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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/4/2016

Guests: Susan Page, Tommy Thompson, Patrick Healy, Gwen Moore, Mary Spicuzza, Craig Gilbert, Mandela Barnes

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 4, 2016 Guest: Susan Page, Tommy Thompson, Patrick Healy, Gwen Moore, Mary Spicuzza, Craig Gilbert, Mandela Barnes

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The primary that makes Milwaukee famous.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the eve of tomorrow`s big Republican and Democratic tests.

Can Donald Trump prevail over questions about his fitness for the country`s highest office? Can Hillary Clinton inspire Democrats with the prospect of a second Clinton presidency? Can Bernie increase his victories to six of the last seven contests, thereby shaking Hillary loose from her image as the inevitable nominee?

Let`s start with Donald Trump. The Republican establishment here, from the governor on down, has lined up against Trump here in Wisconsin. But here`s the big "but." The most recent poll, out today from Emerson College, shows Ted Cruz ahead of Trump by just 5 points. That`s half the lead that Cruz had in last week`s polls. So Trump may be regaining strength here in Wisconsin.

At a rally today, Trump predicted a win here tomorrow.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really believe tomorrow, we`re going to have a very, very big victory.

If we do well here, folks, it`s over. If we don`t win here, it`s not over. But wouldn`t you like to take the credit in Wisconsin for ending it?


TRUMP: Give Wisconsin the credit for ending it, and then we can focus on Hillary instead of these two guys.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump mocked his rival Ted Cruz. Here he is.


TRUMP: We`ve gone through many, many states. I`ve won, I think, 22 states. Cruz gets up, he says, I`m the only one -- you know, with his -- oh, I wish he could just talk normally every once in a while.


TRUMP: Do you ever hear this? I`m the only one that has proven that I can beat Donald Trump! Remember in the debate -- I beat him five times! And I looked over, I said, yes, but I`ve beaten you 22 times.


TRUMP: You remember that? Remember? And he stuck like this. He didn`t say anything.


MATTHEWS (voice-over): Robert Costa`s national political reporter for "The Washington Post," and an MSNBC political analyst, Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." And Perry Bacon is senior political reporter for NBC News.

Let me start with Robert. How are the Trump people looking at tomorrow`s vet (ph) after what happened all last week with all the bad news?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They think their base is pretty energized and motivated because of the negative week Trump`s had, the tumultuous week he`s had. They think their people are going to show up.

But it`s a test for the Trump campaign. They don`t have the same kind of organization Cruz has in the state. Cruz has those conservatives in the Milwaukee suburbs. And they want to close this thing, just like Trump said in the Trump campaign, but it`s a test.

MATTHEWS: Do you show the polls getting closer or not? We said -- I said a moment ago that they were twice the lead that -- that Cruz had twice the lead, about a double digit, about 10 points last week. Now he`s down to half a double digit, about 5 points. Is that your sense of the race right now going into tomorrow`s fight?

COSTA: It`s all over with polling because some polls show it real close. There`s a new poll out tonight that shows Trump up. It`s Cruz who`s been leading for weeks. I think the big question is, Cruz is likely to win Milwaukee suburbs, the Walker base, those Walker people likely going to Cruz.

The question is northwest Wisconsin, southeast Wisconsin, some of the more working-class, rural areas -- harder to predict.

MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump today said he could be presidential if he wants to be, but he`s not ready to be that yet. Let`s watch him.


TRUMP: I could be presidential. But if I was presidential, we`d only have about 20 percent of you would be here because it would be boring as hell, I will say.


TRUMP: Now, let me be unpresidential just for a little while longer, and maybe I`ll be a little bit unpresidential as I beat Hillary because -- oh!


TRUMP: We`ll beat Hillary so badly. Don`t forget, I haven`t started on Hillary yet.


MATTHEWS: Now, Robert, I`ll get to the others later, but this whole thing -- you`ve been watching this guy. Is this his way of saying, Don`t hold me to some test of president fitness? It`s too early for that. Don`t ask me if I can say things correctly or not. Let me make my mistakes. Let me test the air. Let me have fun with all this shtick of mine. Is that what he`s trying to say to just smooth over all that went on last week?

COSTA: And he`s not just talking to the press. He`s talking to his family. He`s talking to his friends, his closest advisers. Based on my reporting -- Bob Woodward and I sat down with him. We`re hearing everyone`s telling Trump, Tone it down, act presidential, pivot toward the general election.

And in private and in public he`s saying, No thanks. I`m staying to be the swaggering guy I`ve been this whole campaign, because he things he has to win -- he thinks if he pulls back, if he pulls a punch, Cruz is going to get some room.

MATTHEWS: Well, talk about that internal memo you got your hands on this week that showed sort of the attitude he has on the inside.

COSTA: And it`s an attitude, Chris. I mean, this is not a soul-searching campaign. This is not a group of people who over the weekend are saying, Woe be us. We`ve struggled in the polls. We`re behind in Wisconsin.

Instead, they`re attacking their critics. They`re saying the critics are wrong. We`re fine. Everything`s good. This is a campaign in a fight mode.

A lot of people in the party establishment, they say this can`t work out long-term. They got to do some expansion of the message. But for now, this is a tight-knit group around Trump, and they`re fighting.

MATTHEWS: Susan Page, and then Perry. Is this still the primary, early primary season, where you can get away with just being the best show in town?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, I think we`re going to find out tomorrow night because this is the biggest test that Donald Trump has faced since Iowa. It`s a test of whether the kind of resilience he`s shown, to our surprise over and over again, still conveys.

And I think he continues to have a short-term strategy of being -- letting Trump be Trump and being the kind of outrageous, outspoken figure that`s brought him this far and refusing to do the kind of pivot that he would have to do to be electable in November.He doesn`t seem concerned about that at this point.

You know, his negatives now among key voter groups like women, Hispanics, African-Americans, suburbanites are so high that it is hard to picture -- it`s hard to have a scenario where he wins the general election, but he doesn`t seem concerned about that. He seems very focused now on the kind of strategy that has taken him this far, made him the front-runner for the Republican nomination.


MATTHEWS: ... about women -- do we have any -- do we have any -- Perry just a second, please. Is there any way to read how women reacted to all that went on last week, starting with the faces of his glamorous wife up against Heidi Cruz, and then what happened with Lewandowski and that battery charge, and then what happened with us on MSNBC?

All that seemed it would raise questions about fitness to women, wouldn`t it? But you think there`s no reading yet on that total (INAUDIBLE) is what you`re saying?

PAGE: Well, no, the ARG poll that came out today showed one of the biggest gender gaps, I think, in the history of American polling, Trump doing really well among men in Wisconsin and really badly among women, I mean, just a huge disparity between the two genders. And I think that reflects some of the things that have happened in the past week, including on your show.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me go to Perry on that. Same question to you, Perry, because, you know, it was a bad week of press. And he`s saying in that internal memo that Robert got ahold of that it was all the press`s fault, fine, or the elite`s fault, or whatever. That`s a normal thing to do. But wasn`t (ph) an objective (ph) to reality (INAUDIBLE) looks like there is in the polling.

PERRY BACON, NBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think, though, too, there`s two different campaigns going on, Chris. I think he`s right that in terms of the Republican nomination process, he`s probably -- in terms of the voters in the primaries and caucuses, he`s probably doing fine. He`s got a certain base. It`s maybe not big enough in Wisconsin, but he`s likely to win in New York and Maryland going forward.

But another campaign going on was (ph) about these unbound delegates, the potential second ballot, and those -- the Republican establishment, the people who can vote in the convention, they`re looking for a guy who can win the election, who`s electable, who is presidential.

And Paul Ryan today saying if Cruz wins Wisconsin, we`re having a contested convention -- I think that tells you that Paul Ryan and folks like that really don`t want to see Trump win. And Trump has got to think about appealing to that base in case (ph) (INAUDIBLE) the elites in case he has to win the nomination at the convention.

MATTHEWS: Yes, we`ll talk about Paul Ryan`s incipient campaign or potential campaign in the next block. I think there`s something going on there that you mention.

Anyway, Robert, as you said, you and Bob Woodward interviewed Trump this week, and one of the topics was the economy. Trump had a gloomy warning out there that we`re on the verge of a very massive recession. Trump also was asked about investing in the stock market. He told you, quote, "It`s a terrible time right now."

Look, in Wisconsin today, Trump stood by his dire predictions on the economy, though he offered one glimmer of hope -- electing Donald Trump. Here he is.


TRUMP: What I said is we`re going to go into a massive recession. But I also say if I`m president, that`s not going to happen because I`m going to straighten things out before it happens.


MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a logic question there, of course, Robert. If he gets elected president, he puts together an economic plan, it takes six months to a year to have any fiscal effect, or monetary policy effect. What`s he talking about? There`s a recession coming next July that he can forestall? That`s the only logic to this argument.


COSTA: ... presidential candidate, Chris. I mean, it`s so unprecedented for a major party figure to step out and start talking about a massive recession on the horizon, calling it a terrible time to invest.

Woodward and I walked out of the meeting and we said we wonder if the markets were open what this would do.


COSTA: Trump is talking down the economy. His answer, though, for everything, for everything on the economy, he has a tax cut, but his real answer, core of his campaign, trade. He thinks renegotiating trade deals is going to cause growth.

But most economists, they`re pretty dubious about it. They say you can`t cut the debt, the $19 trillion debt, by having trade deals. And they say it`s going to be very hard. And they don`t expect a massive recession. We`ve reported on that, as well. They don`t have the same view as Trump, the broad view and the consensus in the economic community.

MATTHEWS: Perry, I`ve never heard of a politician predicting doomsday, I mean, saying all hell goes loose if I don`t get elected. And then, by the way, I`ll get there just in time next summer to change course that will somehow change the economy and the economic outlook around. I mean, what is he doing this for?

BACON: I mean, it fits his strategy, which is to say everything in America is terrible, so we need to have a man like me fix it. So it fits what he`s doing.

It`s a very dangerous thing, though, to talk about recessions and the economy collapsing. If he says that kind of thing in October, the markets really could go down if he`s likely to win. So it`s a very dangerous comment, and it suggests -- and also, it`s (INAUDIBLE) we know, as Robert said, economic growth is going (SIC) -- is growing. The job growth is growing in America. There`s no evidence of a massive recession coming. So again, it`s another place where Trump is at war with the facts.

MATTHEWS: Susan, last word. I mean, it looks a little selfish, doesn`t it, to say, Elect me, or the economy is going to go down, if you`re not sure, with (ph) objective data that something`s coming, and I`m not sure he has any.

PAGE: You know, I think it also raises the question, if he were president and made comments like this, it would have global implications, negative ones...


PAGE: ... for the economy. And so for some people who are maybe undecided between the candidates, Republican-inclined, they might look at that and say, Does this -- is this the person I want to elect?

Again, it goes to the idea of Trump`s strength is his willingness to say what he`s thinking, to not have it be filtered. But man, when you`re trying to think about being elected president, that is also his weakness.

MATTHEWS: It`s attention-getting. There`s no doubt about it. It`s catching our attention, Robert and Susan and Perry. I`m not sure it`s good for the country to talk down the economic future.

Anyway, thank you all for joining us, Robert Costa, Susan Page and Perry Bacon.

Coming up, as Trump and Cruz gear up for a contested convention this summer, could it be that House Speaker Paul Ryan will emerge as the Republican nominee? Ryan is going out of his way, of course, to say he`s not interested, but would the party rather lose with Trump or Cruz or run a fresh face like Ryan to topple Hillary? I`m thinking a lot about that.

Plus, the Democratic fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Sanders has momentum right now and should win here tomorrow night. So why is this campaign talking about mistakes it`s made in the past? I don`t think it`s making many mistakes now.

And the HARDBALL roundtable is here in Milwaukee. Will tomorrow night`s Wisconsin primary be a turning point in the Republican race? Will it point the Democratic race in Bernie Sanders`s direction?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this political situation in our country as of tonight.

This is HARDBALL, live from Milwaukee, on the eve of the Wisconsin primary.


MATTHEWS: The United States Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a challenge from Texas voters that would allow the state to draw election maps reducing the strength of Latino voters. The highest court says states may continue to count all residents when drawing election districts, regardless of whether or not a resident is eligible to vote or if they entered the country with proper documents.

The move denies an effort by conservatives to increase the number of mostly white districts at the expense of largely minority voting districts. The decision maintains the essential principle of a political system based on one person, one vote.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As Republicans brace for the possibility of their first open convention in decades, many are now eying an outside candidate if delegates are deadlocked between Trump and Cruz.

Mike Allen of Politico reports today that, quote, "Top Republicans are becoming increasingly vocal about their long-held belief that Speaker Paul Ryan will wind up as the party nominee for president, perhaps on the fourth ballot at a chaotic Cleveland convention."

And one of the nation`s best-wired Republicans with an enviable prediction record for this site (ph) sees a 60 percent chance of a convention deadlock and a 90 percent chance that delegates turn to Ryan.

Speaker Ryan, who has repeatedly said he has no intention of accepting the Republican nomination, denied again today that he`d be willing to take the job. Here he is.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: People put my name in this thing. I said, Get my name out of that. This is -- if you want to be president, you should have run for president. And that`s just the way I see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you`re not the fresh face that Karl Rove was talking about?

RYAN: No, I`m not the fresh face. I`m not that person.


RYAN: I`d like to think my face is somewhat fresh, not for this conversation. I think you need to run for president if you`re going to be president. I`m not running for president, so period, end of story.


MATTHEWS: Well, not end of story. In another interview published today by "The Times of Israel," Ryan also said, "Wisconsin is a fairly important signal as to whether we`re going to have an open convention or not. If Trump wins, then he`s putting himself in a pretty good path to clinching the nomination. If he loses Wisconsin, it makes it more likely that it`s an open convention."

I`m joined right now by former Wisconsin governor and John Kasich supporter Tommy Thompson, as well as MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman of the Huffingtonpost.

Governor, thank you for joining us. I know you`re for Kasich, but I`m looking at a lot of coverage today that suggests that Ryan will be in the mix once it goes to more than one ballot.

TOMMY THOMPSON (R-WI), FMR. GOVERNOR: Well, Chris, first off, thanks for letting me be on your program, and it`s good to see you again.

But let`s face the facts. John Kasich has got the record. He`s got the ability. He`s got the intellect to be a great president.

And if you look back at 1860, when we had the first open convention, the first convention for Republicans, Abraham Lincoln came in number three to the convention in Chicago and came out of it.

John Kasich is well qualified, is a great candidate, and I think he`s going to come out with the nomination either on the second, third, or fourth ballot.

Paul Ryan is a great person. I support Paul Ryan. I asked Paul if he was going to be a candidate for president. He said absolutely not. I think some day, he will be president, but this year is not his time.

So I think that if everybody wants a new face and an ability to get this country turned around, John Kasich is that person. Let`s get behind the person that`s shown he can do it, balance the budget, run the state. He`s got the record. He`s the person who we should nominate.

MATTHEWS: Howard, your view about Ryan, because I`m thinking that Roger Stone, you don`t have to like the guy to know that he`s smart. And Roger Stone suggested...

THOMPSON: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... it`s either going to be Trump on the first ballot or Ryan on the fourth, and the last several days since he said that, I`m beginning to see the truth of that, because I don`t think this mishegas involving all this chaos of Trump and Cruz and Kasich is adding up to any clarity.

Your thinking?


HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In talking to people across the spectrum, including our mutual buddy Roger Stone, my sense of it is that how we used the term zombie candidate the other day, you like that terminology about Trump, well, Paul Ryan is running a Zen campaign.

What I mean by that is absolute stillness leads to, in this case, not enlightenment, but the nomination. I think he is running by not running. People make fun of me for saying that, because how do you prove it? I think that interview with the newspaper in Israel shows that a prediction is also a wish.

He didn`t have to go so far as to say a loss for Trump in Wisconsin would mean an open convention. A lot of people think that even if Trump loses in Wisconsin, he`s still on track for the nomination. So, for Ryan to go that far in his assessment of the situation shows me yet another sign that, if asked at the appropriate time, he will take it in a Cleveland minute.

MATTHEWS: Let me try a couple thoughts by you. Here`s why I think Ryan`s in the mix if Trump doesn`t get the 1,237 requisite majority number going into the convention in Cleveland.

Number one, Ryan has been vetted. He ran for vice president. He didn`t do a great job. He didn`t do a bad job either running for V.P. He`s been made speaker of the House by acclimation. The entire conservative party, the Republican Party accepted him. And I think he`s a conservative without the crazy.

He seems to be the golden mean in that party, and he`s also, even though he`s been around a bit -- he seems fresh. He`s part of the establishment, but at the edge of the establishment. There`s nothing wrong with the guy if you`re a Republican conservative, and he would unite the party, which is what they desperately need.

Their number one goal, it seems to me right now, Howard, is to save the Republican Party, keep it as a political party in this country. They got to do that first before they win. And, by the way, they also would like to beat Hillary Clinton. And Ryan could beat Hillary Clinton, because he doesn`t have any scar tissue.

Your thinking on all your points?

FINEMAN: That`s right. Well, I agree with you. And, also, without getting bogged down in details about the rules at the convention, there`s no particular advantage to John Kasich.

Yes, he started running at the beginning. But other than that, procedurally at the convention, after the first ballot, it will be just as easy for a Paul Ryan to be nominated from the floor as it will be for John Kasich to be nominated or continue his quest from the floor.

So there won`t be any real bar after the first ballot because about 70 percent of all the delegates after the first ballot go-round will be unbound. It will be easy for somebody like Ryan to step down from the chair -- he`s the permanent chair of the convention. But he can easily hand the gavel over to somebody else and, wham, he suddenly becomes a major contender.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s all possible now. I think everything is possible now. But we will see a lot more. If Trump loses here tomorrow, everything becomes more possible.

Thank you very much, Howard.

Our thanks to Governor Tommy Thompson.

And thank you, of course, my friend Howard Fineman.

Up next: Democratic duel. Hillary Clinton is campaigning right now in New York state. But could she pull off an upset here in Wisconsin tomorrow? This is going to be close on the Democratic side. And could she end the Bernie Sanders threat once and for all by pulling a comeback here in Wisconsin tomorrow night?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live tonight from Milwaukee.


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

A sightseeing helicopter crashed in Tennessee, killing all five people on board. The crash occurred near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A spring storm is burying some parts of New England in up to eight inches of snow. Authorities in Rhode Island have been busy responding to crashes on slick roads.

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill raising the state`s minimum wage into law. Wages will rise gradually to $15 an hour by 2022.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018 in the New York City area -- back to HARDBALL.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we win here, we`re going to have a bounce going into New York state, where I think we can win. If we win in New York state, between you and me, I don`t want to get Hillary Clinton more nervous than she already is.



SANDERS: She`s already under a lot of pressure. So don`t tell her this.


SANDERS: But I think, we win here, we win in New York state, we`re on our way to the White House.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont this morning at a rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, taunting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and sounding, I thought, very confident ahead of tomorrow`s big Democratic primary out here in Wisconsin.

The RealClear polling average in Wisconsin shows Sanders right now leading former Secretary Hillary Clinton by just under points. So, it`s still a close one.

Spinning hard, Clinton`s chief strategist, Joel Benenson, however, says that Wisconsin is tailor-made for a Sanders victory. Talk about spin. Here he comes.


JOEL BENENSON, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It is much less diverse than most of the states we compete in, in Democratic primaries. It`s got a lower population of African-Americans, a very small population of Latinos. We have done very well in building a diverse coalition, which is why we have won far more primary elections than Senator Sanders has, and compiled a bigger net delegate lead in those primaries by a lot than he has.

The key here in Wisconsin is to compete hard, try to win the state. But, in either way the state comes out, I think it`s close enough there isn`t going to be a big shift in the 230 or plus pledged delegate advantage that Hillary Clinton has right now.


MATTHEWS: Well, a win here in Wisconsin would extend Sanders` victories to six out of the last seven contests and propel him to New York`s primary on April 19 in pretty much the top of his game.

MSNBC correspondent Kasie Hunt is covering Bernie Sanders right now, and there is a rally in Wisconsin -- in Milwaukee right now. Patrick Healy, by the way, is a "New York Times" correspondent covering the campaign as well. And here with me in Milwaukee is U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin. She`s actually here from this area of Milwaukee and she`s supporting Hillary Clinton.

Let me to go to Kasie on this.

Kasie, it all seems within the margin of error out here, Wisconsin, on both sides.

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris. Yes, forgive me. I can`t hear you terribly well, because what`s going on here is a rave or a concert. I can`t really tell exactly what. But we`re waiting for Bernie Sanders.

And he obviously is pretty confident going into this. You talked a little bit about, showed what he had to say earlier. But I think there is a little bit of danger here in the expectations game for Bernie Sanders. At this point, we`re looking at the margin of his win, and if Hillary Clinton can plausibly argue after tomorrow`s results that she held her own, that this wasn`t a significant win, remember, for Bernie Sanders to catch Hillary Clinton in this delegate lead, he has to win states, and he has to win them big, by margins of 60 percent to 40 percent.

And their argument is going to be, if he can`t do that in Wisconsin, where else is he going to do it? That said, if he does do well here, it`s going to set up two weeks heading into New York that are potentially very difficult for Hillary Clinton. And I think, looking ahead, the Sanders campaign is planning a series of major events in New York City, all expected to draw potentially thousands of people.

We saw tens of thousands, basically, in the Bronx, 18,000 people showing up. That`s going to be a potentially embarrassing and difficult stretch for her to deal with in her adopted home state, although one note I will say, Chris, back to Wisconsin, the crowds today have not been where they often are for Senator Sanders.

They have been smaller. Even this rally is a little smaller. In Green Bay, he had a crowd of hundreds, not thousands. That`s pretty unusual. Whether it`s a telling sign ahead of tomorrow, we will have to wait and find out.


Thank you very much, Kasie Hunt, who is with the Sanders campaign.

Patrick Healy, you write in "The New York Times" today -- quote -- "Despite the urging of some advisers, Mr. Sanders refused last fall and early winter to criticize Mrs. Clinton over her $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, an issue that he now targets almost daily. He also gave her a pass on her use of private e-mail as secretary of state, even though some allies of his wanted him to exploit it, and he insisted on devoting time to his job as a senator from Vermont last year, rather than matching Mrs. Clinton`s all-out effort to capture the nomination."

Sanders adviser Tad Devine, by the way, responded to your report today in an interview with Andrea Mitchell. Here he is.


TAD DEVINE, SENIOR BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I first talked to them about this a couple of weeks ago. I think they were determined to write a story, if Bernie Sanders had run a tough, personal, negative campaign, he could have defeated Hillary Clinton.

There`s only one problem with that. He was never going to run that campaign. That`s not who he is.


MATTHEWS: Patrick, what inspired you to write a story about what might have been last year or earlier in the campaign? I mean, Bernie is doing pretty well right now. Why go back to what could have, would have, should have happened months ago?

PATRICK HEALY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, that`s exactly it, Chris. He`s doing really well right now. And the reality is, is that he`s still far behind Hillary Clinton in terms of the pledged delegate count, certainly in terms of superdelegates.

But the pledged delegate number is key. He`s more than twice behind her compared to the lead that Obama had over Hillary Clinton in 2008, that Hillary Clinton was never able to get -- to catch up to. So, what we were looking at was looking at the question of, was -- is Hillary Clinton beatable? You know, was she beatable? And did Sanders do kind of whatever it took to beat her?

And what we found in reporting and talking to Tad Devine and others is that there were sort of a series of judgment calls or missed opportunities in 2015 that could have positioned Bernie Sanders to be in a much sort of stronger posture against Hillary Clinton in the pledged delegate count right now.

Their entire strategy was based on sweeping Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. That didn`t happen. They only won New Hampshire. They had to change strategy after Nevada. Then they had to change strategy again after Super Tuesday.

And they find themselves now doing well. He`s got a good chance of winning in Wisconsin tomorrow. He`s going to contest New York pretty firmly. But he`s still so far behind in the pledged delegates, and, you know, we can sort of jockey and strategize and spin all we want.

But the delegate math, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama knew very well in 2008, and as you know, is the essential sort of standard here. And the reality is, the questions are being asked even in the Sanders campaign, could there have been a way to have a much closer fight now than they do?

MATTHEWS: Patrick, well, it great to have you back covering politics again, my buddy. Thank you.

HEALY: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman Moore.

Would Hillary Clinton have given Bernie Sanders a bye on the e-mails if it was his problem? I watched the night that Bernie Sanders in that debate says, enough about the e-mails. Would Hillary Clinton have ever let a guy off the hook? Because he had her, and he let her go. And that`s when I said, this is a protest campaign. This guy isn`t running to win.

By the way, let`s go back to Hillary again. Is she going to win here tomorrow night?

REP. GWEN MOORE (D), WISCONSIN: I think Hillary is.

I think any time, Chris, that your campaign relies on not having African- Americans in the state, relies on not having Latinos, and that`s -- you have bragging rights about your potential to win because you don`t have a diverse state, I think that just speaks volumes about what...

MATTHEWS: What do your constituents think of Bernie when you talk to them? What do they think of Senator Sanders?

MOORE: Well, you know, I...

MATTHEWS: Stranger? Is he a stranger?

MOORE: Well, you know, it`s always good to have new friends.


MOORE: And so there are many people who had never heard of Bernie Sanders. And I point out to them that he`s been elected to something or another since 1981.

And so whatever criticisms they have of Hillary Clinton, I said, yes, but guess what, she`s been there. She`s been there through the good times, through the bad times. Stuff that`s broken, she`s made efforts and has legislated to fix. And Bernie is a new friend with aspirational, professorial sorts of views.

MATTHEWS: OK. I got a question for both of you.

Why does Hillary Clinton get dull when she gets in the lead? The minute she gets ahead and looks like she`s going to win, no more excitement, no more charisma, just, I`m ahead and I`m sitting here. It`s like the tortoise and the hare.

MOORE: Well...

MATTHEWS: What is it? How come she`s -- how come the campaign is getting tight right now? Bernie is gaining on Hillary right now. Why?

MOORE: Well, Bernie has spent a lot of time here. And let me just...


MATTHEWS: I`m talking about nationwide, nationwide. It`s down to about five points.

MOORE: Right.

Well, you know, Bernie is exciting. I mean, he`s promising no health care premiums. He`s promising free college. He`s going to decriminalize marijuana. He`s going to do all this, and he doesn`t have any numbers behind any of his initiatives.

MATTHEWS: What is Hillary going to do?

MOORE: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: What is Hillary going to do? MOORE: What Hillary is going -- Hillary is going to do what Hillary does.

MATTHEWS: But what is that? What is that?

MOORE: And that is that she`s willing to sit down, even with people who don`t agree with her, and come to some kind of consensus. Bernie -- Bernie...

MATTHEWS: What`s one thing -- what`s one thing she`s going to do for the Democratic voter that they can get excited about when they vote tomorrow?

MOORE: Well, one of the things she`s going to do for people here in Wisconsin is not just complain about manufacturing jobs leaving the state, but actually is going to put the political will together to really put some resources into the solar energy economy, the high-tech economy.


MATTHEWS: This is the problem you got with Hillary.

You know, Patrick, that`s the problem. Hillary Clinton does not have an exciting, glistening object she can put out in front of the voters and says, if you elect me, I will do this.

MOORE: Well, Chris, creating jobs ought to be exciting to people.

MATTHEWS: Well, but they all promise that.


HEALY: Well, she`s never caught on in that way, in terms of being the exciting, high-enthusiasm candidate.

The Clinton campaign can point to different polls that she`s -- that her supporters are enthusiastic, but the reality is, she got several hundred supporters out in Harlem the other day.

Bernie Sanders had 18,000 out in the Bronx. You know, there`s just a difference there. But the reality is, as you know well, the tightness that`s going on right now, sort of the nervousness in her camp, a lot of it is about New York. She cannot allow herself to be beaten in her adopted home state. That`s a real concern.

She beat Obama by 18 points in 2008. If somehow Bernie Sanders is able to flip this and he`s able to beat her there, while the delegate math may not change appreciably, it could change somewhat, but more so, it will create such a counternarrative to the Hillary Clinton campaign, that the primaries after that in Pennsylvania, California, and also the superdelegate conversations could become really problematic for Hillary.

MATTHEWS: Just one word from you. How will Bernie`s accent go over in Europe -- in New York?

HEALY: I think it will go over pretty well, Chris. I think they will be wondering about like, this guy is from Vermont, really?


MATTHEWS: I know. It sounds like local.

Anyway, thank you.

What subway stop is that, Senator?

Thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore from here for welcoming us, and Patrick Healy of "The New York Times."

Still ahead, on Wisconsin, could tomorrow`s primary change the dynamic of these campaigns? I have got a Milwaukee roundtable coming here, all three of them right here with me.

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



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have long thought Trump was a side show. I`m amazed he`s lasted this long. It almost frightens me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie really has a grassroots movement going. He`s got a lot of the millennials. He`s got a lot of the working class laborers behind him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best and the worst is honestly, I`d probably say Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m kind of liking Trump, just because he`s not pulling any punches. He`s just saying what he thinks instead of all the political double speak that you hear.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: That`s the voice of Wisconsin voters you saw right there.

Welcome back to HARDBALL here.

Rolling into tomorrow`s Wisconsin primary, front-runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are looking at strong challenges from their chief opponents, of course, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. Cruz and Sanders are on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, of course, but they have a common challenge, they need to crush their opponents to win the nomination at this point. It`s April 4th today.

Would a win in Wisconsin give either of these challenges candidates the momentum to overcome the front-runner in each case?

Well, joining me right now, two reporters from "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", Mary Spicuzza, and Craig Gilbert, as well as Wisconsin state representative, Mandela Barnes, a Democrat who represents Northeast Milwaukee.

Representative, I`ve got to ask you a question. As a Democrat, what is this bill out here that means you can`t vote unless you have a photo voto, whatever, you`ve got to show some government-issued ID or you can`t vote?

STATE REP. MANDELA BARNES (D), WISCONSIN STATE ASSEMBLY: Well, absolutely. First of all, I think it`s a very exciting day to be in the state of Wisconsin. But the need to have photo ID to vote is a part of the Republican agenda across the entire country to limit the electorate. And higher turnout elections, Republicans cannot win across the country. The changing demographics --

MATTHEWS: So, their way of dealing with demographic change --

BARNES: The only way they can cope with a high voter turnout is to limit the amount of people that can actually cast a ballot.

MATTHEWS: So, what about these college students? They can`t vote with their student IDs, I hear.

BARNES: Well, absolutely. Well, there are a number of schools who are -- who have IDs that are allowable, but not every college. It creates so much confusion amongst the young people.

MATTHEWS: Mary, tell me about the state tomorrow, tell me what we`re looking at on the Democratic side. Bernie has got the Bern, and he`s got the college campuses, Madison, you`ve got college campuses all over the state, right?

MARY SPICUZZA, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Right. Yes, and Madison, I mean, Madison is Bernie territory. Those early rallies that he had in Madison were like 10,000 people. And that was --

MATTHEWS: How come Madison is still like it was in the `60s? How come it has not changed since the Vietnam War at all? Craig?

CRAIG GILBERT, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: It`s more so. Madison has grown. People vote like crazy. The Democrats draw margins out of Madison they couldn`t have dreamed of 20 or 30 years ago. Madison had a Republican congressman --

MATTHEWS: How come Berkeley hasn`t changed, Ann Arbor hasn`t changed, Madison hasn`t changed? These centers of progressivism are the same as they were in my day in college.

GILBERT: Yes. And it has a big impact on state politics. I mean, you`ll see Bernie tomorrow will draw huge numbers at Madison. I mean, it`s like the best performing county in America for Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let me ask you about the outcome. Which way is it going? Can you tell? Is Hillary tightening it up, is Trump tightening it up?

SPICUZZA: I think Hillary is tightening up in some areas. And we`re not a winner-take-all state. So, it will be interesting to see, I would assume Bernie is going to do very well in Madison. I think Hillary will lead in Milwaukee, although the college students will turn out for Bernie here.

I think Trump, he does have support in Janesville. He does in places up north. Certainly not southeastern Wisconsin, which is kind of conservative talk radio land, Scott Walker land.

MATTHEWS: Cruz people.

SPICUZZA: Cruz people all the way.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think the talk radio people on the right are totally in bed with Cruz? They don`t like Trump at all for some reason.

GILBERT: Yes, it starts with being anti-Cruz. They weren`t in bed with Cruz a month ago or two months ago. They were moving toward -- where they had Walker and then they were moving toward Rubio. And their guys kept dropping out.

MATTHEWS: It looks like a million little Mark Levins out there?

GILBERT: Cruz is just a vehicle, right? It`s a strategic tactical move that came together in Wisconsin, the anti-Trump stuff was always there.

MATTHEWS: What percentage of the Democratic primary will be African- American?

BARNES: It will be around maybe 6 percent. The state of Wisconsin is 6 percent African-American. Maybe a little smaller. Maybe 5, 4 percent.

MATTHEWS: Bernie country.

BARNES: I wouldn`t say that much.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to come back. You have to give me a scoop. The roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these people are going to tell me something I don`t know, a scoop out of Milwaukee.

Anyway, HARDBALL live from Milwaukee on the eve of the Wisconsin primary.


MATTHEWS: We`ve got a big day of programming set for you for tomorrow night. Wisconsin voters head to the polls. At 7:00 p.m., I`ll have a special edition of HARDBALL at 7:00 p.m. Eastern live from here in Milwaukee.

Then, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, I`ll join Brian Williams, of course, and Rachel Maddow for complete primetime coverage with full results and analysis of the Republican and Democratic races here. It`s all here on MSNBC, the place for politics. And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with a HARDBALL round table.

Mary, tell me something I don`t know.

SPICUZZA: I was pretty surprised last week. I had an interview with Donald Trump and some other reporters on his plane. As the interview was, and then he noticed I had gotten interrupt bid some of the other reporters and allowed me to stay back and ask some questions I hadn`t gotten a chance to ask that I was talking over.

MATTHEWS: That surprised you?

SPICUZZA: I was surprised. Seemed quite gentlemanly.



GILBERT: So, Donald Trump says John Kasich should get out of race because he`s taking my votes. We look at the numbers in Wisconsin, it`s not true.

Now, this may not shock you, but the Kasich people really don`t like Donald Trump. Most won`t even vote for Trump in fall. They`re little less comfortable from Ted Cruz, which is why Ted Cruz is on the air attacking John Kasich, to beat down his numbers.

MATTHEWS: Oh my God.

Anyway, Representative?

BARNES: Yes, my perspective as a legislator: Wisconsin had some very unique issues, the highest black male incarceration rates and we had a highest black, white achievement gap in the nation. We also have exuberantly high black male unemployment in the city of Milwaukee, the candidate who can best address those issues on the Democratic side is going to be the ones who carries those votes tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: What policy would improve those numbers?

BARNES: Well, one thing we got to do is get better at how we treat our non-violent offenders and our drug offenders. We`ve done it wrong.

MATTHEWS: You mean users?

BARNES: Yes, our users. Absolutely, the people who have mental illness who are locked away in prisons across this entire country, but specifically here in the state of Wisconsin, where our African-American incarceration rate, male, is at 13 percent.

MATTHEWS: I wish you can tell me surprisingly.


MATTHEWS: It`s a sad story all around.

Let me ask you about, who`s going to win tomorrow night?

SPICUZZA: I think Cruz is going to lead. I would not be surprised if Trump and Kasich get delegates too. I think Bernie has a very strong chance of winning in Wisconsin, but I think Hillary will certainly get delegates in the Milwaukee area.

MATTHEWS: You hear that?

GILBERT: The dirty little secret about Wisconsin is that it almost always votes for the front-runner for presidential primaries, contrary to its image. It looks like trend is going to end tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, it voted for Kennedy in 1960 and Gene McCarthy in 1968. I remember those.

Anyway, thank you, Mary Spicuzza. Thank you, Craig Gilbert of the paper out here, and to State Representative Mandela Barnes.

When we return, let me finish with the political situation in this country. How`s that for a big story? The situation.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the political situation in this country.

I think Donald Trump has a powerful hold on the Republican vote. It`s driven by the deep feeling of anger that this country has been betrayed by its governmental elite, by bad trade deals, of failure to stem illegal immigration, the futility and stupidity of the Iraq war. All these factors add to Trump`s strength in the voting booth -- economic, cultural, matters of life and death. In all, the people who vote for Trump believe they`ve been betrayed, as long as Trump sticks to these issues, the better chance he has of wrapping up this nomination.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner faces a very different situation. It`s just not clear what her issues her. Yes, she would be the first woman president, but that`s the icing on the cake. What`s the cake?

And here`s the problem: Bernie Sanders offers lots of benefits to the voter, free tuition at state colleges and university. Did you hear that? Free. Much fatter monthly checks for Social Security retirees, free health care for life.

All that sounds pretty, pretty good to someone in their 20s facing a big college loan debt. It sounds just as good to a retirees looking at a too skinny Social Security check to someone facing high medical or prescription drug co-pays.

So, what`s Hillary Clinton offering? What`s she got to show to the Democratic voter here in Wisconsin should she get elected? Voters want to know. Show me the money as Cuba Gooding used to say in movies.

What`s she`s got to give Democratic voters is the question. They`re looking for an economic break. What`s in your wallet, they ask her, as they think of all that Bernie has promised them.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.