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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/23/2016

Guests: Zeke Miller, Sabrina Siddiqui, Seth Richardson, Kweisi Mfume, Tom Ridge

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 23, 2016 Guest: Zeke Miller, Sabrina Siddiqui, Seth Richardson, Kweisi Mfume, Tom Ridge

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Could be a bad night for the anti-Trumpers. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in Las Vegas again, and here in this desert city, where nights turn cold, so have the hopes of establishment Republicans to stop Donald Trump.

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz made their closing arguments today here in Nevada. In other words, the were making their case against Donald Trump. Here they go.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Frustration is not a plan. Being angry is not a plan. It doesn`t solve the problems.

This election can`t be just about making a point! It can`t just be about electing the loudest person in the room because that alone will not solve the problem!

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m not willing to gamble my daughters` future with Donald Trump. The truth of the matter is, if Donald becomes president, nobody knows what the heck he would do. He doesn`t know what the heck he would do.


MATTHEWS: Well, at a rally today in Sparks, Nevada, Trump unloaded on Cruz personally, calling him the single biggest liar he`s ever met.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you hold up a bible -- and nobody loves the bible more than I do. When you hold up a bible, you don`t then put it down and go around lying and doing a lot of things that are wrong.

And I have to tell you, what he`s been doing is terrible. This guy, Ted Cruz, is the single biggest liar I have ever dealt with in my life! I mean it.


TRUMP: I`ve never seen -- he will lie about anything. And you meet some - - now, I`ve met much tougher people than Ted Cruz. He`s like a baby compared to some of the people I have to deal -- he is like a little baby...


TRUMP: ... soft, weak little baby, by comparison. But for lying, he`s the best I`ve ever seen.


MATTHEWS: I love the way he lilts with the voice, "little baby."

I`m joined right now by NBC`s Katy Tur, who has to cover the guy. Jon Ralston, the host of "Ralston Live" is an MSNBC political analyst. And back from Washington, ah, yes, the former chair of the Republican Party when it was a normal political party, Michael Steele.


MATTHEWS: The former chair of the former Republican Party. He`s also an MSNBC political analyst. Anyway, and joining us from a caucus site in Summerlin, Nevada, is MSNBC`s Jacob Soboroff, who is fantastic. And we`ll get to -- there -- God, you`re already in position. Hold on there for a second. We`ll get the big thoughts first, then we`ll get the reality.

Jon Ralston, something happened this weekend starting here on Saturday night. Something`s going on -- not here, but out in South Carolina. All of a sudden, Trump is unstoppable. If you listen to all the nervousness, it`s like the Titanic is sinking in the establishment.

JON RALSTON, "RALSTON LIVE," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, Nevada is ground zero, as I`ve always told you, Chris, the most important state. We`re going to determine...

MATTHEWS: But I`m talking about...


RALSTON: I know what you`re talking about. I was trying to get it in there.

MATTHEWS: Something`s new!

RALSTON: Listen, Trump is going to win Nevada unless something very, very strange happens. Your lede was right. It`s going to be a bad night for the anti-Trumpers.

MATTHEWS: It`s going to be bad night for you after saying that, too.

RALSTON: That may be -- exactly!


RALSTON: But I talked to one of the key advisers to one of the other campaigns today, with Cruz or Rubio, who predicted -- predicted -- that his guy would finish in second 25 points behind Trump tonight. That -- and they thought, Well, at least we`re going to get second place. But how do you argue -- I mean, Marco...

MATTHEWS: That`s not second place.

RALSTON: But Marco Rubio could give a victory speech if he got 12 percent of the vote. We know that already right?


RALSTON: So that could happen.

MATTHEWS: That is incredible. So that`s how bad it looks out here.

Katy Tur, you cover Trump. You know, he`s been around. He`s had a couple events here today. We saw he just had one up in Sparks. He`s -- he looks like Trump.

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I mean, Trump is confident. He`s as confident as we`ve seen him...

MATTHEWS: Why is he mashing the face of Ted Cruz into the asphalt?

TUR: I think...

MATTHEWS: Why is he doing that?

TUR: ... at this point, he`s just enjoying it. I think he -- I think he took the loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa very personally. And he is not letting it go.

And also, Ted Cruz is taking out a number of attacks -- attack ads against him, and he doesn`t have Jeb as his foil any longer, so Ted Cruz is the prime target. I think he`s going to continue doing that until he sees Ted Cruz drop out of this race.

Remember, Texas is next week, and Donald Trump, as he said today wants to win Texas. So what he`s going to try and do is diminish Ted Cruz as much as he can in order to win his home state.

MATTHEWS: Maybe knock him out. He`s going for the old knock-out.

TUR: Because if Donald Trump wins Texas...


TUR: Ted Cruz might not have any where else to go.

MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, we keep hearing rumblings there`s such a thing as the Republican establishment. I don`t know where it meets, who`s in it, how much clout they have. They`re not too good at winning primaries or caucuses.


MATTHEWS: And I`m wondering, what are they going to do? They can`t get -- they`re trying to get poor John Kasich out of the race now with his single digits so that that makes room for Rubio to win higher double digits. They`re not going to get Cruz out of the race.

How does the Republican so-called establishment consolidate?

STEELE: They can`t. And they won`t. That`s the honest reality that no one wants to face. Their closet is getting smaller and smaller for that meeting, by the way...


STEELE: ... simply because there is no more room to take out Donald Trump. He is on a trajectory that works for him. It does not work for them. They`re rallying around Marco Rubio. But even there, you look at the enthusiasm level. There`s not the spark of energy and fire for that.

The goal here is to try to get the number down to one, a one-on-one with Trump. They think they have that opportunity then. But John Kasich has made it very clear he`s in this thing to at least Ohio.


STEELE: He wants to play, you know? And Ben Carson -- he`s still raising money! So there`s no incentive for him to get out. He can just...

MATTHEWS: Yes, and...


MATTHEWS: And I`m looking at this situation where everybody just decides when they`re going to get out and creates this bunch of divided support among all the different parties so nobody can challenge Trump. We`re having elections coming up. Look at this. If Trump or Rubio can`t blunt Trump`s momentum here in Nevada tonight, there will be nothing electorally to stop him until super-Tuesday, nothing between here and next week, which is a week from now. Keep telling everybody -- super-Tuesday is next week.


MATTHEWS: Seven days from now.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: The calendar of upcoming primaries and caucuses, according to recent polls, looks very good for the New Yorker, Donald Trump, the tycoon.

Here he is, 5 points ahead in Oklahoma. According to a recent poll there, he`s ahead 6 points in Virginia, 9 points in Georgia, 15 in Vermont, 21 in Alabama, 34 points in Massachusetts. And I know that state well. Cruz also leads in Arkansas and Texas -- Cruz does. He`s got two states.

After super-Tuesday, the calendar continues to favor Trump. He has strong leads in Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. He`s ahead of Kasich in Ohio, by the way, all of which vote in March.

So back to you, Jon Ralston. Tonight, if he wins here, and you think he will...


MATTHEWS: ... he now -- he now cakewalks from here until next Tuesday. He then does -- well, there`s 11 states. He could win 9 of them, right?

RALSTON: Well, Chris, look at those numbers you just presented in Texas, for instance. And you know how this works. These polls feed on the results from previous states.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

RALSTON: Let`s say Cruz finishes third in Nevada. Maybe his numbers in Texas start to go down. What if Trump then can beat him in Texas? I think Trump`s numbers will just go up. I think...

MATTHEWS: Well, the worst case scenario for the anti-Trump people, Katy -- jump in here -- is if Cruz does survive in this race, wins in Texas handily, wins another state or two, maybe Oklahoma, somewhere where they`re really conservative. He stays in the race. The longer he stays in the race, the less Rubio consolidates, the more Trump wins.

TUR: The more candidates in this race, the better for Donald Trump. This fighting between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz is only benefiting Donald Trump.


TUR: It`s separating all of the support. So there is not that one person to coalesce around...

MATTHEWS: And Carson stays in.

TUR: ... an establishment...


TUR: Carson`s essentially just trolling Ted Cruz, at this point, to take away support from him.



TUR: But I think the longer that everyone stays in, the better it is for Trump. Listen, he`s won in the moderate north.


TUR: He`s won in the religious South. He`s going to potentially win here in the far West.


TUR: He`s cutting across all the boundaries.

MATTHEWS: And he`s not changing his manner, let`s put it that way.


MATTHEWS: If you think he has manners -- let`s watch him now with a protester. This happened last night at a rally in Las Vegas. I said last night -- Trump exploded, if you will, but I think it`s pretty controlled, what he`s doing. He unloaded on a heckler. As the man was being dragged out of the room -- this is so Trump -- Trump waxed nostalgic about he considered to be the good old days when a guy like that would have been taken out on a stretcher. Let`s watch Trump being Trump.


TRUMP: Bye-bye! But see, he`s smiling. See, he`s having a good time.

I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were at a place like this? They`d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.


TRUMP: Honestly, I hate to see that. Here`s a guy throwing punches, nasty as hell, screaming and everything else when we`re talking, I mean, walking out -- and we`re not allowed -- you know, the guards are very gentle with him. He`s walking out like with big high-fives, smiling, laughing. I`d like to punch him in the face, I`ll tell you!



MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, you once headed this party. What has happened to your -- it`s either Jerry Springer or it`s something. It`s the Roman Colosseum. What has happened to your party? They seem to enjoy the -- the humiliation, the cruelty and the ejection of the -- of the outsider, of anybody challenges this guy, who`s the -- who`s been an outsider. Now he`s the insider...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... telling people who can`t come to the rallies.

STEELE: It is -- it...

MATTHEWS: And you guys -- and they`re all laughing. They`re enjoying this still.

STEELE: They`re enjoying it because this is a guy who is in the moment and he`s authentic. He`s real. He`s doing what a lot of people in their head that they would want to do. He`s saying what a lot of people are thinking in their head that they would want to say. He`s the first, quote, politician to actually come out and expose himself...


STEELE: ... and damn the consequences. And people gravitate to that.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s close to that, but it`s a different kind of exhibitionism. Let me ask you, who would you vote for, him or Hillary?

STEELE: Who, me?



MATTHEWS: I`ll let you laugh.

STEELE: Come on!

MATTHEWS: I`ll just let you laugh. It`s more fun to laugh. You`re my friend, so I`m going to let you laugh.

Jacob Soboroff, tonight, the caucuses -- give us that great choreography you love to give us about what`s going to actually physically happen. And don`t forget to explain why they can`t count out here. They got a Florida competition going on here. Florida gets it wrong. They get it late. Why so late out here? Go ahead.

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: All right, so here we go, Chris. So welcome, first of all, to democracy, Nevada Republican Party style. This is Paloverde (ph) High School, and just a couple hours ago, the 3,100 kids that go to school here in Summerlin, Nevada, population 100,000, went home for the night.

This place right here is their cafeteria, where they`re normally eating lunch, coming in for a little breakfast if they show up to school early. But tonight, it`s going to be transformed into a caucus location -- as I try to cut the line, I might get into a little bit of trouble. Excuse me, guys.

So this location, Chris, is pretty amazing because it`s the biggest caucus location in Clark County, which is where Las Vegas is located. Potentially, we could see up to 14,000 eligible caucus goers come through here, but they expect about 10 percent of that.

Now, I should say I talked to a source in the Republican Party here, and they were telling me that they`ve already seen 41,000 on-line registrations for today`s Republican caucus in Nevada. That is almost 10,000 voters more than even showed up the last time around, and about equal to the 2008 numbers.

What`s going to happen once they come in the door here, Chris, is they`re going to go to the voter verification station. We should point out that there`s voter ID here in Nevada for caucus goers. And they`re going to checking those very closely.

And then they`re going to come into this area and they`re going to separate into 1 of 31 different precincts that are caucusing inside this cafeteria and in classrooms back in that area. Don`t forget, it`s called a caucus, but it`s not the same as the democratic process that we`ve seen these last couple of times.

People are not splitting up into preference groups. What they`re doing is grabbing a ballot. They`re going to write down their preference on the ballot. It`s going to go inside an envelope, and that will be hand counted and then transmitted to the state party later on this evening.

And now, as to your point about counting and why they can or cannot count, there`s a lot going on here, right? And this is a party function. This is not run by an election organization. It`s run by the state party.

So this is not uniform across the state. There are 17 different counties in the state of Nevada, and each county gets to actually start at a different time if they want to start at a different time. So within about 45 minutes, they`re going to get started here, but other counties in the state may not start until as late as 7:00 local time, 10:00 o`clock Eastern.

Everywhere, it has to be done by 9:00, except -- get this, confusing I know -- this location, Clark County, Nevada, at 8:30, they`re going to start to slow down the process and end and that`s because they want to get a head start counting. It took two days last time around to get all the results. They`re hoping to get this done tonight, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, when we get back to you tonight, I want you to explain why it takes so hard -- it`s so hard for them to count. I don`t get it. It seems to me simple.

Thank you, Jacob Soboroff, for giving us the best in the world right now, the inside look.

Jon Ralston, what is the reason why it`s so late to count here?

RALSTON: Well, back in 2012, there was only 33,000 votes cast, but they had no idea what they were doing. Chris, they`re -- it`s ineptitude. It`s nothing more than that.

MATTHEWS: You go 1, 2, 3...

RALSTON: Yes. Now they`ve set up this totally new...


RALSTON: ... system where they count, and they have to take cell phone pictures and text the results to the grand central Republican headquarters.

But the real problem tonight, though, is -- and Jacob mentioned this -- there`s been more than 41,000 and still counting pre-registrations, which is way more than even turned out. There may be 75,000 or so that turn out...

MATTHEWS: They`re hand counting, right?

RALSTON: ... and they`re hand counting. And that means it`s going to take longer. So you`re going to be very thankful that you`re on Pacific time now, Chris...


MATTHEWS: We`ve watched people count ballots in other states. We watched them -- Jacob was watching with us. In fact, he was reporting it. And we were actually watching them count. It didn`t seem that complicated.

RALSTON: It`s not that complicated.

MATTHEWS: You put them in piles.

RALSTON: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: You know, you can put, you know, Trump`s vote in one pile.

TUR: What if you lose count midway?


RALSTON: The last time, though, remember, when Romney won here, the Paul folks had control of the state party, Ron Paul`s. And they were agitating inside the count room, Oh, you didn`t count that one right!


RALSTON: And so they were trying to slow down the process.


RALSTON: You won`t have that this time.

MATTHEWS: Give us a sense of what the Trump night (ph) looks like if he does win handily here? Has he got a big rally planned tonight.

TUR: He`s got a rally at his headquarters tonight. We could...

MATTHEWS: Is it Caesar`s?

TUR: It`s a Treasure Island, actually.

MATTHEWS: Treasure Island.

TUR: Treasure Island.

RALSTON: It`s owned by his best friend, Phil Ruffin (ph).

TUR: Owned by his best friend. And he`s already had a rally there. That`s where he had one of the wildest rallies I`ve seen...

MATTHEWS: Well, is he going to wait for this count to get done at 4:00 in the morning, or is he going to come out and greet...

TUR: That is unclear.

MATTHEWS: ... the American people?

TUR: I`m not entirely sure.

MATTHEWS: You know, Rubio has victory parties, and he never wins! He`s 3- 5-2. He`s supposed to be 3-2-1. And he has a victory party every time he has a vote!

TUR: It`s a good -- it`s a good strategy, don`t you think?

RALSTON: They may actually have them counted by 10:30 or 11:00 o`clock, best case scenario.

MATTHEWS: Michael, one last thought from you.


MATTHEWS: Is there any chance for the anti-Trump people, no matter what happens tonight, any chance?

STEELE: Any chance that what, Trump loses?

MATTHEWS: To stop Trump.


MATTHEWS: To stop Trump from winning the nomination in Philly?

STEELE: No. I just think -- I just think that this train is well on its way. It`s got too much momentum, forward momentum going into super- Tuesday. All the rallying and all the, you know, second is the new first is not going to stop that.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s accused the president of not being an American, of being an illegal immigrant, basically. He`s accused Cruz of that, of being a Canadian. He called him an anchor baby in Canada. He`s accused now -- he`s now playing with the charge that Mr. Rubio is questionably an American, which I think is really a hard once since he was born here. He`s -- you know, he`s at least an American. He`s American whatever you thi8nk of his politics.

What -- is there anything he can say that would stop him in his tracks?

TUR: No!


TUR: There`s not! There is nothing...


TUR: ... he can say. I mean, the reason for that, if you look at the exit polling, the majority of his supporters decided months ago. They`re not paying attention to these news cycles where he...

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe if he...

TUR: ... has another controversy. He`s already trashed a former Republican president. He`s broken all of the taboos. There is nothing he can say...


RALSTON: Maybe he could tase (ph) a regular viewer of MSNBC. That could do it.


MATTHEWS: Which Republican president?

TUR: ... that a lot of people were watching...

MATTHEWS: Who has he trashed?

TUR: He trashed George W. Bush, that he lied...

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

TUR: ... with WMDs. Today at his rally, he even -- he bragged about his support being so strong that there`s nothing he could do...


TUR: ... that he could murder people, he said...


MATTHEWS: I don`t think George W. Bush lied. I think he believed Cheney. That was his problem. Anyway, that was our problem. Anyway...

STEELE: Hey, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Last word, Michael.

STEELE: No, I was going to say -- I have to say, honestly, though, I thought there would be much more competition coming from the rest of the field. I`ve just been stunned that here we are, seven, nine months into this thing, a week out from super-Tuesday, and there`s nothing from anyone else to push back against him that`s been effective.


TUR: They don`t know how to do it. That`s what it is.


MATTHEWS: ... "Gulliver`s Travels" with him as Gulliver and the others as Lilliputians.

Anyway, thank you, Katy Tur, who knows him so well. Jon Ralston -- I know, you`ve had to. It`s a job. It`s called reporting on this guy. Jon Ralston, we`re going to ask you about this state tonight. Michael Steele, you got a great sense of humor about a rotten political party, anyway, a rotting party, I just say.


MATTHEWS: What is going on? Come out with another candidate. Bring back Mitt. He`s been -- Mitt -- oh, God.

Coming up, as the Republicans could (ph) be here in Nevada, the Democrats are battling for South Carolina, where Bernie Sanders faces a tough road, a tough fight with Hillary Clinton. That`s ahead, right here on HARDBALL any minute now.

And a reminder, I will join Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow in cold Las Vegas tonight for live coverage of the Nevada caucuses. By the way, deserts do get cold at night. The results -- they`re going to be coming in here right here at 10:00 Eastern tonight.

And on Thursday -- this is big news for us -- the HARDBALL college tour resumes. I`ll be joined by Bernie Sanders Thursday night at the fabulous University of Chicago. That`s Thursday. And what a treat it`s going to be to sit with Bernie Sanders and talk about the `60s and talk about his early work and fighting for Civil Rights and all the good stuff.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`ve got some new numbers on some upcoming Democratic primaries and what could be a tough March for Bernie Sanders. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

In Texas, where voters head to the polls one week from today, Hillary Clinton is on top. She`s at 54 percent to Bernie Sanders`s 44 percent, a 10-point spread. In Georgia, also voting next week on super-Tuesday, Clinton also leads there. She`s at 72 percent to Bernie Sanders`s 20 percent. And to the battleground of Ohio, where Democrats vote three weeks from today, on March 15th, Clinton has a majority 55 percent there, Bernie Sanders at 40 percent.

We`ll be right back.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are we behind today in the African-American vote? The answer is, yes, we are. But I will also tell you that we are making progress. And I believe we will continue to make progress.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, live in Las Vegas for tonight`s Republican caucuses out here.

Anyway, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders says he is making progress with the African-American vote. But Hillary Clinton, of course, has already proven she has an overwhelming support in that community. She won 74 percent of the black vote in the Nevada caucuses last time, and that spells serious trouble for Sanders moving here tonight anyway, moving -- actually moving here.

As columnist Charles Blow wrote in "The New York Times," Sanders` appeal is not broad enough among key groups that traditionally make up the base of the Democratic Party.

Let me go right now to some experts.

Just four days until the primary, Clinton shows -- looks very strong actually already in South Carolina, where the Democratic primary electorate in 2008 was 55 percent African-American. Anyway, Clinton, the former secretary of state, has also been bolstered by some high-profile endorsements in the state, including that of Democratic Congressman James Clyburn, of course. He`s a member of the House leadership.

And now "The Washington Post" reports that Bernie Sanders didn`t even seek Clyburn`s endorsement, according -- I guess according to Clyburn. As he told reporters, "Sanders never asked me for an endorsement, and so I never considered giving one."

That`s pretty hardball.

I`m joined right now by former Congressman and past NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, who endorsed Hillary Clinton on Monday, as well as MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

I was looking over the numbers, Congressman, and I noticed that in places like Georgia, which has a large African-American electorate, strong support for Hillary Clinton. And I just wonder, when it takes years and years to gain the trust of the African-American community, it seems to me, it`s very hard, it seems to me, to be a challenger. What do you make of that supposition?

KWEISI MFUME (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, it is years and years. You`re right. It`s been years and years and years of trust and of familiarity.

And so, you know, you asked the question earlier, is Bernie going to close the gap? I mean, it`s going to narrow. Everything narrows. That`s why we call them races, but in the end, people are going to vote with the person they feel most comfortable with.

I mean, she has been a fighting Democratic for decades. Bernie just got into the Democratic Party last year. And so, for a lot of people, that causes them to take pause. I said earlier in my endorsement that I served with him in the Congress. He is a likable guy, but, at the end of the day, I know that Hillary Clinton understands the needs, the issues, and much of the feelings of the African-American and Latino communities.

It`s not to say that he doesn`t. It`s just that people have had a long history of working with her, trusting her, believing her and following her.

MATTHEWS: Can you -- and this is a tough job, but I don`t mind doing it. My job is just to ask these kinds of questions. When a white candidate, a white politician walks into a black church or into a black setting, where the culture is black, can you tell which people are comfortable and which aren`t, which have a history and which have a familiarity? And I use that word comfort again.


MFUME: You can.

When somebody has a level of comfort with something, whether it`s walking into a black church or standing up on a street corner or walking into a room of people they don`t know, I mean, it`s obvious through body language and everything else the way that they engage that there`s a level of comfort that might not be the case if in fact somebody has not had those experiences.

It doesn`t mean that the other person is a bad person. It means that the other person is they`re more comfortable because they have been dealing with that before and they have a sense of familiarity.

MATTHEWS: Howard, let`s go through some of the analytics here. And I`m wondering. People say the African-American vote as if it`s, well, that`s just one of the votes.

But in the Democratic Party, the words like base -- but I don`t like the word base. It sounds below. To me, it`s reliable. It`s person who are there loyally in the general election, when you actually have to face a Republican, who is adversarial to you politically and ideologically.

The African-American vote has been there nine out of 10 times. It`s just a fact ever since the `60s.


And I think that has to do with elections that those voters have taken part in involving Bill Clinton. That`s part of the brand. And what -- I just spent a lot of time in South Carolina. As a matter of fact, I just spoke with Jim Clyburn, the congressman who you showed in the video clip there, and he told me two or three things.

First of all, the level of familiarity that the Clintons have in South Carolina is almost familial. First of all, they have known Jim Clyburn, who supported them originally before Barack Obama got in the race in 2008.

And Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children`s Defense Fund that Hillary Clinton worked for right out of Yale Law School, is from South Carolina. The Wright family is very well-known in South Carolina. It`s a family-style thing that the Clintons are very much a part of. That`s number one.

Number two, the voters in South Carolina, African-American voters, were incredibly impressed by the way Hillary went to work for Barack Obama after she lost in the primaries to him. The fact that she went and joined his administration made a -- had a big effect.

The other thing is, she is essentially doing what George H.W. Bush did when he extended the two Republican terms of Ronald Reagan to a third term. H.W. grabbed Ronald Reagan around the ankles. And I think what Hillary is doing in this phase of the campaign is getting as close to Barack Obama as she can. She is essentially running for a third Barack Obama term.

And that counts in the African-American community. As for Bernie, you know, Bernie doesn`t know those people. They don`t know him. It`s like the old Chicago thing, Chris. We don`t want no guy no guy sent, you know?



FINEMAN: They don`t know him. They don`t know him. They don`t know him.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Mfume about celebrities, because I have always wondered about celebrities and how they count. Wilt Chamberlain was a Republican. Not a lot of African-American celebrities are.

Lionel Hampton was a big Republican. I met that guy. What a guy he was. And I`m thinking. Now we have got Spike Lee today for Senator Sanders. You have got, of course, Morgan Freeman, with the greatest voice in America, backing Hillary Clinton. And you have got Danny Glover, of course, for Sanders.

Do these things matter, these high-level celebrity endorsements?

MFUME: Well, I think they may matter to some people, because some of this is a contest that you`re watching play out.

At the end of the day, African-Americans are going to make up their minds up based on what they feel comfortable with, what they have known to work and what they believe in. It`s interesting.

From emancipation, when Lincoln signed that declaration, up until the New Deal, African-Americans voted 9-1 Republican. But when they felt like the party had left them and didn`t have a sense of familiarity anymore from the New Deal, particularly in the 1960s, to today, it`s been just the opposite.

So I think what you`re going to see is people endorsing, and endorsing, like myself and others, but the African-American community is not any different from any other American community. Most of us are average. We have a few geniuses and a liberal sprinkling of fools. That`s the case for every voting group in this country.


MATTHEWS: That`s right.

MFUME: So, people are going to make up their minds based on what they feel comfortable with.

MATTHEWS: You`re a charmer, Mr. Mfume.

MFUME: Well, I stole that.

MATTHEWS: Let me just say this, that I never forget the story of Jackie Robinson, who was with Nixon, and Nixon wouldn`t go to the aid of Martin Luther King when he was arrested down in Georgia.

And Jackie Robinson just gave up on Nixon. He cried leaving the Nixon train. Nixon just didn`t get it.

Anyway, thank you so much, Howard Fineman, as always.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Mfume, it`s always an honor to have you on.

MFUME: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: John Kasich prides himself of being the one positive candidate in a very nasty presidential race on the Republican side. But is he an obstacle now to the Republican Party establishment`s hopes of stopping Donald Trump by consolidating behind Rubio? It`s getting complicated.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For many years, it`s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it.

This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts. This is the opinion of many in our military. It`s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit. This is about closing a chapter in our history. It reflects the lessons that we have learned since 9/11.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Obama earlier today announcing a plan that he said is designed to close the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It`s been a challenging problem for the president to solve, of course.

And of the detainees still held in Gitmo, 59 of them face criminal charges. Some of them may be sent overseas. And it`s been determined by U.S. authorities that 10 will never be released.

Well, the president`s proposal includes plans to bring up to 60 detainees to an unspecified facility in the United States. Republicans on Capitol Hill in the Congress were swift to condemn the plan. And the GOP presidential candidates were quick to pounce on the proposal. Here they go.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which, by the way, which, by the way, we are keeping open, which we are keeping open.


TRUMP: And we`re going to load it up with some bad dudes.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I`m president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they`re not going to get a court hearing in Manhattan. They`re not going to be sent to Nevada. They`re going to Guantanamo. And we`re going to find out everything they know.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me say this, Mr. President. Don`t shut down Gitmo. Expand it, and let`s have some new terrorists there.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are people, some of whom are the worst of the worst. And why would we send them into our country? I just don`t understand it.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is the former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, who announced yesterday he will be the national co- chair of Ohio Governor John Kasich`s presidential campaign.

I will get to Kasich in a minute.

Governor, the problem has been, it seems to me, I`m not a lawyer, that you have people in Gitmo we know to be dangerous, who have sworn their lives to get us. They`re terrorists, out-and-out terrorists, who will get us if we let them free. At the same time, we can`t make a case against them under our judicial system.

How do we bring them into the country without allowing all kinds of opportunities for ACLU and other people who legitimately will fight for their rights to prevent us from prosecuting them or even holding them?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Well, thank you, Chris. I think that`s a very important question.

First of all, you and I have had this discussion before. I don`t buy into the president`s narrative that imprisoning them in Guantanamo is somehow a propaganda tool, because ultimately they have got to be imprisoned someplace. And so the notion of imprisonment, in my judgment, is absolutely meaningless when it comes to the use of al Qaeda or elsewhere as a propaganda tool.

You raise a very interesting question. And I think what we have demonstrated over the past couple of years, we have finally realized that there has to be some kind of adjudication process. From my point of view, for the longest time, it`s never been the venue at which they`re imprisoned.

It`s what is the means we determine, a country that embraces the Constitution, the rule of law? What is the process we determine that they deserve to stay there? Fortunately, because of our legal system, we have begun down -- we have gone down that path. We developed a system.

And you`re talking to somebody who believes there should probably be a separate system of adjudication for these terrorists. I`m not wanting to give them Miranda warnings, but I do think they`re entitled to counsel. I do think they`re entitled to an independent judiciary.

The rules of evidence probably have to be a little bit different than we have in criminal court, and then we make an adjudication. So, I don`t think closing Guantanamo is really solving the problem, because there will be times in the future when we apprehend these terrorists. We have to put them somewhere, until we can fully determine how responsible they are under the accusations that put them there in the first place for the outcomes for which they have been charged and then we make that determination.

I, frankly, think we had need a slightly different system of adjudication of their guilt.


Governor, you don`t believe that Guantanamo is an embarrassment to this country, but you do believe Donald Trump is.

So, how do you stop him? How does John Kasich help an effort to defeat Donald Trump, if that`s your goal?

RIDGE: Well, I think, Chris, ultimately, I`m hoping that we get this down to a two-person race.

We have a governor who has a proven record of leadership against a rhetorical candidate. We have someone who has demonstrated his conservative credentials, against one who claims he is, but is pretty difficult to find. We have somebody who is respectful of the process, who has built coalitions way back in the time we spent together in the Congress of the United States, to the time he has been able to lead the great state of Ohio.

So, ultimately, I don`t know what the establishment -- I hear people throwing that term around -- moving toward Rubio. Now, there`s a lot of us think that the best way for us to win not the traditional Republican states, but you and I have had this discussion before -- it`s the purple states. You have got to get somebody there that is a unifier, that appeals to the broader section the party. And John is the guy.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Hey, I have talked about him being on the ticket with Hillary. So, I do like Kasich. I`m not sure how he fits into your party anymore.

I wonder if your party has room for a moderate like Kasich anymore. I just wonder. I look at all the excitement for Trump and Cruz, and people far to the right of John Kasich seem to be getting all the noise, making all the noise.

RIDGE: Well, I think, first of all, Trump gets a lot of attention because he is noisy.

And it is rather remarkable that he has managed to insult his way into a 30 percent appeal rate across many, many states. But I do think, as we get closer and closer, we have the Super Tuesday, we have -- we`re going to win in Ohio. We`re going to come in, I would like to think first in some of these places, second.

But I think it`s going to narrow it down. And I think, if we`re wise as a party, we think not just about the nomination, but we think in a much broader dimension -- this is not just about the presidency, Chris. This is, who is going to lead the ticket when we have, I think, 30, maybe 20- plus Republican senators up, some of them in purple states?


RIDGE: Who is going to lead the ticket? Because I think it`s pretty clear that the next president is going to choose the ninth Supreme Court justice.

So, I would like to think that a majority of my colleagues in the Republican Party take the long view, go with a proven conservative who has got a record against -- and I think record trumps rhetoric.

MATTHEWS: OK, Governor Tom Ridge, one of the best governors we have had in Pennsylvania.

Up next: the battle for first and second our here in Nevada, as Republicans battle it out here in the coldness of the desert tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from Vegas.



SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This entire crazy year, the circus of attacks, and lies, and smears, and TV and radio, and all the nonsense, all that time has passed. This is now our time.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a long process, especially when you get to the winner-take-all states. It will be a narrow race by then and so, this is a very unusual year, but we feel really good about people coalescing around us and we`ll be the last person standing.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, he is an optimistic guy, Marco Rubio. He`s always upbeat. He always declares victory, no matter what happens.

Back to HARDBALL, live in Las Vegas, where he may do it tonight if he finishes with more than 10 percent, with tonight`s Republican caucuses out here, in which I guess to say, it`s fair to say that Donald Trump is heavily favored.

That was Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio making their case to voters here in Nevada. While there are strong indications that Donald Trump could do well out here and actually win the caucuses tonight, Cruz and Rubio are vying for a strong, something that looks strong, not just second place but a strong one. But if one of these guys wants to take on Trump, they`re going to have to take out the other. It`s one or the other.

First, what happen tonight? What will happen tonight?

I`m joined right now by three reporters covering these candidates, Zeke Miller is a reporter for "Time Magazine", Sabrina Siddiqui is with "The Guardian", and Seth Richardson is with "The Reno Gazette Journal".

Thank you. We have a local press.

Why don`t we start with you, Seth, since you`re local here?

Do you think there is a chance for Rubio, just say Rubio, to get a good 20 some percent chance here tonight?

ZEKE MILLER, TIME MAGAZINE: Certainly, a chance.

MATTHEWS: Something more than minuscule, barely double digit.

MILLER: Coming out of a strong second in South Carolina, sort of the come back narrative out of New Hampshire, that`s certainly the type of thing that could be rewarded here in Nevada. But the question is can he actually get -- you know, you know, can he hold back Ted Cruz bring in some of the libertarians votes, keep the coalition, that Ted Cruz is trying to build and also the Trump onslaught of basically all these angry voters everywhere who are frustrated with the system, who wanted, you know, sort of light D.C. on fire, basically a metaphor that the voters will use.


MILLER: That`s a hard thing. Those are emotional arguments that he is trying to use logic against. That`s a problem.

MATTHEWS: OK. Seth? How does anybody stop Trump starting here?

SETH RICHARDSON, RENO GAZETTE JOURNAL: I don`t know how anybody stops Trump right now. I mean, he just keeps gaining in popularity and keeps growing and keeps growing. And, you know, while Cruz and Rubio keep beating each other up, Trump is happy to just ride that highway and keep collecting delegates and keep going.

MATTHEWS: What about the Rubio argument, there are 70 percent? You take that question.

Rubio keeps talking the last couple of hours, there are 70 percent that don`t like Trump. OK, that`s on paper. Trump says that will never coalesce and doesn`t mean anything.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Well, the other problem with that argument is that when you look across the polling, there is no evidence necessarily to support that that 70 percent of other candidates drop out of the race, some of them don`t go to Trump any way. For example, they polled Jeb Bush, who is your second choice if you voted for Jeb Bush in South Carolina, it was pretty evenly split between Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio --

MATTHEWS: Actually that`s what Trump was arguing the other night. You can`t -- isn`t at that right?

MILLER: Yes, I mean, that`s the thing. It becomes an issue of alternatives. There are a lot of Republicans out there who -- you know, they will fight against Donald Trump as long as they possibly can. But at a certain points, if they see mo momentum, they want to vote for a winner. They don`t want to -- you know, you hear that a lot in the early states. You don`t want your vote to go to waste.

MATTHEWS: Why would somebody want to be with Trump at this point? If you`re not going to be with him since birth, why would you want to be him now? He`s going to be a one-man band. I mean, he`s not going to form a political party.

MILLER: You`re with the winner. It feels good to be a winner. You can go to your neighbors and your friends and you`ll see, I voted for Trump and he won.

SIDDIQUI: I also think people underestimate how he polls from some different factions of the Republican Party. This is not just the base. This is disenfranchised voters, people who have been out of the political process for a very long time. It`s independents. And especially people who have been left out of the economic recovery.

People overlook and just associate with the immigration, and, you know, the issue of America slipping away from them. But it`s a lot more than that.

MATTHEWS: What is it? What`s more than that?

SIDDIQUI: I think it`s essentially mostly about the economy. I think people are disenfranchised and they have been left behind who are working class Americans and he gives them a sense through his success and through his -- you know, I`m a winner that is the one that will turn it around. There may not be any proposal behind it, but that`s enough to persuade them in this moment.

MATTHEWS: Is "The Guardian" audience responding well in this, this message that he makes sense?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I don`t think that -- I think that they`re scratching their heads and wondering what`s going on in America, is what I think is going on --

MATTHEWS: I think you gave a good argument. I think it`s about the economy. I think it`s economic nationalism. A lot of it.

Anyway, thank you. Thank you, Zeke. Thank you, Sabrina. And thank you, Seth. Love these names.

Anyway, much more from Las Vegas, as the lines are getting long at caucus sites around the state.

This is HARDBALL -- look at the lines there. We`ve got Jacob out there watching this, Soboroff. He is going to be our expert. He`s the best there is in covering real life democracy.

Anyway, we`re covering the Nevada Republican caucuses. It`s already begun. Look at the lines. It`s starting out here.


MATTHEWS: Back tonight for excitement in Washington. At 10:00 Eastern, that`s here on MSNBC, I`m going to join Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow for the Republican caucuses out here in Nevada. It`s getting cold out here, by the way.

Who`s going to leave Las Vegas a winner and who will hope for redemption in next week`s Super Tuesday? It`s all coming to a head here in the politics of 2016. Ten o`clock tonight, come back and watch. We`ll be right here.


MATTHEWS: It`s happening again and it`s happening tonight. The doors are opening at caucus sites around the state in Nevada.

Let`s go back to MSNBC`s Jacob Soboroff who is in Summerland, just west of Vegas.

Jacob, take over.

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, this is pretty extraordinary, because like I said, four years ago and eight years ago, turnout was -- I mean, it`s fair to say pathetic, 12 percent, 7 percent, 8 percent, something like that both times.

Come with me. This line, the doors are just now about to open and the line is probably hundreds of people long all the way down here. Everybody is sort of early. These people were here half an hour early.

Can I grab a guest real quick?

I`m Jacob from MSNBC. How are you?


SOBOROFF: Nice to meet you.

What compelled you to show up so early for the Republican caucus?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we -- I think it`s important this year that we are here and do our duty to --

SOBOROFF: Have you ever caucused before?


SOBOROFF: She`s caucused before. She`s showed up early and all these other people showed up early too, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you so much, Jacob Soboroff. I love the lines.

When we get back here, just what do people here in Las Vegas think? We`ve got some great person in the streets to talk about Donald Trump, interesting back and forth. Pro and definitely con.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics, live in Vegas, for the Nevada Republican caucuses.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, live from Las Vegas.

Well, tonight, Republicans will caucus here in Nevada, and the front-runner in the race is more than just a name in the headlines or on a ballot. Donald Trump has been part of the action in this town for years.

I went down to the Trump International Hotel here on the Vegas Strip to find out what people thought about Donald Trump.


MATTHEWS: How do you like Donald Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We like him. He tells it how it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He tells it like it is.

MATTHEWS: If you were here, how would you vote? Would you vote for Trump or just stay at his hotel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m definitely not a Trump supporter.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think that we`ll vote for him? Why are you for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ll give him four years. I think he`ll do well. That`s my motto. Give him -- let`s see what he can do. I think he`s going to try to help us. I really do.

MATTHEWS: What does that name mean to you right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he`s repulsive. The stuff he did with the guy with Telemundo and then just his policies is ridiculous. He`s entertaining. Whatever he says, it reaches out to the angry part of America and some kind of way it`s working.

I am fearful when I see a very wealthy rich, white guy say "let`s make America great again", from his stand point, because what is that saying? What does that go back to? Does that go back to slavery or does it go back to the `60s when we didn`t have our right to vote? So, it`s fearful for me when he says let`s make America great again.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it relates to Obama?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does Trump mean to me?

MATTHEWS: Yes, my question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leadership, genuine leadership, hopeful that we get the job growth that we need here. Try to get this economy driving the way it needs to be driving. And that`s one thing, when I see Trump, I just think there`s a guy that`s going to get jobs back to the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does make America great even means? I don`t even know what that means.

I think the American people hear about China and you don`t want the Mexican people out of here. You`re going to take 14 million immigrants out of here. You`re going to -- you`re the big billionaire that`s not tied to anybody. I don`t think that`s reality.

MATTHEWS: Who would you vote for Hillary, or Trump?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politically, I think he has some really good ideas. I think he`s an incredible businessman. If he runs the country like he runs his organizations, we would be in good shape.

MATTHEWS: When you watch him as a businessman because you work here, you watch what he says on television about building a wall along the Rio Grande or moving 11 million illegal people out of country and you hear what he says about the world, it`s to me wild statement, how do you square that with him as a business guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he`s serious. I think some of the things he says gets a little bit out of context.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he`s kind of scary because to make accusations like he does or just characterize a certain race of people, it makes me feel a type of way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m not really sure what he`s going to do with all of those thoughts and how he`ll act out on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe Trump will do anything he says.

MATTHEWS: He will have the Mexican government pay for it? You believe that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know if that will happen. But he`s going to go for everything he said he`ll do.


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

I`ll be back at 10:00 p.m. Eastern with Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow, as we bring you full coverage of tonight`s Nevada Republican caucuses.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.