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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/4/2016

Guests: Erin McPike, Dana Milbank, Michelle Bernard, Marc Fisher, Jeremy Peters, Matt Schlapp, Jay Newton-Small, John Feehery, Michael Tomasky

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 4, 2016 Guest: Erin McPike, Dana Milbank, Michelle Bernard, Marc Fisher, Jeremy Peters, Matt Schlapp, Jay Newton-Small, John Feehery, Michael Tomasky

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Republicans wage war.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

And good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.

The Republican party forces aligned against Donald Trump continued to wage a desperate effort today to deny him the nomination. One day after the 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, eviscerated Trump, calling him a bully, calling him a phony, calling him a fraud, Romney made the rounds on television to continue his assault.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio said that Trump is scamming the American people and that if he gets the nomination, it will, quote, "be the end of the modern conservative movement." Ted Cruz said that Trump would betray conservatives. And Trump hit back at Rubio and Cruz.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know that in Florida, they hate little Marco Rubio so much.


TRUMP: If a guy like little Marco becomes president, which I think is unlikely...


TRUMP: I think is unlikely -- look, when you are rated at 31 percent likability in your own state, because he`s terrible, you`re going to have a hard time being president.

So last night, he had a very, very bad night. According to the various polls, he lost the debate badly, and -- but he`s at 16, so he`s going to go down. So it`s Trump at 49, little Marco Rubio at 16, Cruz, lying Ted Cruz -- lying Ted -- that`s amazing. No matter what you say with Ted, he`ll change it. He`ll do whatever he has to do.


KORNACKI: Also today, Trump once again defended the size of his hands -- yes, you heard that right -- and he rejected calls for him to be presidential.


TRUMP: When little Marco`s spews his crap about the size of my hands -- which are big, the size of my hands...


TRUMP: No, he made a thing. He says, Well, Donald Trump has -- uh, let`s see, what can I say, what can I say. So I looked at him, I said, Marco...


TRUMP: No, I just wanted to -- look at that. Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards!


TRUMP: Right? Those are good, strong -- I`ve never been criticized about the size of my hands before. I`m saying to myself, What -- what`s going on here?


KORNACKI: And last night`s Republican debate quickly descended into a two- on-one wrestling match, with Cruz and Rubio making the case that Trump is unfit for the presidency.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are not going to turn over the conservative movement or the party of Lincoln or Reagan, for example, to someone whose positions are not conservative.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we nominate Donald, we`re going to spend the spring -- the fall and the summer with the Republican nominee facing a fraud trial.

TRUMP: Oh, stop it.

CRUZ: ... that Hillary Clinton...


TRUMP: It`s a minor civil case!

CRUZ: Donald, learn not to interrupt.

TRUMP: There are many, many civil cases.

CRUZ: It`s not complicated. Count to 10, Donald.

RUBIO: He has spent a career of convincing Americans that he`s something that he`s not, in exchange for their money. Now he`s trying to do the same exchange for their country.

TRUMP: This little guy has lied so much...

RUBIO: Here we go!

TRUMP: ... about my record.

RUBIO: Here we go!


CRUZ: If, in fact, you went to Manhattan and said, I`m lying to the American people, then the voters have a right to know!

TRUMP: No, no. You`re the lying...


TRUMP: You`re the lying guy up here. Excuse me. I`ve given my answer, lying Ted. I`ve given my answer.


KORNACKI: The Cruz and Rubio argument for most of that debate is that Trump must be stopped in order to save the country and to save the conservative movement. And yet at the end of that debate, both of those candidates were asked if they would ultimately support Trump if he wins the Republican nomination. And all three of his rivals said yes.


BRET BAIER, FOX MODERATOR: Can you definitively say you will support the Republican nominee even if that nominee is Donald J. Trump? Senator Rubio, yes or no.

RUBIO: I`ll support the Republican nominee.

BAIER: Yes or no, you will support Donald Trump if he`s the nominee.

CRUZ: Yes because I gave my word that I would.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I -- but -- and I kind of think that before it`s all said and done, I`ll be the nominee.


KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by John Feehery, a Republican strategist, Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent for "Time" magazine, and Michael Tomasky, a columnist for the DailyBeast.

John, let me start with you. Isn`t that the wrong answer from Cruz and from Rubio and from Kasich, for that matter? Aren`t they supposed to stand there and say, This is an emergency, Republicans, this guy will destroy the party, this party won`t be worth voting for if he gets the nomination?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, not really, not if they want to ultimately get the nomination and get the Trump voters to vote for them. Now, that`s a tricky question, obviously, and they -- you know, the rhetoric has been kind of overheated on all sides. In many ways, I think Donald Trump is like a Don Rickles routine. It`s all insults and no policy.

But it`s -- you know, it`s a tricky question because these guys want to ultimately be the winner, and they know that they cannot win without the Trump voters, and that`s their big problem.

KORNACKI: But doesn`t that -- doesn`t that sort of illustrate the essential problem they have here? I`ve seen this NeverTrump hashtag. It seems like it`s NeverTrump with an asterisk, and the asterisk undercuts the urgency of the whole thing in stopping him.

FEEHERY: Yes, right. It`s NeverTrump, but they still want the Trump voters, and that`s all very tricky.

So yes, you know, I don`t know how this all ends up, Steve. I don`t know how they beat Trump. I hope they do. I`m not a big Trump guy. I think he`s -- would be a problem for the country. But ultimately, if the Republicans do want to unite and beat Hillary Clinton, they`ve got to unite. And somehow -- and that`s what that was about last night when those guys said they would ultimately vote for him if they had to.

KORNACKI: So on this subject on the "TODAY" show this morning, Marco Rubio was asked about that seeming contradiction. All debate long, he was calling Trump a con man, but at the end, he said he`d support him.


RUBIO: We, as Republicans, feel that Hillary Clinton would be a disaster to the country. That`s how bad she is. I would look at that as a reflection of how bad she is, not how good Donald Trump is.

I don`t want us to have a nominee that people have to settle for or make excuse for why they voted, and that`s what we`re trying to avoid here. And the only way to do it is to unify around a campaign like mine because I can bring this party together.


KORNACKI: Jay Newton-Small, let me ask you, what do you think of this strategy? I mean, we`re at a point now where Cruz and Rubio, they`re all but admitting -- at least the people around them are all but admitting that if they`re going to stop Trump, they got to take this thing to a convention. They got to deny him the first ballot nomination.

They got to do things we have never seen before. This would be an unprecedented situation right now to deny him the nomination. When they say, yes, I`ll support him anyway, it sounds like they`re sending the message, Oh, this is like any other election.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, "TIME": Well, I think John is right that they actually have to appeal to his voters and to make sure that -- you know, that those voters see another path through them, through (INAUDIBLE) viable (ph) for his voters. And he`s brought in millions of new voters into the system.

But also, if the entire Republican Party says, Dump Trump, we don`t want Trump, and anybody but Trump, and then he actually gets more votes than anybody else and gets the nomination, what`s to stop him from leaving the party at any point and just going off and forming his own party.

And so there`s very delicate balance where you don`t want him to kind of go running off and splitting the party. And they`re kind of -- you know, the party splits in so many different ways. Like, there`s all these different paths where, like, the party is going to split if he does stay and becomes the nominee. The party`s going to split if he isn`t the nominee.

And so you`re -- they`re all trying to carefully cobble together a way for the Republican Party to all stay together and form some sort of cohesion around a nominee, whether it`s all (ph) Donald Trump or somebody else. And that`s really delicate.

KORNACKI: Yes, and we`ve -- for the a record, Donald Trump was also asked last night, Would you support Rubio or Cruz or Kasich is they`re the nominee? And he hemmed and hawed for a minute, but he did ultimately say that he would. Take that for whatever it`s worth.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney -- talking about those attacks on Donald Trump -- he continued them today, calling Trump unfit for office.


MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, there`s no question I`m going to do everything within the normal political bounds to make sure that we don`t nominate Donald Trump. I think he would be terribly unfit for office. I don`t think he has the temperament to be president. And so I want to see one of the other three become the nominee.

Now, by the way, after March 15th, I think you`ll see it narrowed down to one or two contenders opposing Donald Trump, and I intend to support one of them.


KORNACKI: Matt Lauer asked if he would consider accepting the party`s nomination himself.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST: Under any circumstances, would you be a part of this presidential race as a candidate?

ROMNEY: There are no circumstances I can foresee where that would possibly happen.


KORNACKI: Well, Michael Tomasky, I`m trying to figure this out. He waits until Donald Trump wins 10 states. He comes out and he makes a statement. The statement is, I`m not endorsing anyone There`s three good candidates. There`s one bad one. Then he says, I think I`ll endorse one after March 15th. And everybody`s looking at March 15th and saying, This thing could be over March 15th.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, DAILYBEAST: They`ve all left it a little late.

First, Steve, I want to really quickly get in my two cents on the previous question on the table because I disagree with John and Jay. I think that, certainly Kasich, who came third and had a clean shot -- he should have said, I will not support this guy. He would have had all the headlines today if he had said that, distinguishing himself from Rubio and Cruz.

KORNACKI: Corner the market on -- corner the market on that part of the party, right?

TOMASKY: Exactly, exactly. I think it was a terrible mistake. I was flabbergasted that he didn`t.

Now, back to Romney. I don`t think Romney really wants to have the nomination. I know it`s a more fun and mischievous answer to say that he does. But you know, he went through -- it`s a brutal, grueling thing. He`d like to be president, but I don`t think he again wants to do what you have to do, and then contemplate running against Hillary Clinton and looking at the electoral map, which will loom, you know, exactly as it loomed for him in 2012 against Barack Obama.

I don`t think he really wants to do it. I think he wants to try and have influence and be some kind of party savior, which I don`t know if he can be. I mean, he has to keep this -- he can`t just do this for two days and go away. Has to keep this up, you know, permanently, basically.

KORNACKI: Yes, when you take the kinds of shots at Donald Trump that Mitt Romney`s taking, you are going to get Donald Trump returning fire. This is what Trump said back to Romney today. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: This guy Romney came out yesterday.


TRUMP: I mean, the hatred he has, the hatred, the jealousy, the hatred. It`s hard to believe. I jokingly said that because I don`t like Romney. I don`t like him. He thinks he`s hot stuff. And he think he`s -- I hate people that think they`re hot stuff and they`re nothing.

Romney`s a bitter man. He looks like a bitter man. He`s attacking really your front-runner by a lot. And he wanted to run. And he was going to run, and I put up with it long enough. And I said, Look, you can`t let him run. He`s a joke artist. And he`s nasty. You know, he`s a nasty guy. He`s like a spoiled brat.


KORNACKI: You know, Michael, I`m listening to this, and I`m just -- I`m thinking back to Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush seemed like the perfect foil for Donald Trump, the legacy candidate, the legacy politician. And Trump just destroyed him. And Romney, you know, the son of a former governor, former presidential -- a lot of the same pedigree there, same kind of attack right now.

TOMASKY: Yes. And you know, the problem with Jeb is that he didn`t look like he was enjoying it. You know, he looked like he was at a funeral, his own politically. But Romney, you know -- Romney, you have to bring some zest to this. You have to be ready to go toe to toe with the guy and trade insults. I mean, Rubio`s been pretty good at it. It has really debased our discourse in -- in...

KORNACKI: Has Rubio gotten anything out of that, though? Has that been worth anything to him?

TOMASKY: Doesn`t look like it so far.


KORNACKI: Yes. Meanwhile, conservative columnist Peggy Noonan writes in "The Wall Street Journal" today that the Republican Party might be unable to put itself back together.

Quote, "I think we are seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes. I knew Tuesday night I was witnessing something great, something bigger than 1976, bigger, too, than 1964, when Goldwater conservatism swept the primaries and convention and lost the country. If party forces succeed in finagling Trump out of the nomination, his supporters will bolt, which will break the party. And it`s hard to see what kind of special sauce, what enduring loyalty would make them come back in the future."

John, I have to say, watching that debate last night, I started to get that impression, too, that this a party that really -- there`s a wedge going right down the middle here, and either side is not going to want to accept the results of this primary.

FEEHERY: You know, I disagree with that fundamentally. I think the Republican Party`s actually very strong, especially at the state level. We have 31 governorships. We have more legislative seats than ever.

It doesn`t look good at the presidential level, but Donald Trump is not leading a movement. Donald Trump is a celebrity who`s leading a campaign for himself.

KORNACKI: But isn`t it...


KORNACKI: ... a campaign for him, but isn`t it also a campaign against the Republican Party and its establishment that we know?

FEEHERY: Well, listen, I think it`s a -- not really, not at the state level. I don`t think that`s happening at the state level. I think that if you look at Congress, we got more seats in the Congress than we ever had before. The Senate is in Republican hands. This is not going to break the party, and I think that there`s a lot of hyperbole about it breaking the party.

And I think that Trump -- the one that`s (INAUDIBLE) happening is that -- you saw Lindsey Graham say that he could vote for Ted Cruz. In many ways, Donald Trump is unifying the party against him. So listen, I think the thoughts of the death of the Republican Party are very much exaggerated.

KORNACKI: Jay, we`re short on time. I`ll go quick to you, though. What do you make of that?

NEWTON-SMALL: I think it`s -- you know, this is the end of the Faustian bargain that the Republican Party made several years ago when they decided to harness all this anger that exists and this anti-establishment anger in the country, and they`re riding a bull and that bull is equally as apt to kill them as it is to kill the other side. And they are the establishment and the bull is essentially bucking them and saying, No way. And it`s going to be very, very hard to ride this beast (ph) out (ph) and not get hurt.

KORNACKI: All right, John Feehery, Jay Newton-Small, Michael Tomasky, thanks all for joining us. And we are going to have plenty more on the 2016 races coming up.

But next, we have, believe it or not, breaking news in the O.J. Simpson case. Los Angeles police say they are running tests on a knife that was found years ago on the Simpson estate.

Plus, Republican front-runner Donald Trump ditches his appearance at the annual conservative CPAC conference, and that is not sitting well with the hard right.

Also, inside the numbers on the battle for delegates, that all-important fight. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich want to stop Trump from the nomination and force a contested convention in Cleveland this summer. That may be easier said than done. We will break that down for you.

And finally, on the eve of the super Saturday primaries and caucuses, the HARDBALL roundtable will tell us something we don`t know about a very wild campaign.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


KORNACKI: Some good news for the American economy today, 242,000 jobs were added in the month of February. That`s a strong showing, unemployment remaining at 4.9 percent. On the heels of that report, U.S. stocks made gains today, the Dow closing up 63 points and passing 17,000 for the first time since early January.

Be right back.


KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL. And we should tell you this is not a tape you`re watching from 1995. There is tonight a potential new development in the O.J. Simpson murder case, the Los Angeles Police Department announcing today that a former police officer recently turned over a knife that supposedly was found at the former Simpson estate.

Here`s LAPD spokesman Andy Neiman earlier today.


CAPT. ANDY NEIMAN, LAPD: The off-duty or retired officers was working in the area of the Rockingham estate. And he claimed that an individual who claimed to be a construction worker provided him with this knife, claiming that it was found on the property. So he held onto it until just recently, when we discovered that he had it.

It`s been submitted to our lab. They are going to study it and examine it for all forensics, including serology and DNA and hair samples.


KORNACKI: And this afternoon, law enforcement officials telling NBC News that the knife will be tested, but that it is not consistent with the weapon used in the murder.

In June of 1994, Simpson`s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were found murdered in the upscale Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.

O.J. Simpson was a Heisman trophy winner, a former pro football player and a media star. He was charged with the double murder, and police allowed Simpson to turn himself in, leading to a two-hour police chase of his Ford Bronco that was carried live on national television as the NBA finals played out. I remember watching that.

Simpson`s trial was closely followed. It took almost a year before he was acquitted. As Neiman explained today, since no one has ever been found guilty of the murders, it remains an active case.


CAPT. ANDREW NEIMAN, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: The bottom line is that with all cases that remain open, such as the O.J. Simpson and other murder cases and robbery cases, unless there is an actual arrest or conviction to prove that we have actually closed the case, the cases remain open.


KORNACKI: And joining me NBC News correspondent Kelly O`Donnell and "The Washington Post"`s senior editor, Marc Fisher. Both of them covered the Simpson trial more than 20 years ago.

So, Kelly, you`re probably having flashbacks. I think all of America is, seeing this news.

Let me ask you, what is your take on this? Do you think this is sort of a red herring that has been discovered here, or do you think maybe this case is -- we have learned something new and valuable today?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It`s been such an open question for all these years. What was the murder weapon? Where is it?

When I first heard it, it really seemed like a tantalizing possibility. Now, as we hear that some of the characteristics don`t match what the forensics showed with the two victims, it certainly would seem like an unlikely possibility.

But it does reawaken a lot of curiosity, intrigue and mystery that surrounded this case. I went back to look at my files, Steve, and I was drawn back to some of the old newspaper clippings from the time that I kept.

I have got the transcript of Simpson`s first interview with police. A lot of things that took me back to that time. And it is so captivated the nation on so many levels, that to have some new tidbit, some possibility was really quite captivating today. There have been other times when there were reports of a possible link to evidence and the case, for example, in Chicago, where Simpson had flown on the night of the murders, took a flight to Chicago and they looked at a potential sort of drainage ditch there with a report of a knife.

So it has been something that has happened before. The fact that it was on his personal property, and the home was sold in 1998, and then the owner, not wanting all of that notoriety, all of that attention, knocked the house down, and this apparently is where the construction site at the Simpson property brings us to this development today.

To think that someone would have held on to a knife with a possible link for all this time also adds to the drama. So it has been quite a journey back in time. And to be reminded how some of the issues that were so prevalent then, in terms of police conduct, issues of race and money and power, all of that is in many ways still relevant today, Steve.

KORNACKI: Kelly, I love that you brought the newspapers too. I can see the yellowing on it that you start to get after the years. But you`re right. This was -- there were nightly O.J. Simpson specials on television. The trial, every day of it, everybody was watching it. I remember that so well.

And then one of the things, Marc, that I remember, too, was the day of the acquittal, October of 1995, I was in my high school art class. I remember this. We had to convince the teacher to turn a radio on so we could heard the verdict and the place just exploded when that announced that.

But I remember, as soon as that was over, O.J. and his team said, great, now we can hunt for the real killers. And a lot of people made fun of it because of course so many people thought he did it himself all along. But 20 years later, you get the sense the police really kind of never stopped looking at him.

MARC FISHER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, certainly, there has been a presumption among many police and prosecutors that he was guilty and that he got off.

And obviously that`s what started this enormous racial rift over the O.J. Simpson case, which plays out through today, as Kelly mentioned. But that day, speaking of newspapers, that was the next to last time "The Washington Post" printed a print extra edition in the middle of the day, because there was such an enormous interest in this momentous verdict in this case.

So, clearly, this is from another era, and yet very much with us. If you try to think of what are the things that could break our Donald Trump fever these days, in this 24/7 concentration on him, well, O.J. Simpson was one of the few things that could do that.

But that said, it doesn`t look like there is a whole lot here. Even if they were to find O.J. Simpson`s DNA on this knife, he is not going to be tried again because of double jeopardy. He has been acquitted of this crime already and cannot be brought to trial again.

Technically, the case remains open, and that`s why the police are willing to put in this effort. And, you know, if it does lead to the other killer, the real killer, then perhaps it does move forward.

But other than that, it seems to be an awfully curious bit of timing with the TV dramatization of O.J. trial going on even as we speak. So why now, and where has the knife been all these years? There are big questions about -- there is no chain ever custody that could possibly be established here. And the police department seemed rather upset with this officer for not having come forward earlier with the knife.

KORNACKI: Yes, I`m wondering about that too. A former police officer, the most famous murder case maybe in the last 50 years or something, finds potentially at least evidence, and then says, what, I`m going to collect this, add this to my personal collection.

And also you mentioned there is that FX series right now everybody is talking about, about the O.J. trial, the O.J. case. Either one of you watching that? I`m just curious.

O`DONNELL: Actually I have, yes.

FISHER: I have watched a number of the episodes. Yes, and it`s -- you know, it has its moments of bringing everything back alive to what it was.

But there is something odd going on. They cleverly use the news clips from that time, and those are the moments when the series really comes alive. And to see the transition back into the dramatization, it almost feels not quite real, but those news clips from the -- everything from the slow- motion chase, to the interviews with the various lawyers, that`s just riveting.


And, quickly, Kelly, I hear you watching it too. Watching it now, does it give you any new perspective on what you witnessed back then?

O`DONNELL: Well, I think so many of the issues remain relevant.

And the FX series is a lot about the relationships between the lawyers, which was less focused on at the time back when the trial was unfolding. And it is intriguing and it`s entertainment.

I know the families, who I met and dealt with during covering the trial, don`t like that this crime is a form of entertainment. And I think we can all respect that they suffered a loss that even all these years later is still very personal to them.

But there is this other dimension of the cultural impact of the O.J. Simpson case and the fact that he remains a figure of curiosity. There are these open questions about evidence in the case. And I am also struck by the fact that the trial was watched really nonstop back then on cable television, in a time before social media and a time before the Internet affected all of our lives.

It was a collective experience for the country to watch the case, and all of the issues from domestic violence to race relations, to the competence of police, so many different things, the effect of powerful defendants. This was the most famous person in America ever to be put on trial for murder.

And so it was extraordinary. And so I think that seeing some of that again, you find that a lot of these issues in their own way still are a part of American life. And O.J. Simpson, for all of his fame and infamy, is still a very curious character -- Steve.

KORNACKI: Yes. I remember there were two groups of people back then. There were the O.J. trial junkies and there were people that rolled their eyes that said enough of this, enough of this.

But 20 years ago, I think a lot of people have a lot of memories of that time.

Kelly O`Donnell, Marc Fisher, thank you both for joining us.

And up next: crunching the numbers. Can Donald Trump come away with a clean win in the primaries, or is he going to be forced to play the delegate game with Cruz and Rubio trying to deny him a first-ballot majority at the convention?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s happening.

Speaking at CPAC tonight, Ben Carson said he is leaving the campaign trail. His exit from the race was expected. Earlier this week, he said he didn`t see a political path forward after Super Tuesday.

And lead pipe removal got under way today at a home in Flint, Michigan. The lead pipes are being replaced with copper ones. The city`s facing a contaminated water crisis. Actually, Rachel Maddow will have another in- depth look at the Flint water crisis tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL.

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In a move that has disappointed many conservative activists today, Donald Trump has abruptly canceled his scheduled appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. It`s an annual gathering that has long been a go-to destination for conservatives, especially those who are seeking the White House.

Trump was scheduled to address the conference Saturday morning, but his campaign today explained in a press release that they have scheduled another event instead -- quote -- "Trump will be in Wichita, Kansas, for a major rally on Saturday. Because of this, he will not be able to speak at CPAC."

Now, in response, CPAC tweeted this -- quote -- "Very disappointed Donald Trump has decided at the last minute to drop out of the CPAC. His choice sends a clear message to conservatives."

Ted Cruz didn`t miss the opportunity to slam Trump for his absence in opening his remarks at CPAC today.




CRUZ: I think somebody told him Megyn Kelly was going to be here.


CRUZ: Or even worse, he was told there were conservatives that were going to be here.



KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by the perfect guest to bring in for this, the chairman of the organization that hosts CPAC, Matt Schlapp, as well as Jeremy Peters, reporter with "The New York Times."

So, Matt, let me start with you.

Donald Trump is not coming. Here is the question everybody is asking. Is there a price to be paid for a presidential candidate, the front-runner right now, snubbing CPAC?


He was committed to come here. He have been working with him and his team. And I know that he has come to CPAC many times, has been well-received. I know he wanted to be here. We treat all the candidates the same, Steve. I`m unaligned in this presidential campaign. I haven`t made any endorsements. The ACU hasn`t made any endorsements.

And we were very clear to each of these candidates. We wanted them to be here, that they were going to have to speak about the same amount of time and answer questions from conservatives. And I`m sorry that that became a problem for him. I think they`re making a mistake. We still wish they would come, but we won`t change our rules.

KORNACKI: All right, Matt, and I understand we have an issue here. We have got to clear you in the next five seconds. So, I`m going to thank you for putting your 2 cents in. Good luck with the event out there. Thanks a lot, Matt Schlapp.

SCHLAPP: All right.

KORNACKI: And I will now bring in Jeremy Peters into the conversation here.

So, Jeremy, let`s pick it up on what Matt was just saying. Donald Trump is saying he is not going to CPAC because he wants to head out to Kansas. Now, look, Kansas is voting on Saturday, caucuses. It`s a pretty big event. The polling has been good for Trump in Kansas. He also has not been in Kansas campaigning at all. His rivals have been out there.

Is that a legitimate excuse or do you think something else is going on here?

JEREMY PETERS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think it is a good excuse, Steve. Donald Trump is running for president of the United States. He is not running to win the CPAC straw poll.

But I do think there is something else going on here, and that that`s Marco Rubio has been noticing in his private polling that he is gaining in Kansas. He upended his entire schedule over the last couple of days and skipped campaigning in Louisiana and elsewhere to make three stops in Kansas.

So he thinks that he has a very good shot at winning that, and Donald Trump, I think, is probably a little nervous about that.

KORNACKI: Is it making a statement, though, do you think as well? There have been so many sort of rules that we have all established through the years, officials rules. If you`re running for the Republican nomination, you have to do this, you can`t do that.

One of them is, you have got to go to CPAC, you have got to cater to that crowd. Is this just another statement too of Donald Trump kind of making a statement here that, hey, I`m not playing by the same rules as everybody else?

PETERS: Yes, or I think maybe he didn`t donate as much money to CPAC this year, and felt that he didn`t have the clout that he had last year to call the shots.

Last year, the Trump Organization was a major donor to CPAC, with -- if there is a quid pro quo there, I`m not sure. I`m not saying that.

But I think that Donald Trump certainly, as you say, Steve, has made a career so far of breaking convention, and he is going to do what he wants to do.

KORNACKI: All right, well, we have Kansas this weekend, a few other contests, but the upcoming winner-take-all contests that everybody is talking about, Florida, Ohio, they`re on March 15. They`re crucial to everyone who is hoping do hoping deny that first-ballot nomination at the Republican Convention.

Here is what the delegate count might look like if Kasich wins Ohio that day, if Rubio wins Florida, if the stop Trump takes care of business in those states. Under those circumstances, Trump would then need to get 67 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination outright.

So, Jeremy, when I look at this, I say, look, beating Trump in Ohio, beating Trump in Florida, they`re essential if you want to stop him. But even that threshold, 67 percent the rest of the way, they start to add up fast after that. You get to states like New York, to Pennsylvania, to California, a lot of delegates, a lot of blue states there. Even stopping him in Florida or Ohio may not be enough.

PETERS: That`s right.

And don`t forget about New Jersey too. There are states that have a lot of delegates that are up for grabs that Trump is poised to do well in. I do think that the path gets increasingly narrow for Ted Cruz. That`s something that the people who are urging Kasich to get out of the race, Marco Rubio fans, will say is that you know, when you`re talking about California, New Jersey, Delaware, these are places that are not exactly friendly Ted Cruz territory.

So the math does get very less favorable to him as we go on here. Now, one of the things I think nobody is really pointing out is in all of this talk about how turnout has swelled, how you have 8.5 million who voted on Super Tuesday, you know, that`s a big part because of Trump, no doubt about it.

But let`s not forget that a lot of those people are also turning out to vote against Donald Trump. So as much as Donald Trump is inspiring this new movement of voters to join him, he is inspiring a whole lot of people who are voting to spite him.

KORNACKI: Right, you have got two blocs there. You have got a bloc that wants to get out there and give him the nomination and another giant bloc that doesn`t want to.

The question is, at the end of this, could they put them back together? Also, if Trump does win Ohio and Florida, this is what would happen to the delegate count. Look at that big difference from what we were just showing you. Suddenly, he is more than 400 ahead of Rubio, Rubio drops back to third, Kasich is barely a factor in there.

A huge difference. Jeremy, for all intents and purposes, it looks like if Trump wins those two states, this thing could end on the spot. And we have to say, the polling that we have seen so far says he is leading in those two states.

PETERS: Yes, absolutely, he is. He has come up in Ohio lately, which is really surprising, considering that John Kasich has thought for a while that he was going to walk away with that.

I think that tit looks like the more likely scenario right now is he wins one and doesn`t win the other. So, in that case, it`s also going to be hard for Trump to get to 1,237, and it`s going to make for a very interesting convention.

KORNACKI: Yes. It`s interesting to see how those home states are factoring into this, Cruz in Texas, Kasich Ohio, Rubio Florida. We thought the days of the favorite sons candidacies were over, but it looks like that`s what we`re dealing with here.

Jeremy Peters from "The New York Times," thanks for joining us.

PETERS: Thank you.

KORNACKI: And coming up, we`re going to turn to the Democratic side of the aisle, as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prepare to battle it out in Michigan.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



JIM WEBB (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I`m not supporting anybody right now.

INTERVIEWER: Would you vote for Hillary Clinton?

WEBB: No, I would not vote for Hillary Clinton.

INTERVIEWER: Would you vote for Donald Trump?

WEBB: I`m not sure yet. I don`t know who I`m going to vote for.



That was former Virginia senator and Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb this morning on "MORNING JOE", saying that he will not be voting for Hillary Clinton.

But Clinton did receive some good news today when "The New York Times" reported computer logs by an IT staffer showed no evidence of foreign hacking. "The Times" said, quote, "The security logs bolster Mrs. Clinton`s assertion that her use of a personal e-mail account to conduct State Department business while she was the secretary of state did not put American secrets into the hands of hackers or foreign governments."

Clinton and her Democratic rival are turning their attention to Michigan. Michigan going to hold their primary this coming Tuesday. Sanders was in the state attack Clinton`s past positions on trade.



She supported permanent normal trade relations with China. I vigorously opposed PNTR with China.

She supported permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam. I opposed that.

She supported that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. I opposed that.

She supported the Korean Free Trade Agreement. I opposed that.

This is a criticism of Secretary Clinton`s trade policies, which have been a disaster. All I can say is that she voiced a lot of support over the years for the concept of the TTP. And she was very reluctant to come out in opposition.


KORNACKI: But the polls in the Wolverine State not looking good for Bernie Sanders. The newest one putting Hillary Clinton 28 points ahead of him.

Time now for the HARDBALL round table. Michelle Bernard is president of Bernard Center, Dana Milbank is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post", and Erin McPike is a correspondent with "Reuters".

So, let`s start withy you, Dana, on this news about Jim Webb. Look, obviously, Jim Webb went nowhere as a Democratic presidential candidate.

But there is this theory out there, this idea out there I guess that if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, if there are voters on the Democratic side that Trump could maybe chip away at, it`s rural, maybe blue collar, working class, the kinds of people that maybe Jim Webb appealed to, whether it`s in western Virginia, whether it`s in the Rust Belt, that she could put that he -- excuse me -- Trump could places in play against Hillary Clinton, maybe that other Republicans couldn`t.

What do you think of that?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Steve, you point to a real vulnerability that Hillary Clinton has with those kind of voters. However, Jim Webb, I think the reaction has to be, who cares?

I mean, the guy could get together with Jim Gilmore and form the irrelevancy party. He was a senator largely by accident because of George Allen`s troubles there. And then he went absolutely nowhere in the debate. So, I don`t think he speaks for anybody, or carries any votes with him, and he is obviously not even considering doing that independent bid anymore.

But yes, it is a real weakness. It`s just somebody other than Jim Webb would probably need to exploit that.

KORNACKI: You know, Michelle, it`s funny, I think we all thought we had it figured out after the 2012 election, the idea that there`s this Democratic coalition, there`s this Republican coalition, the cultural demographic lines are very clear. Every said it`s simple. Look, if the Republicans want to win back the White House in 2016, you`ve got to drive up the numbers with Latinos, drive up the nonwhite numbers, do better with single women.

We thought we had it figured out, but when I look at Donald Trump potentially being the Republican nominee, I think there is the potential here for sort of a realignment of a lot of these groups, both sides, helping and hurting each party that we haven`t thought of before.

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER FOR WOMEN: Absolutely. You know, I have read a study recently where somebody was looking at demographics and Google analytics who Donald Trump`s supporters are and where they come from all over the country in a different way.

You know, back to the point that you were discussing with Dana and to what we`re talking about now, Donald Trump has Democratic support. The blue collar high school educated, non-people of color that supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 are the same people who are looking at Hillary Clinton and looking at Donald Trump and being excited by Donald Trump`s candidacy. So I don`t think Donald Trump needs Jim Webb or anybody else to --

KORNACKI: Michelle, I keep thinking back to 2008. I mean, it`s eight years ago, but in the late days of that campaign, Clinton versus Obama, she was rolling up huge numbers, whether it was Pennsylvania or West Virginia or Kentucky -- working class white voters. I remember reading them and kind of getting confused.

It was, oh, Hillary Clinton has this bond with working class white voters. I remember in the 1990s, when she was caricatured as this radical feminist, you know, all of this stuff. I say, it was never about liking Hillary Clinton for these working class, that sort of group of voters. It was more about opposing Obama, wasn`t it?

BERNARD: Absolutely. If they had to pick between a black man and white woman, Hillary Clinton was their woman. You know, back then -- I`m sure you`ll remember, Steve, then Senator Obama referred to the demographic as people who cling to their guns and cling to religion and they loved Hillary Clinton.

And I would say that right now, if they have to pick between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who literally ranges on, on a daily basis about everything that is wrong with America, and including women, including Mexicans, including the African-Americans that he says are going to vote for him, they`ve got their man.

He is not going to have problems with Democrats or Republicans in that demographic.

KORNACKI: Erin, I guess when people say there might be cross over between Bernie Sanders voter and a potential Donald Trump voter in the fall, some people look at that and say they couldn`t be more opposite. But the Bernie Sanders supporters in a lot of cases, what we`re seeing here, working class, lower income white voters, certainly we`ve seen that in the primaries so far, could you see them being attracted to Donald Trump.

ERIN MCPIKE, REUTERS: Oh, absolutely. I`ve, in fact, talked to some in Florida, specifically, who have looked at data, that`s just down in Florida as they look at statewide races later this year and in 2018, saying there are a number of voters who like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump and they`re trying to figure out the right candidate in those statewide races to fit the kind of voter whose like Donald Trump and like Bernie Sanders.

It`s a really tough thing. But you`re seeing a lot of the voters want an outside the beltway, really independent kind of candidate. That`s what this is showing. It is an outsider here as we all know.

KORNACKI: All right. Well, the round table is staying with us.

Up next, these three have the easiest assignment in the world. They`re going to tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.




KORNACKI: Back now with the roundtable. They`re going to tell me something I don`t know.

Michelle, Dana, Erin are with us.

Michelle, we`ll start with you. Tell me something I don`t know.

BERNARD: All right. So, Steve, brace yourself. Charles Evers, the older brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, according to "The Daily Caller", has endorsed Donald Trump. Charles Evers, first African-American mayor elected in the state of Mississippi since Reconstruction, is supporting Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States.

He says that Donald Trump will be good for jobs and all of us have a bit of racism in us, including himself. He became a Republican, endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980 and is one of those black people that Donald Trump says will support him.

KORNACKI: Wow, that is going to be something I imagine we`ll hear an awful lot about from Donald Trump.

Dana, something I don`t know. Go ahead.

MILBANK: Well, Steve, the e-mail servers is the least of the Clinton`s legal troubles.

Up in Massachusetts, 100,000 Bernie Sanders supporters signed a petition seeking to have Bill Clinton arrested and prosecuted and the primary re- voted up there because Bill Clinton was seen hobnobbing in a polling place on election day.

This is not what you would call losing gracefully.

KORNACKI: Wait a minute, I just -- it`s interesting. In the last few years, I heard all the Democrats telling me there`s no voting fraud or any of that stuff doesn`t happen. Now, they want Clinton arrested.

MILBANK: They want him arrested for hobnobbing which is apparently a third-degree felony.

KORNACKI: Hobnobbing, OK.

Erin McPike, something I don`t know. Go ahead.

MCPIKE: Well, Steve, Marco Rubio, who is, of course, the senator from Florida who says he`s not running for re-election, is going to spend eight days down in Florida skipping other states trying to win Florida. But the Jeb Bush orbit thinks that Marco Rubio will reverse his decision and decide to run for re-election to his current Senate seat.

KORNACKI: He seems so miserable in the Senate. I can`t help but think the Jeb Bush people are having some mischievous motives there.

MCPIKE: Well, you might think. But that`s the rumor on the ground, that that the Florida Republican Senate primary is such a mess that they need Marco Rubio to step back in and save the seat.

KORNACKI: All right. Erin McPike, Dana Milbank, Michelle Bernard, thanks to all of you for being with us.

We`re back with more after this. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


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

Tune in tomorrow night when Chris Matthews will anchor special live election coverage starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.