IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/29/2016

Guests: Wayne Slater, Chris Begala, Annise Parker, Cornell Belcher, Lisa Falkenberg, Steve Munisteri, Dianna Wray

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 29, 2016 Guest: Wayne Slater, Chris Begala, Annise Parker, Cornell Belcher, Lisa Falkenberg, Steve Munisteri, Dianna Wray

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Party crashing.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Houston, Texas, the Harris County Smokehouse, on the eve of the most important day so far in the presidential race, super-Tuesday.

Here`s the question. Is the Republican Party coming apart? This week, it appeared to erupt on all fronts. Senator Marco Rubio mocked Donald Trump`s face and spray tan. Donald Trump made fun of Rubio`s sweatiness and big ears. Senator Ted Cruz alleged ties between Donald Trump and the mob. Donald Trump said a judge in a lawsuit he`s involved in was hostile to him because the judge is Hispanic. Trump also retweeted a quote by Benito Mussolini and then defended doing so.

And Trump seemed to have a hard time Sunday morning disavowing the support of David Duke, former grand wizard of the KKK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don`t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, just so you understand, I don`t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don`t know anything about what you`re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don`t know.

TAPPER: Yet the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don`t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you, would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and don`t want their support?

TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don`t know what group you`re talking about. You wouldn`t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this morning, Trump blamed that last part of his comment on a faulty earpiece. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: So let me tell you, I`m sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying. But what I heard was various groups. And I don`t mind disavowing anybody, and I disavowed David Duke and I disavowed him the day before at a major news conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Sunday`s exchange with Trump was even odder, considering what he said Friday at a press conference about Duke`s support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I didn`t even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? OK. All right. I disavow, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. Disavow that.

Meanwhile, even as Trump reaches new highs in national and state polls, one Republican senator, Ben Sasse -- I think that`s how you pronounced it -- of Nebraska said he would support the run of a third-party candidate rather than back Trump, if he`s the nominee.

So the question I started with tonight, is the Republican Party coming apart at its seams, assuming it has seams?

NBC`s Katy Tur is following the Trump campaign. Katy, tell us about this. Where does this stand right now? Did he or did he not effectively disavow the support of the Ku Klux Klan former grand dragon, David Duke? Is he with him or against him?

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I asked him this on Thursday in the spin room after the debate. I mentioned David Duke. I asked about these robocalls. I asked about white supremacist support. And he said that he disavows it. That`s what he told me. But he was very quick to move past that and move on. The same thing happened at that press conference you just mentioned.

It is curious and odd considering all of that, which just happened a couple days ago, for him to say on CNN this weekend that he disavowed -- that he doesn`t know who David Duke is, that he wasn`t necessarily sure what Jake Tapper was asking him.

We also found today an archival video from Donald Trump in 2000 on the "Today" show telling Matt Lauer that he wasn`t going to join the Reform Party and run as a third-party candidate because David Duke was a part of that party. And he called David Duke a bigot and a racist.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TUR: So the fact that he won`t unequivocally distance himself this time around is certainly very questionable. We`ve spoken to the two people at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who say that they believe that he is doing this on purpose in order to gain support from people out there who might be on the line when it comes to, I guess, white supremacists, certainly been pandering -- yes.

TUR: ... in some ways to that voting bloc, that sector. He`s been accused of racial intolerance and stoking racial fears.

I`m sorry it is so loud in here. (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: I know, Katy...

TUR: (INAUDIBLE) with Mexicans for some time now.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, there`s lots of time between now and the polling (ph) opening tomorrow morning for him to clarify it, if he wishes to.

Anyway, at Trump`s rally this morning, a Secret Service agent got into a violent confrontation with a news photographer. You`re watching the video of the incident right now, I believe. The photographer -- Christopher Morris is his name -- said he stepped 18 inches outside the media pen where he was supposed to stick to, and the agent, the Secret Service agent grabbed him by the neck, started choking him and slammed him to the ground. There it is. You`re watching it all. There it is. There it is. Oh!

Anyway, the Trump campaign said in a statement, "We are not aware of all the details surrounding the incident, and all future inquiries should be directed to local law enforcement."

The Secret Service itself put out this statement saying it was, quote, "aware of an incident involving an employee of the Secret Service that occurred earlier today in Radford, Virginia. At this time, our local field office is working with their law enforcement partners to determine the exact circumstances that led up to this incident."

Katy, can you shed any light on this incident and what led to it?

TUR: Well, from what the reporter said, he just stepped right outside of the bounds, and the Secret Service pushed him back in. There is also video where the reporter swears at the Secret Service member.

But I can tell you from my experience -- I was not at that rally, but I can tell you from my experience that the Secret Service is hit or miss when it comes to reporters at these rallies. Sometimes, they will not let anybody out of these pens -- they call them "pens" -- the press pen is literally gated off until Donald Trump gets off the stage, and 30 minutes before he takes the stage.

We`ve had reporters say that they needed to go to a bathroom and the Secret Service said they need an escort go to the bathroom. Now, I and some other reporters have question Secret Service, saying, Whose rules are these and where are they coming from? Is it for the protection of the candidate?

Because it doesn`t quite make sense because we`re all swept before we get in here. This is a traveling press corps who goes with Donald Trump everywhere. And they`re not saying exactly...

MATTHEWS: OK...

TUR: ... whose rules these are. But we get the sense that it`s from the campaign. They don`t want reporters out mingling with folks in the crowd. They don`t want reporters going up to the rope line and potentially asking Donald Trump some questions.

That`s also why this music is so loud, Chris. It`s because the audio engineers are told to keep it loud so that nobody can hear what Donald Trump is potentially saying on the rope line. And that goes for the folks that are holding their iPhones and trying to take video or pictures of it.

MATTHEWS: OK...

TUR: They don`t want there to be any sound coming from the candidate that`s not controlled on the stage.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK, there it goes again. Katy Tur, thanks for that real- life -- there we are right in there again -- thank you -- because of you.

If Trump secures the nomination, it looks like there could be a shattering of the Republican Party. Look at this. This weekend, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama became another big-time official to back the New York billionaire.

Some others insist they will never support Trump. Senator Ben Sasse -- is that how you pronounce it? Nobody -- he`s not exactly a major senator (INAUDIBLE) know his name. Anyway, if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, he said, conservatives will then need to find a third option.

Meanwhile, the weekend -- this weekend, Senator Rubio and Donald Trump seemed to descend even further in their battle of schoolyard taunts. Here they go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The guy with the worst spray tan in America is attacking me for putting on makeup! Donald Trump likes to sue people. He should sue whoever did that to his face!

TRUMP: And he`s over here, and I see him starting to sweat. Like, I have never seen anything like it! Thank God he has really large ears, the biggest ears I`ve ever seen, because they were protecting him. It was going (ph)...

RUBIO: Donald is not going to make America great. He`s going to make America orange!

(CHEERS)

RUBIO: He`s, like, 6-2, which is why I don`t understand why his hands are the size of someone who`s 5-2. Have you seen his hands?

(CHEERS)

RUBIO: They`re like this! And you know what they say about men with small hands.

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIO: You can`t trust them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, was it possible to get below Donald Trump in your behavior? Well, he has done that now. Amazing. Congratulations, Senator Rubio. You`re worse than Trump on the language front.

Anyway, Chris Begala`s a Republican strategist out here in Texas, and Howard Fineman`s the global editorial director of the HuffingtonPost and an MSNBC political analyst. Also joining us is Wayne Slater, who`s with us a lot. He`s a Texas reporter, of course, and the author of "Bush`s Brain.` I think he`s in Austin.

Let me -- let me start with Chris Begala. This Republican fight, first of all, Trump -- how does he deal with this? My hunch, he better straighten out this David Duke matter before the people vote down here tomorrow because otherwise, it`ll be clouded by that, tarred by it, and people will say a lot of real right-wing people down here who have racial problems will vote for him because of it, and he`ll never be able to get real credit for those votes.

CHRIS BEGALA, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right. And the piling on on Trump has been occurring forever, OK, but mostly from the center and the left. This is legitimate. He has got to clear this up. He disavowed him on Friday. Sunday, maybe he didn`t hear. The earpiece, I`m not sure. It`s not his finest moment at all.

MATTHEWS: No, but he said, I never heard -- I don`t -- I don`t know anything about David Duke. He heard that.

BEGALA: I don`t know anything about -- and he could have been saying "groups." I`m not sure. He`s got to be...

MATTHEWS: No, he said David Duke.

BEGALA: ... unequivocal...

MATTHEWS: We`ve got the quote here.

BEGALA: ... in disavowing this.

MATTHEWS: He said, "I don`t know anything about David Duke."

BEGALA: Right. He`s got to be unequivocal. It`s not his finest moment.

MATTHEWS: Howard, why doesn`t he fix this?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIR., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he only has one gear, which is forward. And his whole strategy and policy and personality is never to apologize.

But he also has a political subtext here, which is that a lot of his people -- and I go to a lot of his rallies -- are not -- they`re not necessarily going to be deeply offended.

MATTHEWS: I know that, but once...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: They`re not going to be offended.

MATTHEWS: ... this gets on the record that he won these primaries...

FINEMAN: OK. I agree.

MATTHEWS: ... because of this...

FINEMAN: And I think it`s -- I think it`s bad for him. Yesterday, I was at the Lakewood church, which is one of the largest mega-churches in America, right here in Houston, and I talked to a lot of people at that church. And they had heard about this, and they weren`t -- a lot of people were not going to vote for Trump in part because of this kind of thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: So he`s losing some evangelical support that he could otherwise get away from Ted Cruz by not clearing this up. That`s where the rubber meets the road in these primaries and caucuses with these evangelical voters. They don`t like this.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: They don`t like it at all. If they`re listening to the sermon in the church, they`re not liking what Donald Trump is saying.

MATTHEWS: Wayne, I`ve watched a lot of politicians over the years, white politicians, Democrats, both parties, use these very clever -- we call them wedge issues, wedge statements. You know, I`m not going to (INAUDIBLE) because it`s going to incriminate most politicians.

But Trump didn`t just do that. He identified himself, for whatever reason, on Sunday with David Duke. I`ve never seen anybody do that before -- or refuse to disavow, let me put it properly.

WAYNE SLATER, AUTHOR, "BUSH`S BRAIN": Yes. Look, he knows what he`s doing. You know, he`s either stupid or he knows what he`s doing. And I don`t think he`s stupid. He understands that there is an element in the Republican Party among the constituency that supports him, the birther- Bircher-secessionist element of the party.

And that`s a very small group of folks. But the attitudes about race, and more importantly, attitudes about a bunch of folks who feel they`ve been screwed by the establishment -- and Trump is speaking up for them -- and have attitudes about too much diversity these days. "Father Knows Best" is still not on TV. You know, you can`t pray in school. Their (ph) guys are over here.

This is -- these are the people who would, despite what I think Howard just said -- and I would never second-guess Howard, but I`m thinking there are still evangelicals who say, Our world is changing, we don`t like it, this guy is tough, he will fix it, and if he sides with some of the white supremacists, so what.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That`s outrageous! That`s outrageous! I mean, are you kidding me? You`re saying that there`s an element within the Republican Party that would agree with not disavowing the KKK and David Duke? That`s ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous!

MATTHEWS: What about...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Do you want to clarify that?

MATTHEWS: Chris, let me talk to you about a couple of things.

BEGALA: Come on, Chris! That`s ridiculous!

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you -- can I ask you...

BEGALA: Sure. Go.

MATTHEWS: What about the huge element that`s admitted in all the polling in the Republican Party that thinks Obama is a Muslim, or believes he`s not an American?

BEGALA: No, that`s -- no...

MATTHEWS: Well, why do they say it?

BEGALA: There`s not a huge faction of that, Chris.

MATTHEWS: No, it`s...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I disagree with you. I disagree with you. That`s a huge leap by saying that there`s some type of white supremacist...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... faction within the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: You don`t think there`s a problem of racialism, in saying Obama`s not an American?

BEGALA: Racialism, saying Obama -- that -- that`s not race.

MATTHEWS: Saying that he`s -- what is he, that he`s not really an American? He`s a Kenyan.

BEGALA: That`s racialism?

MATTHEWS: Why do people -- why do people...

BEGALA: I don`t understand.

MATTHEWS: Why do people like birtherism? What`s it about?

BEGALA: I don`t understand. I don`t know what that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me explain it to you. They say he`s not an American, he`s not legally elected president, he`s not a legitimate president.

BEGALA: I mean, that`s -- that`s...

MATTHEWS: Why do they do it?

BEGALA: ... ridiculous! And that`s five years ago, eight years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That has nothing to do with what`s going on right now.

MATTHEWS: All the polling asks people, Do you think he`s a Muslim? Why do people make those claims?

BEGALA: All the polling asks people or what kind of data are you presenting?

MATTHEWS: They ask them the question, and they get...

BEGALA: What type of data? How many people think he`s a Muslim?

MATTHEWS: Fifty percent, up there, yes.

BEGALA: Fifty percent of Americans believe that...

MATTHEWS: Of the Republican Party, yes...

BEGALA: ... that President Obama is a Muslim? That`s surprising.

MATTHEWS: I didn`t say Americans. You said it.

BEGALA: Oh, I thought -- you just said 50 percent.

MATTHEWS: Of Republicans.

BEGALA: Oh, Republicans. No, I don`t think...

MATTHEWS: A huge percentage of the Trump vote does believe (INAUDIBLE)

BEGALA: OK, well, I disagree. I don`t think that`s accurate.

MATTHEWS: So if you`re wrong, you`re wrong, and I can post these numbers for you and you`ll be...

BEGALA: You`re saying that 50 percent...

MATTHEWS: No, we`ll get these numbers.

BEGALA: ... of self-avowed...

MATTHEWS: No, no. There`s no sense arguing now.

BEGALA: ... Republicans believe that...

MATTHEWS: This is...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... President Obama is a Muslim? No.

MATTHEWS: Either right or wrong. Either I`m right or I`m wrong. I believe I`m right. We`ll get to it later.

BEGALA: OK. Sure.

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t just Trump`s comments on David Duke this weekend that earned -- keep going -- him criticism. Trump retweeted a quote from Benito Mussolini. Here it is -- and then refused to disavow it on "MEET THE PRESS" Sunday. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR: did you know it was Mussolini?

TRUMP: It`s OK to know it`s Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It`s OK to -- it`s a very good quote. It`s a very interesting quote. And I know -- I saw it. I saw what -- and I know who said it. But what difference does it make, whether it`s Mussolini or somebody else? It`s certainly a very interesting quote.

TODD: Well...

TRUMP: That`s probably why I have...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: ... fascist!

TRUMP: ... Facebook and Twitter, 14 million...

TODD: Do you want to be a...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Do you want to be associated...

TRUMP: It`s a very interesting quote and people can talk about it.

TODD: Do you want to be associated with a fascist?

TRUMP: No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you, I just heard in my ear, Chris...

BEGALA: OK.

MATTHEWS: ... 43 percent of Republicans, according to a CNN/ORC poll this past September -- 43 percent of Republicans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim.

BEGALA: Forty-three percent, according to CNN/ORC this last September?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BEGALA: OK. Well, you said 50. I still don`t buy that 43 percent.

MATTHEWS: Are we quibbling over that, seriously?

BEGALA: Well, it`s outside the margin of error.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) 7 percent. Are you really quibbling over that?

BEGALA: Well...

MATTHEWS: Is this a big point with you?

BEGALA: ... I don`t think it`s 43 percent.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you don`t believe the poll? So it doesn`t matter what the poll shows?

BEGALA: Well, I mean, I haven`t seen -- I haven`t seen...

MATTHEWS: So what`s your point, that it`s OK to make these...

BEGALA: ... the questioning of the poll.

MATTHEWS: It`s it`s OK to make these...

BEGALA: I haven`t seen the actually questions.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you think there`s another way of asking it?

BEGALA: It depends. Sure. You can ask questions in a lot of...

MATTHEWS: OK, we`re wasting time.

BEGALA: ... different ways.

MATTHEWS: I want to thank you for coming on, but...

BEGALA: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... I think we established the facts here. Howard, these numbers are all over the place, all over the place.

FINEMAN: Well, let me...

MATTHEWS: I don`t like the fact that Republicans say it. I`m not rooting for them to believe the president is a Kenyan, not an American, illegitimately elected. It`s just a fact.

FINEMAN: I will take up my side argument with Wayne Slater later about evangelicals.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FINEMAN: In the meantime, the important point is, based on what I see from the events I go to, there are a lot of people at these rallies who are not going to -- at the rallies -- who are not going to be the least bit offended or let the bit about David Duke get in the way of voting for Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, that states something.

FINEMAN: But -- that states a lot. And there are some evangelical, mainstream evangelicals, he will lose because of what he said.

MATTHEWS: OK. He should fix it. Anyway, thank you, Chris Begala, Howard Fineman and Wayne Slater.

Still ahead this hour, Hillary Clinton heads into super-Tuesday after a commanding victory in South Carolina. The state to watch tomorrow which will decide whether Bernie can stay fully competitive is Massachusetts. You heard it here.

Plus, we`re deep in the heart of Texas here, a look at what this state means to super-Tuesday and home state senator Ted Cruz and whether he can survive. Did he keep his chances alive?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from Houston, Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really regret the language that is being used by Republicans, scapegoating people, finger- pointing, blaming. That is not how we should behave toward one another.

That is not how we want to be treated. And we`re going to demonstrate, starting tomorrow on Super Tuesday, there`s a different path that Americans want to take, and that we`re going to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Hillary Clinton, of course, campaigning earlier today in Virginia, one of the 11 states where voters head to the polls tomorrow on the Democratic side. Republicans are also having a vote up in Alaska on this Super Tuesday tomorrow.

I just wanted to point out some numbers. We were having a dispute there with Chris Begala down here in Texas. Turns out that a PPP poll that came out last September showed that 66 percent of Donald Trump supporters believe that Barack Obama, the president of the United States, is a Muslim, not a Christian; 61 percent believe that he was not born in the United States, that he moved in the country somehow illegally, never got naturalized and is illegitimately serving as our president.

Those are facts that are higher than 50 percent, 61 not American, not born here, and therefore illegitimately serving, a number -- and then 66 percent believe he`s a Muslim, despite everything he`s said.

Anyway, Clinton is expected -- Secretary Clinton is expected to do very well in five Southern states. Look at these, the two A`s, Alabama and Arkansas, the two T`s, Tennessee and Texas, and Georgia. So, A, A, T, T, G.

And she`s also targeted Virginia, where she is today. Meanwhile, Senator Sanders has focused his efforts on the caucus states of Colorado and Minnesota, also hoping to get an Oklahoma victory. Apparently, Oklahoma Democrats are much more passionately progressive, maybe because they`re so outnumbered.

He also clearly expects to win and will win Vermont. He`s up there, about 80 percent up there. Anyway, but the big battleground for the Democrats is shaping up to be Massachusetts. I believe it`s one state that Bernie should win if he wants to be the president and be the nominee of the Democratic Party. He`s not ahead. She is. But I think he has to overtake her to really get even with her again.

Clinton leads there by eight in the latest polling, although she`s bopped up. And I don`t know how you poll this one, because independents can vote up there. According to the latest Suffolk University poll out today, she`s up by eight.

I`m joined right now by NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt, who is covering the Sanders campaign tonight in Milton, Massachusetts.

Kasie, just one big question. Hillary is ahead, but independents can vote in this. They can take a Democratic ballot and vote. How do you poll this baby to know that Hillary can`t be beaten up there?

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, I`m not a pollster, but I can tell you that this is a place where Senator Sanders does need to do well tomorrow, in part because there are so many of these, as you say, independent voters who are these kind of white working-class voters that are really the core of Sanders` support right now.

And I think that we have seen, if you looked at these rallies, for example, in Lowell, Massachusetts, where people came out by the thousands to see either Donald Trump or now here south of Boston thousands coming out to see Bernie Sanders, whether you call them Scott Brown voters or whatever you want to call them, they are the kind of people who have been particularly energized in this election process.

And I think the challenge for Sanders is going to be convincing as many of them to come out and vote for him as he possibly can. He, of course, has been on defense over the course of the last week or so, if you think about the fact that Hillary Clinton is coming up here to Massachusetts. You don`t see him spending a ton of time in many of those Super Tuesday states we think that she is going to probably walk away with.

But one interesting thing today, Chris, I will point out, it`s not Massachusetts-related, but Sanders himself tends to wear his strategy on his sleeve a little bit. And he just did a gaggle with reporters after we got off of his plane and he said, hey, keep your eye on Texas. We think that we might do better than expected in Texas.

That means, of course, somebody that`s looking at their data is telling the senator that that could be a place where they might do well. They had about 10,000 people show up in Austin, of course, kind of the one progressive center of Texas, if you will, over the weekend, when he was campaigning there, so just to keep your eye on as we go into tomorrow, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I love your carefulness in the way you describe Austin. It`s not a typical part of Texas.

Anyway, thank you, Kasie Hunt, so much.

Joining me right now is former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a Hillary Clinton supporter, and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher.

Madam Mayor, thank you for joining us.

Well, you have a unique perspective. You`re up at Harvard now, and you`re also from down here, the city I`m in right now. Can Bernie win here? Is that feasible, Sanders? Can they feel the Bern in Texas?

ANNISE PARKER (D), FORMER MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: No. No. No.

He will mobilize supporters. He has a strong streak of support in Texas. But Hillary probably takes it 2-1. And I`m really sorry that I`m not there in Houston with you, in Houston, and I have to be up here.

MATTHEWS: Did you get to vote yet?

PARKER: I voted by mail.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let me ask you, Cornell, this election, I`m trying to figure it out right now. What does he have to do? I think I have been trying to calibrate it, but let you do it. I have looked at the states. I think Bernie should win about three or for states to look good tomorrow night. If he wins four or five, he looks very good. How do you see it?

CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: I think Senator Sanders has a tough headwind against him.

If you look at part of his predicate early on was that he was going to energize and bring a lot of new people into the process, especially young people. But, Chris, what has been a concern, if you look at these states that we have had thus far, turnout among Democrats has actually been down.

In South Carolina, we had almost 200,000 less voters this time around than the last time when we had a competitive primary. When you look at Massachusetts, yes, those influx of independents could be very helpful to him there, but he has not hit the mark on energizing and bringing new people, independents into the process. We have seen our turnout down a great deal.

And when you look at the exit polling from South Carolina, you have got to be worried, because even among voters who say income inequality was their top issue concern, they chose Senator -- Secretary Clinton over him by 26 points, and among -- and among non-college whites by 14 points.

So, some parts of his coalition that he`s been doing well in, you`re seeing some erosion. And, Chris, I would argue if you -- when he gets beat by 71 points among nonwhites, his pathway to the nomination is tough.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Madam Mayor, about crowds. You know, I think politicians are always overwhelmed by crowds. They think a crowd tells them how many people are going to vote for them. And yet history is full of great crowds and losing campaigns.

Jack Kennedy thought he was going to win Ohio in a landslide in 1960, just to give you an example. Nixon beat him. So, I mean, I just wonder, what do you think of these crowds? I`m not sure they`re great measures of support for who`s going to actually show up and vote. Are they?

PARKER: They`re not, no. They`re not.

Bernie is able to generate large and enthusiastic crowds, and there`s no doubt that Bernie appeals to a lot of young folks. And that is something that is exciting for the Democratic Party, but it`s also something that we worry about a little bit, because you have to translate that enthusiasm, those crowds into people who actually show up on Election Day.

And it remains to be seen whether that can be sustained through the election.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And I also think, just to add to your thought there, I think caucuses are like going to a rally. It brings the real passionate people out.

And fair enough. They`re doing -- one of the reasons that Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton eight years ago, he did very well in caucuses, where all the really passionate people showed up.

Cornell, we will have you back again, as always. You`re great. I have to cut you now and go on to the next guests. Annise Parker, former mayor down here, up at Harvard now. And Cornell Belcher, we love him all the time.

Up next: MSNBC`s Jacob Soboroff catches up with poll workers. This is fascinating. This guy does great stuff. He`s going to now get to us before the voting and talk to how the poll workers are getting taught to do their jobs. Some of them are better than others, of course.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live tonight in Houston.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s coming down to a Lone Star State showdown between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and GOP front-runner Donald Trump down here. I think Trump wins either way, by the way, which is my theory. I will get to that later.

Anyway, ahead of Super Tuesday, MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff spent some time with those who will be on the front lines of the ballot box. He went to a training session for election workers, nonpartisan people. At least their job is not partisan. It`s to help count the ballots.

Here he is. He joins us now from Fort Worth, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: This is the Tarrant County, Texas, election office, and everybody that is in this room right now is here to train to become a poll worker, an election judge on Super Tuesday.

What`s it like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exciting.

SOBOROFF: Is it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very informative.

SOBOROFF: Even if it`s a low turnout?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s not what it`s about. It`s just seeing that the people are going to come out and just being a part of it. That`s my main thing.

SOBOROFF: And when you come to a poll worker training, you have done this before. So, why do you come back for a refresher?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, have something to do.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think about something different, rather than what`s going on around you.

SOBOROFF: Yes, nice break, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right, break in the monotony.

SOBOROFF: Well, thank you for your service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, 30 years.

SOBOROFF: Thirty years as an election judge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No.

SOBOROFF: Thirty years in the military?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right.

SOBOROFF: What are you expecting on Tuesday here in Tarrant County?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We hope a great turnout, that lots of people are interested in voting and they will be at the polls bright and early.

SOBOROFF: And do you feel like it is going to be a big turnout?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do. And let the best man win.

SOBOROFF: Let the best man or woman -- or maybe just men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to commit myself. I said the best man win.

(LAUGHTER)

SOBOROFF: OK, best man win.

What do you expect to happen? Any idea who might win on Tuesday?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m not making any predictions, but what I would love to see is for Hillary to win big in Fort Worth.

SOBOROFF: Do you want to make a prediction?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but she and I are on the same page.

SOBOROFF: Do you have any predictions as who is going to win on Tuesday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think -- I think Ted Cruz will win.

SOBOROFF: The hometown senator?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I think Hillary Clinton`s going to do wonderfully.

SOBOROFF: So, that`s on the Democratic side. What about on the Republican side? What`s it looking like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t even call their elections. That`s up to them.

SOBOROFF: So, it sounds like you`re a Democratic poll judge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

SOBOROFF: Can you tell I`m an investigative reporter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

SOBOROFF: What`s the hardest part about being an election judge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re responsible for everything.

SOBOROFF: Democracy, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy. That`s right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Jacob, you`re joining us now from Fort Worth.

You could be an interrogator, you`re so good at this. You are getting these people to tell you their party identification on the way to being nonpartisan in judging the election. But they come down and tell you who they want to win the count that they`re doing.

SOBOROFF: Chris, I didn`t realize it, but I guess there are Democratic and Republican poll judges here in Tarrant County, Texas, which I think you will find interesting is essentially a really cool area, because it`s a bellwether, it`s a microcosm of what goes on in this state as a whole.

In 2008 and in 2012, the vote in Tarrant County almost exactly mirrored the vote statewide in the general election. It`s the last and largest remaining red urban county in the state of Texas. It`s a pretty cool thing.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever met a nonpartisan Texan?

SOBOROFF: Oh, wow.

No, not while I have been here. I mean, there have been some folks that have said maybe they`re moderate, but they fall into the Democratic category, maybe some Republicans that said they would give Hillary Clinton a look, but not -- frankly, not really, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What can you tell, talking to those election people? By the way, they are doing a real service to help count the vote and everything. What can you tell about excitement? Is it -- it didn`t seem that sizzling, but is it?

SOBOROFF: Oh, absolutely, it`s absolutely actually sizzling, particularly in this county, Chris.

So, early voting is something that goes on here in Texas. And there have been one million early voters in Texas, statewide. That`s through the 15 different counties, the 15 largest counties that are reporting this. And in Tarrant County here in particular, the election administrator, his name Frank Phillips, told me 125,000 people have voted early here, and predominantly on the Republican side, 75 percent Republican, 25 percent Democrat.

And that shatters the record that was set back in 2008. So, I think that, actually, if you look closely here, there is a lot of excitement. But there`s this excitement gap you`re seeing. It`s not so much on the Democratic side, but it`s certainly on the Republican side out here. MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Jacob Soboroff, for great reporting.

And, by the way, that is a pattern we have been watching for weeks now, much more excitement on the Republican side, probably pumped up by Trump. But on the Democratic side -- on the Democratic side, with all the talk of political revolution, which is interesting to talk about, it`s not happening, at least in the polling so far this year.

Up next, as we have been saying, Texas is the name of the game tomorrow for Republicans. If home state Senator Cruz wins, it gives him an edge over rival Marco Rubio, you could say. But can he carry any other Super Tuesday state, or is he just good for Texas, which is no great thing, if that`s all you are?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I`m Ayman Mohyeldin. Here`s what`s happening now.

A federal judge in New York says authorities cannot force Apple to unlock an iPhone used by a suspected drug dealer. The ruling is a boost to the company, which is fighting an order to unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook.

A 21-year-old U.S. student who has been detained in North Korea since January was shown on state television, where he appeared to apologize for an attempted theft. The State Department says it`s not uncommon for North Korea to imprison people on trumped-up charges.

And a school shooting in Ohio left four students wounded. The suspect is in custody -- now back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m confident we`re going to have a very good day in Texas tomorrow. We have tremendous support here. We have seen Texans come together.

At the end of tomorrow, Donald Trump is in all likelihood going to have a big chunk of delegates, and I think we are, I believe, going to have a big chunk of delegates. And I think everyone else will be way, way behind. And that point, it will become abundantly clear this is a two-man race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ted Cruz is fighting for his home state of Texas tomorrow. A new poll from NBC and "The Wall Street Journal" shows that senator you just there, 13 points ahead of Trump. But far from the 50 percent threshold he would need to sweep the state`s delegates altogether.

Even if Cruz wins big here, even if he does, the question is, where else can the senator win a victory tomorrow anywhere among the 12 states? Is it enough to win your own state? Do you think?

I`m joined by tonight`s big Texas roundtable. Actually, Lisa Falkenberg is a columnist for the "Houston Chronicle" and before I go further, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the paper. Steve Munisteri is a former chair of the Republican Party of Texas. And Dianna Wray is reporter with "The Houston Press", a weekly.

Thank you all.

First of all, you`ve got to explain something to me. I don`t get -- let me put it as temperately as I can -- I don`t get Cruz. He has a Joe McCarthy quality the way he goes out to his opponents. He`s obviously smart and a great debater.

But he attacks people like Chuck Hagel and says, "How did we know he didn`t get $200,000 from North Korea?" He accused Trump who`s got all kind of problems of being a tax frauder. And then the other day saying he`s mobbed up. He always goes to the McCarthy-ite plan. And yet people down here are going to vote for him.

You first. They like him.

DIANNA WRAY, HOUSTON PRESS: Yes, he plays to the cheap seats. He says what people want to hear.

MATTHEW: What is, this nasty stuff about the opponents that they don`t --

WRAY: Yes, he`ll say whatever he needs to get some attention, to get some sound bytes and to really get people --

MATTHEWS: Steve, explain the culture that goes to a guy like him.

STEVE MUNISTERI, FORMER TX REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: Well, the --

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t think he would sell many other states, but sells here very well.

MUNISTERI: But we have a very conservative base, and that base wants you to have somebody that fights and doesn`t compromise. And for that type of message, he does well among our base voters.

MATTHEWS: So, shutting down the government, calling the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate a liar. That works?

MUNISTERI: It made him more popular.

MATTHEWS: It did.

MUNISTERI: Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS: They`re that angry?

MUNISTERI: They`re very -- well, a portion of the party is very angry. Not the whole party.

MATTHEWS: Interesting.

LISA FALKENBERG, HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Let`s talk about that portion of the party. Before we start talking about Cruz, let`s remember that he`s in the Senate because of 5 percent of the voting age population in Texas that goes to the primary. The Republican primary put him there. So, basically we have a million, a million and a half --

MATTHEWS: So, in other words, you win a primary in Texas, you win the general, that`s it?

FALKENBERG: Yes, decides everything.

MATTHEWS: OK. Anyway, is part of Cruz`s problem lack of authenticity? Here`s what Jerry Patterson, a former Texas land commissioner said. Everybody gets elected down here, by the way, and a Rubio supporter told "The New York Times", quote, "Cruz doesn`t come across like Rick Perry does. Rick Perry and Jerry Patterson went to Texas Agricultural and Mechanical," that`s a school. "Ted went to Harvard."

I never considered that that he`s considered an elitist.

WRAY: Yes, he doesn`t really have that kind of warm, you know, folksy demeanor at all. And he just isn`t like the other guys. He`s not like the other Texas politicians.

MATTHEWS: But he`s winning.

WRAY: Somehow.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to win tomorrow.

MUNISTERI: And base voters don`t care right now if you win the fight, they just want you to make the fight.

MATTHEWS: Left is like that.

MUNISTERI: Well, most parties have an ideological base. When you get polarized and angry, that`s the result.

MATTHEWS: You know my feeling about Texas, it`s hard to get a straight jury down here. It`s really not partisan on anything. Tom DeLay gets put up a trumped up charges what I can tell, everybody gets in. They all -- Rick Perry goes up with trumped up charges, he gets out.

Everybody loves to prosecute down here. But when it comes to facts, somebody in the jury somewhere says, this is all political B.S. This is just political prosecutorial politics.

FALKENBERG: Let`s not put Perry in the same category of Tom DeLay, OK?

MATTHEWS: OK.

FALKENBERG: I mean, there were Republicans who decided that that case should go forward, a Republican prosecutor.

MATTHEWS: Which states? Which one?

FALKENBERG: The recent indictment. What do you mean which one?

MATTHEWS: No, with Perry or DeLay?

FALKENBERG: No, Perry.

MATTHEWS: So, you think they really were bad people that got indicted?

FALKENBERG: I think. I mean, obviously, it`s worked its way through the courts, you can say what you will about the courts --

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s watch Cruz in a story that may matter tomorrow. Here is Senator Cruz escalating his attack on Trump this weekend, accusing him on "Meet the Press" of having ties to the mob. It`s pretty serious. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe it is the case that Donald -- there have been multiple media reports of Donald`s business dealings with the mob, with the mafia. Maybe his taxes show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported, regardless of --

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS: Let me stop you -- wait a minute, Senator Cruz, let me stop you there. That`s just -- that`s openly speculative. Do you have any facts to support that Donald Trump --

CRUZ: Oh, sure, A -- ABC, CNN, multiple news reports have reported about his business dealings with, for example, S&A construction company which owned by "Fat Tony" Solerno, who is a mobster who is in jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is McCarthy stuff. He got the name "Fat Tony" Solerno and everybody thinks mob, mafia, the whole thing.

Here`s my question. How would tax returns reveal if they dealt with "Fat Tony" Solerno or not? He is tied together, what he wants out, is a wedge thing, that make it look like he`s really trying to find the truth here, but he`s not.

"Fat Tony" Solerno does not show up in tax returns.

MUNISTERI: Well, we`re very bare-knuckle down here.

MATTHEWS: You call it "bare-knuckles" and you`re chuckling. Is there a limit down here in Texas?

MUNISTERI: Well, I grew up down here. This is the state that we had Lyndon Johnson, remember?

MATTHEWS: Did he win fair and square in `48?

MUNISTERI: No.

MATTHEWS: Is that why Jack called him "landslide"?

MUNISTERI: You know, there are some great books on Lyndon Johnson.

MATTHEWS: Robert Carroll won`t stop writing.

Anyway, tell me how you won your Pulitzer Prize.

FALKENBERG: All politicians lie.

MATTHEWS: They don`t all lie. They don`t all lie.

FALKENBERG: Obviously, at some point, all people lie, Chris.

MATTHEWS: No, they don`t.

(LAUGHTER)

FALKENBERG: And so --

MATTHEWS: That is not a good explanation. You`re a journalist. You`ve got to believe in truth. Do you lie?

FALKENBERG: Yes, everybody lies.

MATTHEWS: Do you lie in your columns?

FALKENBERG: No, in my columns. If I tell somebody that I really love she was gorgeous in that dress, and she does --

MATTHEWS: That`s called flattery.

FALKENBERG: So, I think that what we`re seeing here with Ted Cruz is troubling to people, small town Texans like me, is you expect somebody to at least, you know, most of the time to be standing by your word, and to stop playing games like this. Just grabbing something out of the air without any kind of proof whatsoever --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- for Hagel when he said to a guy, up for secretary of defense, how do we know you didn`t take $200,000 from the North Koreans? Without any evidence or reason to believe North Koreans have him any money -- just made it up. And yet people -- I`ll never forget that charge.

Anyway, thanks, you guys.

Congratulations.

FALKENBERG: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, you`ve got to tell me something I don`t know. This is how you get a prize here. No money, no rewards, just truth, which you will give us.

The place for politics live in Houston at the Harris County smokehouse. But you can`t smoke here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We can play HARDBALL with us all week long. Like us on Facebook and follow @hardball on Twitter and Instagram. We`ve got the best show videos, plus great photos from behind the seats. I`m not sure what they are, here on this show, and we hit the road to cover this campaign. Behind the scenes.

And speaking of the campaign, I`ll be live here in Houston tomorrow night beginning at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I`ll join Brian Williams and Rachel as always for our full coverage of the Super Tuesday primaries, all 12 of them tomorrow night. Multiply that by two. Actually, that`s a lot more. Twenty-three actually, Democrats are not having a primary. In the last 23 events tomorrow night to cover, tomorrow night on MSNBC.

And I`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable, the HARDBALL roundtable.

Lisa, tell me something I don`t know already.

FALKENBERG: Well, I can`t be sure that you don`t know.

MATTHEWS: That you have a Pulitzer Prize.

FALKENBERG: What I find interesting is that if Ted Cruz, we were playing by the rules that Ohio and Florida were playing with, and Ted Cruz were to win tomorrow, then he could take all the delegates. He could take 155 delegates.

But because we have different rules, we have an earlier primary, you know, maybe --

MATTHEWS: What`s your point?

FALKENBERG: (INAUDIBLE) with a hundred.

MATTHEWS: Life`s unfair to Texas?

FALKENBERG: It`s very unfair, that he`s actually at a disadvantage in his home state.

MATTHEWS: Have your primary later. It`s up to Texas.

FALKENBERG: He`s not going to run away with it --

MATTHEWS: Have your primary later.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead.

MUNISTERI: Several Cruz staffers started shopping their resumes right after the Nevada caucus.

MATTHEWS: No!

MUNISTERI: Yes, sir, that`s true.

MATTHEWS: Aren`t you interesting? You`re an investigative reporter.

Go ahead.

WRAY: Ted Cruz, like, if it weren`t for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz wouldn`t be looking so presidential right now. If you look at Ted Cruz six months ago, it was not -- he wasn`t possible that he was going to be an actual nominee. And now --

MATTHEWS: What do you think? It`s not fast track, this group of candidates. I wouldn`t have thought -- people would have said, "I wish Rubio would run" if he hadn`t run, or "I wish Cruz would run." Nobody would have said "I wish Trump would run."

WRAY: No.

MATTHEWS: It`s not exactly the first team here.

Anyway, we need back up team. We need a sixth man.

Anyway, thank you, Lisa Falkenberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning, and Steve Munisteri, who is a former chair of the party down here, he can explain it to you if you call him. Thank you very much. Dianna Wray, thank you.

When we return, let me finish with this stunning victory of a move I really like, "Spotlight". It`s about real journalism.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this stunning victory of the film "Spotlight". I`ve seen it twice and loved it perhaps, A, I know Boston a bit, having gone to Holy Cross and Worcester, and B, I worked for Tip O`Neill for a half dozen years.

The better more compelling reason is I worked for newspapers for 15 years, knew what it was like to work editors and later spent years intermittently on press buses watching front page reporters produced those main bars to get you the story straight, long before the columnists and pundits getting their hands on them.

Well, some thoughts on "Spotlight" itself. To begin with, well, this story was so hard to dig. I remember when those stories of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy first came out. Why would anyone want to believe that priests who have been hearing our confessions, witnessing our marriages and taking our grandparents and parents to the cemetery, consoling us, leading us in prayer, administering the sacraments, could engage in such behavior, could be so criminal.

It didn`t square. It wasn`t representative. And because it wasn`t, we didn`t want to believe what we were hearing. I didn`t want to believe it.

It took "The Boston Globe" to get the other side -- to the other side, as they put it -- the side that had been part of the cover up, to expose the whole systemic matter in which it was carried out for the benefit of priests and the church -- but no, not ever for the children.

It took investigative reporters to get it right. Stay with it long enough and deep enough to make it matter, to make it hurt, to make it not happen again, or certainly not so easily.

I know the heroes of this story, Robby Robinson, Marty Barron and the rest. I`m proud of that small connection. Who wouldn`t be? What I`m proudest of is the grit and brains of journalists who work a story until they have it right, the hard work you saw on the screen, in "Spotlight".

I think one good thing that could come of this now celebrated movie is it will encourage good young people to go into print journalism because if you don`t want to be a journalist, a print journalist after seeing this movie, you`ll never want to be one.

Thank God for "Spotlight" and what it says about truth and our belief that it will set us free.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END