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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/25/2016

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Tom Davis, Tara Maller, Nayyera Haq, Tad Devine, Colleen McCain Nelson, Eli Stokols, Jay Newton-Small

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 25, 2016Guest: Michelle Bernard, Tom Davis, Tara Maller, Nayyera Haq, Tad Devine, Colleen McCain Nelson, Eli Stokols, Jay Newton-Small CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Rat pack. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. A Republican campaign that reached the bottom yesterday is now being fought in the sewers. First, it was a smear campaign pitting one candidate against the other`s spouse. Well, today, it descended to a battle of rats. It began with that on-line ad put out by the anti-Trump super-PAC showing Donald Trump`s wife, Melania, in an old glamour shot for "GQ." The ad urged its targeted audience of Utah Mormons to vote for Ted Cruz. Trump reacted with an ominous warning to Cruz that he was ready to "spill the beans," as he put it on Cruz`s wife, Heidi. Well, then Trump doubled down by putting out a split screen of an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz matched against a glossy photo of Melania Trump, a former model. Well, today, Ted Cruz accused a Trump advocate of planting a negative story about him that alleges marital infidelity, a story denied on the record by several women. Well, Ted Cruz firmly denied the allegation on social media and again with reporters today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a story that quoted one source on the record, Roger Stone, Donald Trump`s chief political adviser. Let me be clear. This "National Enquirer" story is garbage. It is complete and utter lies. It is a tabloid smear. It`s not surprising that Donald Trump`s tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out. And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him. He`s a man for whom a term was coined for copulating with a rodent. Well, let me be clear. Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him. And this garbage does not belong in politics. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, in a campaign statement today, Donald Trump said he had nothing do with that "National Enquirer" story. I`m joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa of "The Washington Post," Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, and former Virginia U.S. congressman Tom Davis. Thank you. Robert, give us -- this is pretty dirty stuff, but what -- are there any facts here about how this story got into "The National Enquirer," any stories about -- and I don`t even believe any of those stories until somebody else proves them because I don`t believe "The Enquirer`s a source for facts. But where are we this, anywhere but just smear back and forth, attack back and forth? ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No facts, no evidence. "The Washington Post" has been trying to report out this story just to understand what`s going on, and there is no evidence of anything close to "The National Enquirer" at all at this moment. This a campaign that has really devolved, and we`re watching it unfold in real time. MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump issued this statement, denying any involvement with the story today -- in other words, he didn`t plant it. "I have no idea whether or not the cover story about Ted Cruz in this week`s issue of `The National Enquirer` is true or not, but I had absolutely nothing do with it. Did not know about it and have not, as yet, read it. Ted Cruz`s problem with `The National Enquirer` is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards and many others, I certainly hope that they are not right about lyin` Ted Cruz." Well, that is the most ridiculous statement. He, of course, is hoping it is right, Robert. Why would he even say, I hope they`re not right about my opponent, the lyin` Ted Cruz, as he put it? COSTA: We`re just days away from the Wisconsin primary, and these two campaigns are at odds at each in a way that`s -- it`s almost historic, the nastiness between Cruz and Trump, a personal animus. And that`s animating the entire campaign. And I think when you look at Trump`s social media activity, he -- it does -- has not brought evidence to the fore about Cruz at all, but he is certainly not shutting down "The National Enquirer" story. And I think that`s a statement of the rivalry between both of these men. MATTHEWS: Now, Roger Stone is a well-known figure in political circles. He`s -- he`s a -- he does inside jobs. Let`s put it that way. And he also... COSTA: He`s a Nixon... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: ... you don`t want to put on television. Yes, he`s a Nixon guy. He does stuff that don`t want to put on television, but he knows what he`s doing. The question -- is there any reason to believe that he is the source of that story in "The National Enquirer"? If he was, why would he put his name in it and why would -- why would "The National Enquirer" put him on as some sort of commentator on the story, rather than the source? Would that be legitimate to do that, even for them? COSTA: Here`s what I can report about Roger Stone. He still is in regular contact with Donald Trump, but he is not part of the Trump campaign in any formal way. And he actually left the Trump campaign last year, but he`s still a long-time confidant, and he`s someone Trump is -- you could call him a Trump associate in a casual way. And he was the lone person quoted in the "National Enquirer" story. So this is someone with long ties to Donald Trump, is not part of the Donald Trump campaign. MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Ted Cruz`s response. Obviously, when your wife`s attacked, on her looks, is basically the way that thing was set up -- although she`s an attractive woman, they found a very unattractive picture and they whacked her on that. In this whole thing about Cruz and his infidelities, according to "The National Enquirer," nobody believes that until there`s some evidence in the real world of any problem like that. Does this seem to be a "National Enquirer" to you or a Trump story? Where did it all come from? Can you tell now, at this point, trump sourced or enterprised by "The National Enquirer"? COSTA: In politics, when you`re a political reporter, things are floated to you all the time, and 99 out of 100 times, nothing without evidence ever floats to the top of the national political conversation. So it`s odd to see something that has no evidence that is a "National Enquirer" story that purports to know of five women. To even be talking about it is strange because there are no actual facts and evidence. MATTHEWS: Robert -- how is this going to affect the Wisconsin primary on the 5th of April, coming up pretty soon? COSTA: Wisconsin`s a state that`s very conservative, socially conservative. You look at the Milwaukee suburbs. That`s a group that has elected an evangelical Republican like Scott Walker. They care about issues. They care about social issues. And they also -- I think this nastiness is going to influence that contest. MATTHEWS: Stay with us, Robert. Let me bring in Michelle on this one, and Michelle and Tom, in that order. What do you make of this? I mean, I don`t even like quoting "The National Enquirer," but then the way it works in the media -- and I don`t like it, but it does -- once Cruz reacts to it and makes a big bold statement with all the language he used -- it`s provocative language that we have to be careful about using ourselves -- what do you say? He`s in the fight? He wanted to respond to it. MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER FOR WOMEN: He`s in the fight. It is now part of the -- you know, of the national discourse on both sides, you know? And I`m still so taken aback by the level of the discourse and the fact that we are even having this discussion and having it at a national level. Donald Trump, whether he placed the story or not, or was somehow involved, you know, it almost -- I`m wondering to the extent the Trump campaign believes that he`s now running for the general and this is going to help him. Donald Trump has made a career during this campaign season of appealing to people who feel marginalized, and what we have seen, if you take a look at some of the reporting elsewhere, is the advent of these men`s rights groups who feel marginalized, they completely support Donald Trump. MATTHEWS: Yes. BERNARD: They love this. They love the picture of his wife. MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to what we think might be marginally true here. Roger Stone loved to be interviewed by "The National Enquirer." We know that. He loved being called and allowed to do a commentary about a piece. Suppose that`s all that was done here. By an associate of Trump`s jumping in and saying -- and basically helping to push the story by giving the quote -- is that grounds for Cruz to jump back at him and blame Trump? TOM DAVIS (R-VA), FMR. CONGRESSMAN: I think when you lie down with dogs, you get flees. And if you look at this campaign, every time that Trump drags somebody into the mud with him, they`ve got tarnished. I mean, Rubio`s undoing is when he got down in the mud and tried to take him head on. You can`t win that fight. I think Cruz should have stayed on top of this thing. Trump is already marginalized among a lot of voters. He should have been more... MATTHEWS: Could he have gotten away with that? You know politics. If he had ignored a "National Enquirer" piece coming out this week... DAVIS: You have to... MATTHEWS: Can you ignore it? DAVIS: You have to respond to this now. But this goes back a couple days in terms of trying to meet Trump at his own level. You`re not going to beat him at that. Let me just remind you of one thing. Wisconsin -- Russ Feingold won a three-way primary where he was trailing two weeks out with two front-runners going after each other and throwing mud, and he came up the middle as the clean guy. This is an opportunity for Kasich at this point, to say, Look how low this thing is. Don`t we feel bad about it? And come up through the middle. There`s a natural constituency... (CROSSTALK) BERNARD: Can I -- remember, Wisconsin is -- regardless of how conservative it is, there are also conservatives in Wisconsin who believe that the woman -- a woman`s proper place is in the home, that you get a good-looking wife, and she stays at home and she says nothing. Wisconsin is the state where... MATTHEWS: You mean Stepford wife? You make it sound that way! BERNARD: Look, Wisconsin is the state where they had a state legislator publicly state on the record during a discussion about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in Wisconsin, who said -- and I`m paraphrasing here, but very closely said, One could argue that money is more important to a man than a woman. So this entire Twitter war that is going on between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is appealing to men who believe exactly what that state legislator said. And I think there`s no coincidence that this is happening right before Wisconsin. DAVIS: This is about Waukesha County, the heavy suburban county outside of there, which is higher income, better educated, that this goes -- this doesn`t help anybody, to get in the mud. MATTHEWS: I know. These kind of personal attacks have the potential to further damage Trump`s support among women, of course. Our NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" polls finds that 70 percent nationwide had -- this is an amazing number -- had a negative view of Donald Trump, 70 percent. Among Republican women voting in the primaries, 47 percent said that they cannot imagine voting for Trump. The poll also shows that Trump may face devastating losses among women come November. In a hypothetical matchup between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Clinton would win almost double the vote among women, 58 to 31. Robert, thinking about this, the Clinton people over in Brooklyn, up there in New York -- are they sitting there somewhat enjoying this, thinking, My God, they`re just putting film together for us. They`re giving us tape for our ads for reference in news stories. We can just keep referring to Trump and his attitude towards women? COSTA: And it`s not just the Democrats in Brooklyn, it`s Democrats here in Washington, who look at the Senate map, they look at gubernatorial races, and even the House, Chris -- even the House of Representatives, which most people didn`t think months ago would be up and competitive. Now Democrats believe privately, and some of them publicly, that if Trump becomes the nominee and he turns off women to the extent that does in this current NBC poll, new places could be in play that they never thought. MATTHEWS: To me, Tom, it comes down to women being treated as they`re a auditioning to be runway models, and that Donald Trump will pick the latest, you know, and anybody else, he will diminish them as a human being. DAVIS: Yes. They`re... MATTHEWS: This is the way it comes across. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I thought Carly Fiorina, who was not a great candidate, was very good on that point when she said, Every woman in America knows what you meant when you knocked my looks. DAVIS: Well, that`s certainly true for working, educated women in particular. MATTHEWS: They don`t want to be judged that way. Who would? Anyway... BERNARD: Look... MATTHEWS: Last thought. BERNARD: We`ve got a gender gap. Women will elect the next president of the United States if anything is the same as it has been in the past, and I can see the commercials... MATTHEWS: So where are you on this politically? Where are you -- where are you going to go? I can ask you this question. BERNARD: Where am I going to go? MATTHEWS: Yes, you going to vote for Trump or are you going to vote for the alternative? BERNARD: Well, I`m going to vote for the alternative. And I can tell you right now, when the video comes out with men -- I`m just going to quote one person because I know we only have a minute -- but the man who supports Donald Trump who says that Heidi Cruz looks like a dog who needs to be put down -- that`s reported by the DailyBeast, or the man... MATTHEWS: Who`s this guy? BERNARD: These are from men`s rights groups affiliated with an organization called the Red Pill (ph)... (CROSSTALK) BERNARD: But listen -- and for the man who supports Donald Trump that says Melania Trump looks like a good first lady, you know, to me, Bill Clinton would not have been having, you know, an affair with the secretary at the White House -- if the first lady looked like that -- every woman who sees those commercials and sees people like that speak will be running... MATTHEWS: Whose commercials are these? BERNARD: ... to vote for Hillary Clinton. MATTHEWS: Who (INAUDIBLE) BERNARD: Whoever -- whatever super-PAC or concerned citizen is going to put these things together... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You`re feeding the idea out there right now! BERNARD: I tell you, I would -- would take... MATTHEWS: I think you`re right. BERNARD: ... a quick sprint to Hillary Clinton. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Robert Costa. Thank you, Tom Davison. (sic) Thank you, Michelle Bernard, for declaring. And as Tom said, John Kasich is looking to break through this ugly fight between Trump and Cruz and possibly win Wisconsin. Governor Kasich will be my guest Monday night here on HARDBALL. Coming up -- with just over a week go to before the critical Wisconsin primary, could Bernie Sanders actually topple Hillary Clinton and win the Democratic nomination? Well, it`s a long shot, but it still could happen. It really could. I`ll run these numbers. Plus, illuminating -- or eliminating ISIS (INAUDIBLE) just days after the attacks in Brussels, Defense Secretary Ash Carter says U.S. air strikes have killed the Islamic State`s second in command over in Syria. And it comes just as Republicans have ramped up their criticism that President Obama isn`t doing enough to defeat the terror network. And the HARDBALL roundtable tonight`s here with new reporting on that nasty fight between Trump and Cruz. Finally, "Let Me Finish" with that fandango between Trump and Cruz itself. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Wow. Coming up on Wednesday, Donald Trump will be my guest for a special MSNBC town hall from Green Bay, Wisconsin. What a dateline that`s going to be. (INAUDIBLE) he`ll be taking questions from voters just before the crucial Wisconsin primary on the 5th of April. Be sure to tune in Wednesday at a special time, 8:00 PM Eastern, for our town hall with Donald Trump right here on MSNBC. HARDBALL returns right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Pentagon announced today that a major ISIS leader has been killed. Here was defense Secretary Ashton Carter this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are systematically eliminating ISIL`s cabinet. Indeed, the U.S. military killed several key ISIL terrorists this week, including, we believe, Haji Iman (ph), who was an ISIL leader, senior leader, serving as a finance minister and who also was responsible for some external affairs. The removal of this ISIL leader will hamper the organization`s ability to conduct operations both inside and outside of Iraq and Syria. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, Haji Iman has been described as the organization`s second in command and operations head. NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel broke the news this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: American special operations forces yesterday morning conducted a commando raid, stopping the car of the ISIS second in command, who`s generally known as Haji Iman, a person who ran the day-to-day operations of ISIS. American commandos first tried to arrest him. The situation escalated, and Haji Iman and three others in that vehicle in Syria were killed. This is a serious intelligence victory. The U.S. clearly has a lot of information, how to find the top ISIS leaders, and after yesterday`s action, the will to go into Syria on a very dangerous mission and kill them. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: For more on today`s news, I`m joined by NBC News terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann, Tara Maller, a former CIA analyst, and Nayyera Haq, a former State Department spokeswoman. Let me go right now to Tara, first of all. You start. What do we -- what -- what good does it do -- well, first of all, how hard is to kill one of these guys? What effect does it have on the -- on ISIS itself as a powerful organization? TARA MALLER, FMR. CIA MILITARY ANALYST: Sure. First of all, they wanted to capture him. That also came out today. It said that they wanted to try to capture him. We don`t know exactly what happened or if something went wrong or if security was at stake. So they ended up taking him out. They probably wanted to capture him for intelligence. The effect that it will have -- it`s necessary to do this. It`s not sufficient. The organization will replace him. There are cells in other parts in the world that are going to operate with or without the second in charge of ISIS. But it`s a blow to the group. You need to take back their territory. You need to take out their leaders. But it`s going to be a -- there`s going to be a time lag until you see this having implications on ISIS`s capabilities both within Iraq and Syria, and then let alone in terms of their recruitment capabilities in other parts of the world. MATTHEWS: Well, why don`t you try this, Nayyera? How do you take an airplane -- how many -- were there helicopters went in and did it? OK, they -- they arrived. Didn`t anybody see them coming? Didn`t anybody -- don`t they have the capability to shoot them down? Don`t they have triple-A fire? I mean, how do you -- how did- how did this happen? NAYYERA HAQ, FMR. STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: Well, this is part of the value of having intelligence cooperation on the ground and having a full coalition. so this is not just a U.S.-led effort. The effort against ISIL has 60 -- more than 60 countries involved, with local representatives. And the Arab communities regionally are also working to stabilize the region and combat ISIS. This is a coalition effort. And that`s key to being able to execute these types of raids and these types of high-profile target captures. MATTHEWS: Evan, give us a sense of what you think it looked like, this operation. EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, look, there`s been a number of these operations where special forces have been involved, trying to track down senior ISIS members. And the truth is, it`s not that easy to capture these folks alive. They`re usually surrounded by bodyguards. They`re usually heavily harmed. And they also are aware that if they`re captured, it`s very likely that information is in their possession will be used by the U.S. to track down further individuals. So, look, there is no doubt this was planned. I`m sure they were already prepared for the likelihood that this guy was not going to be captured alive. MATTHEWS: Was he in a car? Was he in a motorcade or was he in a building? Do we know? KOHLMANN: We don`t really know right now. There is reports that he was in a vehicle and traveling, but there`s a lot about this we don`t know. And it`s important to emphasize here that this is not the end-all be-all of ISIS. Back in 2010, we killed the number one, number two and number three guy, all at the same time. And, you know, two years later, ISIS took over Mosul. It`s important to emphasize the impact is not negligible, but this is not going to stop terrorist attacks from happening in Belgium. MATTHEWS: Well, President Obama, who was on a diplomatic mission in Cuba and Argentina this week, as we all know, came under criticism for not cutting the trip shorter after the Brussels attacks the other day. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While our friends and allies are attacked by radical Islamic terrorists, President Obama is spending his time going to baseball games with the Castros and standing at a press conference with Raul Castro as a prop. RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It`s outrageous that the president of the United States is not in the Situation Room right now planning to destroy ISIS. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are watching an Islamic State that is unfolding their campaign plan in front of our eyes, and we see the president doing waves down at a baseball stadium in Havana. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a time when we have a crisis, is that the impression he wants to convey? He is a great dancer, and maybe he didn`t want to change his plans, but I`m not so sure he should be doing that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Do you think there a connection here? I remember years ago, when they killed Osama bin Laden, and the president was that weekend sort of entertaining us at the Correspondent Dinner, he didn`t seem to have to be there to get it done. MALLER: Look, I think, for political optics, you make the argument that maybe they want to be a little bit more careful about the types of activities. But, realistically, every president during times of crisis still engages in the normal trips they have planned, the normal activities they have planned. Online, there were some articles showing what Reagan had done during various crises, what Kennedy have done, and they have done sort of recreational activities. They need the downtime. And to be honest, they`re having their intelligence briefings wherever they are. They have a person that travels with them. They`re getting their PDB updates. They`re in touch with the military. MATTHEWS: Presidential daily briefing. MALLER: Their presidential daily briefing. So he`s getting and doing all the things he would be doing in the White House. MATTHEWS: Could it be the president is showing he`s debonair in handling the affairs of state as he normally would without any sign that he`s engaged is another smack to the enemy? HAQ: It I showing certainly that he is being presidential, and he`s able to operate on multiple cylinders at the same time. Opening doors in Cuba, after 50 years, and building the relationship is also essential to the American economy. And similarly, in Argentina, you cannot simply drop everything for one moment. Now, this is part of what the presidential candidates on the other side would like to think that there is only one thing you do at one time, but I like seeing a president who is able to operate on multiple cylinders. MATTHEWS: So, he can chew gum and walk at the same time. HAQ: Walk and chew gum at the same time. MATTHEWS: Anyway, I would ask you, Evan, the same question, because Charles Krauthammer, who I read religiously, even if I disagree with a lot of the time, said he should have stayed on the trip, but he should have skipped the ball game. What do you think? KOHLMANN: Well, look, number one, this was a terrorist attack that did not occur in the United States. Had this been a terrorist attack that occurred in the United States or specifically targeting American nationals, maybe it would be different. But I think the real question is, what are the alternatives being offered here? The Republicans seem to be feeling like the president should be taking more firm action, but they don`t want to authorize him to use force or to put ground forces inside of Syria. The suggestion that`s been proffered by two leading Republican presidential candidates has been to patrol Muslim neighborhoods or prevent all Muslims from coming to the United States. And that makes a lot of sense, given that at a time where we`re trying to secure the trust and cooperation and goodwill of Muslims, we want to alienate and antagonize them. It makes perfect sense. I don`t believe that they think this is really a solution. They`re feeding this as populist propaganda. If they do believe this, they have no business being elected president of the United States. There are no Muslim neighborhoods in the United States. This is not Belgium. And Muslim neighborhoods? What about Dearborn? Those are Shiite Muslims. Those are the worn enemy of ISIS. What possible good is patrolling those neighborhoods going to do? This is hogwash. It`s nonsense. These are not answers. These are distractions. These people should be ashamed of themselves for wasting people`s time with this. MATTHEWS: Pretty well said there. Evan Kohlmann, thank you for coming on the program, as always. Tara Maller and, thank you, Nayyera Haq. Up next, path to victory? Bernie Sanders has racked up several wins, but can he overcome the Clinton machine right now? I`m going to speak to some top Sanders advisers, in fact, the one, Tad Devine, about how Bernie can pull it off yet. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening. Officials are hoping a wildfire that spread from Oklahoma into Kansas will be under control this weekend. It has been burned more than 620 square miles and it`s the largest blaze in Kansas history. Thousands of worshipers packed Saint Peter`s Basilica to solemnly mark Good Friday. And pope also presided over a candlelit procession at Rome`s Colosseum. And in about an hour, the Rolling Stones will play a free concert in Havana. The show comes days after President Obama`s historic visit to the island -- back to HARDBALL. MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hillary Clinton is well ahead of Bernie Sanders in the delegate count, but earlier this month, Nate Cohn of "The New York Times" mapped out how Sanders could still win the nomination. Cohn wrote: "Mr. Sanders should fare better over the second half of the primary season, after black voters gave Hillary Clinton such a big advantage in the first half. But the path to a majority of delegates is nonetheless a daunting one. He would need to win the remaining delegates by around a 58-42 percent margin" Sanders knows he will have to crush, of course, Clinton in states such as Wisconsin on April 5 and the delegate-rich states of California and New York. He promises to fight all the way to the convention in Philadelphia this summer, and is irked, Senator Sanders is, at the suggestion he should drop out for party unity. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, the major states that are going to be coming up in the next weeks and months will be California, the largest state in our country, and New York state. We`re working hard in those states. And we think we have a good chance to win. Why in God`s name would we not give the people of New York state and California the right to determine and voice their opinion as to who the Democratic nominee would be? That`s absurd. Of course, we would. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: And Senator Sanders is getting a boost from progressive icon Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who told the Associated Press yesterday -- quote -- "He is out there. He fights from the heart. And this is who Bernie is. He has put the right issues on the table, both for the Democratic Party and for the country in general. So I`m still cheering Bernie on." That`s Elizabeth Warren. And she has not quite endorsed him, but that sounded pretty good. Anyway, joining me right now is Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign, and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post" Eugene Robinson. I`m going to let you two guys fish this thing out together. Tad, I do see this. What I have been saying on the air right now if you haven`t watched the last couple of days, I see Bernie Sanders started last week living off the land, as Jack Germond, the old pro, used to say. You win a couple, you live off of that for a couple of days. You win a couple more, you live off that for a couple more days. He did well last weekend. He won two out of three. This weekend, he may win three out of three, two of which, by the way, incidentally, are states Democrats could well carry in November. They matter a lot more. And then of course he can win in Wisconsin, and that will carry him into the big states. Give it your way. How do you see this happening? If lightning strikes and he becomes the nominee, how does he get to that pot of gold? How does he get there? TAD DEVINE, SENIOR BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, he gets there by winning states and winning delegates. And that`s precisely the path we`re on. Listen, the first half of the process I think was very good for Hillary Clinton. She had a lot of strength. We thought we had a way to win it early, and that meant we had to win Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. We came close, very -- we couldn`t have come closer. We had a historic victory in New Hampshire. We came up a little short in Nevada. After that, we decided if we`re going to stay in this thing, first, we have to demonstrate we can beat her on a statewide basis. We targeted five states on Super Tuesday. We won four of them, three the next weekend. The week after that, we tried to win delegates. We had a goal of 300. That`s about how many delegates we won on March 15. Now we have got to beat her in states in decisive battlegrounds. I think if we do that, not just tomorrow, but in Wisconsin, which is a critical general election battleground, I think we can have real momentum coming into New York and all the way to California, and if we win enough states, I think we can catch up in delegates, and then the Democrats are going to have to make a tough choice. Do you want to vote for Bernie Sanders, who I believe will be way ahead in general election polls, or are you going to stay with Hillary Clinton after she didn`t do well in the last half of the process? MATTHEWS: Gene? EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the difficult thing there in that plan, which is a real plan -- I mean, it could happen. But it`s kind of like pulling an inside straight, right? You got to win Wisconsin, got to do well in the big states. Got to catch up in delegates in order to start the wavering or the stampede of the superdelegates, right, because she has got a big lead there. MATTHEWS: Where is the toughest hill to climb? Is it New York on the 19th of April? When is it harder? (CROSSTALK) ROBINSON: The toughest hill for Bernie Sanders is the one that`s in front of you. So the toughest hill is Wisconsin right now. He has to climb Wisconsin and get over that one, and then he can worry about -- you are going to worry about California. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Wisconsin. And we talk about it. What do you make of it? First of all, Eugene, tell me. Well, tell me about Wisconsin. It has a history which is hard to figure sometimes. They had Feingold there. Now Feingold looks like the favorite, but they dumped him last time. How do you that read if he messed -- it`s a state that tends to go Democrat in a presidential year. ROBINSON: Exactly. It tends to go Democratic. Is Wisconsin a lot like Michigan? You know, it`s close to Michigan. I mean, you know, in some ways, it shares a lot of characteristics. That could be good for Bernie Sanders, but you don`t know. You don`t know. He has got a shot. He has got a shot there. MATTHEWS: Tad, give me your sense of what looks good for you in Wisconsin, because without that sine qua non, you have got to win that one. You have said that. Bernie has been saying that. So, how do you do it? How do you win Wisconsin? DEVINE: Well, what`s good in Wisconsin, Chris, is that it`s an open primary. Whenever we have had open primaries, beginning in New Hampshire, and independents can come in, Bernie does very, very well. He has been consistently beating Hillary with independents. And that`s one of the reasons he is doing so well in the general election matchup. And Wisconsin is also a place where reform is a very big issue, and the heart of Bernie`s campaign is to reform the system of campaign finance in America. So, I think the issues he is talking about, a rigged economy, a corrupt system of campaign finance, I think an open primary in Wisconsin, all of those things are very good for Bernie. MATTHEWS: And so that`s -- I think that`s always been his number. I always thought Citizens United was the great galvanizer. ROBINSON: Yes, it`s the great galvanizer. And people have really responded to Bernie Sanders` call for a political revolution. Think about it. A year ago, would you have predicted that Bernie Sanders would be where he is today? MATTHEWS: No. Tad may have. ROBINSON: It`s an extraordinary story. MATTHEWS: Tad may have. (LAUGHTER) ROBINSON: Well, Tad may have. I don`t know if Tad would have or not. MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about... ROBINSON: No, but we would be talking about this as a mega, huge political story, if it weren`t, to a certain extent, you know, drowned by the others. MATTHEWS: I have been around to know where the happy spots of the Democratic progressive side are, where people do come out even in the worst years. Jimmy Carter, running for reelection, you know where we had our best crowds the night we lost, the night before we lost? Oregon. Portland, Oregon and Seattle. I know that. It`s the left -- and that`s good. And these crowds are huge. And, by the way, Tad, would you explain this new poll that came out of Bloomberg that has your guy ahead by a point? Because, although it`s an outlier, what does it -- does it tell you something that is going on right now? I`m wondering. It has got Bernie ahead nationally right now. DEVINE: Yes, I don`t know if we`re ahead nationally, but I think that poll along with the CBS/"New York Times" poll earlier in the week, CNN/ORC poll earlier in the week, they`re all saying the same thing to me. And what they`re saying is that Hillary`s lead is diminishing nationally, that the excitement around her candidacy is evaporating very quickly, that people are looking for an alternative. And I think the big thing that is happening right now is, voters are going to say, listen, don`t take this voice away from me. I want to be able to make this choice myself. That`s a very powerful argument and I think we`re going to make it all the way to the end. MATTHEWS: I think your candidate made a great point when he said we ought to let California and New York vote. I always wonder why we have to let them vote last. You could at least let them vote. ROBINSON: Exactly. No, and I think it would -- Bernie Sanders would be doing a disservice to his many supporters in those states if he didn`t continue campaigning as long as he can He has the money. Here is the question, though. If at some point, perhaps before New York and California, but if he doesn`t pull the inside straight, if he is not -- if he doesn`t win Wisconsin, if it doesn`t like he is going to sweep the Northeast, and therefore he`s not going to be competitive with delegates, how does he campaign the rest of the way? And does he continue hitting Hillary Clinton, or does he campaign in more of a way to foster party unity? MATTHEWS: Well, we will leave that question for the next time we`re here with Tad. I have to say, though, as Joe Garagiola might have said, there`s a lot more baseball this afternoon. This game ain`t over yet. DEVINE: You`re right about that. MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. And thank you to Joe Garagiola. Thank you, Tad Devine. Thank you, Gene Robinson. Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable takes up our top story tonight, Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: So, yes or no? Will you vote for him if he`s nominee? SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will say this: I don`t make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family. (END VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: That`s gotten that bad. Welcome back to HARDBALL. After dodging for the last 24 hours, Ted Cruz suggested today, you heard him there, that he might not support Donald Trump if he does become the Republican presidential nominee. It comes after Cruz yesterday threw down the gauntlet, but then wavered on the very same question. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CRUZ: I don`t get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you`re sniveling coward, and leave Heidi the hell alone. REPORTER: So will you support him? CRUZ: I`m going to beat him for the nomination. REPORTER: That`s not answering the question, Senator. CRUZ: I am answering the question. Donald Trump will not be the nominee. REPORTER: He is leading right now. You look in the camera and said he is a coward. Will you support him as the nominee? CRUZ: Donald Trump will not be the nominee. Donald Trump is a gift wrapped in a pink little bow for the Democratic Party. It hands the general election to Hillary Clinton. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t answer the question, did he? From Hallie Jackson of NBC. Did he? He didn`t say whether he`d endorse Donald Trump of Trump becomes the nominee. I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable. Colleen McCain Nelson is White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal", Eli Stokols is national politics reporter with "Politico", and Jay Newton-Small is a correspondent with "Time" magazine. Jay, the question goes to you first. Great reporting question, she pushed him, she pushed him, he wouldn`t give an honest -- I mean a real answer. JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE: Uh-huh. And today, he`s all of a sudden changes his mind and basically says, well, you know what, I`m not going to support somebody who attacks my family, a guy who clearly just spent two days attacking his family, right, especially with these reports that, you know, smeared him in "The National Enquirer" and everything else. I mean, it`s clear. I mean, is he saying he`s not going to support him as a nominee? MATTHEWS: Trump has broken all the rules of civility here, putting out pictures of -- or retweeting, the latest phrase -- retweeting picture of his glamour wife with somebody of a picture of a terrible picture. When this guy comes out with the crocodile tears and I just thought it was such a performance art, it`s hard to really believe he is normal, Cruz is normal. Most people would react in a gut way, they wouldn`t give these Shakespearean responses. COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Fascinating progression for Ted Cruz, because we started early in the race with him, heaping praise on Donald Trump, and about their bromance. MATTHEWS: He was riding along with in a sidecar the whole time, you know? NELSON: Right. And so, then, he went on to say, well, I gave my word, I have to support the nominee, and then we saw what he said yesterday, and we saw him take a big step, today, to say I don`t make a habit of supporting people who attack my wife. He still didn`t say one simple word, with say no. You have to wonder what it would take to simply say the word no. MATTHEWS: Eli, how do you disaggregate this story? How do you even take it apart as an editor tonight putting a newspaper out tomorrow? How do you do it? Because somebody -- did somebody feed something from the Trump world about Ted Cruz to "The National Enquirer", and then Roger Stone had a chance to jump in as a commentator. Did somebody push that story? Did they enterprise that story? Is there any truth whatever to it? No evidence there is right now. And then, on that story, everything else is built today. Speaking, it`s hard for us to talk about it without mentioning "The National Enquirer," which we shouldn`t be doing. ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Well, and it`s all very murky. Where it came from, it looks like there might be some Trump fingerprints or finger prints from people close to Trump on that story. MATTHEWS: Because? STOKOLS: Because of the Roger Stone being sourced and quoted in the story, and also because of the fact that Trump has a relationship with the publisher of "The National Enquirer". So that`s what Cruz is pointing to when he is making the allegation and saying this probably came from Trump. MATTHEWS: What is the relationship? How tight? STOKOLS: Well, this is just another -- this is another media person in New York that Donald Trump knows. He has been in that town for 30 years. And I think it`s not a casual relationship. I mean, they know each other fairly well. But, again, you`re right. This doesn`t necessarily -- I mean, it is strange. The questions are for Cruz, they`re for Trump. Both of them seem to be back pedaling on this, and Trump can shrug his shoulders and say, I don`t know where it came from, but "The Enquirer" was right about John Edwards, and kind of, you know, people can make their own decision. And Ted Cruz doesn`t come of looking any better. Like you just talked about it. I mean, the performance, pointing in the camera, it looked like he practiced in his bathroom mirror 30 times that morning. And today -- MATTHEWS: I`m glad you said that. STOKOLS: -- to say, I don`t make a habit of supporting people who trash my wife. Come on. Like say you`re not going to support him anymore. Rubio did the same thing when he said, I`m going to fight Trump to the death, and then, will you support him? Yes, probably. MATTHEWS: He looked surprised -- Jay, he looked completely surprised that a reporter like Hallie Jackson would just ask him that. Like it was a double take. Nobody said you`re going to be asked, and then the minute you go out there, Senator, are you going to stick with your endorsement promise? NEWTON-SMALL: It`s just so bad for the female vote, the woman`s vote in all of this. Donald Trump doubles down, and he says, you know, Melania, like, you know, instead of being don`t objectify my wife, he doubles down and tweets, look how beautiful my wife is, right? He is objectifying her to women voters. And, Ted Cruz, he is coming out championing for his wife, but he`s also a guy who has used his wife as a prop in this campaign, never talks about her Goldman Sachs record, and talks about, you know, says her baking skills, you know. MATTHEWS: Colleen, what about, you can`t say anything about my two kids. Nobody said anything about his kids. He said my wife and my family. Is this some family value thing he is courting here? Where he defends someone who`s -- nobody went after his kids. NEWTON-SMALL: But that`s the whole point. This is appealing to religious voters, right? Ted Cruz is trying to be like, I`m picture perfect family, here`s my wife, here`s my kids, I`m defending the American way. MATTHEWS: OK, Let me try something to you. I don`t think everybody is a political junkie in this country. I figure, I don`t know anything about hockey and a few other things. I pay attention to movie and politics and a few other things. I figured the rest is covered. But here are people that figure we`re covering the politics and they`ll find out what they need by October 15th, they`ll start thinking about it and they`ll be patriotic and voting, right? I think a lot of women who are not covering this thing every night will hear about this. This is the kind of thing I think will seep out into the real world -- looks-ism, trashing people`s appearance. It was only really magic moment of Carly Fiorina`s campaign, when she said every woman in America will know what you just said. NELSON: Right. This is something that will reach the nonpolitical folks. It`s interesting, because Donald Trump is very tactical about this in his non-denial/denial, saying I wasn`t involved. MATTHEWS: I`m not saying John Edwards in that story, we maybe have to believe "The National Enquirer," because they were right there. That was pretty sneaky. NELSON: When he says, well, I don`t know if this is true, but it`s a cover story in "The National Enquirer", and he keeps repeating the name of the publication, in case you`re confused where you might be able to see it. So, he is pointing people in the direction. I hate to say anything will damage Donald Trump because he seems to be Teflon, but this is resurfacing a lot of things he said about women over the years, and so, people are re-visiting some of those things, and he has already, we already see polls showing that 70 percent of women have a negative view of Donald Trump. It`s not going to go up. MATTHEWS: The round table is sticking with us, and up next, they`re going to tell me something I don`t know. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Western voting swing continues tomorrow, with three more states up for grabs on the Democratic side. Votes will be cast in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state. Tune in at 5:00 p.m. when Ari Melber will be here to anchor our live coverage tomorrow starting at 5:00 p.m. That`s 5:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. And we`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back again with the HARDBALL round table. Colleen, tell me something I don`t know. Love that name, by the way. NELSON: Thank you. There`s a skirmish brewing behind the scenes between the two Democratic campaigns over debates, again. They had agreed to do two more debates. One`s supposed to be in April. One`s supposed to be in May -- MATTHEWS: In principle, yes. NELSON: In principle, right. But there`s no details -- MATTHEWS: Who doesn`t want to debate? NELSON: The Sanders campaign says they`re pushing for an April debate in New York. They say that Clinton wants it to be in Pennsylvania. They say that they don`t know why Clinton would be afraid to debate in New York when she was elected to the U.S. Senate there, her campaign headquarters are there. The Clinton campaign is not saying anything about the debates, but at this point, there are no debates on the calendar. MATTHEWS: It tells you what? Who`s more confident in Pennsylvania? Hillary more confident in Pennsylvania than New York? NELSON: Right. MATTHEWS: That`s what I think. Yes. Eli? STOKOLS: I think this week, one of the things, in my reporting, you come across talking all these Republicans, they`re lining up behind Ted Cruz. That`s the storyline. The guy who really drove the Tea Party and the base away from the establishment. The establishment`s giving him the keys to the castle. Don`t believe the hype. None of these people like Ted Cruz any more than they did a week ago. None of these people think he can win against Hillary Clinton any more than Donald Trump. What they look at him and see is the last train to the coast, the coast being Cleveland. They just want to get to this convention and then they may fold, they may throw Cruz under the bus -- MATTHEWS: Do they have a favorite in hiding? STOKOLS: I think anybody. Scott Walker has talked about this. There`s Romney. There`s Ryan. There`s all these people out there. But it`s just kind of let`s just open it up at the convention. So, don`t believe that everybody wants Ted Cruz to be the nominee. MATTHEWS: I like that thinking. In the end they`re going to need a candidate. NEWTON-SMALL: Mine is actually not on politics tonight. It`s about Europe. And I`ve heard from European ambassadors that they say that this crisis, the security crisis in Europe is the biggest existential crisis to the European Union. They`re very worried that the British will exit. They`re very worried that as the borders go up in each individual country in the union, that the fiscal union will soon dissolve, let alone the political one. And they say this is the worst existential crisis that the Europe Union has ever faced. MATTHEWS: I wish they had best practices and do the best they can. Find out who`s doing the best job with security and match that. Anyway, thank you for our whole roundtable, Colleen McCain Nelson, Eli Stokols, and Jay Newton-Small. When we return, let me finish with this fandango we`ve been talking about between Trump and Cruz. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this fandango between Trump and Cruz. If you`re refereeing this bout between the top two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, what rule book would you consult? Is there a Marcus of Queensbury standard once a fight gets this unruly, this dirty? No punching below the belt? You`ve got to be kidding me. I think Marco Rubio busted that rule right out of the ring when he spoke giddily of Donald Trump`s small hands. And we all know what that means, he added, in high school fashion. No head butting? Well, that can`t be illegal. Not at this stage. Trump went after Jeb Bush`s slow-mindedness early blasting him again and again as low energy, that he couldn`t keep up the pace when the blows went flying. He didn`t have the candle power to keep swinging when the big boy, that would be Donald Trump, started landing the hard ones. Actually, it did seem like Trump`s thumping on Jeb`s noggin was having a certain effect. How would you like someone to pound you again and again for being slow-witted all the time engaging in the kind of street talk you were brought up to avoid as well as avoiding the kind of boys who talk it. So, today this national bout we`re watching between Trump and Cruz descended even lower. The other day, it was about the appearance of their wives. Well, today it was about the alleged rats they have in their corner and the sort of political perversity such rats are known for. Remember that 1980 championship fight when Roberto Duran was in a bloody losing bout with Sugar Ray Leonard and turned to the ref in the eighth round and said "no mas," no more? I think that`s what many American voters are thinking about this Republican contest right now. No more. That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" with Chris Hayes starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END