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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/26/2016

Guests: John Feehery, Anne Gearan, Dana Milbank, Tad Devine, Hastings Wyman, Jaime Harrison

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 26, 2016 Guest: John Feehery, Anne Gearan, Dana Milbank, Tad Devine, Hastings Wyman, Jaime Harrison


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews, Washington.

With just four days to go to super-Tuesday -- that`s next Tuesday -- and with a newly aggressive Marco Rubio unloading on him, Donald Trump pulled a political stunner today. At a news conference earlier today, Trump rolled out an endorsement, a huge one, New Jersey governor Chris Christie. The NBC News embed covering the campaign said there was a, quote, "audible gasp" from the room when Christie walked in.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States. I`ve been on that stage. I`ve gotten to know all the people on that stage. And there is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world than Donald Trump.

This is the only guy on that stage other than Governor Kasich who has made executive decisions. The confidence I have is that he is strong enough to take on the D.C. establishment, which is what`s represented by, you know, Senator Rubio.


MATTHEWS: Well, the news comes as Senator Rubio escalated his trash talk with Trump. Earlier this week, he said, I didn`t run for office to tear up other Republicans. But today, he tried to torch Trump with an attack after an attack after an attack. Here he goes.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every business that he`s ever run that`s (ph) gone bankrupt. I mean, this guy`s bankrupted a casino. How do you bankrupt a casino?

He says he`s fighting for the little guy. What about the students that signed up for Trump University, a fake school? A fake school!

And at the end of the course, the only thing you got was a paper certificate and a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.

This guy inherited $200 million. He`s never faced any struggle. He`s never faced -- he told somebody, a protester, I`m going to punch you in the face. Donald Trump has never punched anyone in the face.


RUBIO: Donald Trump was the first guy that begged for Secret Service protection. First guy!


MATTHEWS: Well, a short time later, Trump responded.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I watched a part of his little act, and he`s a desperate guy. I`ve been watching him over the last number of -- he is not presidential material, that I can tell you. Doesn`t have the demeanor. He is a nervous Nellie. I watch him, you know, backstage. He`s a mess. The guy`s a total mess.

And you know, I joked recently, can you imagine Putin sitting there, waiting for a meeting, and Rubio walks in and he`s totally drenched. I don`t know what it is, but I have never seen a human being sweat like this man sweats.



MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump continued the attack -- isn`t it sophisticated? -- a short time later.


TRUMP: When they put Marco on to refute President Obama`s speech, do you remember that catastrophe? And he`s like this. And we will -- oh, oh, I need water. Help me! I need water. Help! And he`s -- this is on live television! It`s Rubio!


TRUMP: Unbelievable!


MATTHEWS: Well, the old line is, don`t get in a peeing match with a skunk, and he`s gotten into one.


MATTHEWS: Michael Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst, and Eugene Robinson`s a "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC political -- I`m repeating myself like Marco Rubio! -- and Perry Bacon`s an NBC News -- finally, not repeating! -- senior political reporter.

Let me go with you, Michael. I watched last night. Everybody said Rubio won. OK, he won on points. But it was the Three Stooges last night!


MATTHEWS: It was the Three Stooges! You know, they`re slapping each other back and forth, hands flying, and nobody looked particularly sophisticated, let`s put it that way, as a presidential candidate. Your thoughts.

STEELE: I think...

MATTHEWS: Is Rubio able to get back in the ring with this guy, or is this just desperate?

STEELE: Oh, I think after the announcement today, you know, sort of put out there, you know, Rubio is looking outside the window at, you know, Trump and Christie on the playground going, Well, maybe I`ll play inside for a while.


STEELE: You know, the reality from last night to me was a very disappointing one. I thought that all decorum, any pretense that they were running for president was lost. The only one who tried to maintain that stature was Governor Kasich...


STEELE: ... who was trying to pull the conversation in a different direction. But this was a stunner today, Chris. There`s no doubt about it -- this was -- you know, when you...

MATTHEWS: How big is it? What does Christie bring?

STEELE: It`s big. It`s big.

MATTHEWS: What`s he bring, the Northeast, ethnicity, big city...

STEELE: Yes, you know, and he brings...

MATTHEWS: ... Jersey?

STEELE: He brings the fight. He brings the fight. Remember, he was the one who stopped Marco`s momentum. He was the one who put Marco in his place in a very substantive way. And I think, you know, coming back onto this field right now, when everyone kind of thought that Christie would just take his marbles and go back to Jersey -- I think it`s significant.

And I think he brings, certainly, into the campaign some of that Northeast opportunity. I mean, you know, New York, New Jersey, and going up into New England, where Trump is already up big. So yes, I think Christie today really stepped all over the "Marco-mentum" coming out of last night.

MATTHEWS: Yes, great guy to send out as your hatchet man, if you have to.

Anyway, after announcing -- although this campaign doesn`t need a hatchet man at this point. After his endorsement of Trump, Christie wasted no time doing what he does best, going after Rubio. Here he is doing a job.


CHRISTIE: Desperate people in campaigns do desperate things, flailing punches in the last days of a losing campaign. I find it fascinating that someone who barely shows up for work in the six years he`s a United States senator is going to talk about somebody else being unprepared. And the fact of the matter is, Senator Rubio has shown himself over the course of time to be wholly unprepared to be president of the United States.


MATTHEWS: Well, he is prepared for every event he ever goes into.


MATTHEWS: Gene, you first, because every time Rubio comes in, we know the act. We know where he`s going. It`s been recited and prepared...


MATTHEWS: In fact, I think the audience last night was also scripted. I`ve never seen an audience so...


MATTHEWS: ... dog-trained to react at certain times.


MATTHEWS: ... there was somebody shrieking (INAUDIBLE) like it was Frank Sinatra or Elvis or somebody. I don`t know what`s going on.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, look, he had to do, it right? I mean, he had to attack Trump and he attacked Trump...


MATTHEWS: Bill Kristol told him to.

ROBINSON: Well, every -- look...

MATTHEWS: The neocon (INAUDIBLE) which you know from the newspaper business...

ROBINSON: Everybody told him to.

MATTHEWS: OK, with all the neocons out there, you have to punch.

ROBINSON: Oh, but he tried, but -- you know, and look, he scored some points. He got the Trump`s a birther thing...

MATTHEWS: To what effect?

ROBINSON: Probably to no effect.

MATTHEWS: Did he win a state?

ROBINSON: You know, he won the verbal confrontation, but the nonverbal was all Trump because you still had the big dog...


ROBINSON: ... standing in the middle with the two yapping dogs...


ROBINSON: ... on the side nipping at him.

MATTHEWS: The two dogs?

ROBINSON: Yes, yes, yapping at him from the side.


ROBINSON: He was still the big dog.

MATTHEWS: It looked like the Three Stooges, but I do think this thing about Trump -- he is the worst -- I can say it -- psychological assassin there`s ever been. He makes you feel bad when he goes after you. He finds something. "Low energy" apparently has something to do with impotence or some people -- people have been translating this for me.


MATTHEWS: ... it`s like Geritol ads. Remember the Geritol ads?

ROBINSON: Well, yes.

MATTHEWS: Iron-deficiency anemia?


MATTHEWS: ... the guy`s getting old. He`s tired. You know, I get it. But this -- these -- How about the big ears? He uses makeup to cover up his ears. I mean, that was today from Trump.

PERRY BACON, NBC REPORTER: Even today, just, like, the way the water thing is the one thing...


BACON: ... people know...


BACON: ... about Marco Rubio is he gets thirsty and he failed in his speech.


MATTHEWS: What did he do?

BACON: After Obama`s State of the Union, Marco Rubio gave the response (INAUDIBLE) and Rubio famously could not -- you know...

MATTHEWS: And he reached.

BACON: He kept reaching for water, couldn`t finish drinking. And Trump really finds that one thing about you, really hits on it.

But today is so big because Trump is now becoming -- the establishment`s kind of joining him now. Members of Congress endorsed him this week...


MATTHEWS: ... motivation.

BACON: I assume Christie wants to be attorney general. I think that`s a very simple explanation.

MATTHEWS: That`s exactly what I thought!

BACON: Yes, I think it`s very simple. That`s because Trump is about to win, you know?

MATTHEWS: The two senators from Jersey are going to be there for a while.


MATTHEWS: There`s no room for...


STEELE: More than that, fellows -- he, fellows...

MATTHEWS: Yes, sir.

STEELE: ... more than that, this is also -- remember, Rubio was the first to go after Christie in this campaign. His people with their super-PAC started taking bite-sized chunks out of Christie early in this fight.


STEELE: Christie has not forgotten that, fellows. He has not forgotten at all. And so whether or not he wants to be attorney general can wait. Right now, he`s got Marco Rubio in his crosshairs.

ROBINSON: It`s totally New Jersey.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know the old Italian expression, which goes back way years ago. I`m not being ethnic here, but it`s a great line. It said, Revenge is a meal that`s best served cold.

ROBINSON: Yes. Right.


ROBINSON: But you know, Rubio...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) around until the right time comes.(INAUDIBLE)

ROBINSON: You know, Rubio has to be playing for Florida, right? I mean, that has to be his game at this point.


ROBINSON: There`s not enough time for him to have much of an impact...

MATTHEWS: What`s his game?

ROBINSON: ... on Trump before super-Tuesday.

MATTHEWS: What`s he up to?

ROBINSON: He`s got to win Florida! He`s got -- Florida -- Trump is way ahead...

MATTHEWS: To what effect? That`s March -- I mean, everybody says if he wins there -- for what?


MATTHEWS: He hasn`t won anything...


MATTHEWS: OK, is the goal to get to Cleveland with...


MATTHEWS: ... with -- OK, you`re the former chair. Tell me how it works. If Trump goes in with most -- a plurality of the votes, but not enough for a majority, he goes in there and then there`s some kind of -- well, there`s a balloting, the first ballot.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He loses the first ballot because he doesn`t get a majority. Does your party risk denying him the nomination as the guy who comes to the convention with the most delegates and give it to the guy who comes with the second most because the second and third guys gang up?

Would they -- and then Trump walks out the door and says, That`s the end of my Republicanism, and you lose the general?

STEELE: Yes, you just summed it up.

MATTHEWS: Would Trump settle for anybody else being the nominee if he has the most delegates?

STEELE: I think it`s an Armageddon moment. I really do.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes. I get it.

STEELE: And it`s something that I`ve warned the party about from the very beginning -- Do not mess with the process. Do not tinker with the rules the way you did against Ron Paul in 2012, changing the number of states to nominate from five to eight, knowing Paul had the five states to put his name in nomination, even though he didn`t have the delegates to actually be on the first ballot.


STEELE: And they changed it to eight states, and that has come back to haunt them now. And I think that they`ve got to be very careful about how they deal with Trump. If he goes in there, as you say, Chris, with the plurality of the delegates, just shy, maybe 300 or so shy of getting the nomination on the first ballot, this should be a matter of how they accommodate him, not how he accommodates them. It won`t work that way.

MATTHEWS: I can`t see what the Rubio game is. Perry, do you know what the Rubio game is?

BACON: I think the Rubio game is to win Florida, force Cruz out, and then get into a one-on-one and hope you win the Californias and New Jerseys...

MATTHEWS: Which are winner-take-alls.

BACON: ... which are winner-take-alls. That`s the real plan. I just think...

MATTHEWS: OK, meanwhile...

BACON: ... that he`s not going to do it.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think he`s going to make it. But anyway, meanwhile, talk about getting personal, Rubio and Trump both slammed each other over their personal conduct backstage at the debate.

Usually, by the way, gentleman politicians of the old order -- Gene, right? -- they would actually -- if a guy went to the bathroom or he said something stupid, that would be considered private.


MATTHEWS: It isn`t now. Let`s watch.


RUBIO: He called me Mr. Meltdown. Let me tell you something. Last night in the debate, during one of the breaks, two of the breaks, he went backstage, he was having a meltdown.


RUBIO: First, he had this little makeup thing, applying, like, makeup around his mustache because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then...


RUBIO: Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don`t know why because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror.


RUBIO: Maybe to make sure his pants weren`t wet. I don`t know.

TRUMP: I walk back there, and he`s with a pile of makeup, putting it on his face. I said, Marco, easy with the makeup. You don`t need that much. You know the story with Marco. I`ve watched him against this man, where Marco, who was right over here, and I actually looked at him and I said, Are you OK? He looked like he just came out of the swimming pool. He was a mess.


MATTHEWS: So where do we start with this? Perry, this is the lowest...


MATTHEWS: ... the -- I mean, talk about a guy peeing his pants.

BACON: I mean, Rubio...


MATTHEWS: I mean, that is really high school.

BACON: Rubio...


MATTHEWS: ... bad high school.

BACON: I`m not going (ph) attacking a Republican to this. This is, like, way below the -- I mean, like, literally...


BACON: ... below the belt when he...

MATTHEWS: And I`ve worked for politicians. You always work for the light touch.

ROBINSON: Yes. Exactly.


ROBINSON: ... Trump stiletto, the rapier that he uses...

MATTHEWS: He doesn`t sting like a bee, either!


ROBINSON: How does he -- how does he transition from this to the better angels...

MATTHEWS: I just think...

ROBINSON: ... of our nature?

MATTHEWS: OK, I got a problem with Rubio because I think he`s a reciter. I don`t think he -- nothing comes to mind. I don`t think anything`s spontaneous with the guy. And I do like spontaneity in politicians. It tells me the lights are on, somebody`s home. What do you think of that, Michael?


MATTHEWS: ... like Trump, but it`s imitative.


STEELE: ... value to that, Chris. And I think if you -- I was watching several live feeds of Rubio`s speech today, and it was very clear at certain times, he would say a word, then he realized, Oh, that`s not the word, and then he would change it to the word and then finish the rest of the thought.


STEELE: So go with the flow. If the word, you know, comes out, go with it. But it is -- it does come off scripted. And you know, again, number two, how do you then say, I`m not here to attack Republicans and then spend the next 24 hours doing that?

Again, credibility and that authenticity is something that the voters are looking for right now. And it`s a hard sell, I think, at this point.

MATTHEWS: I think his audience has an authenticity problem, the people that did the screaming on cue. I swear that`s orchestrated by Todd Harris...


MATTHEWS: We agree on that.

BACON: ... too late. What was he waiting for?


BACON: Trump has won three states. What was he waiting for to attack him?


MATTHEWS: This isn`t his natural thing. Anyway, in a moment of craziness last night, there`s at least one sober Republican who offered up some sage political wisdom, at least. Here`s Senator Lindsey Graham, who left the race early. Here he is.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The most dishonest person in America`s a woman...


GRAHAM: ... who`s about to be president. How could that be? My party is going bat-(EXPLETIVE DELETED) crazy.



MATTHEWS: Well, there he is...


MATTHEWS: ... with Hillary Clinton. I mean, Michael, sticking it to Hillary Clinton -- I thought they were friends, saying that she`s -- well, whatever he said, liar, and then he`s going into the usual bat-whatever word and...


MATTHEWS: Bat guano...


MATTHEWS: Well, look, I mean, he -- he hit the nail on the head. He really did. It goes back to what I said at the beginning of this -- of this time with you, that this was not the best performance. This was not the best presentation by our candidates for president.


STEELE: And I think Lindsey Graham summed that up very well.

MATTHEWS: I don`t understand why Mr. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party who succeeded you has been unable to curb this whole behavior.


MATTHEWS: I don`t get it.



MATTHEWS: ... nothing to do with this stuff! I don`t know what chairman of the party means these days, since you left. And you did great.

Anyway, Michael Steele, thank you, sir, former chairman of the Republican - - of the former Republican Party.



MATTHEWS: And I want to thank Perry Bacon, of course.

Coming up -- on to South Carolina. We`re just 24 hours away from poll closing time down there. Hillary Clinton has an edge in polling down there, but as Bernie Sanders proved last night at our HARDBALL "College Tour" -- and that was great being with him -- he`s not giving up without a fight. Can the Bern work down South.

And tipping point, perhaps. As I said, Chris Christie becomes one of the biggest names in America. He`s one of the biggest guys to endorse Donald Trump. Will his momentum carry the Trump campaign through next Tuesday on to domination?

Anyway, the HARDBALL "College Tour" -- I mean, actually, the HARDBALL roundtable will (INAUDIBLE) next week`s dozen state contests -- a lot happening next Tuesday.

Plus, privacy versus security. One of America`s most iconic companies, Apple, goes head to head with the FBI. Apple`s Tim Cook is arguing the federal government has overreached and it`s stoked a debate among the company`s millions of customers. Finally -- in other words, what`s a password worth?

Anyway, finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with this extraordinary situation of the erstwhile Republican Party -- and this party.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, the action tomorrow night`s obviously in South Carolina, and I`m going to be there. I`m heading to the state capital of Columbia for full coverage of tomorrow`s Democratic primary down there.

At 6:00 PM, I`ll join Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow for our MSNBC primetime show. I think we`ll be on for four hours with the best reporting and full results from the Palmetto State. That`s why we have these primaries, so we can learn these nicknames. That`s 6:00 PM tomorrow right here on MSNBC, I think from 6:00 to 10:00.

And we`ll be right back.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now you`re asking me how do I pay for it. I`ll tell you how I pay for it.

MATTHEWS: I haven`t asked that. I`ve asked you how do you pass it through the Senate? How do you get 60 votes for any of this?

SANDERS: We are going to pay for it through a tax on Wall Street...

MATTHEWS: Who`s going to pass that tax?

SANDERS: The American people!

MATTHEWS: The Senate is going to pass that?

SANDERS: Look, Chris, Chris, you and I look at the world differently. You look at it inside the Beltway. I`m not an inside-the-Beltway guy.

MATTHEWS: No, but the...

SANDERS: I`m an outside-the-Beltway guy.

MATTHEWS: But the people that vote on taxes are inside the Beltway.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was a little rough.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was part of my interview last night with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during last night`s HARDBALL College Tour at the University of Chicago`s -- what a beautiful place -- Institute of Politics.

I was pressing Sanders, of course, on his plan for tuition-free public colleges and universities.

But the fight for the Democratic nomination moves south tomorrow, when South Carolina holds its Democratic primary. The latest poll out of South Carolina shows Hillary Clinton with a strong lead now, 60 percent for Clinton, 37 percent for Sanders.

Secretary Clinton campaigned there today in Charleston. Here she is.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you run for office, I think you have an obligation to tell people what you intend to do. That`s why I have been laying out my plans, because I want people to know what I intend to do and how much it will cost and to hold me accountable.

I think, if you were to talk to the people I represented in New York, they would tell you that I told folks what I would do, then I went about doing it, and then I asked them to hold me accountable.

That`s what I will do as president.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Tad Devine, senior adviser to the Bernie Sanders campaign for president. Hastings Wyman is contributing editor to "The Southern Political Report." And Jaime Harrison is chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

I have got to go to Mr. Chairman here.

I was really stunned about -- you know, blacks are minority in this country, African-Americans, but not in South Carolina Democratic politics, right? JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Chris, say that again. I didn`t hear you.

MATTHEWS: Well, I said that blacks are not a minority when it comes to South Carolina Democratic politics.

Oh, definitely, not here in South Carolina.

You know, in 2008, as you mentioned earlier, African-American were 55 percent of the electorate in the Democratic primary. And in the 2004 election, it was probably about 48, 49 percent.

And so every election since then, the African-American share of the electorate has grown. And so it`s definitely a force here in South Carolina. And I think, you know, Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton will see they will be a force in all the Southern states on Super Tuesday as well.

MATTHEWS: Hastings, this country, every time I look at a map, an ethnic map of the United States, I`m always impressed by how much the agricultural reality of the country back in the antebellum days drives cultural identity where we are.


MATTHEWS: Where you had the large cotton culture, African-American are huge numbers, 40 percent sometimes. And that may explain the deep right- wing feeling of some of the whites down there. They`re scared of all those numbers. You get up into the tobacco areas, it`s not as pronounced. It`s a much more African-American community.

Let`s talk about the Deep South, South Carolina. How influential is that going to be in terms of the tendency of black voters to support the Clinton family?

WYMAN: I think it`s going to be very influential.

I think that he`s -- Hillary Clinton is running very strongly there. The Clintons have been involved in politics in South Carolina for a long time. They`re well-known in the African-American community. And I think that will really kick-start how Hillary Clinton will do in the rest of the Southern states next Tuesday.

MATTHEWS: Tad, it`s tough being the newbie in this kind of a competition. And it`s not -- it`s just somebody who hasn`t had the experience. The Clinton have this chemistry. We have seen it forever. The first black president, that talk in the old days, how do you beat it? How do you challenge him in his home -- Hillary in her home turf, basically?

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, I think, first of all, we recognize that. She has enormous strength there, as did President Clinton before. The relationships are strong. They`re long- term.

And I think what we have got to do with Bernie is continue the process of making sure the African-American community, Latino community, other people in this country who don`t know him well get to know him. And we saw real progress. In Nevada, people have questioned the entrance polls, but our own tracking poll had him six points ahead with Latinos at the end.

And that`s what the entrance poll had too. So I think we have begun to see progress and I think we will great progress with African-Americans too.

MATTHEWS: One thing I have noticed, because it makes the print all the time,is the big names. You get the celebrity names. Spike Lee, of course, very hip, modern, appeals to young people, makes all those great movies.

DEVINE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And, of course, you have got Ben Jealous, former NAACP leader. How does that work? Are you deploying them down there around the areas where the voting strength is?

DEVINE: We are. Spike`s radio ad has been down there, and we`re going to use it elsewhere as well.

You know, Danny Glover too has been campaigning with Bernie, along with Ben Jealous.

MATTHEWS: Hillary has got Morgan Freeman, though, the best voice in America.


DEVINE: That`s a great talent, OK? I`m jealous of that, so...

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jaime down there about the looks of this whole thing.

Getting into the general election, the weird thing is that it`s almost impossible for the Democrats to carry South Carolina in November.

HARRISON: Well, you know, eventually...


MATTHEWS: Isn`t it almost impossible?

HARRISON: No, I don`t think so it`s almost impossible.

Barack Obama got 45 percent of the vote here in South Carolina in 2008. I think, if we spent the resources building an operation here, and expanding the message -- but what happens is every election cycle, all of the resources go to Ohio and Florida and these other places, but Georgia and South Carolina are very similar.

They`re right on the cusp. They just need the attention to build the infrastructure and get the message out.

MATTHEWS: What do you make, Mr. Chairman, of the charges made by the Sanders campaign, including the candidate, that Bill Clinton in the `90s played it a little -- not quite on the level with going on the racial issue, that he did things like the welfare reform bill, which played into the hands of more conservative-thinking people, to put it lightly?

What do you make of that record?

HARRISON: Well, you also know, Chris, that the Democrats, a lot of Democrats actually voted for some of that legislation as well.

I think, right now, there is a lot of regret for some of the things that took place during that period. And you`re seeing that in some of the statements from member of Congress, as well as President Clinton.

MATTHEWS: We will see.

Thank you, Tad. Thanks for helping us get your boss.

DEVINE: I`m glad he got the chance to do it.

MATTHEWS: No, it was great. He was great. What a -- he was very personable. The kids loved him. I had to tussle with him, which is my job, and I think he was ready for it, and he took it -- took -- he accused me of being inside the Beltway. And here we are, inside the Beltway. He got me. He nailed me.

Tad Devine, Hastings Wyman, and Jaime Harrison.

Up next, bully boys, or the bruise brothers, as one of our producers called them, the bruise brothers, there they are, Christie and Trump. After Marco Rubio tries to take down Donald Trump, the brash New Jersey governor comes out to endorse Trump. It was political theater at its worst or best. But is it a game-changer?

A lot of people, including me, think there is something about Chris Christie that`s bigger, not as a candidate, but as kind of a backup guy, a supporter, you know? He looks like he is ready to go to war.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

We`re going right now to Oklahoma City, where you see Governor Christie now out there campaigning for Donald Trump.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: America needs a strong leader who is going to restore American strength around the world. And Donald Trump is that man.


CHRISTIE: America needs a strong leader at home to restore jobs and American confidence to our people, and Donald Trump is that man.


CHRISTIE: The Republican Party needs a leader who will make sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton never gets within 10 miles of the White House.


CHRISTIE: And Donald Trump is that man.


CHRISTIE: I`m going to tell you, we have had a fun time. Donald and I were in Fort Worth this morning. Things in Texas are looking really good. And, believe me, Ted Cruz is nervous.


CHRISTIE: And now we come here to Oklahoma. We come to Oklahoma full of optimism, not only for the elections on Tuesday, but full of optimism for America`s future, when we get a strong leader in the White House and not the hand-wringing guy we have in the White House right now.


CHRISTIE: Could you imagine the whiplash, the whiplash that America`s enemies are going to feel when they go from a weakling like Barack Obama to a man of strength like Donald Trump?


CHRISTIE: Now -- and let`s have one more message for someone who has had a pretty big mouth today.

Marco Rubio, your campaign is almost over, buddy.


CHRISTIE: Showing a lot of desperation today, throwing punches from every angle, but none of them are landing, because America has made their decision.

Donald Trump represents strength and Marco Rubio represents Washington, D.C. We don`t need any more D.C. politicians.


CHRISTIE: And so I just want to remind Senator Rubio one thing. He may be confused about this, but president of the United States is not a no-show job, like he has treated the United States Senate. We need an executive on the job, and that man is Donald Trump.


CHRISTIE: And so I am proud to be part of the team. I`m proud to be part of the team that is going to our strength and confidence and faith and hope in our country, and it`s people -- again, nothing that has happened in America under Barack Obama is not able to be reversed by having a strong person in the White House to lead us again, and Donald Trump is that man.


CHRISTIE: So, we`re counting on you.

We`re counting you, Oklahoma, when you go to the polls. We need a -- not just a win here. We need a Trump-size win in Oklahoma. And I think you`re going to give it to us.


CHRISTIE: So, it is my honor, my privilege, and my pleasure to introduce to you the next president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump!

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I think Trump now has what he has needed al through this campaign, an up, up man, as they say in politics, somebody who will make a big deal about him before he comes on, so he doesn`t have to just talk about himself.

I think that was very effective by Governor Christie.

Here he is, Trump.



TRUMP: This is great. This is great. Thank you.


TRUMP: Unbelievable.


TRUMP: We came here. We wanted 4,000 people. They have 7,000 or 8,000 people. Unbelievable results all over, all over.


TRUMP: So, we had an amazing -- we had an amazing experience last night. And I will tell you what. Every single poll -- I was being hit from both sides -- every single online poll and poll on the debate -- did anybody watch that crazy debate last night?


TRUMP: They have us winning by a lot. They have us winning by a lot, every single poll.

And most of the people on television, but some of the pundits of course, never. No way. No way. But every poll and a lot of the people -- we had an amazing time last night. It was very different. These are two desperate people. They`re desperate.

You know, the one guy in Florida, he is down 20 points, Rubio.


TRUMP: And I will tell you what. They hate him in Florida. They hate him. You know what? He defrauded Florida, if you think about it. He runs, he becomes a senator, he never shows up to vote. He is never around. And they don`t like him. He is not doing well.

So it was interesting. One of the reasons I love Chris, I was on the stage in New Hampshire, which we won. Remember New Hampshire. We love New Hampshire.


TRUMP: And we won South Carolina big. We won by double, double, double digits.


TRUMP: And a few days ago, we won Nevada, and that was really amazing.

So, I`m big, big.


TRUMP: We`re doing great.

And we have amazing people. It`s a movement. I tell people, it`s a movement. But I was on the stage in New Hampshire during one of the debates, and I watched a meltdown like I have never -- I have never seen anything like it.

I watched a meltdown like I have never, ever seen. And it was Chris grilling Marco Rubio. This guy was sweating so badly. Oh, he was sweating. Honestly, it was disgusting, all right?

And I knew he had a problem, because, before that, when he was doing the -- a little bit of an address to the president`s speech, you remember, and they put him on, and he went for the water. Do you remember that during live television?

But what I saw, what Chris did to him was incredible. Then, last night, I saw him backstage on makeup where he is taking it on with a trowel and putting it on. He was soaking wet. And he was out here.

And, you know, I only say it because, honestly, this is not a presidential guy. This is not a presidential guy. He has a situation in Florida where he buys a house. These are our politicians, folks. And he`s not the only one, just so you understand.

You know, I`m self-funding my campaign. I`m putting in my own money,


TRUMP: OK? I`m putting in my own money, even though I heard today my father gave me $200 million. Believe me, I would love it if he gave me $200 million. Believe me, that is not true. That is way, way, way, way off.

And I love my father. My father did give me a lot of knowledge. But I wish he gave me $200 million.

You know, these numbers, where they come from, well, they come from phony newspapers, because these people back here, the media, they are the most dishonest people anywhere that I have ever seen.


TRUMP: So, today, I heard little Marco say the $200 million. Now, all of a sudden, he was talking about I got a $1 million loan from my father, which I, by the way, paid back.

And, in the meantime, I have made billions and billions and billions of dollars, so pretty good, pretty good job. Not many could do that.

So this guy, Rubio, buys a house for $178,000, sells it for $380,000 to a lobbyist, OK? Is the lobbyist in the room, anybody? Is he here? Makes this massive project, and is doing legislation for this guy at the same time.

OK, tell me about this, right?


TRUMP: Then he has got a credit card problem, where he is taking from the Republican Party, having his driveway done, all of this. Why is this not brought out, and from the Republican Party?

And the man doing the investigation is furious that they`re not listening to him. I think I will have to get up and interview him.

Then he has got a foundation, but he doesn`t -- a rich guy has a foundation who does a lot of business with Florida. And who is the head of the foundation? Does anybody know? That`s right, his wife for a big salary, big, big salary.

And then he has got a no-show professorship. He never shows up. And all of this -- this guy is making a lot of money, and shouldn`t be making this money. But all of this, and the state of Florida can`t stand him.

And I`m up by like 20 points. And we`re going to win Florida. We`re going to win Florida. Let me tell you, we`re going to win it, we`re going to win it big league.


TRUMP: Now, the other gentleman, on the other side, who is actually a smarter guy -- I will say this, smarter, smarter than Marco.

But he was on the other side, and he has been hitting me left and right. And he`s got a problem, because we`re about tied in Texas. And if I win Texas, that`s going to be embarrassing. And if I win Florida, that`s going to be embarrassing. How do you beat -- how do you beat a sitting senator in Florida? How do you beat a sitting senator in Texas?

They could have an embarrassing time. So, Tuesday, Tuesday, big day, Tuesday, we have to get out there.


TRUMP: They could have a very embarrassing time.

I will say this. Marco is very, very weak on immigration. Very weak.

Come on over, folks. Just come on over.

Marco is weak. Gave amnesty, wants to give amnesty, the bill of eight. He is very weak. And, honestly, Ted is pretty weak on -- he is a little stronger, I have to say, but he is also weak on illegal immigration. And if I didn`t come down that escalator and start talking about illegal immigration, it wouldn`t even be a subject. We wouldn`t be talking about it right now. Wouldn`t even be a subject.



So, we have a number of situations that, when I made the decision to do this -- and I will never forget it. I`m standing in Trump Tower. The press is downstairs in the building. And it looked like the Academy Awards. And it takes guts.

Believe me, it takes guts to run for president. Not easy. Not easy. I mean, as a non -- think of it. I`m a non-politician. I have never done this before. So, all of a sudden, I`m doing it. But I`m doing it because we`re going to make America great again.


TRUMP: And a politician, all talk, no action, it`s not going to happen.

These guys, I know them. It`s not going to happen. Can`t happen. It`s not their thing.

For instance, on the border -- I love you too, darling. Who said that? Stand up. Let me see.

Oh, I love you too. I love you too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


TRUMP: On the border -- thank you.

A great group. I love Oklahoma.


TRUMP: And word is, your football team is going to be pretty good this year, right?


TRUMP: Right?


That`s what the word is. Better be. We`ll be rooting for you. It better be. I think it will.

So, I came down and I talked about illegal immigration. And did we get a stir from that. And all of a sudden, it became a mainstay of everybody. And some are were strong, some weak and I just got the endorsement as you know from Sheriff Joe Arpaio, you can`t get --

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, that`s Donald Trump in the campaign rally down in Oklahoma City.

Much more on the big day on the campaign trail coming up.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: I`m heading to South Carolina. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for full coverage of the Democratic primary down there. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern, I`ll join Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow with full results and analysis of the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

And next week, I`ll head to Texas, Brian, Rachel and I will be back as 12 states in the big Super Tuesday contest on March 1st. It`s all here on MSNBC.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There was a titanic shift in the presidential race today, call it the uniting of the Bruce brothers, if you will, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsing his former opponent Donald Trump.

Well, Trump may have gained a friend from Jersey, but he`s earned a vocal enemy south of the border, former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox. Earlier this week, Fox used colorful language about he feels about Trump`s proposal that Mexico building a wall between us and them. It came up in last night`s debate.


BLITZER: The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, he said today and quoting him, he said I`m not going to pay for that, quote, "f`ing wall".

So, if you don`t get an actual check from the Mexican government for $8 billion or $10 billion or $12 billion, whatever it will cost, how are you going to make them pay for the wall?

BLITZER: I will, and the wall just got 10 feet taller. Believe me. It just got 10 feet taller.

I saw him make the -- I saw him make that statement. I saw him use the word that he used. I can only tell you, if I would have used even half of that word, it would have been national scandal.

This guy used a filthy, disgusting word on television, and he should be ashamed of himself and he should apologize.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, Vicente Fox says he is not offering any apologies to Mr. Trump and doubled down on his position again today.


VICENTE FOX, FORMER MEXICAN PRESIDENT: I have to say we`re not, I am not going to pay for that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) wall. I am not. He should know that. I`m not going to apologize on the country. A real public servant, Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, he said in Mexico, "I have to apologize for this guy." I mean, it`s not credible.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump went right out after the former president today with Christie by his side.


TRUMP: I`ll tell you what? And he used foul language. And if use that language -- Chris can tell you, can you imagine if I used that language?


TRUMP: If I used that language, it would be a major scandal, and as many people as we have today, you`d have five times more. It was disgraceful the way he went about saying it. And it`s going to be very easy. Mexico will pay for the wall.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is round table tonight: John Feehery is a Republican strategist, Anne Gearan and Dana Milbank are both with "The Washington Post".

Anne, I have to tell you, do you believe Trump when he said how that awful word offended him?


MATTHEWS: Let`s get to the big stuff here. I think Trump has been visited by the gods. Every couple of days or weeks, he gets somebody like the pope or somebody -- international adversary to play his foil.

It`s not -- I`ve said this before. It`s not about government or who`s the president. It`s about our country. The big shots in the world, the Chinese, gerontocracy, Putin, the pope, the Mexican government. He has taken them on.

He doesn`t talk about government. He talks about us. These guys do this stuff. They do him a favor every time.

ANNE GEARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Us against them rhetoric. The line in the playground dirt is working for him. I mean, in this case, I doubt there are a whole lot of Americans who even know or remember who --

MATTHEWS: What`s the line, you draw the line in the dirt and say cross that?

GEARAN: Yes, right, cross that at your peril and he keeps drawing it, and then he keeps either inviting someone to cross it or frankly, he crosses it himself, right? And it cost him nothing. It is working for him.

MATTHEWS: What is the message it sends to the average voter, it`s up to 39 percent nationally, I`ve seen numbers now tonight. What does it bring to him?

GEARAN: It brings the idea that he is a fighter, you know, a frontline battler for them. People feel like they are aligned with him or want to be --

MATTHEWS: They feel the country has been pushed around.


JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, he`s tough. He`s politically incorrect.

MATTHEWS: He even says things like we`re going to take an even-handed policy towards the Middle East and Israel, which is incredibly dangerous politically. He sort of stuck to that sort of. It`s all about, no country is going to tell us how to do anything.

FEEHERY: And the fact that he this whole joke really about offensive language, everyone is in on the gag.

MATTHEWS: Explain that because I think post modern I think. It`s like we know that.


FEEHERY: Well, this whole campaign.

MATTHEWS: In the back room, we know what the language is like.

FEEHERY: Right, this whole campaign is kind of a gag. I still can`t believe it.


MATTHEWS: Everybody is in on the gag.

FEEHERY: Everybody is on the joke. He has to take them -- he is mocking everybody. It`s quite startling, but everybody else is in on it and everyone is laughing along with him. It`s fascinating.

MATTHEWS: What is does he say, the less educated people?

FEEHERY: The poorly educated people.


MATTHEWS: I love those poorly educated people. I mean, what is that? The people who didn`t get a college education, break in life, how do they react to that. They go I get it. I guess they say I get it.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Or they didn`t get it, which is why they`re supporting him.

You know the amazing thing is, it is an absurd campaign, but it`s not like it`s been one long concern. It`s like we have a series two day campaign, some completely crazy things.

MATTHEWS: Completely forgotten two days later.

MILBANK: The fight with Vicente Fox today and say, "I can`t believe he`s using that language," because, wait, was that like ages ago when Donald Trump was saying Shinola at his rally?

MATTHEWS: I talk to our reporters all the time on the air and off the air. And everybody in this campaign, it`s almost become a 24-hour campaign, but that`s it. Anything beyond yesterday is history. You don`t bring it up.

By the way, you can say Trump said two weeks ago you were pro-life, pro- choice and it doesn`t work. Nobody cares about two weeks ago.


GEARAN: It`s true. Two weeks ago is absolutely ancient history. I mean, Iowa caucus was 24 days ago. That seems like last year or a lifetime ago.

MATTHEWS: OK, now, by the way, we live in a world now which is so brand new to us all, Chris Christie likes Donald Trump, the big city, the Bruce brothers. Look at this. And now, Chris Christie doesn`t like Marco Rubio. Here it is Chris Christie wasn`t always a big fan of Donald Trump`s wall concept.

Here he is back in January making fun of Trump`s wall.


CHRISTIE: I don`t care how beautiful it is. It will be a beautiful wall. It will be an incredible wall. The wall will be unbelievable. It`ll have a big door and swing open and the good people will come back and the bad people will leave, and we`ll have a great wall, and the Mexicans will pay for it.



MATTHEWS: And now, they`re chum buddies, the Bruce brothers are back.

MILBANK: It`s absolutely perfect. And this is a perfect example of it doesn`t matter. It doesn`t matter if there`s videotape. It doesn`t matter if there`s nexus because we`ve moved on.

MATTHEWS: Tim used to go on "Meet the Press", the great Tim Russert, and he used to do this thing where he would do a regular interview and he would do like Michael Jordan going for the basket, and I have to pull over here. You said, it meant something in those days. It meant that you said something, that David Duke said something.

Today, it seems like you can pull that out and go, yes, so what?

MILBANK: And Trump is presented with it and said, well, I`d have to know the context. The context, you`re the one who said it. He gets away with it.

FEEHERY: That`s the hard part about opposition research. They did a whole oppo bomb on him yesterday. We`re not sure if that`s going to work. We`re not sure anything works.

MATTHEWS: Well, proving he`s not -- amid all the press today, proving he`s not a conservative doesn`t work because he`s not auditioning to be your father`s -- or your conservative.

GEARAN: No, I mean, he`s --

MATTHEWS: He`s for Planned Parenthood. He says it over and over again, because he`s running the general election now. Anybody notice? Trump`s running for president.

GEARAN: It goes along with what you said a moment ago about his Israel policy. He`s carving out some interesting centrist and ideologically consistent with his previous views positions --

MATTHEWS: Eclectic.

GEARAN: Yes, right, it`s a big mix which frankly a lot of American politics is.

MATTHEWS: Explain with the only woman on the set right now, why is it important for even a conservative Republican, or claims he`s a conservative, to say I like Planned Parenthood?

GEARAN: Because Planned Parenthood provides a whole lot of health services to women across economic spectrum, particularly young women --

MATTHEWS: And also, what kind of women would hear that on television and say he`s not a bad guy.

GEARAN: Right. And, yes, you can simultaneously be anti-abortion and pro- Planned Parenthood has many women are. He`s saying why blow up Planned Parenthood entirely when they provide need health services and young women on college campuses, that`s where they go. That and young women on college campus, middle class Republican voters.

MATTHEWS: The daughters of the voters.

GEARAN: The voters themselves, right?

FEEHERY: The polls are unbelievable in Planned Parenthood.

MATTHEWS: Possibly.

FEEHERY: Possibly.

And the other thing is the conservative --

MATTHEWS: He`s running in the general election.

FEEHERY: The conservative movement is panicked about Donald Trump because he`s not doing anything he says they want him. It`s amazing.

MATTHEWS: He`s not obedient. That`s what they want.


MATTHEWS: The roundtable is staying with us. It`s been a busy week. It`s getting busier towards tomorrow.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish with this extraordinary situation of the Republican Party. What we`re seeing is a party in defeat, its leaders scrambling this retreat. You see Chris Christie joined Donald Trump today. That`s not a political alliance within a political party. It`s a member of the party establishment joining with the attacking forces.

Christie`s going outside the city`s walls to join the man raging against it. Look at what the other establishment Republicans are doing. Most are saying they want the junior senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, to be their leader. Are they really happy with that? I don`t think so.

There`s something strange seeing the political heavy weights like Orrin Hatch offering up their allegiance to Rubio`s stature -- something that doesn`t quite pass the reality tests.

Let`s face facts: Trump is heading toward the nomination or to the convention with the most delegates. Rubio is doing what he can to stop him, making smart aleck remarks about Trump, desperately trying to show he`s Trump`s equal. Yet, even as I speak, I predict he will pay for this in personal humiliation.

Trump, handy with nicknames and alert to people`s vulnerable spot is out there today saying that Rubio is using make up to cover up his ears. How could Rubio not know this stuff is coming?

The problem for Rubio and the rest of both parties, except for Bernie Sanders, is that Trump stands out there with something they lack, a compelling message. Trump speaks, however you like it or not, as an American. He goes after Putin and the Chinese and the pope and the president of Mexico, even says he`ll be even-handed with Israel and its neighbors as a nationalist, that silly talk.

He speaks not about how he will handle the job of president, how he will operate the government in Washington, what bills he will sign or veto, but how he will lead America and the world. They, his rivals for the presidency, speak of country, he speaks of this country, of this country. And that makes all the difference.

Someone like Rubio cannot contest him on this level. It`s too late for him to try or even to imagine fully what Trump has been doing. He can match him with insult and slapstick. He can make Trump, Cruz and himself look like the Three Stooges out there in the debate stage, he can do that. What he can`t do is muster, not at this late point, a winning strategy.

Trump`s got a winning strategy. It`s in his slogan. The only any of us can remember -- to make America great again.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.