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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/28/2016

Guests: Omarosa Manigault, Steve King, Amanda Terkel, Colleen McCain Nelson, Bill de Blasio, Tad Devine

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 28, 2016 Guest: Omarosa Manigault, Steve King, Amanda Terkel, Colleen McCain Nelson, Bill de Blasio, Tad Devine

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump`s test of strength.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington, heading this weekend to Des Moines.

Well, he`s gone and done it. He said he could shoot someone right out there on 5th Avenue and his fans would stick with him. And tonight, he`s doing something a lot more legal, a lot less violent, but damn dramatic. He`s skipping a scheduled Republican debate and heading out on his own. He`s staging a rival event at 9:00 PM Eastern tonight, right up against Fox, against their debate moderated by Megyn Kelly. He`s setting up a big competing event that he hopes will make the Trump-less debate, abracadabra, the little kid`s table.

So what represents that real political reality in the world today, what`s on Fox, or what Trump will do, which we will cover, actually, here on MSNBC at 9:00 Eastern?

With four days until the Iowa caucuses, a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, Marist polls, show Trump ahead in three key states. In Iowa, Trump leads Ted Cruz by 7 points now. He`s going up, 32 to 25. Marco Rubio, strong showing at third with 18 percent.

So in New Hampshire, the next contest, Trump`s way ahead there, way ahead, beating Cruz 19 points, 31 to 12, almost 3 to 1. And in South Carolina, he`s up 16 points over Cruz.

Well, the state of the race caught Vice President Biden`s attention today. He was speaking up at a retreat for House Democrats. Biden joked about the leader of the pack, Trump and Cruz.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the way, we may be given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here.


BIDEN: I don`t know who to root for more, Cruz or Bush -- or -- or -- what`s that guy`s name? He`s having a -- he`s having a fund-raiser for veterans tonight, I`m told.


MATTHEWS: Well, NBC`s Chris Jansing on site at tonight`s Republican debate and NBC`s Katy Tur is live outside tonight`s Trump event in Des Moines.

Katy, this is one of the strangest nights. It`s been a cavalcade of strange events. I`m going to talk about it at the end of the show tonight. But it`s just the latest event at the carnival. We`re going from the ferris wheel to the roller-coaster. What`s next?

Anyway, tonight, how many people are going to be at the event that`s the counter-event, the Trump event?

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, this auditorium only has 700 seats. It can only fit 700 people. The campaign, as the campaign does, oversold this event or gave out too many free tickets...


TUR: ... to this event. So they`re going to have to turn out the vast majority of the people that have been standing in line here for hours in the cold to get in. The line is still very long, believe me, Chris, and that place is filling up pretty quickly. But 700 people is what I`m told.

I spoke to a few people inside, asked them what they thought about Donald Trump skipping the debate. and the predominant answer I have is that they like he is bucking the system. They like that he is playing by his own rules. They like the show of it. Some of them even said they understand the game he is playing and that they are entertained by it.

I spoke to a couple of veterans in there, and they told me that they are sickened by this administration. They said that they don`t like the way that this country is going. They don`t like how it`s changed culturally. They also tell me they want it to go back to the way it was when they were younger.

They think Donald Trump is, as they`ve said, a 19 or 20th century president, and I asked what that means. And they said that they want the country to go back to what they`re calling...

MATTHEWS: It`s so interesting.

TUR: ... their Christian values. So he`s speaking to a crowd of people in there that are open to hearing his ideas, open to hearing his plans, open to the things like a Muslim ban, and he is definitely appealing to them, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Was there any attempt at the last minute -- Bill O`Reilly was making an appeal last night on his program. I was watching that on "The Factor." Has there been any under-the-table or calls from Roger Aisles or anyone to try to get him to show up at the other event, or was it too late, as of last night, this thing had already been set up over there?

TUR: I`m not sure. I know that Bill O`Reilly was offering milkshakes. I wonder if maybe he offered a blizzard. It would have been a little bit better.

But all joking aside, I`m not entirely sure what sort of under-the-table dealings have been going on between the Trump campaign and the Fox network.

I can tell you that there are people who are closely associated with the debate who say that they are not entirely sure that he is not going to show up. They have that podium ready for him if he does, indeed, show up late.


TUR: He has Secret Service. Ben Carson has Secret Service. That place has been swept. It would mean that Donald Trump could easily get into that venue because he is already in a bubble. And they would need about 20 minutes to reset the lighting to get him on stage.

I`m not sure if he is going to show up. The campaign has been pretty adamant about not attending this event, but then again, I also wouldn`t be surprised if he took the stage tonight and asked the crowd if he should go in there and confront Megyn Kelly...


TUR: ... and if they cheer yes, we might see Donald Trump get in a car in a motorcade and storm the debate.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to -- hold on there, Katy. Let me go to Chris Jansing, my friend. Chris, you know, this is something you and I haven`t seen before. It`s not like anybody`s missed this before, it`s never happened before. You got two of the Republican campaigns, Huckabee and Santorum, who are going to later, after they do their first debate, or early debate, are going to show up at the Trump event. So he`s pulling people over to his event.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I just talked to Huckabee`s campaign manager. He said, Look, why wouldn`t we go over there? It`s a chance for us to get a two-fer. We get the spin room here after the first debate, then we go over there and people are going to be talking to us. Why wouldn`t we? Plus, we`re associated with veterans.

So they love it. But to Katy`s point and what she was just saying, I think the most true statement I heard in talking to people all day today here was until they say good night and thank you, you don`t know what`s going to happen.

Cruz`s campaign manager said to me, 100 percent he`s going to get in a car and he`s going to go and he`s going to be on that debate stage. Now, that may be wishful thinking because it`s obviously to Cruz`s advantage if he can confront Trump at this time, when his poll numbers are falling.

But I couldn`t find very many people who ruled out completely that Trump would shock everybody. I mean, Twitter may break if he decides to show up at the last minute to this debate. But we will see.


MATTHEWS: Yes, well...

JANSING: I mean, as we`ve all said so many times, if you think something is going to happen, expect the opposite to happen because that`s the kind of season it`s been.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the possibility that they`ll be talking about Trump in his absence more than they would in his presence. You know, he only gets 15 minutes out of two hours with eight candidates. Tonight, he gets all the time at his event.

But I get the feeling that all the time with Megyn Kelly -- she may start up with a Trump question to Cruz, you know, just to get the thing ginned up. I don`t think he`s going to be absent in topic. Maybe physically he`ll be absent, Chris. And then we`ll go back to Katy.

JANSING: Well, you can`t have -- you can`t have him be absent in topic because he`s Donald Trump, right? He has been setting the agenda throughout all of this. But look, a lot of this is about staying relevant. You know, you`re going to have situations where people just want to go after the next guy closest to them.

So you`re going to see, you know, maybe Cruz and Marco going at it. You`re going to see people who really need to try to stay relevant here. Ben Carson -- it was really interesting when I talked to a Republican pollster, I said, Is there one person who might actually surprise on Monday, and he said looking at what they are seeing, if it`s a low turnout, it could be Ben Carson could come back into the conversation.

So a lot of being on this stage isn`t about Trump. They know where Trump stands. It`s about moving themselves up to a place where they`re still staying relevant, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Katy and the question here. I just thought of something. Wouldn`t be it be a smart move by Trump, who often makes the smart move, skip the debate, stick to his word, don`t go back on his word or they`ll use it again him saying he would go back on his word, chicken out or whatever, buckle to -- what`s that -- Putin or somebody, but go over to the spin room afterwards and take advantage of all the press that`s sitting around there in the spin room right after the debate. It seems like that would be great -- very ploitative.

TUR: That would be definitely an interesting turn of events. I mean, I think you -- in order to gauge what Donald Trump would do, I think you have to get -- find -- figure out what would give him maximum attention and maximum publicity and bang for his buck.


TUR: He often says he`s a deal maker, and one thing -- deal maker aside, one thing he`s very good at is figuring out how to play the media and how to play journalists and how to play the crowds. He knows what`s going to get attention, and he knows that walking away from this debate is going to get a lot of attention, puts the pressure on Fox News.

Then again, I don`t know. Maybe I`m a really big cynic. I wouldn`t be surprised if there were some back-door dealings with Roger Ailes or Rupert Murdoch for him to come out in the middle of it because they know it would get incredible ratings...


TUR: ... and as Chris just said, break the Internet. I mean, I don`t know. I think that anything you try to predict with Donald Trump is just fruitless at this point.

MATTHEWS: I just think politically, once he promised so hard...


MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Chris Jansing. Go ahead.

JANSING: One person from another campaign just said to me exactly what you said. He said, I`ll bet he stays in his event but then he comes here to the spin room. On the other end of the spectrum, another campaign said to me Donald Trump is not physically capable of walking away from a potential audience of 20 million people. It goes against his DNA.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll see.

JANSING: So those are the two ends of the spectrum.

MATTHEWS: He can get both by showing up afterwards. Thank you so much, Katy Tur and Chris Jansing.

As I mentioned, last night on Fox News, Bill O`Reilly repeatedly tried to get Trump to reconsider skipping tonight`s debate, even joking about past wagers between the two of them. Let`s watch.


BILL O`REILLY, "THE O`REILLY FACTOR": Would you do me a favor...


O`REILLY: You owe me because I bought you so many...

TRUMP: What happened is...

O`REILLY: ... vanilla milkshakes.

TRUMP: ... that Fox put out...

O`REILLY: I bought you so many vanilla milkshakes, you owe me.

TRUMP: True.

O`REILLY: Will you just consider -- I want you to consider, all right, think about it, say, Look, I might come back, forgive, go forward, answer the questions, look out for the folks.

TRUMP: Well, even though you and I had an agreement that you wouldn`t ask me that, which we did -- I will therefore forget that you asked me that. But it`s up to Fox. It`s not up to me, Bill. They -- what they did is they...

O`REILLY: You`re actually telling the truth there.

TRUMP: You actually did break the agreement...


O`REILLY: ... telling the truth that I said...

TRUMP: Because I told you up front.

O`REILLY: I said...

TRUMP: I said, Don`t ask me that question because it`s an embarrassing question for you.


MATTHEWS: Well, there are two alpha dogs going at it.

Anyway, Omarosa Manigault is a surrogate for Donald Trump and a professor at Howard, the great university here in Washington.

Omarosa, give us a sense of this whole thing. He could make tonight`s Republican debate the little kids` table. He could reduce its importance.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, let me end the suspense for everyone. Donald Trump is not going to this debate. There`s no way...

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

MANIGAULT: ... in this ratings war that he`s going to give any audience to Fox News. That is the end of the story. He`s staying at his own event. He is honoring men and women who put their lives on the line for this country. Our veterans are what his focus is tonight. He`s not going to show up at the Fox debate.

MATTHEWS: Who`s going to tell him what the other candidates say about him during the two-hour debate he`s not at? In other words, I can`t believe he`s going to walk off his debate, which -- I mean his event, which is for the wounded veterans, a great cause -- he`s going to come off of that and then he`s go to somebody -- will he go to you? Who`s he going to ask what they say about him because then he has to respond to that, perhaps in the spin room, perhaps somewhere else tonight. But he won`t wait until tomorrow to respond, I don`t think.

MANIGAULT: Well, he`s not sitting around, waiting to see who`s going to make the news. Donald Trump is the news. He could care less...


MANIGAULT: ... what the other folks are saying about him.

MATTHEWS: All right.

MANIGAULT: He knows that all eyes will be on him, and they will actually be saying (INAUDIBLE) to see what did Donald Trump say tonight?

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, Amarosa -- Omarosa (INAUDIBLE). Since August, Donald Trump has faulted the debate process itself. He`s criticized the number of them, their lengths and the overcrowded stage. Let`s watch his history with debates.


TRUMP: The Democrats are all finished with their debates. We`re going to go on forever with these debates! At some point, you got to start doing other things other than debating.

Everybody said it couldn`t be done. Everybody said it was going to be three hours, three-and-a-half, including them. And in about two minutes, I renegotiated it down to two hours so we can get the hell out of here. Not bad. Not bad.


TRUMP: First of all, Rand Paul shouldn`t even be on the stage. He`s number 11. He`s got 1 percent in the polls. And how he got up there -- there`s far too many people anyway.

Three hours is too much for a debate.


TRUMP: Now, it`s a long time to be debating, but I think it`s even worse for people that have to sit -- if this were a two-hour debate, it would have been a great debate. three hours is really unacceptable.


MATTHEWS: Is this the old Dean Smith (ph) from North Carolina four corner plan here? You know, you get the ball, you keep it, you freeze it, you move the ball around. Once you`re ahead, you get a 10-point lead -- he`s got a 7-point lead -- freeze the ball. Is that what he`s doing, Donald Trump, your guy, is doing between now and next Monday, freeze it?

MANIGAULT: You know, the only winner tonight is going to be...

MATTHEWS: Oh, you can`t answer that? Help me with that simple question.

MANIGAULT: No, because...

MATTHEWS: Is he freezing the ball?

MANIGAULT: I think you`re over-thinking this. I think that Roger Ailes disrespected...

MATTHEWS: That`s what I do.

MANIGAULT: ... Donald Trump, and he really unestimated the power of Trump. And we`re going to see tonight at Trump`s event and at the debate...


MANIGAULT: ... who America`s most interested in. As you follow social media right now, he`s winning on Facebook. He`s winning on Twitter. He`s winning on the ground in Iowa, and that`s what counts.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. I do try to overthink things. You`re right. You nailed me.


MATTHEWS: Omarosa -- Omarosa, thank you. We`ll have to have dinner some night. You`re a very interesting guest to come here for Donald Trump so completely!


MATTHEWS: So completely! Anyway...


MANIGAULT: ... long time.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Serious note now. Before I break, I want to deal with a matter that is entirely my fault. Two nights ago, I said that ratings were going to suffer in tonight`s Republican debate with Donald Trump not there. I said that a debate focused on the other top contenders, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio, wouldn`t be the same draw. I referred to them as "the two Cuban guys."

While it had nothing to do with the point I was making, it came off a condescending, even derogatory. It sounded like I was putting them down because of their background. It was raw and insensitive, and not just to the good Cuban-American people out there watching who heard about it, who have found freedom and pride in this country, it`s important groups out there, which I respect, have called me on it and have been right to do so.

I`m sorry I said it. That`s it. I mean it.

Back to tonight`s show. Coming up, with Donald Trump out of tonight`s debate, what`s the game plan for Ted Cruz and rest of the candidates tonight? Will they make Trump the target of their attacks, or will they turn on one another?

Plus, the homestretch for the Democrats. Our latest NBC poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Iowa. She`s leading by 3 points, but it`s within the margin of error. So is Sanders ready to go negative now when he has a shot at her? We`ve got top Sanders strategist Tad Devine and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who`s with Hillary, both with us tonight. It`s a big night here, and much more night on the spectacle of the night to come as the Republicans take to the debate stage and Donald Trump does his thing alone.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this strange night itself and the strangeness of it all.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The lines are getting long outside Donald Trump`s rival event tonight. He`s gone rogue, of course, on Fox News and is skipping tonight`s Fox News debate. And Ted Cruz sees an opening to attack as his support slips in Iowa.

Last night, Ted Cruz doubled down on his offer to debate Trump, in his words, "mano a mano."


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He and I are the leading candidates in this state right now. So how about the two of us in a one- on-one debate, mano a mano?


CRUZ: And I`m going to propose a venue, Western Iowa Tech, Saturday night in Sioux City. We already have it reserved.


CRUZ: We have a venue. We have a time. All we`re missing...


CRUZ: ... is a candidate.


MATTHEWS: Well, Cruz`s super-PAC has pledged to donate $1.5 million to veterans` charities if Trump shows up. Trump`s campaign manager responded to Cruz`s debate challenge today during a radio interview in Boston. Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once you get that -- gotten that ruling from a federal judge and you`re the last man standing in this presidential contest next to Donald Trump, we`ll be happy to have a debate with you one-on-one anywhere you want because that`s the way the system works. But as it stands right now, we don`t even know if Ted Cruz is legally eligible to run for president of the United States.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by NBC`s Hallie Jackson. She`s covering the Cruz campaign tonight in Iowa.

It just seems that every time they get into a back-and-forth, a mano a mano, whatever, that Trump has that trump card. It`s the issue he has raised successfully with one-third of the voters about the constitutional eligibility of someone born in Canada to run for the American presidency.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he`s playing the Canada card, Chris. He has done it over and over again over these last three weeks.

And if you look at, for example, some of the favorability ratings like from Gallup, it shows that Ted Cruz has sunk in his net favorability rating. Now, that said, Donald Trump is using this debate offer, and is sort of pivoting to the attack that he keeps going after, which is the questioning of the eligibility that you`re seeing from Corey Lewandowski, Trump`s campaign manager.

Ted Cruz, at the same time, is using Trump`s no show, potential no show, we should say, at tonight`s debate for his purposes, which is to go after Trump for being in his view scared to come and face, not just the moderators, not just the rest of Republican field, but as Ted Cruz has framed it, the people in Iowa.

They`re both getting out the message that they want to get out and trying to shape the narrative in a way that they want to shape it, and neither of them have anything to lose by going after each other like this.

MATTHEWS: What do think about the other evangelical candidates, if you will, people that have an appeal to evangelicals, people like Santorum, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee? Are they nipping away at the Cruz vote right now?


JACKSON: When you look at the polling, Chris, I don`t know that you see that.

I will tell you, on the ground, those two are names that you hear when you talk to, for example, pastors or people within the community. I was at a church just yesterday here near Des Moines, and Governor Huckabee, remember, he knows what it is like to win an Iowa caucus. And he has connections and people that he knows here on the ground.

That said, what else you hear -- and this is anecdotal from people -- is they want to pick somebody that might have a shot to go on and not -- win not just the caucus, but win it all in the Republican nomination. And I`m not sure that people are convinced that somebody like a Huckabee or a Santorum can do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, everybody is thinking about November at some point.

Anyway, thank you, NBC`s Hallie Jackson, what is with Cruz.

I`m joined right now by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa. He`s a congressman from out here. He`s co-chair of Cruz`s national campaign.

Congressman King, give us a sense of this thing. You`re from the western part of Iowa. I`m trying to figure out the map all the time. It seems like you go further west, it gets more conservative, more evangelical. And you go east, it get more mixed, Protestant, Catholic, whatever, and more liberal. Is that right about Iowa?

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: That actually seems to be a fair characterization, Chris.

And especially in Northwest Iowa, there`s just a solid core of solid Christian conservatives, constitutional Christian conservatives. And then as you go east, it seems to get dissipated. Of course, when you`re looking at Republicans, I`m finding Southeast Iowa, for example, lots of good, solid Christian conservatives in Southeast Iowa as well.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Did you see that ad the other day? It may have been a Rubio ad. I thought it was pretty targeted. It said that Cruz doesn`t tithe. Is that a serious concern? I think the Mormon people, the LDS people believe in tithing, like, literally, I think 10 percent.

Is this an issue that could actually be used against a candidate? They don`t pay 10 percent of income to charity?

KING: Well, that`s a new one on me and I actually know the PAC that is doing that.


KING: And it is. It`s Huckabee`s PAC that is doing this attack.

MATTHEWS: Oh, Huckabee.

KING: Can you imagine a person who made his living as a pastor being or willing to allow a PAC to unleash on someone, saying, here, we`re going to pass the collection plate back to Ted Cruz a second time. Dig deeper, Ted, and then we will get off your back.

I have never seen anything like that before. And, by the way, and know what his numbers are, and they`re respectable in the amount that he`s contributing as tithing. But we`re called upon by Christ not to brag about the donations that we give. God sees that, and that`s good enough.

MATTHEWS: That`s like the Pharisees.

Anyway, look, we`re watching -- you`re not seeing this, Congressman. We`re watching the Trump plane. I don`t know if it has his name on it, but it`s coming into Des Moines.

As we mentioned earlier, Ted Cruz`s support among likely Iowa caucus-goers is slipping, while Trump`s is soaring, according to our new NBC polling. Right now in Iowa, it`s Trump 32, Cruz 25. Trump is up eight points in 18 days. Cruz is down three. And a new Gallup poll shows that Cruz`s net favorability nationally among Republicans has fallen 16 points this month.

What about this Canada thing? Your candidate, Ted Cruz, says the constitutionality of his ability, eligibility to run for president is settled. It seem likes that`s a hard argument to make if there is anybody who disagree with you.

KING: Well, there shouldn`t be any disagreement on this. I believe it is settled.

But, first, I would say that Cruz`s favorability ratings have been very, very high. So, a little down on that, compared -- compare that to the other candidates to get a real picture of that number, Chris.

But on this issue of natural-born citizenship, I have been on the Judiciary Committee and the Constitution Subcommittee for a long time. And there`s always one of my jacket pocket. I study these things. And there are only two kinds of citizens. You`re either natural-born or naturalized.

And even Donald Trump hasn`t challenged Ted Cruz`s citizenship. It`s clear that he has never been naturalized. He was naturally born as an American citizen. That`s been true for John McCain, for George Romney, the list goes on.

No, there`s not really a real question here, except Donald Trump keeps raising it, because apparently he doesn`t want to come and face Iowa voters and debate the real issues.

MATTHEWS: Well, there is the question about whether you`re natural-born because of statutory law, isn`t there, if you`re the lawyer? I`m not a lawyer, but I understand there were laws passed right after the Constitution was enacted and ratified, and it said by law that people who are children of Americans become Americans automatically, but it`s done by statute.

But the Constitution itself says natural-born and never includes the children. I don`t know. Are you an originalist or you a living Constitution kind of guy?

KING: I`m an originalist.

But I`m not going to -- I do not subscribe to the idea that comes from the old English common law, which is of the soil. It`s of your loyalty, of your allegiance. And so if he is born of parents that are American citizen parents that -- with an allegiance to the United States and American citizenship, that`s the natural-born component.

And that`s how our founding fathers understood it. And when they wrote it into the Constitution, a good number of them were in Congress in 1790, when that legislation that clarified it was passed.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, thank you.

We`re watching, by the way, Congressman, if you hold for a second -- we`re watching this theater here, of course, of Donald Trump. And it`s always theatrical, getting off his own plane.

What do you make of this, skipping this debate tonight as political theater? I mean, what do you make? How do you make it?

KING: You know, Donald Trump is the first presidential candidate that was a true WWE showman.

And that`s what he constantly does is pulls another stunt and another stunt. But I think Iowans are tired of that. They were coming to the -- they planned to focus on this debate tonight -- and they will. And of the 30 to 50 percent that are undecided coming into this, they wanted to watch this debate carefully.

They wanted to deliberate, talk to their friends and neighbors and come to a conclusion between now and Monday night. They don`t get to do that. They don`t get to compare Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump, unless Trump comes to Sioux City on Saturday night and agrees to do the mano a mano debate.

So I think Ted`s answer to that was just right. It was absolutely his answer and his immediate response. And I figure that Donald Trump can find a way to dodge this, and he has had his spokesman to speak on his behalf that you meet a certain condition by Saturday night, then Donald Trump would come to that debate. It`s just a dodge, and Iowans are tired of it.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re a good surrogate.

U.S. Congressman Steve King of Iowa, thank you.

By the way, be sure to catch us tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern for a special two-hour edition of HARDBALL, more coming tonight for full coverage of tonight`s debate, and, of course, Trump`s rival event. We will be covering that, of course, here live. Trump has arrived in Des Moines. There he is.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Republican primary battle is taking center stage tonight. Moments ago, Donald Trump arrived in Des Moines, where he will hold a rival event opposite tonight`s Republican debate.

But the fight between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is also heating up in Iowa. The Clinton campaign released a new ad yesterday comparing her record with that of her opponent. And while it doesn`t mention Sanders by name, it draws a stark contrast on issues like gun control and Planned Parenthood. Here`s a clip.


NARRATOR: She will build on Obamacare, not start over, break through the gridlock, not add to it, defend Planned Parenthood, not attack it, stand up to the gun lobby, not protect it, lead on foreign policy, not ignore it.


MATTHEWS: NBC Kasie Hunt asked Sanders today about whether he would respond with a negative ad of his own. Here`s what he had to say.


KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to run a negative ad against Hillary Clinton?


HUNT: What`s the difference between a negative and a contrast ad?

SANDERS: Well, it depends, number one, whether you`re telling the truth or not. I mean, Hillary Clinton is now running an ad which says that I`m attacking Planned Parenthood.

I have a 100 percent lifetime voting record with Planned Parenthood. I think they`re an extraordinarily excellent and important organization.

HUNT: So, is Hillary Clinton lying?

SANDERS: Yes, I`m not attacking -- have you -- anyone ever heard me attack Planned Parenthood? Have you -- anyone ever heard me defend the gun lobby?



Well, "The Washington Post" editorial board also ripped into Sanders today in a scathing piece titled "Bernie Sanders` Fiction-Filled Campaign."

"The Post" wrote: "Mr. Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He`s a politician selling his own brand of fiction to a slice of the country that eagerly wants to buy it."

Well, Sanders responded to that editorial this morning at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg Politics. Let`s listen.


SANDERS: People are telling us, whether it`s "The Washington Post" editorial board or anybody else, our ideas are too ambitious. Can`t happen. Too bold.

Really? Well, here`s something that is very, very bold. In the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and working families of this country. We have got to create an economy that works for the middle class, and whether "The Washington Post" likes it or not, that`s what I intend to do.


MATTHEWS: Well, a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll out of Iowa today shows the race is a dead heat.

Look at this. Hillary Clinton narrowly leads Sanders by three points. That`s clearly margin of error stuff, 48-43 -- 45 -- 48-45 -- while O`Malley is still at 3.

I`m joined right now by the roundtable, Amanda Terkel. God, you`re here a lot. Senior political reporter at The Huffington Post. And Jonathan Capehart, my pal, is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post," which is very distinguished sometimes, and MSNBC political analyst as well.

And Colleen McCain, are you related to John McCain?


MATTHEWS: OK. Is -- Nelson -- by the way, is White House correspondent for "Wall Street Journal."

Colleen, you`re starting here. This has almost been torturous out there if you`re Hillary Clinton, because they`re both right on the fence there. They`re within the margin of error. And, apparently, we just heard it through my ear -- or I just heard it -- no change since January 1. You have got -- in other words, all these days and all this Hitchcockian suspense, and nobody is changing their mind really in Iowa, and Hillary is slightly ahead.


It is torturous if you`re Hillary Clinton. And Bernie Sanders seems to be enjoying this. He certainly has had some wind in his sails. He came into this week with some momentum. He`s now taking a lot of fire this week from all sides, including from "The Washington Post" editorial board.

But the question is, Bernie Sanders is certainly relying on notoriously unreliable voting blocs on Monday. He wants first-time caucus-goers to come out. He wants young voters to come out. And he has said if there is not a higher than expected turnout, he won`t win. And so these aren`t people who are super reliable, so that could hurt Bernie Sanders` chances in the end.


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. There is no fat target for Bernie if you`re Hillary Clinton. She`s center-left. He`s left. And those aren`t knocking terms. They`re real.

And yet to hit him, she has to hit him on these like peripheral shots. She`s got to go, well, he`s not good as he should be on guns. But, more importantly, everybody knows he`s pro-Planned Parenthood. The fact that he called it establishment was not an attack. He just said of course they`re backing Hillary. They`re the establishment.

But she is now turning it into an attack. And he says I`m 100 percent. I can`t imitate the guy, 100 percent.


MATTHEWS: Yes. I know.

CAPEHART: Well, look, when I looked at that ad -- and you`re right. There aren`t that -- so many differences between Sanders and Clinton.

MATTHEWS: They`re going to be together next summer in Philly.


MATTHEWS: We know they`re together.

MCCAIN NELSON: But they`re running for the nomination, so you have to bring out these contrasts.

And in looking at that ad, it made me wonder. This is a primary ad and it`s also a general election ad. Every time you think of Bernie Sanders on Planned Parenthood, foreign policy, gun control, you could also think about any one of the people who are -- who could be the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS: Is this saving money for Hillary, same ad?


CAPEHART: If it`s way to save money, it`s really brilliant.

MATTHEWS: No, but, really, does anybody really believe, when they`re 18 years old, and new to the process or not, Amanda, believe that Bernie Sanders, a man of the left, is against Planned Parenthood? Why would he be?

AMANDA TERKEL, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I mean, and when he does talk about the establishment, it`s not a compliment.

It`s where the millionaires and the billionaires are. But it`s not so much what he said about it being the establishment. It`s that he doesn`t really talk about reproductive rights a lot. And that`s a contrast with Hillary. I think the big difference between them, though, isn`t policy, like you said, left, center-left. It`s how they believe things can get done.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this.

"The Washington Post," your paper, you didn`t write this editorial, you told me just now.


CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t want you to defend what you wrote. It`s redundant -- that it doesn`t add up. It`s fiction. All his numbers don`t add up.

And I had that argument with somebody the other night here who switched to Hillary -- or from Hillary to Ted -- to Bernie. And it was, how do you pay for lifetime health insurance, how do you pay for free tuition at major, expensive universities? How do you pay for fatter Social Security benefit checks when you retire without a huge tax increase, I mean huge?

CAPEHART: And he said -- and Senator Sanders said, yes, I`m going to raise taxes on the middle class.

MATTHEWS: But how much can you raise to pay for all that?

CAPEHART: Exactly.


MATTHEWS: We`re not getting rid of our military. We`re still trudging along with a big army.

CAPEHART: Right. And that`s why our editorial was so hard on Bernie Sanders.

You know, we`re taking him seriously. If you really think you`re going to do this, then you owe the American people an explanation of how you`re going to do this. It`s not enough...

MATTHEWS: Did we ever get that from Reagan?

CAPEHART: That was then. This is now.


MATTHEWS: I mean, Reagan promised more military spending, more ships, 600- ship Navy, and lower taxes, and a lower deficit, getting rid of the deficit.

CAPEHART: Now we know what questions to ask. And there`s infinitely more accountability today than there was back then.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is coming back.

As we come back, our top story of the night, Donald Trump`s counterevent to tonight`s debate, where he`s going to fill that auditorium. Did Trump win the fight? Did he make the debate table he was going to be at into the little kids table? He`s getting a lot of publicity tonight on this. And we`re helping him because we`re going to show here on MSNBC, 9:00 Eastern tonight, his event, not the FOX.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Back with our roundtable, Amanda, Jonathan and Colleen.

Start with Colleen.

What is Donald Trump`s magic? I thought at the beginning, it was sort of a nationalist thing about immigration, things like that, and jobs, and wars we shouldn`t have and in ideological sense, if you don`t like it.

But is it now? Is it magic? Is it the show? Is it the next carnival performance? Why is he able to do what he`s doing with all the networks tonight?

COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Apparently, his showmanship appeals to his supporters. And you see that everything that he tries that should not work somehow works.

MATTHEWS: Like, I`m going to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.

NELSON: Exactly. Somehow that is not --

MATTHEWS: That`s a capital crime.

NELSON: That`s not a problem. It should not work for him to boycott a debate. But you saw the lines. You saw people standing out in the cold, waiting to go to Donald Trump show.

MATTHEWS: Are we so jaded, we want something different? We want something else but what we`ve been watching?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: You think that, but you had Omarosa on earlier. I interviewed Omarosa the Saturday after that debate in August, because she`s the Trump whisperer. And I asked her to explain this to me. And she said something that I have not forgotten since. And she said, you have to throw out everything you understand about politics and when you`re thinking about him, he is a reality.

MATTHEWS: Do you know her well?

CAPEHART: I just met her the first time.

MATTHEWS: She`s a hell of a surrogate.

CAPEHART: Yes. But what she said there, Chris, was that he is -- reality television has taken over America. He`s the king of reality television. When you have the king of reality television going into presidential politics, you have to look at him and think of him in terms of reality television. All the rules are out the window. If he wants to call somebody and --

MATTHEWS: Could Howie Mandel do it? There`s a lot of guys that work in this for other reality --

CAPEHART: Well, sure, but Howie Mandel is not running for president. Donald Trump is.

AMANDA TERKEL, HUFFINGTON POST: He`s going to have the hardest time turning out his voters, even harder than Bernie Sanders, because a lot of these people don`t normally vote. They saying they`re not voting for anyone else besides Donald Trump. So, are they just fans and just want to go and see him because he`s a reality television star? Or are they actually going to vote?

MATTHEWS: We have no money tonight, all these answers. Crackle of victory or defeat. Thank you to the roundtable tonight, Amanda Terkel, Jonathan Capehart, and Colleen McCain Nelson.

Coming up, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is my guest.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The fight for Iowa between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is fierce, of course. The rhetoric is getting tougher. The new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" polls shows the two are neck and neck with Clinton at 48, Sanders at 45. They`re within the margin of error. It`s the final countdown to Monday`s caucuses, and it could all end in a photo finish in the Hawkeye State. But whoever wins, wins.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is heading out to Iowa himself to campaign for Hillary Clinton this weekend. De Blasio, the mayor, was Clinton`s campaign manager of her successful 2000 campaign for the United States Senate back in New York. He`s stumping for her now.

So, have you got your speech ready? Can you give it us? What is the case for Secretary Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: Simple, Chris. We have to restore the American middle class, working people are hurting. We need a different approach in Washington.

Higher wages. Better benefits. Paid sick leave, paid family leave. The kinds of things that will change the lives of people. Taxes on the wealthy that allow us to do some of the things we need to do in this nation.

Hillary Clinton`s got the right platform and she knows how to get those things done. And right now, working people in this country want a champion who is going to go to Washington and achieve those kind of progressive changes and she has proven she knows how to do it.

MATTHEWS: You`re one on the left for a lot of reasons. I think your family helped, Donte helped, at the end, saw something that looked like harmony to them, in the state that could be combustive. And, of course, Jim Kenny just won in my city of Philadelphia. If you talk to the pollsters, this a left wind direction right now.

How does Hillary meet that as a woman of the center left? I call her center left. I don`t know what you call her. How does she meet that win direction?

DE BLASIO: I think there is a real progressive trend going on in this country. You see it in the last year. The discussion of income inequality alone has changed fundamentally over the course of the year. People want to see a real change, and they certainly are increasingly troubled by the concentration of wealth and power in this country.

I think she can speak to that very, very powerfully because of her history. She took on the big health insurance companies during the health reform fight in 1993, 1994, one of the most dramatic struggles we`ve seen with anyone who was in the White House. She was the first lady at the time. She led that effort.

What she`s done throughout her life on behalf of children and families, long before those issues were bluntly invoked, what she and her husband did on family and medical leave. She has a history of getting to these core economic issues and making change. This is a perfect moment for progressive who knows how to do that because the country is clearly looking for progressive economic change.

MATTHEWS: From the male side of things, why do you think the chance, the historic opportunity to elect a woman president after we have elected an African-American president? Why doesn`t that grab young people as much as you and I probably thought it would have and has seemed to do in the past?

Your thoughts?

DE BLASIO: One, it`s definitely the right moment in our history. People are more ready than ever.

Two, maybe it doesn`t feel like it`s grabbing people but when the real moment is there, when there`s a Democratic nominee and Hillary`s that nominee versus the Republican, and we`re actually looking at that historical change. I think it`s going to energize people quite a bit. But I think bluntly, much more important than demographics will be the values, the vision, because I think -- you remember 1992, it`s the economy stupid?


DE BLASIO: I think that message, that reality is stronger than ever right now. This is going to be an election about economic reality and the fact that she`s a woman and understands what working women go through, what women struggle with all the time is only going to add to her ability to be a compelling leader and spokesperson on that issue.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I always thought women are better, because they`re in many families, I don`t know about yours, you got a strong wife obviously but -- I do too. I got to tell you. They usually do, if not the checkbook, they know the health costs. They know what`s covered by which policies. They know the kids` schoolmates, they know the teachers names, they know all the this stuff about -- we know to lock the door at night and a few other things. But they know so much more.

Anyway, thank you. I hope you can do our show when you`re out west with us in Iowa.

DE BLASIO: I would --

MATTHEWS: Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you.

DE BLASIO: I would love to, Chris. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

And joining me right now is the senior advisor of Bernie Sanders campaign, Tad Devine.

Now, to keep things fair around here, I want to give you a full shot at this. The Hillary Clinton ad about Planned Parenthood and your candidate, go at it.

TAD DEVINE, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, it`s full of distortions, OK? I mean, Bernie Sanders has 100 percent lifetime voting record on the issue of choice.

Bernie Sanders has a D-minus record from the NRA. But to say he`s protected is ridiculous.

Bernie -- she says she`s going to engage on foreign policy and not ignore it -- OK, well -- and show leadership on it. Well, she could have shown a lot of foreign leadership on foreign policy if she stood with Bernie Sanders and voted against the war in Iraq, OK?

So, you know -- you know, and I would say one more thing about that ad. If the fundamental problem with the candidate is credibility, you shouldn`t attack your opponent on things that simply aren`t true.

MATTHEWS: So, how would you describe this relationship at Planned Parenthood? Again, a clean shot for you here. Bernie Sanders and Planned Parenthood.


DEVINE: Well, I would describe as someone who has a lifelong record of supporting that organization, of making sure its funding is protected, if making sure a woman`s right to choose is fully protected, of someone who has a perfect record when it comes to voting on these issues.

So, to suggest that somehow, you know, he is soft on these issues is just simply not true.

MATTHEWS: OK. How do you -- I had one of your supporters, Mr. Bamberg (ph) from South Carolina, a great recruit for you guys. You picked him up on the other side. And I said, how do you pay for big checks for retirement checks for Social Security, fully paid tuition major schools like Michigan and Wisconsin and Berkeley. I mean, that`s great deal for people living in those states. And also, health care for life -- government paid health care.

How do you do it all with the evidence we have now? We`re going to reduce the military somehow? What are we going to shut back onto pay for those new benefits, those new rights?

DEVINE: Well, Chris, we`re going to have to do two things.

Number one, we need more revenue in the federal government, and that revenue is going to come by asking the wealthiest Americans and corporations who currently pay almost no taxes to begin to pay their fair share. So, we have to increase the revenue that comes into the treasury.

And secondly, we do need new priorities in America. You know, the United States spends as much on its military budget as the next nine nations combined, OK? And so, we have to reprioritize our spending, and we have to make sure that we invest in our people.

And saying that kids should go to public colleges and universities, tuition free and to pay for that by putting a tax on stock transactions, OK, that`s -- it`s about time Wall Street which got bailed out by the American taxpayers does its fair share to help this country move ahead.

MATTHEWS: You`re doing great, Tad Devine. Your candidate is doing with even better. Thank you for joining us on HARDBALL. This is one hell of a race between you two.

DEVINE: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I have no idea how to call Iowa.

When we return, let me finish with a strange night tonight and to be blunt, the strangest of it all.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this strange night and the strangeness of it all.

The first big TV debates in my life are the Kennedy-Nixon debates, of course, back in 1960. Can you imagine if one of the candidates, Nixon or Kennedy, had snubbed the whole affair that after months on the schedule, they had simply skipped and held their own event that night? Well, that`s the strange thing about 2016.

It`s coming to us as another part of the whole thing we have been watching, another act and a carnival we`re going to. We`re going to the Ferris wheel. Now, it`s time for the rollercoaster.

Well, the trouble with this carnival is that it leads us all into hoping the next ride would be even better, even more exciting, more thrilling, that the squeals we hear watching it will outdo the last ride. How does Donald Trump match tonight`s thrill show? How does he match at a debate the impact he`s getting from dumping on one? What can he possibly do on stage to outdo the showbiz of leaving it empty, leaving the moderators and all its other contestants standing there like brides and grooms gelling at the altar, the guest of honor, at an event robbed of its honor by the one guest everyone had come there to see?

So, prepare yourself. Trump has said his fans will stick to him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. We`re getting closer and closer to a performance art almost that wild.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Come back tonight after the debate at 11:00 Eastern for all the highlights and analysis of this night, as the Republicans debate without Donald Trump goes on and he goes on.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.