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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/31/2016

Guests: Megan Murphy, April Ryan, Jennifer Rubin, Jeanne Mancini, Cecile Richards, Susan Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 31, 2016 Guest: Megan Murphy, April Ryan, Jennifer Rubin, Jeanne Mancini, Cecile Richards, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Important questions, important answers.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.

There continues to be fallout from Donald Trump`s comments on abortion and the use of nuclear weapons at our HARDBALL town hall. Here`s what the front-runner candidate said about banning abortion and punishing women who receive one.


MATTHEWS: Should the woman be punished for having an abortion?


MATTHEWS: This is not something you can dodge.

TRUMP: It`s a -- no, I...

MATTHEWS: If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law. Should abortion be punished?

TRUMP: Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say yes, they should be punished.

MATTHEWS: How about you?

TRUMP: I would say that it`s a very serious problem, and it`s problem that we have to decide on. It`s very...

MATTHEWS: But you`re for banning it.

TRUMP: Well, wait. Are you going to say put them in jail? Is that the...

MATTHEWS: No, but I`m asking you.


TRUMP: ... talking about?

MATTHEWS: Because you say you want to ban it.

TRUMP: I would...

MATTHEWS: What does that mean?

TRUMP: I am against -- I am pro-life, yes.

MATTHEWS: What does ban -- how do you ban abortion? How do you actually do it?

TRUMP: Well, you know, you`ll go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places.


TRUMP: But you have to ban it.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion? Yes or no, as a principle.

TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman?

TRUMP: Yes, there has to be some form.

MATTHEWS: Ten cents, ten years, what?

TRUMP: I don`t think. That I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

FINEMAN: That I don`t know. I don`t know because I don`t want to...

MATTHEWS: You take positions on everything else.

TRUMP: I frankly -- I do take positions on everything else. It`s a very complicated position.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Trump campaign later issued a couple of statements. First, quote, "This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination." That was followed later in the day with a full reversal, quote, "If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state or federal law, the doctor or the other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman."

Well, earlier today, Trump`s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, said this.


KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP SPOKESWOMAN: He made a mistake. That is not how he really feels.

Absolutely! This was a complete misspeak during a conversation over a hypothetical concept, and there was a clarification issue.


PIERSON: Mr. Trump is pro-life with exceptions, and does not support punishing women for having abortions even if they`re illegal.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by NBC`s Katy Tur, who`s in Milwaukee, Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst and Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and also an MSNBC political analyst.

Katy, give us a sense, has he spoken to the press, has accepted questions since the town meeting yesterday?

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No, he has not. He visited the RNC a little bit earlier today, and there were a number of reporters staked out in front of the RNC. He went in without a comment and he left without a comment, save to wave to those reporters.

He also has been inactive on Twitter today, only tweeting pretty much that he had a meeting with the RNC, not addressing the issue of abortion or his comments, or even the issue of what he said about nuclear weapons in your town hall yesterday.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of the -- how he`s going to -- can you tell from his scheduled today and the rest of today and tomorrow and the next day, is he going to lay low? Is he going to come out and face this? Do they have a strategy yet?

They`ve obviously put out these new two statements, one really a 180 on what he said to me, which we have on tape, of course, and we just showed it. What`s their angle right now? What`s their plan, do you know?

TUR: You know, the campaign is laying unusually low right now. I will say that the candidate himself had no public events scheduled prior to this on Thursday or Friday. He is back on the trail here in Wisconsin on Saturday.

But as for his surrogates, they`ve pulled Katrina Pierson from the airwaves except for that interview that she had this morning on CNN. They`ve denied interview requests with NBC News, and they`ve been very tight-lipped when it has come to this melee over his abortion comments, instead repeatedly referring to the second statement that he released and trying to make it look like that it`s ridiculous to -- according to the campaign, to criticize him when it comes to abortion because just a few weeks ago, a couple months ago, Ted Cruz was criticizing him for his support of Planned Parenthood, and now, all of a sudden, everyone`s criticizing him for being too extreme on the topic.


TUR: So the campaign is seeing a real disconnect when it comes to that. But as for this abortion controversy, my instinct, from seeing this campaign for the last 10 months, is that they`re going to try and lay low on it, not talk about it, and wait for the news cycle to pass before Donald Trump is on the trail again on Saturday, at which point they hope they`ll be able to move on.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t think it`s the criticism. Never can predict anything with regard to the candidate you`re covering, Mr. Trump. But it seems to me this isn`t about criticism from the pro-choice people or the pro-life people, abortion activists on either side.

It`s really about what he said, and when he was given a full opportunity to answer the question, what he said, and it is now on tape, and tape survives all kinds of public statements.

Anyway, the other four candidates in the race for president all reacted to -- I say that (ph) -- Donald Trump`s comments on abortion. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should women who get abortions be punished?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course not. And Donald`s comments today are just the latest demonstration that he hasn`t thought seriously about the problems facing this country, that he`s willing to say anything to try to get elected.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, women shouldn`t be punished. I don`t -- look, I -- you know, I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn`t say it or he was misquoted or whatever. But I don`t think so. I don`t think that`s an appropriate response.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Women have the right to control their own bodies and they have the right to make those personal decisions themselves. But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension!

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m constantly just taken aback at the kinds of things that he advocates for. You know, Maya Angelou said when someone shows you who they are, believe them. And once again, he has showed us who he is.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Clinton campaign even sent out a fund-raising letter off the comments by Mr. Trump and put out this on-line video.


MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes, or no, as a principle?

TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman?

TRUMP: Yes, there has to be some form of punishment.


MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, your view on this thing? Just talk about the politics.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the politics of this is -- is -- not good. It`s -- it`s -- it hurts the party in its effort to sort of create a different kind of conversation with women, certainly, a constituency we absolutely will need in November.


STEELE: But more importantly, I think it -- it -- it unends (ph) the opportunity to have an intelligent conversation about abortion. There`s no one in this party who`s ever made the argument that a women should be sent to jail or punished in any way, shape or form, if, under whatever circumstance...

MATTHEWS: So he`s wrong when he said some people in the party...

STEELE: Yes. If they are, I`ve never heard them or seen them.


STEELE: And so this has not been something that has been put out in the main, by and large. And I think what you`re seeing right now is the Trump campaign recognizing it is in full-throated meltdown, when you combine everything that`s happened, going back to the fight with Ted Cruz`s wife -- over his wife, certainly the -- Corey`s arrest, and now this.

This has not been a good period. He has done, quite honestly, and is doing, something that the other 16 candidates could not do, slow his own momentum and get him off of that surge that he needs with voters going into states like Wisconsin and the Northeast.

This is going to be a problem for the campaign. It`s a problem for the party. And they need to come together and fix this because this hurts, and it stings and it stays. This is something -- you`ve already seen the commercial up on this. How do you make this argument to women in the fall that, What I`m saying now, I didn`t mean it? And it`s a hard argument to make.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think misspeaking is when you get somebody`s name wrong, or misspeaking is a word (ph). You know, mistakes were made. He really did have an opportunity. I was two feet from Mr. Trump, Donald Trump, and he had a time to think. It was pressure. But his answer was punishment.

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He has a level of discomfort when he`s talking about social issues because his campaign is not one of being a social conservative warrior. And I think that`s where you`re seeing Trump right now. He`s trying to navigate as he gets close to the nomination, but he`s not a movement conservative.

And so it`s similar to the way Mitt Romney said "severely conservative" in 2012 election because he knew he had to keep the right with him as he moved closer to the nomination, but it wasn`t a comfortable move.

MATTHEWS: Well, the question is, was he finding his way in real time yesterday? And I think that`s the question. Was he finding his way? He hadn`t gone through the preparation.

Let`s -- I`ll be a little bit cynical here. Politicians have a tradecraft. They know certain areas you don`t talk about. You don`t talk about punishing women for an abortion decision...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... whatever your philosophical, political views. You don`t talk about use of nuclear weapons. You don`t talk about it ever!

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: You don`t say when you`re going to use nuclear weapons. You don`t express a rules of engagement on using nuclear bombs!


MATTHEWS: And I don`t think he`s familiar with that. It`s as simple as that.

STEELE: I think it goes -- on the social conservative front, it goes to what Robert just said. This is new language for him.


STEELE: This is a new conversation for him. He`s evolving into it, and he`s not evolving very well on how to speak about it.

MATTHEWS: I want to get Katy back in here. First of all, Katy, look at this, another moment from our hall -- town hall yesterday was -- gotten some strong reaction around the world, I can tell you, our discussion about nuclear weapons and when this country would even think of using them.

I asked Donald Trump about keeping nuclear weapons on the table, his view - - keeping it on the table in dealing with ISIS. Here he is.


MATTHEWS: Why don`t you just say, I don`t want to talk about it? I don`t want to talk about nuclear weapons. Presidents don`t talk about use of nuclear weapons.

TRUMP: The question was asked. We`re talking about NATO, which, by the way, I say is obsolete and...

MATTHEWS: But you got hooked into something you shouldn`t have talked about.

TRUMP: I don`t think I -- well, if it`s some day, maybe.

MATTHEWS: Wait! Maybe?

TRUMP: Of course. I was against Iraq. I`d be the last one to use the nuclear weapons.

MATTHEWS: So if you...


TRUMP: ... sort of like the end of the world here.

MATTHEWS: Can you tell the Middle East we`re not using a nuclear weapon...

TRUMP: I would never say that. I would never take any of my cards off the table.

MATTHEWS: How about Europe, we won`t use it in Europe?

TRUMP: I`m not going to take it off the table!

MATTHEWS: You might use it in Europe?

TRUMP: No, I don`t think so, but...


MATTHEWS: ... say it? I`ll never use a nuclear weapon in Europe!

TRUMP: I am not -- I am not taking cards off the table!


MATTHEWS: Katy, a lot of this, as I say, is tradecraft from our side, took, trying to figure out the candidate. Why wouldn`t he simply say, Of course, I can`t even imagine using a nuclear weapon in Europe? Europe is a small part of the world where everybody`s there. How would you get the enemy isolated, if you even wanted to, with a nuclear weapon from the people on your side, from the innocent civilians? And the same is basically true in the Middle East.

TUR: I think it`s because Donald Trump is not a politician, speaking to what Robert and Michael are talking about. He doesn`t know the rules of engagement of politics. He doesn`t know what are topics that are off bounds. He`s not used to being told not to talk about something or not to comment on something.

So it does certainly appear, especially in your town hall, Chris, that he was searching for the answers to these questions really in real time.

It`s certainly surprising when it comes to the nuclear weapons question because he had been answering these questions and even taking quite a bit of heat over the past week from the conversation he had with "The New York Times" over the weekend on foreign policy, in which he expressed openness to having -- allowing Japan or South Korea to have a nuclear bomb.

At that point, he was facing a lot of criticism from foreign policy experts, from military experts, from a lot of folks out there who said that this is not something that the U.S. has been for, ever, really. It`s gone against some long-held beliefs that this country has had, as well as our allies.

And so he was facing heat for that, and he was also facing heat for bringing up nuclear weapons in the first place. So for him to go into that topic again with you a few days later does show that his team either is not advising him or he`s not listening.

MATTHEWS: You know, and the phrase "tactical nuclear battlefield" -- these are tens of kilotons, hundreds of kilotons. Hiroshima was just 15. We`re talking about dropping a Hiroshima, or something larger than that, type of bomb in Europe? We`re talking about ever doing it in the Middle East ever?

Anyway, let me ask you about the politics coming up. Next Tuesday, the 5th, is Wisconsin. He`s down by 10 already and sinking.


MATTHEWS: Is this going to be seen as a vote, as a verdict on what he`s been saying? Will it be taken that way?

STEELE: I think with respect to the abortion question, given the makeup of the Republican electorate, GOP electorate in Wisconsin, yes, I think a lot of them are going to react viscerally to that. And I think it will give -- it will give a greater spread to the victory for Cruz in that regard.

MATTHEWS: And a greater movement against him at Cleveland.

STEELE: And a greater movement in Cleveland. But there`s still -- there`s still that dynamic that`s in play. He`s up 30 in New York. That`s what I`m looking at, to see how those numbers change after this.

COSTA: I would respectfully just disagree on one point about Wisconsin because I think Wisconsin, with the Milwaukee suburbs, those are ideological conservatives who went to Walker. This isn`t a usual Rust Belt state. New York`s his home state, so you got to kind of write it off.

The state I`m really paying attention to, Pennsylvania. Can he win those Philly suburbs?

MATTHEWS: Who can beat him?


COSTA: I mean, the question is can Cruz get people from the center of the state? Can Kasich come in and maybe get some of those moderates and...

MATTHEWS: I`m looking at the numbers. I think Kasich can take him. We`ll see. Because Kasich`s right there, right now.

Katy Tur, what are they worried about right now state-wise?

TUR: I think there`s a couple things to watch out for in Wisconsin. Number one, 24 percent of the women in the Republican likely voters say they have a favorable view of Donald Trump. That is a very, very low number, and the abortion comments certainly don`t help that number.

I spoke to a number of women here in Milwaukee today and asked them how they felt about Donald Trump, and it really divides along generational lines. The younger women don`t like his bombast, don`t like his blunt style. The older women were more apt to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And I think what the Republican Party is going to be having to face after this and what Republican Party leaders have told me, is that in order to mitigate the -- stem the bleeding, really, they`re going to have to really focus on these older women, white women voters, and try to just stop the bleeding from the younger women voters in the Republican Party in general, and that should be at play when it comes to Wisconsin on Tuesday.

One thing that is in Trump`s favor in this state is that it is an open primary. It means that there`s same-day registration. Traditionally, that has gone very well for Donald Trump. He`s not necessarily a Republican Party candidate, but he`s been able to bring over independents and maybe even some of the soft Democrats.

So the campaign is really going to be focusing on those people. But so far, this is a wild-card state. And from all the polling, which the campaign points out, is just registered Republican voters, Ted Cruz is in the lead.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well said. Thank you. Great reporting, as always. I`ll be out there myself on Tuesday, I think in Milwaukee. Anyway, Katy Tur, Robert Cost and Michael Steele, thank you.

Coming up -- when Donald Trump said there should be some sort of punishment for women who have abortions, he engaged or enraged both sides of the abortion debate. When we come back, my exclusive interview with both Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood and the head of the anti-abortion rights group March for Life.

Plus, will Trump`s comments change the Democratic race? Bernie Sanders has momentum heading into Wisconsin next Tuesday, but Trump`s remarks could energize Hillary Clinton`s supporters, don`t you think?

Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable is here to talk about Trump`s struggles with women voters and whether he can close what has become a sizable gender gap.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a question of timing. When will the country`s voters make a final assessment of Donald Trump and his fitness for the presidency?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`ve got new general election numbers from New York, and the Empire State remains solidly blue.

Let`s take a look at the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton holds a huge lead over New York native Donald Trump. It`s Clinton 53, Trump 33. Hillary thumps Ted Cruz, as well. It`s Clinton 53, Cruz down at 32. The race is much closer between Clinton and John Kasich. It`s Clinton 46, Kasich up at 41.

Bernie Sanders bests the three Republicans hopefuls by even larger margins. It`s sanders by 24 over Trump, 56 to 32. Sanders also dominates in a matchup with Cruz, doubling up the Texas senator. It`s Sanders, 56, Cruz 28. Bernie enjoys a double-digit over Kasich, as well. It`s Sanders 47, Kasich 37.

We`ll be right back.



MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no, as a principle?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman?

TRUMP: Yes. There has to be some form.

MATTHEWS: What about the guy that gets her pregnant? Is he responsible under the law for these abortions? Or is he not responsible for an abortion? TRUMP: Well, it hasn`t -- it hasn`t -- different feelings, different people. I would say no. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Donald Trump just yesterday, saying that a woman should face punishment as part of an abortion man, while the man should bear no responsibility. In taking that position, he managed to antagonize leaders from both sides of the abortion rights debate.

The executive vice president of Planned Parenthood said in a statement yesterday -- quote -- "Donald Trump is flat-out dangerous. Women`s lives are not disposable. There`s nothing else to say, as Donald Trump`s remarks today have said it all."

The president of the anti-abortion groups the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, Jeanne Mancini, also said: "Mr. Trump`s comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about."

Anyway, Jeanne Mancini will join me shortly, as will the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards.

But, first, let`s go to Wisconsin to found how Donald Trump`s remarks of yesterday are playing among women there.

MSNBC`s Chris Jansing is in Milwaukee.

Chris, thank you for joining us. You have been talking to people.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: All day long. And the reaction from women has been very negative. Didn`t matter how old they were. Didn`t matter which party they were in.

And, Chris, I think they fell into three groups. The first one, incredulous, people who can`t really figure out why he said what he said. A lot of those fell into the category of, at least at one point, they thought about supporting Donald Trump.

Another group had this sort of visceral, angry reaction. They couldn`t believe what they were hearing. And they were very vehement in their opposition to Donald Trump, whether, again, at some point, they might have thought about voting for him for president.

And the third camp is kind of taking this long view. These are people who are worried about what a Donald Trump nomination would mean, because they believe he plays fast and loose with the facts. And one example that was given to me by a business leaders here in Wisconsin.

And, according to this person, when he was talking about things like unemployment and the deficit, got every single number wrong, and had nothing but negative things to say about Wisconsin. And the quote was, "You can`t come into a state like Wisconsin and bad-mouth with bad facts."

And so I guess the real question tonight is, is this something that is going to stick? Is this a turning point? Or is this another example of Donald Trump saying something that a lot of people think is outrageous, but it doesn`t make a difference? His numbers with women, though, here are very, very bad, 24 percent support in that Marquette poll that came out yesterday, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much. That`s Chris Jansing out of Wisconsin.

Joining me right now is the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, in an exclusive HARDBALL interview.

Cecile, thanks for coming back for this occasion.

What is your reaction to what Donald Trump said on the tape we just showed?

CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Well, obviously, what he said was outrageous.

But I think what`s really important -- and I`m glad you pushed him on it, Chris. I think, though, what`s important to recognize is, Donald Trump`s position on making abortion a crime is the exact same position that John Kasich has, that Ted Cruz has, and, frankly, the Republican National Committee and their platform.

And so I think that the logical -- the logical next question which you pushed him on is, well, then what will we do when women are criminals and doctors are criminals because abortion is outlawed? That, I think, is a very legitimate question.

And I think although people may not want to hear it, but he`s saying that women will be punished -- we know that they will be. We know, for example, what happens now in El Salvador, where abortion is a crime, women are in jail, doctors and clinicians are in jail. And when women miscarry, they`re investigated by the police.


RICHARDS: And so I think it`s important. These are really important, legitimate questions to ask.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re the expert, Cecile. And you have been on the program many times, and please keep coming back.

But my question is, do you know of any other significant pro-life Republican or Democrat who has ever supported criminalizing the decision by a woman herself to have an abortion? Not the doctor, the woman. Have you ever heard of somebody saying what Trump said yesterday?

RICHARDS: I think they have just never been pushed on saying it.

But, Chris, let`s face the facts here. Every single candidate -- Ted Cruz has said he wants a constitutional amendment making abortion illegal in this country. And so I think the logical question is, well, then, when women break the law, I think then they`re criminals. When doctors break the law, they`re criminals.

What are we going to do and enforce this? And, again I think it`s really disingenuous for folks to take offense without actually looking at the positions of the entire Republican field.

And I think the main point -- and we`re seeing it, I know, from -- in Wisconsin now, as people are taking a real close look at Donald Trump and what he said. I think that`s going to happen this November. I actually think...


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you.


MATTHEWS: Cecile, let me ask you a generational question.

You`re not quite old enough, but you`re close enough to remember that there was a big fight over abortion rights back in the `70s, and we all -- I certainly remember it. I remember Roe v. Wade. I remember before Roe v. Wade and how that fight came to that climatic decision by the court to basically legalize abortion.


MATTHEWS: And -- but a lot of young women today don`t have that personal experience. Do they -- do you think young women in their 20s, for example, do they get the importance of this debate, of this fight?

RICHARDS: I think they absolutely do.

And I think the interesting thing, Chris -- and maybe this is different from what it was like in the `70s or `80s -- is that I actually think young men understand this issue as well.

I have been struck by, all across the country, we have been flooded at Planned Parenthood by young new activists and voters who cannot believe that we`re actually having this debate in the 21st century. And I do think it`s -- I mean, what the consequences will be of this election, the November election, the differences between whoever comes out of these primaries is going to be so stark when it comes to women`s rights and basic reproductive rights.

I think it`s going to drive people to the polls, and I think it`s absolutely good. It`s unconscionable that Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Donald Trump take the position that we`re now going to criminalize something that has been legal in this country for decades.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you so much, Cecile Richards.

I`m joined right now by Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion- rights organization March for Life Education and Defense Fund.

What do you think of what we saw yesterday on that tape, what we saw yesterday from Mr. Trump?

JEANNE MANCINI, PRESIDENT, MARCH FOR LIFE EDUCATION AND DEFENSE FUND: Well, it was a surprise and just a real disappointment.

MATTHEWS: Surprise to me too.

MANCINI: Yes. It`s not in line with the pro-life movement, certainly not with the March for Life.

We really believe to be pro-life is to be pro-woman and pro-baby and that a woman who chooses abortion is often backed into a corner out of desperation. So, the last thing she needs is a threat of punishment. She needs a path to hope and healing.

MATTHEWS: What about the people that use terms like abortion -- like murder?


MATTHEWS: When they go murder, well, what are you going to do about it, if it`s a murder?

MANCINI: Well, it is. And it is taking a life.

Really, what happens often is when a woman is looking at abortion, she is faced with three different options. She can choose adoption, she can bring the child to term and raise it itself or she can choose abortion.

She thinks what she does if she chooses abortion is she sort of erases the life. But the truth of the matter is that many women don`t have that experience. They have the experience of grief after having chosen it, so you can`t erase a life. Abortion does take a life.

MATTHEWS: So you are very active in this, and I appreciate you coming on. And you just heard Cecile Richards saying that a lot of Republicans support this kind of criminalization. Is that true or not?

MANCINI: No. She was absolutely, 100 percent wrong. I do not know of one member of Congress or one law that punishes the women on this.


MATTHEWS: But you know one presidential candidate who is now the front- runner who has said so.

MANCINI: Right. And he has backtracked. But I think that yesterday shows that he could use some time with pro-life leaders and people who have studied this a little bit more.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe he is pro-life?

MANCINI: I can`t judge his heart. I don`t want to judge anyone`s heart.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe he is politically pro-life?

MANCINI: Again, I can`t judge his heart, but I would be happy to meet with him. And I would be happy to meet with Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Do you take him at his word that he`s pro-life?

MANCINI: Well, I have to take him at his word? What else can you do? You can`t judge his heart. But I would love to educate him more. He should be more educated on these issues before he speaks on them.

MATTHEWS: OK. I can`t argue with that.

Thank you, Jeanne Mancini, for coming on.

And thank you, Cecile Richards, of course.

Up next: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both come out swinging against Donald Trump, but now they must battle each other in the days leading up to the Wisconsin primary, and then, of course, New York coming in a couple of weeks. While Sanders has momentum right now heading into Wisconsin, could Trump`s comments energize Clinton supporters? What do you think?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


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

A gunman is dead after opening fire on a state trooper at a Greyhound bus station in Virginia. The trooper suffered life-threatening injuries in the violence. And two civilians were also hurt.

And President Obama met with French President Hollande on the sidelines of today`s nuclear summit in Washington. The president says the U.S. and France are deepening their partnership around counterterrorism efforts and the fight against ISIS -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump and his comments about abortion are making for the perfect foil for Hillary Clinton to run against in 2016, even if she has not yet won the Democratic nomination for president.

Today, her husband, the former President Bill Clinton, also weighed in on Trump`s comments.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, I strongly disagree with it. In their party, they just keep pushing the limits of how much they can take away.

And I think it was interesting this happened now. He seems to be trying to back away. If you fundamentally believe that there should be no right to choose, people keep pushing you to the logical conclusion of that. And I think it was a terrible mistake.


MATTHEWS: Well, yesterday, the Clinton campaign itself released this TV ad airing throughout the state of New York also targeting Donald Trump.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), Presidential Candidate: New York, 20 million- people strong. No, we don`t all look the same. We don`t all sound the same either. But when we pull together, we do the biggest things in the world.

So when some say we can solve America`s problems by building walls, banning people based on their religion and turning against each other, well, this is New York. And we know better.



Well, the ad comes as Clinton is struggling in the next big primary state of Wisconsin, where she`s trailing Bernie Sanders now by four points. Anyway, Wisconsin holds its primary next Tuesday, the 5th, before the contest shifts to New York two weeks later.

Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" and Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post."

I want to start with you, Jonathan.

Hillary has lost some clip in her step lately, as she is fading a little in the polls. Bernie is closing on her into like single digits. Is this going to give her -- what Trump said yesterday, jeopardizing in many eyes perhaps the right of a woman to choose, going to give her some juice?


What Donald Trump did yesterday is like slip so perfectly into the argument she has been making since she announced her candidacy. And coming after, what, Bernie Sanders won all three contests last weekend -- he has got a pep in his step. He has the momentum. All the talk is about him going into Wisconsin, and possibly winning that state, and how Hillary Clinton once again is on the ropes and is struggling against this guy, who lots of people thought shouldn`t be in this position.

So, of course, Donald Trump saying what he said, and giving her just the perfect opportunity to draw the contrast. The fight with Bernie Sanders, the contrasts between the two of them are minuscule compared to the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: But she has to have a fight. She needs fight in her step right now.

And it seems to me that Hillary Clinton is going to take on whoever is in her way right now. She has to. She has got to take on Bernie Sanders, whether she agrees with him or not.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, although you see the ad that she has done. Although that`s an ad in a race she has against Bernie Sanders, it doesn`t mention Bernie Sanders or reference him in any way.

It references totally Donald Trump with his policies, even his name, although she never says his name aloud. And that is -- I think the Clinton people are prepared to lose Wisconsin. I think they think it`s entirely possible.

MATTHEWS: Not New York.

PAGE: But New York is where she plans to come back strong. She has got a big lead there. That`s a lot more delegates. And she is on what they think is kind of a glide path toward the nomination.

MATTHEWS: Will there be a battle of accents?


MATTHEWS: He`s got an authentic Brooklyn accent, I`m told, very authentic.

CAPEHART: You know what this reminds me of?

MATTHEWS: He wants to have a debate, by the way, in Brooklyn.

PAGE: And maybe they will. I think they will have a debate in...


MATTHEWS: But let`s talk about Hillary Clinton and her usual strength.

No offense to Hillary, but she is at her best when somebody is taking a shot at her. She comes back like SDI, like strategic defense. She -- don`t mess with me. Boom. And I think this thing from Trump, although not directed at her, his talk about punishing women for having an abortion decision is her wheelhouse.

CAPEHART: Right, yes, because, again, she has been talking about these issues for so long, and it`s something that she really cares about them, and it`s also something, conveniently, that the base cares about and just women care about.

MATTHEWS: Why did Bill Clinton pull his punches in that comment? Is he just pulling his punches on everything now?

PAGE: I think they think it`s not helpful for Bill Clinton to be out there as an unguided missile and speaking on everything he thinks.

MATTHEWS: It sounds soft.

PAGE: I think they would like him to be a more controlled.

Actually, the nuclear talk that you had with Donald Trump, I think, also helps Hillary Clinton, because it`s an area where she knows a lot about these issues. She is very...


MATTHEWS: We all know about this issue than some people. You don`t talk about the use of nuclear weapons, about rules of engagement for when to shoot up, blow up the world. These weapons are nuclear. They are not little things that you can sort of isolate with your target in front of you.


I think when people vote for president of the United States, at least before, the person who sits in the Oval Office, you want them to have discretion.

MATTHEWS: And they have one thing nobody else in the world has, the button.

CAPEHART: Right. They have the button.

And you want the person sitting in the Oval Office to know when to use it, when not -- definitely not to use it.

MATTHEWS: And when not to talk about it.

CAPEHART: And when not to talk about it.

And Donald Trump does not know that.

MATTHEWS: Do you know why he didn`t say yesterday, and I -- why he didn`t just say, of course I cannot foresee any use of nuclear weapons in Europe or the Middle East, I can`t foresee -- because our enemy there would be a terrorist group, not a population center.

We would be -- it`s like going after an outlaw gang that goes into a big city. You blow up the city? There is no like enemy that we face, a state enemy right now.

CAPEHART: He doesn`t know what he doesn`t know. In the answer to you about abortion, in the answer to you about tactical nuclear weapons, he doesn`t know that you don`t say these things.


But Hillary -- talking about discretion again, discernment -- I would even go stronger. Discernment is a great word. When do you do it, when don`t you do it? And I think Hillary can be dull at times, because she is a government person, who knows all the detail, all the issues, all the programs, all the provisions. That could be boring.

But the advantage of that is, you do know them.


PAGE: And if you`re talking about an issue like nuclear weapons, you probably want somebody who is pretty familiar with it.

MATTHEWS: Somebody staid.

PAGE: And one problem, Donald Trump has not run for office before. Some of these issues, he hasn`t had to deal within in the roles that he has had in the past.

And now he is. And I think that`s a real challenge for somebody as a first-time candidate.

MATTHEWS: Why don`t they have a murder board, as they say in law school, when they bring you in and they test you? Why don`t they do that with him?

CAPEHART: With him? I would love to see the person who would try to do that. Remember when he was asked who do you talk to for your foreign policy...


MATTHEWS: But you can tell Hillary goes through those prep sessions.

CAPEHART: Oh, sure.

MATTHEWS: You can tell, because she really is on the top of her game.

When she knows she has to win that debate, she comes on loaded for bear.

CAPEHART: But Donald Trump apparently doesn`t, because he trusts his own mind, apparently.

MATTHEWS: But he`s got the shtick. He`s got the shtick. He has the stagecraft. But stagecraft doesn`t always work.


PAGE: It`s gotten him pretty far.

MATTHEWS: But stagecraft doesn`t work when we get down to the shorts, when we get down to the issue of who fit for the presidency. We always wonder when that day is going to come. And it`s coming.


PAGE: It`s got him to the verge of the Republican nomination. And the question is, does it not get -- does it prevent him from getting over the finish line?

MATTHEWS: It`s not an audition. It`s not a tryout. It`s about whether you`re fit or not.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Page. You know as much as I know.

Jonathan, you`re getting there.


MATTHEWS: Up next: Has Trump`s bad week changed the course of the campaign? Well, the roundtable is coming here to talk about where things stand right now, right before Wisconsin, for the Republican front-runner.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



Donald Trump has often said he cherishes women, but a national poll earlier this month showed that 70 percent of women say they have a negative view of Donald Trump.

While he`ll have to close that gender gap to win the White House, Trump`s done little over the last week to improve his standing among women voters. It started a week ago today, when Trump attacked Ted Cruz`s wife, retweeting an image showing an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz beside a very glamorous picture of Melania Trump.

Then, on Tuesday, Trump defended the behavior of his campaign manager who was charged with simple battery of a female journalist. While yesterday, Trump told me that a woman should face punishment as part of an abortion ban, while the man wouldn`t bear any legal responsibility.

Well, today, a super PAC, backing Trump, is trying to make the sale with women with a seven figure ad buy out in Wisconsin.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure, I get some grief when I say I`m voting for Donald Trump. But you know what? I want to protect my family. Paris, San Bernardino and now Brussels, I want a president that will keep us safe. We need to control our borders, and stop letting in dangerous people.

Trump will do that. And Ted Cruz, he wanted to let in more Syrian refugees and give amnesty to illegal immigrants. That won`t protect my family. Donald Trump will.


MATTHEWS: Well, now, just five days before the primary in Wisconsin this coming Tuesday, Ted Cruz has opened up a wide lead over Trump out there in Wisconsin. According to a poll by Marquette Law School, Cruz is at 40 percent right now, Trump is down to 30, that`s ten point spread. Kasich down at 21.

I`m joined right now by our round table tonight: Megan Murphy is Washington bureau chief of "Bloomberg News", April Ryan is White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and Jennifer Rubin is a conservative blogger for "The Washington Post."

Jennifer, I want you to start tonight. How does this all add up? We went through the bad week for Donald Trump. Women are the most common. Most voters are women. People keep for getting it as they have cigar discussions. That`s women.

JENNIFER RUBIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: And you`re right. It didn`t just start this week. It`s been this way all along. Remember that ad that Our Principles PAC, which is the main anti-Trump PAC ran, with women simply reading the remarks he has made about women, the derogatory remarks, and their looks, and every kind of defaming distasteful phrase. He exudes what women resent, you know? The adage that Ronald Reagan --

MATTHEWS: I think men resent that kind of treatment.

RUBIN: Yes, well, right. But, you know, Ronald Reagan was dead, W. was your brother, this guy is your ex-husband, who never let you get a word in twice, who`s domineering, who puts you down, that`s what women see when they look at Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that, April? I don`t know if you have an ex- husband?

APRIL RYAN, NATIONAL URBAN RADIO NETWORK: I do have an ex-husband. Let`s leave that one alone.

But you`re right, you`re right. Donald Trump has hit the third rail on a number of occasions. The question is, will this be the fatal time? The issue is, you know, this week has been a bad week for him. He said for the journalist, a pen, she had a pen like this is a weapon. We use a pen everyday.

MATTHEWS: Elizabeth Fields?

RYAN: Yes, we use a pen everyday. She had a pen, trying to ask him a question. Then she was attacked, and then this.

Looking at that commercial, it also reminded me of a "Saturday Night Live" skit, I was waiting for the punch line for the joke, and I`m not trying to be funny, but it just -- it didn`t seem -- I don`t know how even men can sit here and listen to this, because men have mothers. They have sisters. They have nieces. They have -- yes, daughters.

And this is not just an attack on women, but it`s an attack on people as a whole.

MEGAN MURPHY, BLOOMBERG: That`s the point. You know, John Kasich and other candidates have been trying to make is, I have daughters, I won`t be able to explain to them how I would support him in a nomination battle.

That ad actually does say it all. If you`re going to target women with the security, with the -- he is the safest choice, women vote for that but women also vote for women`s issues. And if you`re going to get on the wrong side of women on both sides of the abortion debate, that`s pretty hard to do and that`s what he did this week.

MATTHEWS: I look at politics a lot of times from a Pennsylvania point of view. It`s an interesting state. It`s got T in the middle, they say it`s like Alabama, Pittsburgh and Philly. But the Philly suburbs, filled with women who read the paper, sensitive about the equality issues. He may get some working class white guys, the Democrats usually get, but there will be an offset.

RUBIN: There absolutely will be. And if you look at his unfavorables with each of these groups, college educated people, women, college educated men, he is down, down, down, in all of them. He is going to make Mitt Romney look like Ronald Reagan electorally speaking if he gets that far.

MATTHEWS: What`s a working class, I don`t mean ethnic, but a working class white guy out there hears that Donald Trump wants to punish women for having an abortion. I don`t think he`s going to cheer that. Why would he like that?

RYAN: He wouldn`t like that, because again, like -- just what I said. He has a mother, he has a sister. And this goes back to an old debate that we`ve had in this nation, Roe v. Wade. And Roe v. Wade is about basically the beginning stages, it`s a woman`s choice.

And then the latter stages, it`s a state. And that`s where the vast majority of American people are thinking. Roe v. Wade versus this antiquated thought. I talked to Janice Mathis, the head of the National Council of Negro Women who says that he demonstrates he does not understand the Constitution with this, and he`s out of step with current thinking.

MATTHEWS: I like the way you phrased that. I agree with that completely. Later stage, complete freedom, later stages, it`s more of a state interest and a public interest.

Thank you. We`ll be right back. You`re going to tell me what I don`t know.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Well, you want to satisfy your passion for politics even more. Play HARDBALL with us, all week long online. Follow us @hardball on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook. You`ll get access to explosive videos, behind the scenes photos and the best analysis and commentary as the election season continues to heat up.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with our HARDBALL panel.

Megan, tell me something I don`t know.

MURPHY: Well, Trump`s position on abortion might be a mess, but so are his taxes and his lack of disclosure. And last night late, he released a document saying that six years are no longer under scrutiny by the IRS. Tax people we`ve talked to say what he said now and what he said last night doesn`t make any sense, totally, internally inconsistent. Expect his opponents to keep up the pressure --

MATTHEWS: Was he being audited?

MURPHY: He says he was. He says it`s continued to be. He said six years are no longer. In one place, he said six years are no longer being audited, and another place, he says they are still being audited. So, people are going to keep ramping up to see what`s in tax documents.


RYAN: Something totally different.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is going to elected officials asking them to promise that when they look to rebuilding the infrastructure in this nation, that they will do an issue of inclusion because the infrastructure that we have, much of it was built in the `50s before the Voting Rights Act.


RYAN: That meant separating communities racially. So, he`s hoping now that we can change this and bring communities together and rebuilding new, rebuilding and also making new infrastructure.



RUBIN: The administration has let on they are considering allowing Iran access to our U.S. banking system. This was something that Congress was specifically told during fight over the Iran nuclear deal would not happen. Members of Congress were very agitated about this.

If the administration does go forward with something that isn`t required by the deal, something that they told Congress would not happen, look for Hillary Clinton perhaps to edge just a little bit away. She`s a little tougher on Iran than the president.

MATTHEWS: Will that break the deal?

RUBIN: I don`t know if it will break the deal, but it`s not required by the deal.

MATTHEWS: I do think she`s a bit to the hawkish side of things.

RUBIN: Well, she gave a speech on AIPAC that even I could like.

MATTHEWS: I asked Trump yesterday who was more hawkish, you or her. He wasn`t clear.

But I think she might be. You never know.

Anyway, Megan Murphy, April Ryan, and Jennifer Rubin, thank you all for coming.

When we return let me finish with a question of timing. When will the country`s voters make a final assessment of Donald Trump and his presidential fitness?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this remarkable campaign for president and how it has divided the genders. A sizable minority of men have been taken with Donald Trump. Meanwhile, he`s managed to turn off a strong majority of women.

I don`t think it`s hard to understand why. Men respond strongly to the char charge that the country is getting pushed around. Working guys feel the pressure of lost manufacturing jobs. They see the influx of illegal immigration, sick of the wars we`ve been fighting to seemingly only negative effect.

They are pushed around personally by the changing economy, they`re ready to see the country itself getting shoved around. And what Trump says hits home with them. He`s talking about their country and promises to make it great again.

Well, women catch a different side of Trump. They watched him get tough with Carly Fiorina, with Megyn Kelly. They saw his campaign manager get charged with simple battery after his encounter with a woman reporter. They heard Trump last night here on HARDBALL talk about banning abortion and punishing women who break the law by having one.

They get the idea that he values physical beauty in women but doesn`t fully respect them. All this shows in the numbers. Seventy percent of American women have a negative view of Donald Trump. We can attribute some of this to his words, some to his behavior and some to his refusal to back down, to insist on his position and repel criticism.

He talks and acts like someone who doesn`t care if someone disapproves. We`ll see if this holds up as we approach the final vital stretch of these Republican primaries. To date, Trump has shaken loose from the clutches of his own statements. He`s laughed off, kissed off the criticism of his behavior and debate around on this stuff. I wonder if the time hasn`t arrived where voters are ready to take a full accounting of Donald Trump and decide if it adds up to a solid presidency.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.