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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/16/2016

Guests: John Feehery, Evan Thomas, Ann Coulter, Al Cardenas, Mark Sanford, Ruth Marcus, Penny Lee

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 16, 2016 Guest: John Feehery, Evan Thomas, Ann Coulter, Al Cardenas, Mark Sanford, Ruth Marcus, Penny Lee


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" with President Obama`s sharp challenge to Republicans. The partisan street fight broke out within minutes of the news of Justice Scalia`s death. Republicans called on the president to leave the seat vacant for an entire year and let the next president choose someone. Many, including Senator Ted Cruz and other Republican candidates, said there shouldn`t be a vote even, shouldn`t be a confirmation, shouldn`t even be a hearing, nothing.

Well, today, the president responded to those critics. He said the Constitution is clear on what is supposed to happen now. He nominates someone. The Senate considers that person. He called on the Republican senators to rise above the day-to-day politics and to do their jobs.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Historically, this has not been viewed as a question. There`s no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off years. That`s not in the constitutional text. I`m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there.

And I would challenge anyone who purports to be adhering to the original intent of the founders, anybody who believes in the Constitution coming up with a plausible rationale as to why they would not even have a hearing for a nominee made in accordance with the Constitution by the president of the United States with a year left, practically, in office. It`s pretty hard to find that in the Constitution.


MATTHEWS: Well, Joy Reid`s an MSNBC national correspondent, Howard Fineman`s global editorial director for the HuffingtonPost and an MSNBC political analyst and the historian Evan Thomas is the author of "Being Nixon: A Man Divided."

Joy, I have to talk to you. And what has really gotten to me is the power of the progressives in caring about this failure of the Republicans to even allow a consideration of a judicial nominee to replace Scalia. It`s never happened before, and people seem to be astounded by the arrogance of that decision by the Republicans.

JOY-ANN REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, because it`s of a piece of what you`ve seen over the course of the last eight years, which is the invention of new norms and pretend precedents not grounded in our history, not grounded in the Constitution, but that only apply uniquely to this president, that there are norms that never applied before to previous presidents.

Suddenly, this president shouldn`t be doing executive orders. That`s tyranny. This president shouldn`t be getting to nominate to the judiciary, not just to the Supreme Court, even at lower levels of the judiciary. He shouldn`t be allowed to do that.

This president has not been allowed to essentially be president in the full sense because Republicans believe he shouldn`t be. He doesn`t have some -- he especially doesn`t have a right to be.

And so I think applying those norms to the Supreme Court and saying, We`re going to invent a new normal, which is that only Barack Obama, unique of all the presidents, is not allowed because we`ve invented this supposed precedent that in the eighth year, they don`t get to nominate.

Well, you know what? Ronald Reagan did. You know what? Lyndon Johnson did, and he had already announced he wasn`t going to run for reelection and he nominated Abe Fortas. So...

MATTHEWS: Well, quickly, is it because he is unprecedented?

REID: I think so. I think that you`ve seen a unique opposition to this president. He`s been called a liar from the floor of the Senate. That still sticks in the craw of a lot of African-Americans and liberal voters. They`ve seen him treated in a way that is different than every previous president, and you really got to wonder why.

MATTHEWS: Well, the president described what kind of candidate you`d like to see appointed and not say what kind of politics that candidate would need to have, of course. People are always careful about this president`s (INAUDIBLE) Let`s watch.


OBAMA: We`re going to find somebody who is an outstanding legal mind, somebody who cares deeply about our democracy and cares about rule of law. There`s not going to be any particular position on a particular issue that determines whether or not I nominate them. But I`m going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat.

QUESTION: Should we interpret your comments just now that you are likely to choose a moderate nominee? Would you...




OBAMA: I mean, I don`t know where you found that. You shouldn`t assume anything about the qualifications of the nominee, other than they`re going to be well qualified.


MATTHEWS: You know, I think the president won the coin toss on this, don`t you?


MATTHEWS: I mean, he gets to now pick somebody really good, knowing that the Republicans will probably stiff the person, but he`ll look good for picking the right person and that person will look pretty good for the next couple months probably doing "MEET THE PRESS," programs around the country...

FINEMAN: Yes, I...

MATTHEWS: ... going to colleges.

FINEMAN: I think so. I think the president has the upper hand here politically because leaving aside what Joy was saying about race, the fact is that most people think that the entire process of Washington is broken.


FINEMAN: And this is the latest, most vivid piece of evidence of it. So if the president puts forward somebody who, as he said fair-minded people would think is qualified and would be an honorable member of the court, that he wins the political argument that`s going to continue about why Washington is broken. That`s the political context of this whole thing.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Evan, it`s amazing how they use terms now, "court packing." We know what court packing is. FDR tried it in his second term and he got whacked for it.


MATTHEWS: And even his friends left him. They say he`s court packing by picking judges he likes.


MATTHEWS: That`s court packing!

THOMAS: No party is pure on this.


THOMAS: That`s true. FDR did try to do something pretty outrageous back in...

MATTHEWS: He tried to make 15 judges.

THOMAS: But -- but on this, Obama`s right! The Constitution is clear.

MATTHEWS: Article 2...

THOMAS: The Republicans are wrong.

MATTHEWS: ... says pick -- pick a candidate.


MATTHEWS: He`s supposed to do what he`s doing.

THOMAS: Not just politically he`s right, he`s morally right...


MATTHEWS: What did they think he was going to do when they said -- when people like Grassley, the chair of the Judiciary, and McConnell said, We`re not going to -- did they think he`d say, OK...


MATTHEWS: ... sit here and not doing anything?

FINEMAN: ... say that Chuck Grassley, who`s chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is already backed...

MATTHEWS: He`s wobbling.

FINEMAN: He`s wobbling already.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look at this...


MATTHEWS: ... Senator Chuck Grassley, and you can jump in, Joy. By the way, Joy, you caught on this faster than I did. And I don`t want to always jump on the ethnic thing here. But you know, there is a pattern that we have to look at, and historians will see it, this rush to judgment, the, Well, he can`t do that. Well, he can`t do that. No, he can`t do it. No, he can`t do it.

And overseas, they`re watching it. (INAUDIBLE) word got around and that Putin couldn`t pick officials anymore to his cabinet.

REID: Right.

MATTHEWS: You`d get the feeling he was wobbling, he was in trouble, wouldn`t you?

REID: Right, and it`s worst than that because Mitch McConnell back in the 1980s -- in 1987, when Ronald Reagan, who had been -- was at the end of his presidency, the last year of his presidency, put forward Anthony Kennedy, Mitch McConnell wrote in a Kentucky law review that not only did Reagan have a right to pick in his final year, but that if his goal was to change the ideological direction of the court, he had a right to do that, too, because he was duly elected and people elected him with the ideology he came with.

MATTHEWS: And in many ways, I`m glad he did get to pick Kennedy and I was glad he confirmed. Sometimes I disagree with him, but he`s a mixed bag.

Anyway, on Saturday, Senator Chuck Grassley, as we said, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, "Given the huge divide in the country and the fact that this president, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people, who will elect a new president, select the next Supreme Court justice."

Well, today, Senator Grassley said he wasn`t entirely ruling out hearings, according to radio Iowa. Grassley told reporters, "I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions" -- in other words, take it a step at a time. He didn`t take it a step at a time. He didn`t! He took the first step and said, No way, Jose.

THOMAS: I think it`s incredibly revealing that Grassley`s backing off here. I mean, he can smell -- he`s going to look bad. Grassley is a -- he`s been in there a long time. He cares about his reputation as a good government type.

MATTHEWS: OK, who`s...

FINEMAN: Evan`s really hit on it because, Chris, having been out an around and talked to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire the last several weeks about what their concerns are, the big thing is that this place does not work, that it`s broken and unresponsive.

And the Republicans, if they do this, are handing Barack Obama...


FINEMAN: They`re handing Obama and the Democrats the perfect arguing point to blame it on the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: They shut down the legislative body.


MATTHEWS: Now they`re going to shut down the judiciary.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, most of the Republican candidates had the same message, prevent President Obama from appointing a new justice. Here they are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn`t the United States Senate have an obligation to at least go through the process and have an up or down vote?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not remotely. The Senate`s duty is to advise and consent. You know what? The Senate is advising right now. We are advising that a lame duck president in an election year is not going to be able to tip the balance of the Supreme Court.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here`s the bottom line. I don`t trust Barack Obama on the appointment of Supreme Court justices. We cannot afford to have Scalia replaced by someone like the nominees he`s put there in the past.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitch McConnell has tremendous power in terms of the delay and in terms of, you know, proceeding, et cetera, et cetera. I am not saying that Obama shouldn`t do it. I`m just saying the Republicans should not allow it to happen.


MATTHEWS: Well, Dr. Ben Carson was asked in a radio interview if he and his fellow Republican candidates would be saying the same thing if there was a Republican president in the White House right now. Well, here`s his very honest answer.


DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, they wouldn`t. But then again, recognize that the two picks that the president has selected are ideologues. So there`s really no reason to believe that his next pick wouldn`t be an ideologue also.


MATTHEWS: Let me get this straight, Joy -- ideologues. Scalia was an ideologue.

REID: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: He was an originalist. I mean, I actually personally liked the guy when I met him. I liked his personality and who he was, and he had a good soul. But you know, he had a very strong ideology, a very strong one.

REID: That`s correct.

MATTHEWS: I mean, maybe almost out of his time, you know?

REID: Clarence Thomas has made it clear that he would like to see the entire Voting Rights Act done away with. He`s an ideologue, as well. Thomas -- Justice Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, when he was working as a solicitor in the Reagan administration, made it very clear that he, too, disagrees with the very existence of the Voting Rights Act. They`re all ideologues.

At this point, the Supreme Court is an extension of politics. They`re really no different, in a sense.


REID: Look, there`s nothing more ideological than the year 2000 decision that made George W. Bush president of the United States. That`s not the point. Mitch McConnell has in the past acknowledged that a president has a right to make the court fit his own ideology. That`s just logical.


REID: They`re just deciding it doesn`t apply only to Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Well, given the history of Felix Frankfurter going the other way on Roosevelt and Earl Warren going the other way on Ike, the last thing you want in a justice when you nominate him is an open mind. You don`t want that.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Joy Reid, Howard Fineman, Evan Thomas.

Tomorrow on HARDBALL, join me for a special one-on-one extended interview with Ohio governor John Kasich. He had a surprising finish up in New Hampshire and he`s pushing hard down in South Carolina ahead of this weekend`s primary. That`s coming up on tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern right here on HARDBALL.

Coming up tonight, Donald Trump`s making history. He`s the first big-time Republican presidential candidate to accuse former president George W. Bush of waging war in Iraq based on a lie. Trump`s exploding the Republican deal (ph) in Iraq, but will it backfire in conservative South Carolina?

Plus, the race in Nevada between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders looks to be closer than anyone expected. Hillary needs to win to get momentum heading into South Carolina. But if Bernie steals one, look out!

And President Obama speaks out against Donald Trump. He says he doesn`t believe Trump, who`s leading the Republican polls, will ever be president.

Well, finally, "Let Me Finish" with that familiar American debate. Who do we blame for something bad?

And this is HARDBALL, a place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, late in this hour, we`re show you what President Obama said today about Donald Trump and the Republicans. But here is talking about the Democratic race to succeed him.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Hillary better than I know Bernie because she served in my administration. And she was an outstanding secretary of state. And you know, I suspect that on certain issues, she agrees with me more than Bernie does. On the other hand, there may be a couple of issues where Bernie agrees with me more.

Ultimately, I will probably have an opinion on it, based on both being -- been a candidate of hope and change and a president who`s got some nicks and cuts and bruises.


MATTHEWS: Looks like this is going to get interesting.

HARDBALL back after this.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. I want to tell you, they lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none! There were no weapons of mass destruction!


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This weekend, Donald Trump became the first major Republican candidate ever for president to accuse former president Bush, George W. Bush, of waging war based on a lie. To neutralize the former president as a surrogate for his brother Jeb, Trump is reframing the debate for 2016 as a referendum on Iraq.

Trump`s not backing off, as he made clear yesterday.


TRUMP: We weren`t safe. The World Trade center came down, which was the greatest attack in history on this country. So you had that. You obviously had the war, which was a big mistake. I mean, I think few people would say the war in Iraq was a positive. You had him on the aircraft carrier saying all sorts of wonderful things, how the war was essentially over. Guess what? Not over. The whole thing starts with the war in Iraq. You know, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but one thing about him, he killed terrorists. Now Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to become a terrorist, you go to Iraq.


MATTHEWS: Wow. After his rally with the former president last night, Jeb today said he thinks his brother`s appearance helped him in South Carolina.


JEB BUSH (R-FL), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think my brother is well respected. He led this country during turbulent times, and he did it -- he did it well. And people in South Carolina appreciate that. It`s great that he came, and I think it made a difference.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Republican congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, former Florida Republican Party chair Al Cardenas, who`s an adviser to Jeb Bush, and conservative columnist Ann Coulter, who supports Trump.

I`ve got to start with Ann because I have no idea where you`re headed here. Here we are, back into the old fight over Iraq, and even that -- even further back, the fight over 9/11.

How is this going to affect what happens on Saturday in the Republican fight in South Carolina, especially regarding Jeb and Trump, Ann?

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR AND COLUMNIST: Well, what he said specifically about Bush lying to get us into the war, about weapons of mass destruction, yes, of course that made my head explode. But whether it`s Bush`s fault or Obama`s fault for pulling out every last troop, as I believe, going forward, I do -- and I think most Americans agreed with Trump. Enough with the foreign wars. It didn`t work. It`s not working now, again, whether it`s Bush`s fault or Obama`s fault.

And you know, you watch these Republican debates, and at least for the first five of them, half of the debate is Republicans talking about the Quds and the Kurds. Can we get back to America?


MATTHEWS: The Quds and the Kurds. Thank you for the confusion there.

Let me -- Al Cardenas, thank you. You`re a guy with Jeb. Is Jeb W.? Would Jeb have taken us to Iraq? Would Jeb have done what -- all this neocon stuff? Would he have done all these wars?

AL CARDENAS, JEB BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: I think Jeb`s a lot like his dad. But I`ll tell you...

MATTHEWS: Well, I agree, by the way. But go ahead. Not like W.

CARDENAS: Yes, but I`m hearing Donald Trump. Here`s a guy with a pretty significant lead in the party, and here`s Rand Paul, who had to leave the race because people weren`t buying into the libertarian approach to foreign policy in our party.

I mean, 2012, people thought Rand`s point of view on foreign policy in my party was pretty good. That`s how the sequester came about. That`s how we agreed on a sequester.


CARDENAS: But here`s Donald Trump following the lead of a guy who fell flat because the party`s in a different mood regarding our foreign policy. Now, why in the world would Donald Trump begin talking about Syria, let -- you know, let Putin do it, about Iraq and everything else? The guy was in a commanding lead and he`s thrown the dice the wrong way.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know why he`s taking a chance on knocking -- he maybe wants the knockout.

Anyway, let me go to Congressman Sanford. You go to South Carolina, and you`re not officially for anybody. But this looks to -- it really looked like a risky move by Trump, to try to knock off Jeb on the issue of his brother`s war. I mean, he had to go all the -- and then going back to 9/11 and saying he didn`t keep us safe. It looks like he`s really -- you know, this big casino. Why didn`t he just roll the guy, as Al said, and beat him by 10 points, 20 points?

REP. MARK SANFORD, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: Again, I don`t get it. I agree with Al.

I mean, this is really rolling the dice, and one of two things is going to happen. He is going to win decisively in South Carolina, in which case, Katy bar the door, I think he goes all the way to win the nomination, given the things that he`s said.

I think it is going to be the reverse. Despite what the polls say right now, my take is that there is going to be blowback, that it`s one thing to say something about a journalist in New York that people don`t know that much about. It`s another to say, hey, you knew 9/11 was coming, and you did nothing about it.

That goes to sort of the heart of American psyche, at least as it relates to South Carolina. What do we believe, what don`t we believe? This stuff has long been discussed around the kitchen counter. And to throw that one out there, I think it`s an incredibly risky maneuver.

MATTHEWS: Well, on his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh compared Trump to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. Here`s Rush.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Here we are in a Republican primary and Donald Trump out of the blue starts blaming the Bush family for 9/11, for knowing that the intelligence was made up, that there never were any weapons of mass destruction, and they knew it, Trump said. Michael Moore doesn`t even say that.


MATTHEWS: Well, let me suggest something to you, Ann.

I think times have changed. People don`t have a great feeling about the war in Iraq. We lost 4,000 people, a lot of people dismembered, changed for life for the worst. We`re always talking about the veterans because of how badly they came home, a lot of these guys and women, who were in for four or five deployments.

That`s another thing. The working class regular guy and woman out the , they were going back and back and back, and the rich and the elite are saying, yes, we don`t mind that going on. That doesn`t bother me. Well, why should it?

I think people are mad about the trade deal. They`re mad about illegal immigration, and they`re mad about these deployments, because there is a draft right now. It works this way. If you have enlisted, you go back in four and five times, and you have to. So I think there is some anger about the war now, about the whole war we into. Your thoughts?

COULTER: Yes. No, I agree. I think, on three positions, trade, immigration and foreign wars, Trump is illustrating how the Republican Party and the establishment has been forcing Republicans, the entire GOP, into suicidal positions.

That`s not where the American people are, and I have to say, I do think Trump is on much firmer ground, and is making an important point, although not as well this time as he has in the past, about Bush being president when the 9/11 attack occurred.

Look, one year before 9/11, in a debate with Al Gore, George Bush specifically raised racial profiling of Arabs at airport security. One year later, the ticket agent who took Mohamed Atta`s ticket said he got a chill to the bone, he wouldn`t give it to him, but he gave himself a politically correct mental slap.

Trump has said in the past, the reason 9/11 might well not have happened if I were president is, those 19 hijackers wouldn`t have been here. He is not enforcing politically correct rules. And, by the way, Bush then went on to promote amnesty.

We never had a vote on Bush after this, but we had a vote on Republicans in Congress, and Republicans were wiped out in 2006, because Americans don`t want amnesty, keeping the borders open.

Political correctness, and specifically no racial profiling of Arabs at airports, yes, actually, I think you kind of can say there is some partial blame there for Bush.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me look at something here, Ann, everybody. Last may, I spoke with Mike Morell. He`s the CIA official who briefed President George W. Bush during the run-up to the Iraq War.

He was the guy that talked directly to the president about weapons of mass destruction, their existing or nonexisting. In our interview, I showed him something that Dick Cheney had said prior to the invasion. Here`s that clip of what Cheney said and the interview with Morell that followed. I think these are important.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we believe he has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons.

MATTHEWS: Was that true or not?


MATTHEWS: Was that true?

MORELL: We were saying...

MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Is that true?

MORELL: No, that`s not true.

MATTHEWS: You`re briefing the president on the reasons for war, they`re selling the war, using your stuff, saying that you made that case, when you didn`t. So, they`re using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted?

MORELL: Look, I`m just telling you...

MATTHEWS: Well, you just admitted it.


MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.

MORELL: On some aspects.

MATTHEWS: He had a nuclear weapon. That`s a big deal.


MORELL: Chris, I`m telling you what was said.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree it`s a big deal if they claimed they had a weapon, when you knew they didn`t?


MORELL: That`s a big deal.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Al?


MATTHEWS: The guy who briefed the president said, we didn`t have -- they didn`t have a nuclear weapon. Cheney goes out and says they did. Maybe lie is a strong word, but inconsistent is a powerful fact here.


CARDENAS: Here`s what I think.

The next time we have Nuremberg trials, I want to you be the prosecutor. But I think also, my sense is, what is ruling foreign policy in the Middle East today is ISIS. And there`s a universal accord that ISIS needs to get rid of.

And I think the position Jeb and others have taken is, you can`t malign every country in the Middle East, you can`t malign Muslims in general if you want to take out ISIS. Americans` number one goal in foreign policy is taking out ISIS.

Everything Donald Trump has said runs counter to that theory. And that`s why I think those who stay strong with that and those who have a sensible position about our allies in the Middle East will eventually win out.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the latest opinion poll. It`s coming out from South Carolina. It today shows Trump leading the field with 38 percent. Bush is in fourth at 10 percent behind Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Let me ask you, Congressman Sanford, one tough question. Suppose in 2004, the person running for reelection was Barack Obama. And after 9/11, he had ran on the banner he kept us safe. What would you have said?

SANFORD: I would say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.



MATTHEWS: He kept us safe? After 9/11, you would have said that about Barack Obama? See, this is the way partisanship flips all around the world.


SANFORD: No, I didn`t say no. I didn`t say no, Chris.

MATTHEWS: No, but you laughed. You laughed me off.

SANFORD: I said he was the eye of the beholder.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know, but I think he kept us safe was a ballsy thing to say, excuse me, after 9/11.

Anyway, your last thought on that, Ann?

COULTER: I disagree with both of you.

I was totally for the war in Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction had nothing do with it. Saddam had harbored terrorists, had sheltered terrorists. He had -- the first World Trade Center bomber, he had given refuge to. I thought we had to take him out.

I think it`s completely on Obama`s head that he withdrew every last troop. We have troops in Germany. We have troops in like 100 countries around the world. He couldn`t leave a few troops behind.

But going forward, I don`t care. We can have seminars arguing about Iraq and the past. Right now, I don`t want another war and I think most Americans don`t want another war. They want to take care of Americans first. And that`s Trump.

MATTHEWS: Do you know how many casualties we suffered in Germany at the hands of the Germany people after V.E. Day, Ann, since 1945, how many casualties we suffered?

COULTER: Oh, are you talking to me?


COULTER: Oh, you mean like the werewolves? Afterward, there were some, not many.

MATTHEWS: No, no, like none, like none. OK?


COULTER: I agree. Look, I agree. Going forward, I agree. People are done with it. We tried. It didn`t work.

Whether it`s because that whole area of the world, minus Israel, is a hellhole, and there`s nothing we can ever do to establish democracy, or whether it`s Obama`s or whether it`s Bush`s fault, Americans are done. We really want to care about bringing jobs home, bringing manufacturing home, and sealing the border.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Ann Coulter. I do get your point and somebody you got to codify all this. I will have to read more of your books.

Anyway thank you -- or some of them.

Anyway, thank you. It`s great having you on. Thank you. I think you speak for a lot of people, unfortunately.

Thank you, Mark Sanford. Thank you, Al Cardenas, my friend. And thank you, Ann Coulter, again, I think.

Anyway, up next, with just four days left until the Democratic caucuses out in Nevada, is this the Hillary Clinton firewall? I`m going to be going out and covering that thing. Can Bernie Sanders pull off another win? You know, he is -- he is moving right now, and these odds are getting very even out there. He may be passing her right now. We will see.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.

Justice Antonin Scalia will lie in repose on Friday in the Supreme Court building where the public can pay respects from 10:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

The State Department says it`s grateful to the Iraqi government for helping to secure the return of three missing Americans.

And a 404-karat virtually flawless diamond has been found at a mine in Angola. No value for it has been disclosed yet. Wow -- back to HARDBALL.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everything in my political gut tells me that we have the momentum here in this state, that if people come out in large numbers on caucus day, we`re going to win here in Nevada.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you will come and caucus for me on Saturday at 11:00 a.m., you will help me move forward to get the nomination and to be elected president in November. Thank you, all, so much. Thank you, Reno.



MATTHEWS: Thank you, Reno.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are waging a fierce battle now to win the state of Nevada, which holds its caucuses this Saturday. After a near win in Iowa and the trouncing of Clinton in New Hampshire, Senator Sanders has his eyes set on a win to prove that Hillary Clinton can be beaten anywhere.

Well, "The Washington Post" reports -- quote -- "Clinton`s hopes rested on her overwhelming advantage among voters of color, part of a firewall, her aides have claimed, and many states that follow overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire on the electoral calendar. Sanders, however, is betting that his appeal among young and working-class voters revealed so dramatically in New Hampshire is strong enough to transcend race," I guess to move into all different ethnic groups.

As "New York Times" Charles Blow put it, you don`t need a firewall unless there`s a fire. Good old Charles.

And a fire is precisely what the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has set off among disaffected Democrats. Will Sanders` momentum off his victory in New Hampshire break Clinton`s firewall or will she fight her way back to a win?

Ruth Marcus is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post," and Penny Lee is a Democratic strategist supporting Hillary Clinton.

So here is what is going on now, I think, on both sides of the political world. Both people that are doing really well right now, Trump and Sanders, have two things going for them, both, focus. You know why they`re running, make America great. It`s Sanders, the whole thing he`s doing about redistribution and helping people in need -- and joy.

People are laughing with Trump, they`re laughing with Sanders, maybe for different reasons. Something about those two politicians, and they are politicians, makes people happy. Hillary, Jeb, and the rest of them are not making people happy yet.

RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I`m not sure we would call...


MATTHEWS: Joy is what I`m looking at. Give me a better word.

MARCUS: Enthusiasm. I think he..

MATTHEWS: Well, that doesn`t have much joy to it, but go ahead.

MARCUS: You can be joyfully enthusiastic.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, whatever.

MARCUS: But your fundamental point is correct, which is that there is a sense, if you are for either Trump or Sanders, that you are part of a kind of larger movement, and you know what that movement is about, for better or for worse.

There is not a sense of a larger movement for Hillary Clinton or really for the other Republican candidates in the race. And that is what they all need to try to do to counter these candidates.

MATTHEWS: OK. How does Hillary get off -- Hillary Clinton get off the problem that Barack Obama was, yes, you can, and Hillary is, no, you can`t? How does she get over that, that sort of joke that`s out there?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The joke that`s out there is that it isn`t that, and that she has been able to put forth things that she will do.

Unfortunately, this is a time -- we used to go into a job interview, experience was the number one criteria, and now that has become a liability.


LEE: But it is important.

At the end of the day, people do want to know, when they elect the president and next commander in chief, that you do have somebody that actually has a depth and the breadth of the issues, and can look to solutions that are practical.

So I do think that, over the course of time, yes, I know that there is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about Bernie Sanders, but with Hillary staying steady and with her staying even, she is going to be...


MATTHEWS: Hillary is doing sort of a point defense, don`t blame me, I`m clean. But she doesn`t defend the system very well. She is very good at defending herself. You`re picking out things. You`re cherry-picking this and picking that.

(CROSSTALK) MARCUS: May not be that good at defending herself.

MATTHEWS: But she doesn`t defend the system, because you can`t.

And the thing about saying that he is a one-issue candidate, but that one issue is Citizens United that ties together so many things he is concerned about, whether it`s student tuition, or it`s higher Social Security benefits, or health care as a right. All that, he ties together with the fact that we have a bought political system. That`s very hard to say that`s a one-issue pony.

MARCUS: And it`s really two issues wrapped together, right? It`s a rigged campaign finance system, and that leads, in his view, to a rigged economic system.

It is hard to argue -- but Penny is exactly right -- for experience, for incremental change, which is the benefit of experience, against somebody who can really impel`s people`s both anger and enthusiasm with a much simpler message. Simpler messages are easier to sell. And that`s the problem that Hillary Clinton is facing.

MATTHEWS: What about "The Post" today? I will give you a break here.

"The Post" today, "The Washington Post," which has become sort of a middle- of-the-road newspaper -- everybody says it`s liberal. I don`t buy that. It`s pretty conservative on foreign policy.

Anyway, it says basically that economists, liberal economists have added up all the Bernie stuff and it comes out to a 50 percent increase in the cost of the federal government, which may not mean much to people -- kids in school, because they`re not paying much taxes except payroll taxes.

But they will say, yes, sure, at least I`m getting something out of it, free tuition, blah, blah, blah. To a person who is in the middle ages and paying taxes, they go, whoa, 50 percent increase in taxes?

LEE: Yes. I think it`s a really important issue that needs to be vetted fully.

Look, obviously, Mrs. Clinton has been vetted and vetted and vetted and 10 times over. And I think this a point that needs to be made, is that, yes, he is parroting and being empathetic to those people that have had the economic downturns that they have lived through and see the prospects of their job coming out of college very vague, I mean, very difficult, a difficult path.

So, he is parroting that. So what you have to do is put that against what it will actually cost, and so I think those characteristics and to be able to vet his positions are legitimate and need to be done even more thoroughly, because it is going to be costly.

MATTHEWS: I want to keep it simple here. And I know the arguments...


MARCUS: Yes. Why do you point at me when you say that?


MATTHEWS: Because you`re going to write a column tomorrow.

Let me -- here is what I think. When I look at the two candidates, I talk about joy because I mean it, not just a movie. I look at Trump, he is having the time of his life. He may have a difficult hour every three or four days, but that`s about it. Same with Bernie. I don`t even think he has a difficult hour.

I think he is enjoying it, at his age, 74 years old, at the end of a long legislative career, in which he`s up and down all the time, never famous. Sort of like him now, never famous. He is having the time of his life.

MARCUS: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: And Trump, he never -- he has probably made more money on other days, but he has never had a better time.

It`s like Hillary is not having the time of their life. Jeb is not having the time of their life. I don`t know even what it means to be happy if you`re Ted Cruz. I don`t know what that connection happy and Ted Cruz means.

But it tells me why they`re doing well.

MARCUS: Well, remember, Jeb Bush was the one who told us that if he was going to run, he wanted to be able to do it joyfully. Joyfully has not been the adverb of his campaign.

MATTHEWS: No. It`s a valley of thorns or whatever.

Thank you, Ruth Marcus. I don`t even know where you stand.

I know where you stand, Penny. Thank you, Penny Lee.

Up next: True to form, South Carolina is getting ugly ahead of Saturday`s Republican primary down there. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are throwing around words like liar, unstable, losing it to describe each other. Who wins this donnybrook down there?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With four days to go now, just four, the fight between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in South Carolina is quickly turning into a bloodbath down there. The latest polling out of South Carolina today shows Trump leading with 38 percent, Cruz in second at 22, Marco Rubio, just 14.

Well, late today, President Obama was asked about the rise of Trump, and he said he didn`t think Trump would win the general election.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think foreign observers are troubled by some of the rhetoric that`s been taking place in these Republican primaries, and Republican debates.

I don`t think it`s restricted by the way to Mr. Trump. I mean, I find it interesting that everybody is focused on Trump, primarily just because he says in more interesting ways what the other candidates are saying as well.

I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president. And the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people. I think they recognize that being president is a serious job.

It`s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show. It`s not promotion. It`s not marketing. It`s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right. And it`s not a matter of pandering and doing whatever will get you in the news on a given day.


MATTHEWS: Wow. I`m joined me right now by the round table. John Feehery is a Republican strategist, John Walsh is a correspondent for "The Nation" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Howard Dean is former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and governor of Vermont, an interesting state, and an MSNBC contributor.

What did you make of that? Was that -- I mean, the president obviously has some history with this guy. He is accused of being a foreign national. You know, you laugh, but --


MATTHEWS: That`s still Trump`s original sin as far as I`m concerned. He is still riding around that 20 percent of the country went with him, the president snuck in somehow from Kenya somewhere and somehow with the name Barack Obama, this plan to become president. It`s ludicrous and stupid, but if you`re Barack Obama, you had to show your birth certificate to get this guy out of your face.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: It`s true, though. I just got back from a trip to Serbia doing a bunch of stuff in the -- with different Balkan political parties. To a person, they`re all fascinated by Trump, and they don`t want to see him anywhere near the White House.

MATTHEWS: What do they think he is?

DEAN: They think he`s nuts?

MATTHEWS: Do they?

DEAN: Yes, they do. They`re just terrified of him because they don`t know what to make of him. I mean, imagine an American president talking the way he talks and he`s --


MATTHEWS: You know, where we are right now. It`s February. We`re past the first couple races. Trump is ahead. Bernie Sanders is ahead.

Let`s stay on Trump. It`s still a remarkable season of frustration, anger, weirdness, whatever you call it. It`s terror incognito. We have never been here. I`ve been watching politics as I was a kid. We`ve never been here.

WALSH: No, no one expected this. This is -- South Carolina is a state that Ted Cruz really needs to win and it looked like he was set up to you win it. It`s -- the evangelical vote, it looks closer to Iowa than other states do.

MATTHEWS: Hard pro-military.

DEAN: Yes.

WALSH: And for Trump to be so far ahead.

MATTHEWS: To trash the Bush family, to trash Jeb --

WALSH: Right. Well, Jeb`s a whole --

DEAN: South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: South Carolina, that`s the hawk state that gave us, that gave us W. back in 2000 when they trashed John McCain down there.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I remember when we called Barack Obama a celebrity and he called Donald Trump a celebrity, just merely a celebrity. And he is merely a celebrity, but he is using it to his advantage. Marketing, yes. Running campaign is all about marketing, and no one has marketed himself better as Donald Trump.

And Trump is actually taking courageous steps, I`m appalled by them, but to go after --

MATTHEWS: What about this argument the president made, is it objective argument? Obviously, the president is a Democratic and a progressive. When he says this guy will never be president, is that a statement of fact, hope or dream? What is it?

FEEHERY: I think it`s hope and expectation, but you never know. I mean, I never thought President Obama.

MATTHEWS: And there he is.

DEAN: I`ll tell you how Donald Trump could very well be president. He could get the nomination and if Michael Bloomberg runs, no matter who the Democrats have, Donald Trump will be the president of the United States.


WALSH: You think that`s true.

DEAN: Yes.

WALSH: Yes, I think that`s true.

MATTHEWS: The 16-ounce limit on the drinks.


MATTHEWS: The nanny state.

DEAN: No chance of winning the presidency, but he could elect Donald Trump.

WALSH: I agree, although I think he knows that too. I don`t think he does it. Maybe with Sanders, but I don`t think even with Sanders.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this, the election of Trump down there this week. And it looks to me like he is taking on something a lot of progressives have agreed with him on for different reasons. I have no doubt as I raised earlier tonight with the congressman, that if Barack Obama had been president in 2001, and we were hit the way we were by terrorists, they wouldn`t have let him run for reelection under the banner of keeping us safe.


MATTHEWS: Somehow, as Trump points out, it all became afterwards.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: And how well the president really did bring the country together and months right afterwards.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: It was never about what happened. But, you know, in World War II, I`m going to talk about it at the end of the show, my dad was one of those on the Republican side that never trusted Roosevelt. You know, he left the door open because he wanted to go to war in Europe, got us into the Japanese War. That was an old Republican, to use a new word trope. It was, right?

FEEHERY: Right. Of course, yes. Yes, I think that this trope as you call it.

MATTHEWS: I don`t like the word, but a meme.

FEEHERY: It`s fascinating how it hasn`t destroyed Trump in the Republican primary, in South Carolina of all places, so odd to have George W. down there campaigning for his brother and Jeb not getting any traction.

But the other thing is fascinating about this in South Carolina --

MATTHEWS: He was the man in the iron mask for seven years. We never saw the guy for seven years. And then he shows up in South Carolina, who obviously has not been seen by himself as a popular figure. He hasn`t been out.

WALSH: He hasn`t been out and enjoying it, but it was a little pathetic. It was pathetic to bring --

MATTHEWS: Who looked better, W. or Jeb?

WALSH: W, obviously.

MATTHEWS: Astounding. It`s like --

DEAN: W. never got the credit for being a great politician, because he followed Clinton. He is a good politician, George W. Bush.

MATTHEWS: So much more a tuned to reality.

DEAN: Absolutely.

FEEHERY: He`s a lot better than his brother.

MATTHEWS: Jeb is. I mean, W --

FEEHERY: Much better, yes.

MATTHEWS: Who would have thought? Everybody thought that Jeb was the smart one.

DEAN: Not me. George W. Bush --

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you guys.

The roundtable is staying with us. We`re learning something.

Up next, the three are going to tell me something I don`t know. We just all learned something new. Jeb is not the brilliant one.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Tune in tomorrow night for a special edition of HARDBALL, live from South Carolina. Our featured guest, Ohio Governor John Kasich. We`ll get his case for the nomination as he comes off a second place finish in New Hampshire.

We`ll find out whether his positive message will resonate in this weekend`s big primary down there and beyond. That`s 7:00 p.m. Eastern here tomorrow night on MSNBC.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Governor, tell me something I don`t know.

DEAN: Washington and Lee University just did a forum. Donald Trump came out ahead. They`ve been right 19 out of 24 times.

WALSH: Oh, no.

MATTHEWS: Students are right.

DEAN: Students are right. Donald Trump gets the nomination.

MATTHEWS: Oh my God.


WALSH: Bernie Sanders has been hitting Hillary Clinton from the left for a long time. In the last few days, he`s been hit hard by his left by three anti-war writers. Jeff Hedges is one of them. Another one is Jeffrey St. Clair -- saying he`s too pro-war. He`s too close to Hillary, he`s too close to Obama.

MATTHEWS: What`s the evidence?

WALSH: His support for Israel. They are really concerned that he`s way too close to Israel.


WALSH: Yes, this is true. This has come up in the last few days.

MATTHEWS: I thought he is a foreign policy lefty.

WALSH: He`s not.

FEEHERY: Sixty-five percent of House Republicans have been elected during the Obama years. It`s hard to be the proposition party when you`ve been elected in the opposition era, when the only thing that defined you was opposing President Obama. So, that`s part of the problem for --

MATTHEWS: Can you change the name of the party?

FEEHERY: Well --

MATTHEWS: No party.

Anyway, thank you, John Feehery, a student of his own caucus -- John Walsh, Howard Dean.

When we return, let me finish with that familiar American debate, who do we blame for something bad?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with that familiar American debate. Who do we blame for something bad? I remember once saying to my father not many years ago that I really thought FDR was a great man.

Having served in the Navy during World War II, I thought my father would agree. He didn`t. He said he still suspected Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor, knew that the empire of Japan`s navy led by Admiral Yamamoto was going to attack our Pacific fleet, that our president left chose ships there like sitting ducks so that he could get us into the war in Europe.

Well, since my dad worked in navy intelligence, I sort of let it go. Let it sit there. I decided I liked FDR nonetheless and liked him more each year.

But to this question, who do you blame? I don`t blame George W. Bush for causing the attack of 9/11. I don`t blame his brother Jeb for the fact that terrorists went down to Florida to learn just enough about flying those big commercial airliners so that they could aim them into the buildings.

Who do I blame -- are those who would have jumped on another president, if he were in office during 9/11. Can you imagine how his critics would leap into action had Barack Obama been in the White House when the Twin Towers and Pentagon were hit?

Be honest. Think about it. Would they let him run for re-election in 2004 under the banner, "he kept us safe"? More likely, he would have been run out of town on a rail tarred and feathered and brought up on impeachment charges. What do you think?

I`m glad, happy really in all the years since 9/11, we haven`t engaged in a carnival of accusation about that.

Iraq, a different story. We know who caused that disaster. The 100,000 people killed there. It was the group that took credit for it. The White House team heavily influenced by Dick Cheney who told us Saddam had nuclear weapons when the CIA knew the opposite.

We don`t need a conspiracy theory when we have that unassailable fact. You saw the witness delivering it right here tonight.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.