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

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/16/2016

Guests: Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar, Anne Gearan, April Ryan, Ruth Marcus, Francesca Chambers

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 16, 2016 Guest: Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar, Anne Gearan, April Ryan, Ruth Marcus, Francesca Chambers

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump`s the boss.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

You know who the boss is when you can`t start without you. (sic) Anyway, today, Donald Trump made that clear. He said no more debates, and there will be no more debates. Trump cleaned up in four of the five states holding contests last night, narrowly edging out Ted Cruz in Missouri and North Carolina, while John Kasich pulled out his first win of the 2016 primaries in his home state of Ohio.

Trump`s overwhelming victory in Florida dealt a knockout blow to Senator Marco Rubio. He announced last night that he was suspending his campaign. Well, today, one of his top backers, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, announced she`s now supporting Cruz for the nomination.

Well, despite Trump`s loss in Ohio, a look at the delegate count shoes that the front-runner has opened up a wider lead over Ted Cruz. He needs to win over half the remaining delegates to lock up the nomination before the Republican national convention in July. I`m talking about Trump.

Well, this morning, Donald Trump said that he would not participate in the Republican debate that had been scheduled for this coming Monday in Salt Lake City. Kasich`s campaign then announced that Kasich wouldn`t participate without Trump, which forced Fox News to cancel the debate altogether today.

Anyway, and Trump also warned there would be riots -- that`s the headline tomorrow morning -- at the convention if it did not give the nomination to the delegate leader himself automatically.

Let`s watch Trump in action here.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we`ll win before getting to the convention. But I can tell you, if we didn`t and if we`re 20 votes short or if we`re -- if we`re, you know, 100 short and we`re at 1,100, and somebody else is 500 or 400, because we`re way ahead of everybody -- I don`t think you can say that we don`t get it automatically. I think it would be -- I think you`d have riots.


MATTHEWS: Riots. Well, that`s going to be the headline tomorrow. Michael, thank you. I`m joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa of "The Washington Post" and Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC.

Michael, that`s a hell of a threat.


MATTHEWS: And that`s what it is, it`s a threat. You don`t give me the nomination if I`m even front-runner, forget the majority -- if I`m the front-runner, you give it to me or I`m going to -- well, it sounds like he would encourage riots.

STEELE: Well...

MATTHEWS: It sounds like (INAUDIBLE) I just heard it.

STEELE: I don`t know if there`ll be riots on the street, but there certainly will be pandemonium on the floor. And look, Chris, the delegates who are supporting Trump who`ll be coming to this convention have been sort of itching and banking on this possibility for some time now. There have been tell-tale signs of unrest among a lot of delegates about how they perceive the national party and those within it are sort of trying to structure the deal away from Trump.

So they`re going to come to this convention loaded for bear, which I`ve been trying to raise that yellow flag, saying, Careful how you approach this. If Donald Trump is 100 delegates away, by all rights, it will be hard for anyone to take away those 1,100 and give it to someone who`s is sitting at 600 or 700. That`s his central argument, and it is one the delegates are going to hold the convention to.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Robert Costa -- you cover him all the time -- was he being hyperbolic, or does he mean it? When he says riots, was that just a way of saying pandemonium, people aren`t going to like it, or this is going to get physical?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He`s reflecting what he sees at his rallies. These crowds are fervent. They`re for Trump. They think that the establishment wants to steal the nomination.

You got Trump`s campaign right now working with veteran Republican consultants, guys like Ed Brookover (ph) came over from the Ben Carson campaign, now thinking ahead to the convention. You got Lewandowski, the campaign manager. He`s running to be a delegate in New Hampshire, maybe trying to get on the Rules Committee once Cleveland comes in July because they`re watching the others.

They`re watching the rivals. They see Kasich`s hiring his own people, guys like Stu Spencer, who worked on the Ford campaign in `76.

MATTHEWS: Well, this looks like a collision, then, a collision...


MATTHEWS: ... the people that won`t accept him and he won`t accept denial at this point, right, Robert?

COSTA: It`s a collision. This is going to be a fight for the future of the Republican Party. And it`s a lot of campaigns, the rivals and associates of Cruz and Kasich -- they say, Look, if Trump is nowhere near 1,200, if he`s even at 1,100, that`s not enough. It`s about getting the coalition together. That`s why you see people like Haley going to Cruz today. There the thought, if it`s Cruz, Kasich, if it`s Cruz, someone else, there`s some kind of coalition that could be brokered.

And there`s a lot of chat about a second ballot. And you got the former speaker of the House, John Boehner, coming out today, talking about Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan then threw some cold water on the idea of being that candidate. But there is chatter out there each and every minute.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Politico reports today that top conservatives are gathering tomorrow to plot a third party run against Trump in case he becomes the Republican nominee. Exit polls, by the way, show that if Trump and Clinton are the choices in November, 29 percent of Republican voters in Florida, for example, would consider voting for a third party candidate, as well as 45 percent of Republican voters in Ohio.

Michael, what`s worse for the Republican Party, Trump gets the nomination and everybody stews about it, or he doesn`t get the nomination, he walks out, starts a Bull Moose Party a la Teddy Roosevelt, and the residual of the Republican Party is worth what? I just wonder.

STEELE: Or -- or the third scenario, Chris, is that these people who are having the meeting tomorrow actually find someone, a Mitt Romney, a Paul Ryan or someone else, to run as a third party candidate in the fall. None of those situations are good for the party.

I think, though, in the end, cooler heads have to prevail. Donald Trump can be worked with. He can be negotiated with. Deals can be struck with him by the leadership of this party, should he become the nominee, to work out a strategy going forward. He`s making the overtures now with the Hill. He`s making the overtures with state party officials, the rank and file, because he recognizes his success is going to be dependent on them as their success is going to be dependent on him.

They got to get past this crazy talk about a third party and all of this nonsense of trying -- you know, trying to defeat him and just let the process unfold. If he is the nominee, work with him to defeat Hillary. That`s the bottom line.

MATTHEWS: Well, Robert, the problem with that is -- it sounds logical -- is Trump doesn`t work if he`s not Trump. If Trump becomes a mouthpiece for the establishment Republican Party, for the Ben Ginsbergs and Charlie Blacks, et cetera, if he starts talking with (INAUDIBLE), he`ll sound like any other hack out there. He doesn`t want to do that.

COSTA: Yes, he`s not really doing it. He`s expanding his circle. Trump`s a phone call guy, loves getting on the phone, doesn`t use e-mail. I hear he was calling around the Senate today. He`s starting to build relationships, even if he`s not hiring people on board.

I got some fresh reporting in the last few minutes about this meeting tomorrow. It`s 8:30 AM, Washington, D.C., a group of a few dozen conservatives. They are going to start looking about a third party bid. One name I keep hearing, Chris, Senator Ben Sasse, Nebraska. They think this young senator, first-termer from Nebraska, even if it lets Hillary get the White House by having a split race, three-way race, they think he could be a standard bearer for the hard right.

MATTHEWS: Well, who are these people that are meeting in a room. What have they got, cigars? I mean, what kind of a meeting is this?



COSTA: ... power structure.

MATTHEWS: ... so far into modern politics.


MATTHEWS: ... on line, what are they, social media people? Or are they actual government people who`ve been elected a governors or a senator or something heavy?

COSTA: No elected officials are coming. I hear some aides to some House members. This is Freedom Caucus members of the House. I hear their aides are coming. You got a lot of bloggers. It`s being organized by Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger and columnist, and you got a lot of people who come from the Reagan years who were part of the conservative movement at its start. They`re part of this meeting, as well.

MATTHEWS: Government by blogger.


MATTHEWS: That`s an improvement over what you had? I mean, it seems like Trump beat the Republican Party. He didn`t join it, he beat it.


MATTHEWS: Like Sanders could have done it, didn`t do it, but he beat the party. He now owns it, potentially, and once he owns it, they`ve got to accept that they`ve been taken over or not accept it. And if they don`t accept it, they`ve got to walk out of their own convention.

STEELE: Yes, that`s basically what this is leading to. And my question is -- you know, Ben Sasse is a great guy and I`m sure, you know, brings a lot to the table. But what does that say to Ted Cruz? You know, where does all of that conservative support for Ted Cruz go?

MATTHEWS: Yes. Exactly.

STEELE: So now you`re going to create friction within the conservative movement itself by pitting Sasse against Cruz. This -- folks, this is so silly. Just let the thing play out. Let Trump run his race. Let the other two gentlemen run their race against him. And getting to the convention, let the nominee emerge. But this is not the way to do it.

MATTHEWS: Well, as Tip O`Neill used to say, I wouldn`t know Ben Sasse from a cord of wood.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Trump today attacked Hillary Clinton -- whatever a cord of wood looks like these days. He attacked Hillary Clinton with a new Instagram, which causes a -- uses a clip out of context of the former secretary barking like a dog. This may be new low-grade Trump. But let`s watch.





MATTHEWS: Well, that clip of Secretary Clinton was pulled from a story she told in Nevada last month about a radio ad in Arkansas. Here`s what Clinton actually said in the actual context.


CLINTON: One of my favorite, favorite political ads of all time was a radio ad, rural Arkansas, where the announcer said, Wouldn`t it be great if somebody running for office said something, we could have an immediate reaction as to whether it was true or not?

Well, we`ve trained this dog, and the dog, if it`s not true, he`s going to bark. And then the dog was barking on the radio. We need to get that dog and follow him around, and every time they say these things, like, Oh, you know, the great recession was caused by too much regulation -- Arf, arf, arf, arf, arf! You know?


MATTHEWS: OK, Robert, that was pretty low, treating her like a dog, let`s face it, what they`re up to there. In the world of sexism, that would be pretty high up, I would say, just because they took that ad and cruelly made her look like that.

COSTA: You see how...

MATTHEWS: Robert Costa...

COSTA: ... it blew up on Twitter? You see how it blew up on social media on the right? I mean, Trump -- he has -- is viewed by -- you know, by a lot of conservatives with suspicion, but when they look ahead to the general election and hard tactics you would take against Clinton, this edge he has and these kind of Instagram ads and videos, they like it.

And when you talk to party officials, there`s a sense that because of this edge, Trump may be able to bring the party together because of the way he hammers Clinton on these issues.

MATTHEWS: Well, to quote Carly Fiorina from a thousand years ago -- in other words, a few weeks ago -- she said every woman in America knows what he meant.

Anyway, thank you very much Robert Costa. Thank you, Michael Steele. There`s a reason you`re laughing.

Coming up -- running the table. Hillary Clinton goes five for five at the big state primaries last night. She`s tightening her lock on the nomination thanks in large part to women voters. And for that, she may want to thank, in the weirdest possible way, Donald Trump. And that`s ahead.

Plus, President Obama dares the Republicans to stay no. He`s chosen now, today, the safest Supreme nominee -- Court nominee he could pick. But Senate Republicans are digging in, saying they won`t consider any nominee until the next president is sworn in. Well, can President Obama win this squeeze play of his?

And as the Republican establishment braces for a convention fight, where does the anti-Trump vote go now that he`s pulling away in the Republican race?

Finally tonight, the HARDBALL roundtable tells me something I don`t know.

And this is HARDBALL itself, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, just hours after his state`s primary last night, Florida governor Rick Scott has endorsed Donald Trump for president. Governor Scott writes, quote, "If we spend another four months tearing each other apart, it will damage our ability to win in November. It`s time for an end to the Republican-on-Republican violence. It`s time for us to begin coming together. We`ve had a vigorous primary. Now let`s get serious about winning in November." That`s Donald Trump.

Donald Trump won Florida last night with 46 percent of the Republican vote, beating home state senator Marco Rubio, who was way down at 27 percent, a thumping, in other words, in Trump`s, well, visiting role there.

We`ll be right back.



HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is another super Tuesday for our campaign.


CLINTON: Thank you, Florida. Thank you, North Carolina. Thank you, Ohio!


CLINTON: We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November!



MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Hillary Clinton, of course, last night claiming victory in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. But the night got even better for the former secretary of state. She also swept the entire evening with unexpected victories in Illinois and Missouri, where she`s also the apparent winner. Her string of wins padded her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders and moved her closer to becoming the Democratic nominee for 2016.

In her victory speech, Secretary Clinton turned her sights to the GOP front-runner, Donald Trump.


CLINTON: Our commander-in-chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it...


CLINTON: ... engage our allies, not alienate them, defeat our adversaries, not embolden them. When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States...


CLINTON: ... when he embraces torture, that doesn`t make him strong, it makes him wrong!



MATTHEWS: Well, Anne Gearan`s a political correspondent for "The Washington Post" and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

Let me ask you about last night. It still seems like last night to me!


MATTHEWS: I`m sitting out in Cleveland for seven or eight, nine hours. And I was thinking that rarely do politicians surpass what they think they`re going to do. And I was hearing from her people, one of her people you all know very well, who said, We`re going to have a hard time in Missouri. And they pulled that out, even!

ANNE GEARAN, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I mean, the lowering of expectations game is...

MATTHEWS: You think that was a scam on us?

GEARAN: In -- in -- in part. I mean, they all do it to a degree. I mean, I think they really did think they were going to lose Missouri. Certainly, Sanders really thought he was going to win it.


GEARAN: And Illinois appeared to be kind of on -- on -- on the bubble. She did much better than expected also in Ohio. They thought they were going to win Ohio, but she did better than they thought.

MATTHEWS: She was walking around with a ball and chain on. She had Rahm Emanuel...


MATTHEWS: ... trade issue. Bernie was on fire, and she still won five for five. It was amazing.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, because after winning Michigan the week earlier, we thought that there was a template being set.

MATTHEWS: And the polls didn`t count.

CORN: ... you know, on trade issues, and some working class economic issues. Things that she and Bernie Sanders had been tussling over for weeks seemed to be paying off for Bernie Sanders! And it didn`t work for him last night.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) I think this is the audience that explains, women and even girls, some of them, very young people. Anne, I just think there`s something happening. This is my hunch (INAUDIBLE) Late last night, it came to me. What was the big visual story last week? It wasn`t her. It wasn`t Bernie. It was the horror around Trump...

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... the racial fist-fighting...


MATTHEWS: ... tearing the scab off America`s racial history right in front of us, the one thing people hate to think about. I have a feeling that women especially said, None of that, and they went to her.

GEARAN: Yes. I mean, you may well be right. I mean, Certainly, Hillary Clinton has been waiting for sort of Donald Trump`s true colors to reveal themselves or for people to decide they`ve had enough, or something. We`ve all been waiting for something to happen with the Trump phenomenon, and it hadn`t really happened yet.

MATTHEWS: Well, and look at these numbers. According to the exit polls last night, women made up nearly 60 percent...

CORN: Wow.

MATTHEWS: ... that`s three out of five who voted in Florida. Of course, women tend to live longer in the retirement communities. We know that unfortunate fact for men.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Clinton also -- of them, she won 68 percent. You do the math of 68 times 60. Anyway, in Ohio, women (ph) made (ph) up (ph) 56 percent of voters, and Hillary won 63 percent. These are huge percentages!

GEARAN: Yes, I mean, Trump was never going to approach the kind of numbers on the Republican side with women that she was going to be able to do in Florida, and certainly not with Hispanics.


MATTHEWS: ... out of your mouth and brain. Why are women as a gender turned off by -- would they be turned off, potentially, by what we`ve been watching in this country in the last week or so?

GEARAN: Well, I mean, I can`t speak for all women, but I think, certainly, what we see in polling, in some of the exit polling last night, suggests that women particularly and older people generally, certainly older women, hear some echoes here.

They hear things that they have heard in other parts of American history that they don`t care to relive. That is certainly the case with older African-American voters, and many people hear echoes of another time and another country -- and another continent in Europe.


MATTHEWS: That`s what I think. They look like Third World.

GEARAN: Well, they`re saying that now. People are saying they`re hearing...


MATTHEWS: ... talks about arresting Hillary Clinton if he wins, that`s so Third World. That`s something that like in Pakistan, when they say, I`m going to arrest President Bhutto and hang him. If I win, they die. This sounds like that.

CORN: Democratic strategists for weeks now have been holding focus groups, and they -- about Donald Trump, and they find that women have a visceral reaction to him. They recoil at him. They use phrases like he reminds me of my abusive ex-boyfriend.

They really, really dislike him. And I think, in the last week, with what you talked about -- I was thinking about this today earlier -- I think it is causing some Democratic voters to say, you know what? I may like Bernie, I may like Hillary Clinton, but I think when it comes to the general election, she might be a better choice.


MATTHEWS: This is what we fear in this country, this racial, face-to-face horror.

Anyway, in a speech last night, Senator Sanders joined Clinton in attacking Donald Trump. Here he is.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason that Donald Trump will never be elected president is the American people will not accept insults to Mexicans, Muslims or women.


SANDERS: The American people will not accept a president who insults our veterans...


SANDERS: ... or who, several years ago, led the so-called birther effort, which was an ugly, ugly attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the presidency of Barack Obama.



MATTHEWS: Well, go, Bernie. If I were Hillary, I would be saying, go, Bernie, because that`s the kind of campaign oratory that would help Hillary in the general if she were the nominee.

GEARAN: Right. I mean, she is certainly hoping that -- assuming she is...


MATTHEWS: He is the barn burner.

GEARAN: I mean, she can do -- he can do many things, frankly, that she cannot, in terms of drawing an enormous crowd, keeping that crowd fired up. He knows how to build the rhetorical crest and all of that stuff.

MATTHEWS: How about this thing?


MATTHEWS: The birther thing, you know, it`s great stuff.

GEARAN: And he`s kind of the conductor. He looks like -- I think we should score music to...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

But I`m just saying, because the question raised in the papers this morning, your paper, too, I guess, was, can he continue without hurting her? And if he goes that way, he can.

CORN: Yes. Well, this is his decision to make. And you talk to his advisers today, as people around here have done, and they keep saying, there is a path, we can win the next few states, and we can bring it all the way up to California and win California and squeak by her.

I don`t know if that is...

MATTHEWS: Can you do that with a relatively positive anti-Trump campaign?

CORN: I don`t think you can do that by sticking to the high road, without really mixing it up with Hillary and trying to bring her down.

So, this is the big decision that he and his team have to make relatively soon.

MATTHEWS: What do you think his motivation is right now? He has had a hard time. He was hoping to have a political revolution. He was hoping to really roll the score up, and beat her in these industrial states especially.

GEARAN: Sure. Sure. And he had a bad night last night. He was hoping to have a real moment last night that would build on Michigan, that would show a path, that would show a clear way that he can keep going with a real rationale, and at least a plausible or almost plausible argument that he has the momentum to be able to keep going.

MATTHEWS: Yes. So now?

GEARAN: So, he got stuck. He got stopped last night.

And he is not going to leave the race for any time soon. Why would he? The longer he stays in, the more leverage he has, the more ability he has to affect the outcome. The question, though, is exactly as you say. Can - - will he decide to go negative on her as the -- kind of as that path?

MATTHEWS: Some permanent wounds. GEARAN: Which I think is why Robby Mook, the campaign manager, came out very pointedly on that today. He issued this memo today, the very first point of which was that Sanders had spent all this money, and didn`t get anywhere in Ohio, and that -- and had run a negative ad that backfired.

CORN: Bernie still gets a lot of credit for changing the tone of the campaign, pulling Hillary Clinton towards...


MATTHEWS: "Enough about the e-mails."

CORN: And so, you know, he has gotten a lot of what he has wanted. He has affected -- here`s an independent Democratic socialist senator from the state of Vermont who has shaped the whole national political discourse.

That`s tremendous. He wants to probably do more of that. I don`t think he cares about a Cabinet position or an ambassadorship.


CORN: Maybe he wants a highway in Vermont.

MATTHEWS: Well, Hillary and her camp has to figure out how to deal with some of the truths that has emerged with, the stuff the makes sense, and also grab all those neocons who are going to look for a new home now.

CORN: Well, they need some...


MATTHEWS: Because they ain`t going to be for Trump.

Anyway, Anne Gearan -- or let the Republicans split. That could work for her too. But it wouldn`t be good for the country.

David Corn, thank you. Anne Gearan, thank you.

Up next: Supreme Court showdown. President Obama offers a judge with past bipartisan backing, and Republicans are already vowing not to even consider him for the high court. I will speak to two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee right away, in about a minute.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


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

President Obama issued an order stopping new sanctions on North Korea in response to the country`s recent nuclear and ballistic activities.

Officials say today`s shutdown of the D.C. Metro rail system for safety checks was necessary. The system is expected to reopen tomorrow, though some stations that require repairs may remain closed.

And the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged and cut the number of anticipated rate hikes for the year to two from four. It also expects two increases in 2017 -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the battle has now officially begun with Senate Republicans and President Obama over the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The GOP leadership have set up a blockade against the nomination, saying they won`t even offer courtesy meetings with Judge Garland, who was introduced today by President Obama in the Rose Garden.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they`re disposable, this is precisely the time when we should play it straight, and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves, because our Supreme Court really is unique.

It`s supposed to be above politics. It has to be. And it should stay that way.


MATTHEWS: Judge Garland currently serves in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and he`s a Harvard-trained lawyer and veteran judge who is considered eminently qualified by everybody, apparently.

Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor of the Senate to denounce Obama`s decision. Here he is.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It is the president`s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice. And it is the Senate`s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.

It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination, not, not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.


MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a squeeze play between the White House and Republican leaders, who vowed at the start of his term to thwart President Obama at every turn, and Republican senators like Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rob Portman in Ohio, who are all in tough fights to keep their seats right now.

Anyway, joining me right now is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both Democrats who are on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Klobuchar, it looks to me like this puts these five senators that I have mentioned who are up for reelection in purple states on the hot seat. But how do you force them to force their leadership to allow true consideration of this nomination?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Well, I think, first of all, Chris, you have seen a number of senators, including Senator Collins, who actually said today she has to do her job.

She has agreed to meet with this great nominee, Judge Garland. You have Senator Flake has agreed to meet with the nominee. And I think, as the people of the country get to know Judge Garland, here is someone who gave up some fancy job in a law firm and went to work in a room without a window in the Justice Department, rose up there to oversee the two biggest criminal cases of the last century, the Unabomber, and then the Oklahoma City bombing.

He did that. And has an incredible reputation. He bucks the trends often on the court and does what he thinks is right. And I know several of these -- I was there for the last two confirmation hearings. Several Republicans have said to me, even when they voted against Justice Sotomayor or Justice Kagan, well, Judge Garland, he`s different.

And so I think when those stories start coming out and you see the Republicans that have voted for him before, Senator McCain, Senator Hatch, Senator Collins, Senator Cochran, I mean, you go through the list, there`s a number of them still in the Senate.

And I think it going to be hard for our colleagues not to even meet with him, but have a hearing. You don`t have to vote for him. But at least give this great public servant the hearing that he deserves.

MATTHEWS: Well, well said.

Senator Blumenthal, you already have the issue. And I think your colleague spelled it out. You have the issue. You have got a very qualified candidate who should be given consideration, and probably confirmation in normal times. But how do you get a confirmation, 60 votes, at a time when the other side has set up this barricade against any nomination, even up to the point of just not even meeting the people, meeting the new nominee?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He is, as you have said, Chris, eminently qualified.

And, number two, the position that the majority leader has taken is simply unsustainable. As a former law clerk on the United States Supreme Court and a prosecutor who has argued four cases before the court, I have immense respect, in fact, reference for the court.

And I think that sense is shared basically by the American people, who will heed the president`s sentiment that the court should not be dragged down into the ordinary morass and muck of partisan politics.

And here is the essential point. The American people are fed up with Washington, because it can`t get things done, because it shuts down the government, because it is gridlocked. And here, again, the Republicans in fact are shutting down the government, effectively.

And I think that will really resonate in some of those races that you mentioned, Chris. And I think that they will, in turn, those endangered or at-risk Republicans will see the folly of this stance, which will only guarantee a more progressive justice appointed by the next president, if Judge Garland is not confirmed.

MATTHEWS: That`s interesting. So, the Republicans will get someone they like much less.

Anyway, for months, Republicans raised the rhetoric on the nominee fight. Senator Lindsey Graham said on "Meet the Press" in February this year he wouldn`t even vote for himself. Let`s listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think we should let the next president decide. The person I admire the most is me, and he you nominated me, I wouldn`t vote for me this year.


MATTHEWS: There`s an honest statement.

Anyway, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt said the nomination should be stalled until after the presidential election this November, insisting -- quote -- "Even if the president nominated my daughter, who is a lawyer, to the Supreme Court, I think the American people ought to get to vote and decide if they would like to see my daughter on the Supreme Court."

Senator Klobuchar, back to you. It seems to me that what Republicans want to do is have one big roll of the dice. The voters, the American people should pick the president who should fill the Supreme Court out.

And, on the other hand, you look at it the way that Senator Blumenthal just said. No, what we`re seeing here is a shutdown of the judicial branch, just like we have seen the legislative branch shut down by people like Ted Cruz. Now they`re going to another level, escalating the shutdown to the courts.

It`s -- I just don`t know you get to 50 Republicans who aren`t up for reelection, who don`t have to worry about this, to move, led by Mitch McConnell. It looks like he wants to be where is he at.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, Chris, two-thirds of the American people want to go forward and have a hearing.

The president noted that today when we were in the Rose Garden, two-thirds of the American people. And you look at history. You go back to 1916. There`s always been a hearing for a presidential nominee since we have had hearings.

And so I think you have history on our side. You have the public on our side. And now you have an excellent nominee. And the people are going to say, come on, you`re not going give the guy that supervised the Oklahoma City bombing cases, this great prosecutor, this esteemed judge, you`re not going to give a hearing?

And I actually detected that today when they -- when the president put forward Judge Garland and he stood before that beautiful day with that sun shining down, and he choked up a bit. And I thought, you know what? He not only has been nominated for this incredible job on the highest court of the land, but he actually has the burden of representing this simple notion that we have an independent judiciary.

And our job as the Senate is to fund them. It`s to make sure that we advise and consent under the Constitution. But we are not supposed to stop that branch from functioning.

MATTHEWS: You`re right. He also came across as a mensch, a nice guy. Choking up was not faked.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Senator Blumenthal, thank you, sir.

Thank you, Senator Klobuchar.

Still ahead: Trump wins big last night. Kasich hangs on. And Cruz, well, that`s not hard for him. He says he is going to keep up the fight. The guy always fights. But with the Republican establishment unhappy about their front-runner now, where do the anti-Trump voters actually go?

The roundtable is coming here next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



Donald Trump keeping up the drum beat, making the case that this is his nomination to win and if the party tries to take it away, there will be a revolt, a riot, as he put it.

Today on FOX News, Trump said he wouldn`t attend the network`s debate schedule for Monday. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we`ve had enough debates. We`ve had 11 or 12 debates. I did really well in the last one. I think I`ve done well. I mean, according to Drudge and everybody else, I won the debates. But I think we`ve had enough.

How many times can the same people ask you the same question. So I was very surprised when I heard that FOX called for a debate. Nobody told me about it. And I won`t there, no.


MATTHEWS: Well, a short time later, the Kasich campaign put out a statement essentially saying if Trump doesn`t show, neither will Kasich. By this afternoon, the Republican National Committee and FOX announced the debate has been canceled.

Meanwhile, the front-runner, that`s Trump, says if he falls short of delegates and the party tries to deny him the nomination at the convention, there could be riots. That was the words he used.

I`m joined right now by tonight`s roundtable, HARDBALL roundtable, April Ryan, of course, Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, Ruth Marcus is a columnist for "The Washington Post," and Francesca Chambers is White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail".

I want to start across the board the other way, this time, Francesca. Trump is the boss now and acting like one.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, THE DAILY MAIL: Well, if I were Donald Trump, I wouldn`t want to debate again either. It mostly consists of them all beating up on him and him having to defend himself, Trump University and all these other things.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about saying there will be riots if I don`t get the nomination, even if I`m only have most of the votes, I don`t even -- I don`t need to have the majority, he is saying.

GRAHAM: Well, I think it`s true, there are a lot of people in America who supported Donald Trump, who would be very upset if he got that close to the nomination, and then John Kasich tried to swoop in and take it from him on the floor, which Kasich is being very open about, like that`s his plan. He is not being -- he is not hiding it, Chris.

MATTHEWS: The picture attached to it. We know what a riot looks like, at his rallies.

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: We know what riots look like at his rallies, and we know what riots look like at conventions. And we do not want -- I mean, we, America should not want that, and American candidates for presidents should not be encouraging that.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen those pictures like countries like South Korea, where democracy --

MARCUS: In the parliament, yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s like a hockey game.

MARCUS: Well, I guess we had caning on the Senate floor.

MATTHEWS: That was 1848.

MARCUS: I guess we`ll be back to the future, right?

MATTHEWS: I just don`t know what this guy riot, the word "riot" sounds like he`s threatening. I mean, he`s just using hyperbole, I don`t know.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: Well, you know, we saw very early on when he started speaking, there was a homeless man was peed and spat upon.

MATTHEWS: For what?

RYAN: Because they used the name Donald Trump. This is was for Donald Trump. This was early on, a couple of months back. Look at what is happening. The words are getting stronger.

MATTHEWS: You mean some other occasion, not when Trump was around.

RYAN: No, no, not where Trump was, a couple of months back. Early on --

MATTHEWS: So, he`s turning on the ugly.

RYAN: There is a portion of America that is giving into the ugly side of themselves. And, unfortunately, you know, when I hear from the Secret Service who`s covering Donald Trump or watching him and watching these rallies, they`re saying there is anger there. They were saying this before the South Carolina primaries.

MATTHEWS: OK, takes two to tango, or whatever. Takes two to tango as well.

What do you make, Ruth, of these Republicans on the other side acting like Trump didn`t win, hasn`t been winning, they act like, oh, that`s just his numbers out there, we`ll bring in Paul Ryan? I mean, what -- are you kidding me? That`s an insult for every voter who has shown up at the booth since the beginning of this year. We`re going to find somebody who never even ran.

MARCUS: Sure. I think -- Trump should not be encouraging or imagining riots. I also think the Republican Party, like all parties, has rules. Their rules are 1,237 delegates, if he short of 1,237, it`s legitimate to have a --

MATTHEWS: When has that ever happened?

MARCUS: Well, we`ve been looking for it for years, right, but the Republican --

MATTHEWS: In `52, come on, last guy that ran the primaries, and beat Stevenson.

MARCUS: The Republican Party looks for that and it`s also fair, the point that you`re making is that, kind of want somebody who has won some delegates who emerges as a potential --

CHAMBERS: Which is the Kasich -- exactly, the Kasich argument, which is that I have won a lot of the delegates, so I should be considered. Or the Cruz argument or the argument that maybe they`ll come together and possibly make some sort of a deal here.

I thought it was really interesting, today, though, that John Kasich was asked about that, right? Will they be talking and working together to start the situation? And he`s like, I`m not a political operative. I`m just a candidate and I`m just --

RYAN: Kasich has a point. I mean, he can talk right now, because he has gotten 66 delegates. Ohio was a big win for Kasich and Trump wanted that. Trump wanted that. Kasich had a target. He wanted it.

MATTHEWS: What will it get him, HUD?

RYAN: It might.


MATTHEWS: Much more at the roundtable ahead. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: New numbers on general election matchups in Pennsylvania. Let`s check out the scoreboard.

According to a new poll from Mercyhurst University, the two frontrunners go head to head, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton matchup, Clinton leads now. It`s Clinton 43, Trump 35, an eight-point spread.

If Clinton she faces Ted Cruz, she`s also up, but the margin narrows, it`s only Clinton 45, Cruz 42.

Only one candidate beats Clinton in Pennsylvania, guess who? That`s neighboring governor, John Kasich. If it`s Clinton versus Kasich, he takes 49 percent to Clinton`s 36 percent.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back now with more on today`s Supreme Court announcement from President Obama. For weeks, Republican leaders had vowed to block any nomination President Obama put forward, and they are standing by that commitment. Today, now that the president has chosen Merrick Garland for the post, Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking member, Democratic member on the Judiciary Committee, said today that kind of blind rejection fits a pattern.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: What they`re saying is the president didn`t win the election last time by 5 million votes. This is the same kind of thing we`ve heard from them for all these years. The president really wasn`t born in Hawaii.

Come on. Stop the nonsense. Stop the games. Let`s start following the Constitution.


MATTHEWS: Yes, what was like Clint Eastwood saying, feeling lucky?

Anyway, April, Ruth, and Francesca are still with me.

April, this thing -- this question, I think -- do you think people look at this as another one of those boots in the face to the president on the racial front? First of all, he`s a birther, he`s not legitimate. Now, we`re not going to give him a chance to name a Supreme Court nominee.

RYAN: Of course, yes, I call it black-lash. You know, he is the first black president and there`s a segment in society, and even some on the Hill who don`t like the fact he`s there and he almost finished his term. They don`t want him to have a legacy piece.

But what this president is doing, he`s put forth a conservative, someone who is fitting more so for the job, more so than fitting. He dealt with issues in Oklahoma City. I mean, that was one of our first terrorist attacks on the ground. He is capable.

And what the president is doing, he`s trying to humiliate the GOP because if they don`t put forward his nominee or talk to him, they look back.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s a prosecutor, not an ACLU lawyer, this guy. He`s not a left.

MARCUS: I think it may go too far to call him conservative.

MATTHEWS: Prosecutorial background.

MARCUS: He`s very judicious.

RYAN: He`s not liberal. He`s not as liberal as Thurgood Marshall.

MARCUS: I have to disagree with April on the racial component here, with all due are respect.


MARCUS: I have zero doubt if Barack Obama were Barack Obama with an apostrophe --

RYAN: Barack Hussein Obama.

MATTHEWS: You`re getting into the fact that tomorrow is St. Patrick`s Day.

MARCUS: Indeed, it is.

RYAN: My last name is Ryan, so I`m Irish, too.

MARCUS: There you go.

MATTHEWS: Accept you completely.

MARCUS: The Republican obstructionism that I`m not endorsing, I think it`s outrageous, would be just as forceful. I think it has very -- this one has very little to do with skin color and everything to do with politics.

MATTHEWS: You do believe what April just said, they really feel -- the bar`s been changed, like it often is accused of being changed for black people, just to change the rules. These are not the usual rules. This disdain they have for their appointment.

MARCUS: We can all agree there`s a change in rules.

MATTHEWS: Francesca, there`s an ugly aspect to this, dismissal, just dismiss the guy, you know, nice try, buddy, you`re not going to get to pick a Supreme Court nominee.

CHAMBERS: Yes, what I was going to say in response to that was that they were going to oppose whoever he put up, whatever color that person was, they were going to oppose whoever that was, could have been black, could have been white, could have been Hindu --

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he go with a black woman?


MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he go with a black woman?

CHAMBERS: I think that`s an excellent --

MATTHEWS: There`s an answer to that question. What is it?

CHAMBERS: I think it`s an excellent question. I think part of it is because that person was never going to make it on the court.

MATTHEWS: Neither is this guy.

RYAN: Why wouldn`t she make it on the court because of race --

CHAMBERS: No, because Republicans would have pushed back. This at least preserves those options potentially if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders --


RYAN: A lot of policy.

CHAMBERS: -- were to win, anyone else could still potentially be on the court.

MATTHEWS: Anything the president does, whatever side he`s on, there`s always guile. I see it here. He`s going to make the Republicans look bad.

Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

And up next, these people tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

April, tell me something I don`t know.

RYAN: President Obama understanding the racial component when it comes to this nomination for the Supreme Court pick. Right after he was in the Rose Garden, he met with a group of leaders, union leaders, African-American leaders, Hispanic leaders, as well as Asian-American leaders in the Roosevelt Room to once again reaffirm the reason why he chose Merrick Garland.

MATTHEWS: Which was?

RYAN: Because he stands the test of time and because of his background and that`s what he`s saying. He understood, he took letters from the constituency like the Congressional Black Caucus, black women`s roundtable asking for a black woman or an African-American.


MARCUS: Republican senators who are up for re-election are already thinking about their version of triangulation which is that they are going to need, if Donald Trump is the nominee, in particular, to separate themselves from the prospect of a President Trump and instead of embracing the top of the ticket, they`re going to argue that it shows the importance of retaining a Republican Senate in order to be a bulwark, against yes, you got it, President Clinton.

MATTHEWS: You`ve seen this statistics on what happens in Senate races when we have a presidential election 90 percent of the time. They vote with the presidential.

MARCUS: They can only argue what they can argue.

MATTHEWS: Francesca?

CHAMBERS: Bernie Sanders` campaign says that it`s only halftime in this race, that only half of the pledged delegates have been given out. They`re going to move westward now in areas they think Senator Sanders will do better in. Idaho and Washington they say are looking very good for them as well as Utah. So, it`s not over yet, Chris, is what they`re telling reporters on the call today.

MATTHEWS: Those are delegate-packed states.

Anyway, thank you, April Ryan, Ruth Marcus, Francesca Chambers.

That does it for me and HARDBALL tonight.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.