to clarify what you said about the debate. Would you like the chairman -- the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to approve the MSNBC/NBC debate next week?

CLINTON: I would like the chairmen of the party and the campaigns to agree that we can debate in New Hampshire next week.


CLINTON: That is what I`m hoping will happen.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much. It`s been an honor to have you on, Secretary Hillary Clinton from Iowa. Thanks for joining us on HARDBALL tonight.

CLINTON: Thanks, Chris. Good to talk to you again.


MATTHEWS: Coming up -- Donald Trump vows to skip tomorrow night`s Republican debate. He`s at war right now with Fox, its news anchor and its PR team. Will Trump outfox Fox? Will his gambit pay off? I`ll ask Ann Coulter straight ahead.

Plus, with five days before the voting actually begins, what impact will Trump snubbing Fox have on the race out in Iowa? He`s neck and neck with Ted Cruz right now, and Cruz says if Trump wins Iowa, he`ll be unstoppable.

And the epidemic of heroin addition. It`s on the rise across this country, and it`s a major issue on the campaign trail up in New Hampshire. We`re going to talk to two senators up there who are trying to break the chain of addiction in America.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with a role model for Donald Trump, the Rough Rider himself, President Teddy Roosevelt.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Today, as I mentioned, Bernie Sanders met with President Obama at the White House. NBC`s Lester Holt caught up with Senator Sanders shortly after that meeting with the president for an exclusive interview and asked him about the tight race going on right now in Iowa and what success would look like.


LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": What`s your bar for success in Iowa?


HOLT: Number one.

SANDERS: Yes. I mean, I think that we have worked really hard. We started off in Iowa later than Secretary Clinton did. But in the last number of months, we have put together an incredible volunteer effort. We have some 15,000 volunteers.

And let me tell -- be very clear about this, Lester. On caucus night in Iowa, you will be able to tell very early, I think, who wins and who loses. If there is a large voter turnout, we`re going to win.


MATTHEWS: That was a beautiful Lafayette Park across from the White House.

HARDBALL returns after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has stunned the political world by announcing he will not show up at tomorrow night`s Republican debate hosted by FOX News. FOX respond by issuing a statement saying -- quote -- "We learned from a secret back channel that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president. Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings."

Well, after FOX put out the sarcastic attack on Trump, Trump said he wasn`t going to be toyed with.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With me, they`re dealing with somebody that`s a little bit different.

They can`t toy with me like they toy with everybody else. So, let them have their debate and let`s see how they do with the ratings. And I told them. I said, give money to the wounded warriors, give money to the veterans. They`re going to make a fortune with the debate. Now let`s see how many people watch.

When they sent out the wise guy press releases a little while ago done by some P.R. person, along with Roger Ailes, I said, bye-bye. OK?


MATTHEWS: Bye-bye.

Anyway, the back and forth continued with Megyn Kelly when she reacted to Trump`s decision.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Trump is not used to not controlling things, as the chief executive of a large organization. But the truth is, he doesn`t get to control the media.


MATTHEWS: And, of course, Trump`s main rival in Iowa, Ted Cruz, pounced on the drama between Trump and FOX.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Apparently, Megyn Kelly is really, really scary. And Donald is a fragile soul.


CRUZ: You know, if she asks him mean questions, I mean, his hair might stand on end.


CRUZ: If he thinks Megyn Kelly is so scary, what exactly does he think he would do with Vladimir Putin? I promise you, Putin is a lot scarier than Megyn Kelly. And I would like him to hear Donald explain to the American people, the people of Iowa, how is prepared to be commander of chief if he`s terrified by a television host.


MATTHEWS: Well, late today, Trump announced he`s holding a counterevent in Des Moines with a veterans group that will start when the debate starts simultaneously at 9:00 Eastern. So, will Trump outfox FOX?

Ann Coulter is a columnist and commentator. Dana Milbank is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post."

You know, Ann, this is an amazing night, because I think it`s a battle of what kind of personality do you like or like least. I mean, Trump certainly is big-time. He is bombastic, he`s over the top. He`s got an ego.

And then I see this guy Cruz trying to match him. I don`t think he`s in the same league, myself.

Your thoughts about the whole theater? I want you on for the theater, because you know theater. What`s going to happen here tomorrow night? Will he or won`t he show up, Donald Trump?

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "GODLESS: THE CHURCH OF LIBERALISM": I hope he doesn`t. He has established himself as the real alpha dog here, as if he hasn`t already.

And, look, I like a lot of things about Ted Cruz, but one of his Achilles` heels is, he does not have a sense of humor. And I think the joke about Donald Trump being afraid of Megyn Kelly, you know, it just doesn`t work. Nobody thinks Donald Trump is afraid of anything.

And, I mean, as you just -- and thank you for telling the story properly -- it wasn`t over Megyn Kelly. It was over that snippy, smart-alecky press release. And I would ask you to imagine, what if NBC had released such a press release to a Republican candidate before a debate?

It really is -- it really is kind of shocking. And I think Trump is shaking up the way people look at FOX News, as maybe not always our network.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think Roger Ailes, who had to sign off, I assume, on any P.R. that went out -- it was sarcastic as hell. It made fun of Trump. It made fun of him, the front-running candidate for the Republican nomination for president It made him into sort of a little chicken.

And why would -- just last question, because I want to ask Dana a little bit here -- why would Roger Ailes start a fight that could cost him, God, 20 -- 15, 20 million people tomorrow night watching?

COULTER: No, that`s right. And that`s why Trump has established himself as the alpha dog.

Well, I suppose because FOX News -- I mean, I don`t know. I don`t know if Trump -- if Ailes even saw it. But monopolies can get arrogant. And there does seem to be a little bit of arrogance here.

I will also say that it`s not just that it`s smart-alecky in how it treats Trump. It`s really insulting to voters. Look, Trump didn`t like a question going back to his days as a reality TV host, when, meanwhile -- and I actually liked that question, by the way. I have no complaint with Megyn Kelly. It`s my one disagreement with Donald Trump. I liked the question.

The unfairness was that none of the other candidates were asked tough questions. Why were you asking about what Trump said as a reality TV host and not about how he`s going to help wounded veterans, how he`s going to get people back to work, how he`s going to deport illegal aliens? Those are the questions I think viewers and voters want to hear answers to, not this silliness about things he said in fun and to be funny.

MATTHEWS: You know, Dana, I was thinking -- trying to think Trump -- trying to think Trump is funny in itself.

Was he thinking, OK , if I go into that thing tomorrow night, everybody is shooting at me, including Megyn and all the reporters there, Chris Wallace, everybody is going to be after me?

One of the things they will go after is that comment, that ridiculous comment he made three or four days ago, which was, if I shot somebody on Fifth Avenue -- well, first of all, it didn`t -- it was metaphoric or hyperbolic or whatever, because if he shot anybody, he would go right to jail on the spot.


MATTHEWS: So the idea -- the bail would be set rather high. He would have to turn over his passport. All kinds of bad things would happen.

But why -- I would think that that might be the first thing somebody might say. Why would you talk like that if you`re running for president of the United States?

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Look, I think Donald Trump is atrocious for all kinds of reasons. But he is a brilliant showman.

And you know what? It doesn`t matter if he shows up tomorrow. He won this thing already, because, look, it`s the only thing everybody is talking about today.


MILBANK: It`s the only thing everybody is going to be talking about today.

MATTHEWS: And if he doesn`t show up, they will talk about him.

MILBANK: Well, they are going to be doing split-screen with his event over there, where he is out there speaking during the debate.

MATTHEWS: With wounded veterans.

MILBANK: Of course, and saying whatever he wants, without the interference of these terribly mean moderators from FOX News.

MATTHEWS: You know, Ann, you probably know Washington enough to know that if you`re not in the room at the party, at the dinner party, you`re guaranteed to be talked about.

And so, I mean, I would think that Trump, they`re all going to -- the moderators, the other candidates are going to take shot after shot at him in their so-called -- and you know -- you`re so right about Cruz not having a sense of humor -- in his unfunny way will be making these pretty broad- humored attempt to try to put him down.


COULTER: Well, none of them have Trump`s ability to just have the one- punch knockout.

What works about Trump`s attacks on his opponents, the low energy, they called Ben Carson to say he was ahead in the polls, but he was sleeping. He has one-punch knockouts because there`s a grain of truth to it.

What these guys don`t understand is, oh, they will go after him, because he won`t be there to punch back, but none of their attacks really work. It just -- it doesn`t work to call the alpha dog scared of a girl. It just doesn`t work.


MATTHEWS: By the way, gender is tricky, but I get the feeling -- you know, I would have said when people took on Lesley Stahl years ago, or Natalie up in -- I forget her last name -- Natalie up in Boston, if you wanted to die politically, take on a woman broadcaster.

I think that`s changed. I think there`s sort of a different kind of equality now. Ann, you have to answer this, a different kind of equality.

He is going to war with Megyn Kelly. I`m not sure that`s a no-no anymore. I think you can go to war, man against woman, in politics now. What do you think?

COULTER: Well, certainly Trump thinks so.


MATTHEWS: Or does the old rule still apply? Tell me if I`m wrong.

COULTER: He is completely equal opportunity.

When he was going after Ben Carson for something, oh, I think it was his chronic bad temper--


COULTER: -- or epidemic bad temper, somebody was asking about it.

And I said, well, that`s great. It shows that Trump is the one America that actually doesn`t discriminate on the basis of race. And he doesn`t discriminate on the basis of gender.

MATTHEWS: OK. Will he show up or not? Your thoughts, Ann, and then Dana?


COULTER: I hope not. I mean, normally, these debates get 20 million viewers, and that`s all because of Trump. If he doesn`t show up, they will get 20 million for the first 10 minutes. Then people will realize, wait, where is Trump? And it will go down to seven million.

MILBANK: I hope he does, because, otherwise, I have no interest in watching it.


MATTHEWS: You won`t have a column.


MILBANK: Like most of America.


MATTHEWS: One move might be to show up for five minutes and then leave.

Anyway, thank you, Ann Coulter. Please come back.

COULTER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You`re on your good behavior around here. We don`t know how to handle this. But we like it. Anyway, thank you -- from our point of view, as long as you`re not shooting at us.

Dana Milbank, thank you, sir.

And speaking of tomorrow night`s debate, we`re going to have full HARDBALL coverage both before and after the debate. I`m working all night tomorrow night, because I love these nights -- 7:00 p.m. Eastern, we will be on, of course, with HARDBALL, and afterwards at 11:00 p.m. Eastern again, for a full two hours -- believe it or not -- two hours, going into the morning hours with tonight`s -- and all the highlights of tomorrow night.

We`re going to have a bit of Trump and his thing and the wounded warriors, of course, and we`re going to have the debates about the debates.

And we will probably get Trump on later tomorrow night, if we`re lucky, plus interviews with candidates, their advisers and top reporters in the spin room, which will be working overtime because there will be one less guy there.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



TRUMP: So, every single poll has me winning every single debate. I have done six of them.

And now you say, when does it stop? How many debates do you have to do?

Let`s see how they do with the debate. Let`s see how many people watch, OK? Let`s see how many people watch. I said give money to the wounded warriors. I said give money to the veterans. Megyn Kelly is a lightweight. This is a lightweight. This is not a reporter. This to me is just a lightweight.


MATTHEWS: You know, watching those gestures are something else.

Anyway, Donald Trump`s feud with FOX News over the debate tomorrow night has again seized the spotlight away from his Republican rivals once again. And with just five days left until the Iowa caucuses next Monday, the stakes are obviously high.

Catch this. The latest Monmouth University poll out of the Hawkeye State puts Trump back on top -- look at this -- seven points. That`s beyond the margin of error, 30 to 23 against Cruz, who seems to be a bit dying there. It`s clear that Cruz is counting on Iowa`s evangelical vote as his best shot to carry the state on Monday night.

Well, this week, he warned Iowa pastors in a closed-door meeting -- I love these things, very democratic -- that Trump, if he manages to pull off a victory in Iowa, beware, he will become unstoppable. And here`s Cruz.


CRUZ: If Donald wins Iowa, he right now has a substantial lead in New Hampshire. If he went on to New Hampshire as well, there`s a very good chance he could be unstoppable and be our nominee.


MATTHEWS: Well, they closed the doors, but they obviously let the TV cameras in.

According to that Monmouth poll, Cruz still leads Trump among self- described evangelicals 32-25, but not by a lot there, 32-25. But Jerry Falwell Jr.`s high-profile endorsement of Trump just yesterday threatens to chip that away to maybe even.

Now a super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee, another evangelical, has also taken aim at Cruz with an ad intended to peel off his evangelical support. Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you thought about the caucus?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard something about Ted Cruz, that gay marriage wouldn`t be a top priority for him. He said it at a fund-raiser in New York City. Tells them one thing, tells Iowans another.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I also heard that Cruz gives less than 1 percent to charity and church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn`t tithe? A millionaire that brags about his faith all the time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just what we need, another phony.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by the roundtable.

Eugene Robinson is an MSNBC political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post," and Carol Lee is White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal." And Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster.

I know none of you were affected by that ad. I could tell. I could tell. There were some quiet smirks there, but that was very targeted, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It was extremely targeted. Yes. And he doesn`t tithe.

MATTHEWS: What kind of person?


ROBINSON: This is meaningful, and it is designed to raise questions in people`s mind about Cruz`s bona fides as an evangelical.

MATTHEWS: And about the gay marriage not being a top priority, meaning getting rid of gay marriage.

ROBINSON: Exactly, getting rid of gay marriage.

And it`s just fascinating how Cruz, he is using up a lot of karma in this race, right, because you have got the establishment candidates attacking each other. Now you have got the candidates who appeal to the evangelicals attacking each other and drawing each other down like crabs in a barrel. And Trump seems to somehow float above it.

MATTHEWS: Yes, you`re right.

ROBINSON: It`s fascinating.

CAROL LEE, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": And the macro issue in this cycle, which is the phony part of it, and added that to it.

That`s the thing that people are really angry about it, is people are phony, they don`t say what they mean, politicians say what they want to get elected and then change their minds.


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry.

It seemed like a person in Iowa trying to figure out a mayor`s race in New York, all the different rules about, you know, sexual mores and rules and cultures in the borough and the ethnic wars and all the histories of battle, somebody like trying to figure out, what are they talking about?

I think a lot of people on the East Coast are looking at Iowa vote and saying, what are they talking about?


One is, Cruz is actually not performing as well among evangelicals as he needs to win. If you go back to look at Huckabee, Huckabee was at 46 percent. And Cruz right now is at 32.


MATTHEWS: Huckabee is a preacher. He`s an actual man of the cloth.

BELCHER: Yes, Well, but if you`re going to dominate that evangelical vote, you need to dominate that evangelical vote to win. He has not dominated it the way Santorum did. He has not dominated it the way Huckabee did.

And in the national polling, you`re actually beginning to see him slip among evangelicals. I got to tell you this. If he`s not doing better than 32 percent among evangelicals, I don`t know how he wins Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the theater of this thing.

Tomorrow night is big casino. And people out there are very deep and policy-driven, hate this discussion, but theater matters in politics. It just does. And, you know, when Ronald Reagan spoke from Liberty Park in New Jersey with the Statue of Liberty behind him, I go, oh, my God. I was with Carter back then. This stuff matters.

Now, this question to you. Trump doesn`t show up tomorrow night, does that cojones, does that show he`s the guy, the alpha dog, as Ann Coulter just said? Does he win with that?

BELCHER: I think he does win with it.

And this is why. One, he`s dominating the news cycle. But two is, you know, Cruz has been trying to make the argument that Trump is in fact the establishment guy, which is sort of helpful to Cruz. His argument completely is undermined when the conservative establishment of FOX is now in a big fight with Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but not showing up is the ultimate anti -- Carol, is the most anti-establishment that you can do. I`m not coming to school.


MATTHEWS: That`s big talk.

LEE: It`s another way in which he`s not playing by the traditional rules. And, you know, he has done this a bunch of times.


MATTHEWS: I didn`t go to school today. The homeschoolers might agree with him.

ROBINSON: One thing that polling shows is that Trump`s voters seem -- his supporters seem to be the most decided. They seem to be more firm in their intention to vote for him than those of other candidates.

MATTHEWS: Rock-ribbed.


ROBINSON: So, in that sense, it`s hard to see how he loses a lot. He is already in the lead.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Can you imagine us being around during the times of Roosevelt? Nobody changed their mind about politics. The Republicans, rock-ribbed, that man in the White House, nobody said, you know, I changed my mind. Nobody did. Today, they`re sort of Lucy out there.

Look at these numbers, how they move. Who was that? Hillary Clinton was 50 points ahead of Sanders a few weeks ago.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these people tell me something I don`t know, including what Cornell was about to say.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Gene, tell me something I don`t know.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The Pulitzer Prizes are 100 years.

MATTHEWS: And you have one.



ROBINSON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: For commentary on your commentary, the beautiful columns on the campaign of Barack Obama for president.

ROBINSON: Well, they`re going to be events marking the centennial across the country, events big and small for the entire year, go to, to see what`s happened.

MATTHEWS: That`s how you pronounce it, Pulitzer, it`s Pulitzer.

ROBINSON: I say Pulitzer, you said Pulitzer.

MATTHEWS: OK, great.

ROBINSON: It begins this week, at a museum in "The Washington Post," and journalism matters. And that`s what this year is about.

MATTHEWS: Are we going to meet some of the winners over the years?


MATTHEWS: I`m teasing.


CAROL LEE, WALL STREET JOURNAL: All the candidates were digging out in Iowa. Vice President Joe Biden is in Davos, also very snowy, and I traveled with him, and he gave an interesting speech to obviously a very well-heeled crowd on the economy where he talked about the importance of safeguarding the middle class, undergoes revolution. Anyways, he had staked out a middle ground that would have been his, the way he campaigned, and certainly be the way he interjects himself.

MATTHEWS: Do you know what they call that in high school? The pyramid play.

Go ahead.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Endorsements don`t matter. They`re perceptions. When Kennedy endorsed Obama in `08, it mattered.



BELCHER: Yes. When Falwell endorsed Trump the other day, it`s going to matter. This gives a nod to the people that he needs to give a nod to. This endorsement is going to matter.

The last thing, really quickly, my friend Michael Blake who was on the ground there in `08 for us said that O`Malley would determine who wins actually in Iowa, because his second choice is going to probably break one way or the other.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. Those people, if they don`t get the proportion they need, they get off.

BELCHER: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for the roundtable, Eugene Robinson, Carol Lee and Cornell Belcher.

Coming up, heroin use in the country has become an epidemic. I`m going to talk to two U.S. senators trying to combat the growing use of the lethal drug. They`re coming up next right here.

You`re coming, actually, coming up tonight on 9:00 Eastern, a big night here, Rachel Maddow with a special town hall, "An American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint, Michigan."

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, the caucuses are set for Monday, obviously, and HARDBALL is headed to Iowa. Join us for a special edition of HARDBALL Sunday night, as we preview the big day. We`re going to be live at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for the final countdown to the caucuses, live from Java Joe`s in downtown Des Moines. If you`re in the area, come out and watch us live.

HARDBALL, back after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Drug addiction from substances like heroin, opiates, and prescription painkillers have grown into a national epidemic. It`s no longer a crisis confined to the inner city, if you will, it has spread to the suburbs and is ravaging states like New Hampshire, a state in the 2016 spotlight.

Well, today on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators urged to action while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We also saw both Senate leaders promise -- both Senate leaders to promise to move quickly.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Last year in Kentucky, we lost more people to overdoses than we did in car wrecks. We`re trying to craft something that we think makes a difference but work it through the regular order process and move to it soon.

REPORTER: Do you think you can finish that by the end of the year?

MCCONNELL: We certainly hope so.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: I personally think it would be a shame to wait until the end of the year. We should be moving on that now. It is a scourge. And the only way it can be resolved is with legislation.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Senator Jeanne Shaheen. She`s a Democrat from New Hampshire. She testified in today`s hearing.

She has also announced new legislation that would provide $600 million in emergency funding to combat drug addiction. She`s joining me now, along with independent Senator Angus King of Maine who`s a co-sponsor of that legislation.

Senator Shaheen, tell us this, what`s it like in your state, in New Hampshire, which we`re all going to be focusing on and visiting in the weeks ahead?

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, it`s a real epidemic. Drug and opioid abuse, and I think it`s gotten to the point where it`s a pandemic. This is a real public health emergency. And we need to be responding to such and it`s encouraging, I think there`s a lot of bipartisan support in the Senate, and here in Congress to address this.

And the legislation that Senator King and I have introduced would be a multifaceted approach to supporting those efforts that we know work. Everything from law enforcement, to intervention, and treatment and recovery, to prescription drugs, to making sure that we are taking every opportunity we can to stop the abuse and to try to help those families who are struggling with this.

MATTHEWS: Senator King, what kind of people can live a life on heroin? You can`t have a job, can you? Are they different aged people? Are they sort of, like, not working?

Who are the people who are on heroin? You have to shoot yourself up. It seems to me a complete commitment to this addiction.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, it is. It`s a way of life, unfortunately, and the other unfortunate piece as you alluded to, Chris, in your introduction is, this is no respecter of gender, age, race, anything else. It`s really a catastrophe.

We`re losing nationwide, Chris, five people an hour to overdose deaths. Now, that`s a small fraction of the people who are addicted, but just think of that, between breakfast and lunch, we`re going to lose more people this morning than we lost in San Bernardino. I mean --

MATTHEWS: What triggered this?

KING: It`s just unbelievable.

MATTHEWS: What triggered it?

KING: I`ll tell you what triggered it, the enormous use, and I think overuse and over-prescription of prescription painkillers. The experts tell us that four out of five new heroin addicts started on prescription drugs. And that`s where I think we need to direct a lot of attention.

MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, a lot of people are going to be up there, tell us how you`re going to make this case. Are you going it be able to beat the drum with the candidates for president who are all going to come to New Hampshire in the days ahead?

KING: Absolutely. That`s already started. We heard on both sides of the isle the candidates have addressed this. They talked about what they`ve seen in their own families, in their own states and what they think we ought to do.

You know, I`ve endorsed Hillary. I think she has a plan out there that would really call attention to how we need to invest to address this. You know, it`s costing $700 billion a year in lost productivity.

So, the $600 million that we`re talking about in our emergency spending bill is a drop in the bucket when you think of what we can do to prevent that lost productivity.

You know, we spent $5 billion last year to address the Ebola outbreak and we had only one death in this country from Ebola. We`re losing in New Hampshire a person a day from drug overdoses -- three times as many last year as we lost in traffic accidents.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I hope the people suffering from this addiction right now take action right now and family members to stop it now.

SHAHEEN: Me, too.

MATTHEWS: This is going to take at least a year to get something done here. Thank you so much, Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Senator Angus King.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish with a role model for Donald Trump, believe it or not, the roughrider himself, President Teddy Roosevelt. I have a particular point to make tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with another New Yorker who found himself in the presidential business. Teddy Roosevelt was our youngest and in his day perhaps the most popular president. He was roughrider, the guy who charged up San Juan Hill, the guy who built the Panama Canal, took on the trust, won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war between Russia and Japan and, of course, great pioneer work in conservation.

But there was something else about him. He was a man of conviction. He promised in 1904, even before his inauguration that he wouldn`t seek re- election again. Four years later, he kept that promise. He knew that if he changed his mind when 1908 had come around and ran again, people would have supported him. He was popular, after all. People would just figure - - well, that`s what politicians do, go back on their word, for their own self-interest.

That`s why Teddy Roosevelt said he didn`t run again in 1908 because he, Teddy Roosevelt, said he wouldn`t. That`s why he`s up there on Mt. Rushmore today.

I say this because whatever else I think about Donald Trump, my God, he`s a mixed bag, I`d like him to stick to what he said last night and not let him show up at tomorrow night`s debate, all two hours of them. Let them have the debate without Donald Trump or anyone else who looks remotely like him up on the well-list stage.

Excuse me for being a lover of romance. If politics doesn`t have its wonders, why pay attention in the first place.

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

And don`t forget, join Rachel Maddow in one hour at 9:00 Eastern for a special town hall "An American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint."

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES", of course, starts right now.