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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/7/2016

Guests: Susan Page, Steve McMahon, Colleen McCain Nelson, Dana Milbank, Anne Gearan, Francesca Chambers, Bruce Levingston

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 7, 2016 Guest: Susan Page, Steve McMahon, Colleen McCain Nelson, Dana Milbank, Anne Gearan, Francesca Chambers, Bruce Levingston

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hillary doesn`t love Bernie.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in their first round of a heavyweight bout in New York. Clinton`s hitting Bernie for accusing her of accusing him of not being qualified to be president. He`s saying she accused him of being not qualified because of a "Washington post" headline. She`s saying it wasn`t her word, it was the "Washington Post`s" word.

Anyway, this is, as you can tell, only the first round in what promises to be a 15-round bout between now and the Tuesday after next, when both Democrats face a do-or-die test in the New York primary. And this one actually is do or die.

If Hillary holds on, she keeps Bernie -- actually, keeps Sanders from overtaking her in delegates. If Hillary loses, however, all hell`s going to break lose. How can the Democrats nominate someone in Philadelphia who just lost their home state in nearby New York?

As I said, in a combative broadside last night, Sanders attacked Clinton`s chief selling point as a candidate for president, her readiness for the job.

Here`s Sanders.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, quote, unquote, "not qualified to be president."


SANDERS: Let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don`t believe that she is qualified! I don`t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super-PAC!


SANDERS: I don`t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq!


SANDERS: I don`t think you are qualified if you`ve supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement which has cost us millions of decent- paying jobs!



MATTHEWS: Well, that attack elicited an immediate response from Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon, who pointed out that Hillary Clinton did not say Bernie Sanders was not qualified, but he has now absurdly said it about her. This is a new low.

Fallon also asked Sanders to recant his statement, saying, quote, "Bernie Sanders, take back your words about Hillary Clinton." But Sanders did not back off. Instead, he cited that "Washington Post" headline as evidence that Clinton attacked him first and then doubled down this morning.


SANDERS: When you have headlines in "The Washington Post," quote, "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president," my response is, well, you know, if you want to question my qualifications, let me suggest this, that maybe the American people might wonder about your qualifications, Madam Secretary!

If Secretary Clinton thinks that I just come from the small state of Vermont, we`re not used to this -- well, we`ll get used to it fast. I`m not going to get beaten up. I`m not going to get lied about.


MATTHEWS: Wow. In response, "The Washington Post`s" fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, today pointed out that Clinton did not call Sanders unqualified. Quote, "Sanders is putting words in Clinton`s mouth. She never said, quote, unquote, that he was not qualified to be president. He can`t slam her for words she did not say."

Well, I`m joined right now by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

I brought you guys in here to try to figure this out. The chief thing I think is going on here is that they both need to win New York.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": It`s important. It`s important. And you know what? There`s no "Iowa nice" in New York. New York is happy to have really rough-and-tumble politics, and that`s what we`re going to see because the stakes could not be higher for both of these...

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s get back to my point before, we talked about before. Maybe you can`t be as definitive on the air, but it seems to me if Hillary Clinton loses her home state, what happens?

PAGE: If she loses her home state, it`s not that, mathematically, somehow, she can never get to a majority. It`s that it could change the kind of calculation that Democratic leaders are making about how strong a candidate she would be and...


MATTHEWS: And if he loses, is he still in the run or not? Does he have to knock her off?

PAGE: Well, he`s already not mathematically in a very good position. That would -- that would be -- put him in a worse position. That doesn`t mean he`s going to get out.


PAGE: I think he stays in through to the end. But it means she would be back on track after that big defeat...


MATTHEWS: I take a bigger view. I think it`s got that New York resonance. New York is the center of the media universe of the universe. I mean, everything bounds out of New York. If you play for a New York sports team, it`s coming out of New York. And if Bernie wins New York, I think it`s a blockbuster.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it is a blockbuster, but...


MATTHEWS: He`s already ready to pass her nationally in the numbers.

MCMAHON: Right. It is a blockbuster. There`s no question about that. But there`s also this delegate math that has an overwhelming advantage for Hillary Clinton, and that doesn`t change whether he wins or not because of proportional representation rules.

He will get huge momentum. There`ll be enormous energy in his campaign. He`ll raise probably another $50 million, and he`ll be well-funded. But that doesn`t mean that the superdelegates, who have known the Clintons for 25 years, who have worked with Hillary Clinton for a long time and just met Bernie Sanders really this year are going to flip absent some compelling reason.

MATTHEWS: OK. The reason I think it`s going to be the big one, the big enchilada -- Hillary Clinton, starting two or three days ago, after, you know, losing out in Wisconsin, has begun to realize she has to beat this guy. She can`t play with him any more. She can`t hope he`s going to go away. He ain`t going away.

And she jumped on "The New York Daily News" interview with him about how to get rid of the big banks, break up the big banks. So she`s jumped on it and says this is an example he doesn`t know what he`s talking about. That`s how you get the headlines. I`m sorry, I`m talking about Bernie. You got have headlines, you got to have quotes, quotes, in air, air quotes. And she`s saying, I did not say that.

PAGE: Well, you know, she...


MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t (ph) she say that?

PAGE: But you know, here`s the thing. If he hadn`t done "quote, unquote," and if he hadn`t said "saying," he could be on more solid ground. If he had said "suggesting" because she did suggest. She refused to say that he was unqualified. She dodged that question over and over again and finally said it was up to the voters to determine...

MATTHEWS: Yes, on "MORNING JOE" today, she wouldn`t say it, but she -- the whole heft of what she`s saying is, This guy`s not what he claims to be, and the low-information voter`s falling for it, is basically her argument.

MCMAHON: There are a couple things...

MATTHEWS: That`s not a nice word to use, by the way (INAUDIBLE) Trump.

MCMAHON: Strategically, there are a couple things going on here. The first is, any time we`re talking about qualifications and experience, that benefits Hillary Clinton. Any time Bernie Sanders is talking about that, that benefits Hillary Clinton. She won`t say that he`s unqualified. She didn`t say...

MATTHEWS: Is she getting at his age?

MCMAHON: Well, she`s kind of just getting at the fact that...

MATTHEWS: Is she getting...


MATTHEWS: Susan, is she getting at his age with "unqualified"?

MCMAHON: They think that...

PAGE: I think she`s getting at the fact that he`s not -- he was a...

MATTHEWS: Back then.

PAGE: ... democratic socialist, that he hasn`t...

MATTHEWS: He`s not a Democrat.

MCMAHON: From a small state, he hasn`t done much, doesn`t...


MATTHEWS: Why is she afraid to slam him, like most politicians? I think somebody...


MATTHEWS: Trump sees somebody, he calls them little Marco or big ears or something...


PAGE: ... needs them to come around.

MCMAHON: Yes, you see the exit polls. And what`s happening is she`s getting destroyed with first-time voters, with young -- with young voters, and she needs all those people and their enthusiasm to come back in the general election.

So she wants to -- she`s actually straddling, I think, this very nicely because she says that what he said is silly, and it is silly. She`s very qualified. But at the same time, she won`t say that he`s qualified. She says, Let me put it another way. I would vote for him. So she`s kind of triangulated this thing.

MATTHEWS: I wonder whether she`s been too coy with this, saying, I could beat a guy without beating him.

PAGE: You know, I think...

MATTHEWS: I don`t know how you beat somebody without beating them.

PAGE: I think she didn`t realize until recently how serious this challenge was. She thought it would go away...


MATTHEWS: ... other party made the same mistake.

PAGE: Right. So...

MATTHEWS: Republicans made the same mistake with Trump. They thought if they ignore him, he`d he go away, or that Bernie would be a back bencher and never really come out front.


PAGE: ... and his supporters aren`t shaken by the idea the delegate math (INAUDIBLE)

MCMAHON: What he needs to do...

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s right! They don`t want to hear about (INAUDIBLE)

MCMAHON: Right. What he needs to do, though, is he needs to move this, as he has for the -- for the -- most of the primary, away from the question of experience and qualifications and over to the question of judgment, which is I think what he was trying to do there with his rhetorical quotes.

MATTHEWS: He`s done that before.

MCMAHON: I know, but fundamentally, if he`s arguing about whether or not she`s qualified, he`s losing.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he could say...

MCMAHON: If he`s arguing about her judgment...

MATTHEWS: ... Was her judgment right on Iraq?

MCMAHON: That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Was her judgment right in taking the...

MCMAHON: That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: ... 60-some, or what is it, $600,000 from Goldman Sachs for speaking fees.


MCMAHON: That`s when he is at his -- that`s when he is at his best as a candidate. This thing about whether he`s -- when he`s arguing about her...


MCMAHON: ... qualifications is crazy for him.

MATTHEWS: The beat goes on. Hillary Clinton today reacted to Sanders`s attack on her qualifications for office in an interview on "TODAY." Let`s listen.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST: ... came right out and said he doesn`t think you`re qualified to be president.

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that`ll be up to the voters of New York and the other states that will be passing judgment in the weeks ahead. I think it`s kind of a silly statement, but he`s free to say whatever he chooses.

LAUER: Is he qualified to be president?

H. CLINTON: Well, here`s what I believe. I believe that voters will be looking at both of us. But I will take Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz any time.


MATTHEWS: She`s thinking of November, right?

MCMAHON: She should do exactly the same thing that he should do -- Of course, he`s qualified to be president, but we have a totally different vision for where we should take this country. And...

PAGE: Neither one of them do that.

MCMAHON: I know. I know. I know, neither one of them will.

MATTHEWS: And Hillary is afraid to say there`s something wrong with the socialist view!

MCMAHON: Well...

MATTHEWS: Doesn`t want to offend people on the left!

MCMAHON: What -- what...

MATTHEWS: What`s wrong with his view, if you ask her?

MCMAHON: It`s not about whether -- it`s not about whether or not he has progressive views. He clearly does, and...

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s wrong with the way...


MATTHEWS: How can she say, I don`t like the way...


MCMAHON: ... he`s qualified to be president. He`s been in the Senate and the House for over 28 years. He`s a part of Washington. But he hasn`t done the kinds of things, he doesn`t have the kind of experience, he hasn`t done this and this and this and this and this, which I have. And that`s why I...

MATTHEWS: You know what Bernie will say? Yes, you`ve got experience. You took us into a stupid war.

MCMAHON: Well, that`s what he`s going to say. That`s what...


MATTHEWS: Anyway, President Bill Clinton was in there (ph). He was asked about Sanders`s attack while he was campaigning today in Philly. Here`s that exchange.


QUESTION: Any response to Bernie Sanders saying Hillary Clinton is not qualified?

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s so silly, it doesn`t deserve a question. About what he said?

QUESTION: Yes, what`s your response? Is she more qualified than he is? Is he qualified?

B. CLINTON: She`s the most qualified person to run for president in our party since I`ve been voting, more than I was in `92.

QUESTION: Do you think he is qualified?

B. CLINTON: I think that I will abide by what Hillary said today. We shouldn`t be distracted by this. We need to talk about these people and their future. I`m for what Hillary said.


MATTHEWS: Talk about pushy! That guy was right literally in his face, and Bill pulled the gallant number, right?

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: She`s more qualified than I ever was. He did.

MCMAHON: It`s much better than lashing out. He looks at this and he says, She is so qualified. She is so ready. And why we can`t put this guy away is absolutely beyond him, obviously.

PAGE: And yet they haven`t been able to put him away. And the fact is, he generates more enthusiasm than she does.


PAGE: Seven out of ten voters under 30 who have voted in a Democratic primary so far have supported him, not her. That is an amazing number, and it`s a number she has to address. And she can`t address it...

MCMAHON: That`s why she can`t beat him down.

PAGE: That`s right.

MCMAHON: That`s why can`t snack him down. She absolutely needs those people, especially if -- you know, if the Republicans nominate Trump, she might not need...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about this...


MATTHEWS: Look how great it is for Bernie, though. He`s Brooklyn. He`s got the accent. He`s got the manner, the big city ethnic manner. He`s got it cold. It`s shtick, and it`s great! I mean, the air quotes he does, all this -- he`s animated! He`s got a passion! He puts on -- I`m not demeaning it -- a show.

MCMAHON: He does.

MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton doesn`t!

MCMAHON: Well, he did...

MATTHEWS: She does not put on...

MCMAHON: It was classic Brooklyn...

MATTHEWS: You don`t go see a Hillary Clinton speech to get excited. You go there maybe to learn some things. He`s going back to Brooklyn -- what, the debate`s going to be in Brooklyn maybe. He`s -- he`s got the Brooklyn thing around. She`s sort of an arriviste. She`s come to New York. She can say, He left New York, I chose New York. But you know what? He`s going to seem like the Mets and she`s going to look like the Yankees!

MCMAHON: Bernie...

MATTHEWS: It`s going to be very -- and she`s Chappaqua against Brooklyn! Who wins that fight? Come on, Brooklyn wins that!

MCMAHON: Bernie had his Brooklyn showing today. I mean, it was basically, like, You think I`m stupid? You`re stupider!


MCMAHON: And that`s kind of...

MATTHEWS: I think that`s...

MCMAHON: ... what`s going on right now.

MATTHEWS: ... Joe Pesci!


MATTHEWS: That`s Joe Pesci!


MCMAHON: ... what`s going on. In fact, he says, I`m unqualified? She`s unqualified. Let me tell you why...

MATTHEWS: And then she says, I know what a token`s for. He doesn`t know what a token is.

MCMAHON: Right, it`s...

MATTHEWS: He thinks they still use tokens! We`re talking like this now.


MATTHEWS: Thank you, Susan. Thank you, Steve McMahon. I think it`s going to get more like this. Round one. We got 14 rounds to go in New York.

Coming up -- Donald Trump`s pinning his hopes on a big rebound in New York, and today he got a boost from New York`s -- well, New York`s mayor, America`s mayor, he likes to call himself, Rudy Giuliani, who announced he`s supporting -- not just supporting, voting for and supporting Trump.

Plus, that battle between Clinton and Sanders is red hot right now. But how badly will this battle for New York hurt Hillary Clinton if she is the eventual nominee come November?

And the HARDBALL roundtable`s here tonight with something I don`t know about, anyway, this wild presidential race as we head into the big New York primary, as I said.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a presidential contest that has now narrowed to very a narrow multiple choice. No more free choice, just multiple choice.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`ve got new numbers out of Pennsylvania, where primary voters there will go to the polls in less than three weeks. Let`s take a look at the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton holds a 6-point lead over Bernie Sanders among likely Democratic voters. It`s Clinton 50, Sanders 44 percent. On the Republican side, Donald Trump enjoys a moderate lead over Ted Cruz. It`s Trump 39 percent, Cruz 30 percent, John Kasich down at 24 percent.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, and to the other match. Donald Trump today picked up the support of a bold (ph) print (ph) New Yorker. "The New York Post" reported today that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is now backing Donald Trump in the upcoming New York primary, which is April 19th.

According to "The New York Post," Giuliani said, "I support Trump, I`m going to vote for Trump. It`s a question of how much he gets over 50 percent." This is Giuliani speaking. "If he wins 70 to 80 delegates, Donald has a good shot of securing the 1,237 delegates to secure nomination before the convention."

Giuliani said that Ted Cruz`s comments blasting "New York values" rankled him. Quote, "It`s New York City. We`re family. I can make fun of New York, but you can`t."

Michael Steele is an MSNBC political analyst and Colleen McCain Nelson is White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal." Michael...


MATTHEWS: ... this battle, tell me about the value added of Rudy Giuliani.

STEELE: Oh, it`s pretty -- it`s pretty damn big there, Chris. I think he kind of put the exclamation point on that whole saga with Cruz and this narrative about "New York values." That comment by the mayor really sends a signal across the state that we`re going, you know, bind ourselves together here to stand behind the guy who -- who -- you know, who`s going to go to battle for our New York values.

And I think it`s an important -- and I think it`s an important lift for Trump coming off of a very tough battle in Wisconsin, to roll into his home turf, to have the kind of night he had last night, some great sound out of that event, and then today, to sort of roll into this event with the mayor supporting him. I think it`s a good, good day and a good way to start his time in New York.

MATTHEWS: Yes, what it also tells me, that a lot of Republicans in New York have New York values, including Giuliani.

STEELE: Yes, they do.

MATTHEWS: They`re pro-choice. They`re pro-choice. They support same-sex marriage, Rudy Giuliani, for example. They`re secular in their politics. They don`t use religion as a battle flag.


MATTHEWS: And that`s -- what do you think?

NELSON: Right. They have New York values, and they have long memories, and they do not forget...


NELSON: They do not forget what Ted Cruz said. And you saw Ted Cruz go to New York and try to kind of explain that in a new way and say, Well, I might have said that, but I was talking about the Democrats, and you know what the Democrats think in New York. And so he tried to kind of explain it away, but he was not warmly received in New York when he arrived there.


MATTHEWS: I mean, Gary Hart -- remember years ago, Michael, Gary Hart was in LA. There was a gay group out in LA, and he told sort of an esthetic joke which was sort of funny. He said, I`m glad -- much rather be with you guys than back in New Jersey at some solid waste site or something.

And my dad in New Jersey, who lives in New Jersey, goes, Oh, you`re making fun of my state? That`s nice.

STEELE: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: But the audience in LA loved it and the people out in the country loved what -- what Cruz said when he was trashing New York when they were out with the country mice.

STEELE: Yes, well, yes. When you`re out there, you`re not in New York, you`re saying that, people are going, yes, I`m with you on that. But back -- when you need to come back into the state, it`s a very different feeling, as we`ve seen from the coverage and the newspapers, and certainly the welcome he`s gotten from people on the street.

So is going to be a tough slog for him. You`re looking at, right now -- you know, John Kasich is 7, 9 points above him in New York City. So this tells you it`s going to be a tough roll for him.

It reminded me a little bit of President Obama, then candidate Obama, sort of, you know, mocking those values in Pennsylvania, those God and gun values. So these types of things for these candidates who...

MATTHEWS: Great example!


MATTHEWS: Michael, you`ve done it -- you`ve done it again because sitting up in, you know, Russian Hill or Knob Hill with a bunch of wealthy liberal Democrats in San Francisco, the president talked about those people that are so -- oh, they`re so scared, they have to cling to their guns and their, you know, bible or whatever, their religion.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And by the time you get back to Pennsylvania, they remember.

STEELE: They remember.


MATTHEWS: Didn`t you say -- well, let me ask you about Rudy Giuliani, because I have been sort of -- like we all do in this world, try to figure it out and scope it out.

I was figuring, when fall comes, if Hillary is the nominee, she will have - - her best surrogate will be President Obama. He will be out there pounding, if it`s Trump, pounding Trump.

And now I`m watching Rudy Giuliani show up and put on the uniform, come onto the field. He has got a little mud on the uniform. He has been there. He comes out. He comes out.

You know, Colleen, respond to this. He comes out. He is the guy that takes the shot at Trump -- at the president. The president takes a condescending shot at -- you know how he does it. He makes fun of the guy. And Rudy comes along and punches him in the nose. I just -- Rudy is going to be part of the fight.

MCCAIN NELSON: Right. Well, let`s see. Let`s see.

MATTHEWS: How can he lose? Why wouldn`t Rudy want to fight the president? You always punch up?

MCCAIN NELSON: Well, I mean, he would relish the fight. But his endorsement today wasn`t exactly a resounding endorsement.

MATTHEWS: He said, I support him, I`m going to vote for him.

MCCAIN NELSON: But it may not have even been an endorsement.

MATTHEWS: You`re playing the "New York Times" game. Remember, you write for "The Wall Street Journal." Why are you doing the "New York Times" nuance here?

MCCAIN NELSON: But is Rudy Giuliani is willing to stand behind Donald Trump at the press conference.


MATTHEWS: Well, he will now.

Just what`s the difference between support and endorse?

MCCAIN NELSON: All right. All right.

MATTHEWS: "The New York Times" is so sophisticated.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, President Obama is increasingly dipping his toe into the 2016 waters by correcting records, specifically the inaccuracies of Donald Trump. On Tuesday , President Obama responded to a question about Trump`s plan to end remittances to Mexico to pay for a border wall. Let`s listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made.

I do have to emphasize that it`s not just Mr. Trump`s proposals. I mean, you`re also hearing concerns about Mr. Cruz`s proposals, which in some ways are just as draconian when it comes to immigration, for example.

We`ve got big issues around the world. People expect the president of the United States and the elected officials to treat these problems seriously. They don`t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House.


MATTHEWS: Did you see that little laugh in his face when he does it?

Michael, maybe you haven`t seen it lately. But he has a little laugh when he does that.

Anyway, President Obama has demonstrated frustration with policies being proposed of course by the 2016 Republican candidates seeking to replace him in the White House. Here he is again.


OBAMA: The implications with respect to ending remittance, many of which, by the way, are from legal immigrants, and from individuals who are sending money back to their families, are enormous.

First of all, they`re impractical. We just talked about the difficulties of trying to enforce huge outflows of capital. The notion that we`re going to track every Western Union, you know, bit of money that`s being sent to Mexico, you know, good luck with that.

But this is just one more example of something that is not thought through and is primarily put forward for political consumption.


MATTHEWS: Well, Colleen, when we talked a moment, the segment before about using the word not qualified, it was sort of gentlemanly and gentlelady-ly. Now wacky. He just refers to wacky thoughts of the Republican side.

MCCAIN NELSON: Right. These are things...

MATTHEWS: Wacky means you have got a mental problem.


These are things the president and his advisers have been saying privately for some time, but now they have gone all in publicly on this. And it serves a few different purposes for Obama. One, it certainly helps the future Democratic nominee. It presages the general election fight. But at the same time, the White House really enjoys drawing this contrast between Trump and kind of waving his arms and proposing these ideas and vs. Obama, who you can...

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you, Michael, top this fight. I grew up with it, with Tom Dewey making fun of Kennedy. And my dad says that`s what FDR used to do to Tom Dewey a couple times, or beat him.

So, does condescension and sarcasm work if you`re president if you`re up against a Donald Trump? Or does Trump just start banging at you? And who wins that fight if the president is condescending and Trump and Trump is a wise guy to him? Who wins?

STEELE: I think part of it a little defection to sort of draw the battle fire up towards him a little bit, because he is the one in office. He`s on his way out.

There`s sort of he has got the mantle of the White House. He has got the prestige of the presidency, which he can hit back with and probably hit back in a way that Hillary Clinton could not. So there is that.

But here is the danger. Donald Trump is an asymmetrical player. He doesn`t care where he hits. He doesn`t care where he hits you. He is just going to hit you. The White House wants to be very careful if they open up this particular Pandora`s box with them, because Trump has no problem waling against Hillary and him to show how disastrous both are together for the United States.

So I think the president wants to be a little bit cute by half. You talked about the smirk there. He wants to show he has this connection with foreign leaders who are asking him about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But the reality of it is, they don`t want to walk too deeply into this, Chris, because there are some snakes there they don`t want to get bitten by either.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, guys. It is so interesting, It is so interesting, whether the president can stay too cool for school against these guys, against somebody like Trump. I don`t know how you out-aloof Trump.

Anyway, thank you. Thank you very much, Michael Steele. Thank you, Colleen McCain Nelson of "The Wall Street Journal."

Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable is coming here for an in-depth look at our top story of the night, the all-out fight that has broken out in New York between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. We call them Hillary and Billary, Hillary and Bill.

I don`t know how -- no, it`s Bernie and Hillary. Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


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

President Obama says Supreme Court Merrick Garland is an extraordinary jurist who is indisputably qualified to serve on the nation`s highest court. He also called Garland fair, smart and objective while speaking in Chicago, and the president criticized Republicans for refusing to consider his nomination.


OBAMA: Not only are they not willing to hold a vote at this point. They have refused to hold hearings on Judge Garland. And in some cases, Mitch McConnell and others have said, we will not even show the courtesy of meeting with the judge to find out what he thinks.


REHBERGER: A fast-moving wildfire in Oklahoma has consumed more than 57,000 acres and is only 27 percent contained. Several firefighters have required medical attention.

Meanwhile, crews worked to put out a blaze in a ExxonMobil facility in Baytown, Texas. The complex houses the nation`s second largest refinery. There are no reports of injuries there.

And the Detroit Zoo rolled out the blue carpet for some of the penguins who will soon call it home when the zoo`s $29 million penguin exhibit opens later on this month -- back to HARDBALL.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you have headlines in "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president," my response is, well, you know if you want to question my qualifications, let me suggest this, that maybe the American people might wonder about your qualifications, Madam Secretary.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Senator Bernie Sanders going after Hillary Clinton earlier today while addressing an AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia.

Senator Sanders was referencing a headline in "The Washington Post" that read: "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president."

Well, ahead of the New York primary on April 19 now, Clinton and Sanders are battling it out for every vote. Today, Clinton brushed Sanders` attacks as silly and reminded New York voters of her ties to the state.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love New York. And I just am thrilled to have the time to spend here and see my friends and people I have worked with, and looking forward to the primary.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable tonight, "The Washington Post" national political reporter Anne Gearan to my left here, who wrote the "Post" story with the headline -- she didn`t write the headline -- Sanders is quoting there.

Also from "The Washington Post,," political columnist Dana Milbank, and Francesca Chambers of "The Daily Mail," who covered Sanders in Philadelphia earlier today.

Well, look, let me talk about this amazing thing. First of all, Sanders is engaging in what I like to call a very good political tactic. It`s called -- and it`s a military tactic, attack from a defensive position. I didn`t start this fight, but I`m just defending myself. And, by the way, I`m going to knock her head off while I`m doing it, right, Anne?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. He said she started it, but hey, now that we`re here, I`m going to give as good as I get.

MATTHEWS: I`m not going to get beat off is his phrase.


MATTHEWS: He meant kicked out of the state.

GEARAN: Neither one of them backed down today.

MATTHEWS: So, they both want a fight.

And, Dana, I think this is a reality. They got along three months ago or whatever, because Hillary thought she had it won, or two months ago. Then she realized, this guy is coming back for more. He is not quitting. And she knows if she loses New York, it`s going to be one horrific summer. She will have to live down having lost New York, even if she squeaks it out in delegates.


I actually like what I`m seeing here. This is what a political campaign is supposed to be. And I think Democrats particularly get sort of namby-pamby about this and say, oh, my goodness, they`re attacking each other and they operate under these Marquis of Queensbury rules.


MATTHEWS: What you just did was politically incorrect in about five ways, OK, but just keep it up. Namby-pamby? OK, go ahead.

MILBANK: Yes. But you know what? He is being perfectly legitimate in his attacks on her.


MATTHEWS: I agree.


MATTHEWS: It`s the contest. So, they want to fight. Let`s just talk. They want to fight. It`s like the Middle East. Don`t tell me -- the kids in the back seat even, they like to fight.

Bernie wants to show he has got gusto, he is taking her on, and she has got to fight back to show she is willing to fight for it.


And the thing about this is, Sanders should have been taking this position the entire time. He shouldn`t have been being so nice to her. He shouldn`t have been saying, oh, no one cares about your e-mails. He shouldn`t have been saying any of those things. He should have attacked her from this position the entire time.


MATTHEWS: Who wrote that piece? Patrick Healy of "The New York Times" wrote that piece about how, if they had fought this thing from the beginning, things would have been different.

CHAMBERS: It would have been completely different if this entire time he had hit her in her weak spots. She has been suggesting that he is not qualified for the job.


MATTHEWS: Did you know at the time that Senator Sanders said enough about -- with the accent, enough about the e-mails, that he had basically kissed off the image of being a real contender and looked like a protest candidate? That`s what I thought that. I thought the minute he said that, he said, I`m not going to win this thing. I`m going to win on principle. I`m not going to beat her.

He should have said, yes, I will use everything they give me.

CHAMBERS: Every candidate says that that`s how they`re going to win, but as we have seen in politics, that fundamentally just doesn`t work.


MATTHEWS: Hillary would not done it. Hillary would not have said enough about the e-mails, if it was Bernie`s e-mails problems.


MATTHEWS: Do you agree with me? Hillary would have grabbed that and run with it.

GEARAN: Well, I think she would have done a version of what she is doing here, right?

MATTHEWS: Stick it. You grab what you can.


GEARAN: There is something in the air, and she is going to take it, use it, and argue it to the best she can from her side.

I just thought, you know, I agree with Dana, that this is actually useful. It may not be pretty, but it`s actually getting information out.

MATTHEWS: I agree. Who gets up tomorrow morning more loaded for bearer? Who wants to fight more than the other person wants to fight?

Does Bernie -- Senator Sanders want this fight to be vigorous?


MILBANK: Certainly Sanders does, because it makes him viable again. He sees the possibility of momentum, even if he actually...

MATTHEWS: It gets bigger crowds.

MILBANK: Even if he actually can`t win things.

But he is still not saying, Hillary, you`re a liar, you`re going to be indicted, I care about your e-mails. He is still -- to his credit, this is all above board. Go after her policies. Go after her credibility. I think that`s completely legitimate.

GEARAN: Well, they`re arguing about what you have to do to be president.

I mean, this is a job interview, and they should be arguing about what you should have as your list of...


MATTHEWS: Don`t you like the fact that he has got some oldies but goodies he pulls out whenever he needs it? Whenever it gets tough, he says and your judgment about the Iraq War. And he always pulls that out. And no matter what she fights about, he says, and the Iraq War. He`s so good at that.

GEARAN: He has always got that one in his back pocket.

MATTHEWS: But it`s there. It has been Hillary`s...


MILBANK: And it will play in Brooklyn.

MATTHEWS: And the other one about those $600,000 in speeches, they must be really good speeches. It`s pretty funny when he does it.

Anyway, the Sanders campaign is emphatic that he`s not going to become a punching bag for Hillary Clinton. His team insists Sanders won`t go without a fight against what he predicts will be become an increasingly negative campaign coming at him. Let`s take a listen.


SANDERS: I do have respect for Secretary Clinton. I don`t know who in her campaign comes up with these brilliant ideas. But all I`m saying is I`m not going to go into New York -- you know, I know that they`re getting nervous. They have lost seven out of the last eight caucuses and primaries, and I know every day, they develop a new approach to the campaign.

I gather their approach is -- again, this is a quote from CNN, a quote -- disqualify him, defeat him, and unify the party later. That sounds to me like they`re ready to run a very negative campaign.


MATTHEWS: I love it. I think the guy has gotten to be really good at this narration, just describing the fight the way that looks good to his younger audience that is spoiling for a little fight against the old guard.

GEARAN: Right.

Well, I mean, what is the main currency he has right now, right? He has got young people. He has got momentum. He`s got money. Those are important things. They`re not delegates. So he has got to keep those things in play. He`s got to keep the people coming.


MATTHEWS: The show.


MATTHEWS: The moment is better for him. The moment -- the numbers are good for her, but the moment is better for him.

MILBANK: They`re in New York. They love -- New Yorkers love a scrap. This isn`t Wisconsin nice anymore.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s explain that. My understanding of New York media is that it`s always radio. Every time you get in a cab up there, the guy has got their radio on.

It`s in Canarsie another knifing or some terrible thing. Across town in this thing, something up in here and something up in the Bronx, something else is going on. Action. It`s like a pinball machine in the old days. Something is moving. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It`s like Jackie Mason talking. They like it up there.

In the days of Ed Koch, there would always be something going on. And every two hours, radio has to refresh, use the old rule. If you give them a new sound bite -- you had a term for those things. Just give them some more type, more tape. They will use it. So every two hours, there is a whole new story in New York, an actuality, we called them.

CHAMBERS: This is what has been infuriating the Clinton camp recently, is that Bernie Sanders is very good about flipping the script.

Let`s go to the debate, for instance, about saying, no, no, this is her fault. I have thrown out dates. She doesn`t want to debate.

MATTHEWS: Well, she did throw out the Monday night, which was absurd. Nobody was going to watch it.

CHAMBERS: And he did end up conceding.


MATTHEWS: Villanova and North Carolina, they`re going to watch those two.

CHAMBERS: Most of the way through that, he was winning that argument, because he does a very good job of framing the argument against her

But she did a good job today of turning it back around on him, getting inside the New York subway, going out there and actually walking the streets and talking to voters.


MATTHEWS: And she didn`t have a token now.

CHAMBERS: And it took her a little bit to try and get into the actual subway, but she did bring the story back to herself and the attention back to herself, and cast light on something he didn`t want to, which was that he said the thing about the token and clearly don`t ridden the subway in a long time.

MATTHEWS: There`s an old joke about Nelson Rockefeller, who was loaded beyond belief. He won four elections, paid for them.

And he was the wealthiest man in America. And he comes. He`s in a phone booth and he comes back to a staff guy. He says I have been in that public -- nobody -- phone booths, remember them?


MATTHEWS: He said, I have been in that phone booth for a half-hour and I can`t make it work. It won`t take my nickel.


MATTHEWS: He wasn`t aware it had gone up to a dime. So, these guys are not really that connected, even Bernie.

GEARAN: Well, right. It probably hadn`t...

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk Trump for a minute.

I thought we -- every night, I go through this with my progressive friends. They call up later, e-mail later, say, why did you put on Trump for five minutes? Why do you do this? Why do you do it? How come you dipped in? Why show anything?

Other people, they do watch it. You never know until -- what the audience says. But Trump was on his game last night. He had a bad week last week. He came back with a direct personal assault on Cruz for that New York values line. And he stood right there and he scorned us. He hates us. Us. Right? Pretty smart.

GEARAN: It is.

He is back to the politics of uniting around himself, which is a particular gift that he has displayed throughout this campaign, and that I think a lot of people underestimated at the beginning. And you put your finger on how he does that.

It`s -- he collects people, and then he points to an other.

MATTHEWS: Are the guys in the hardhats rooting for him?

MILBANK: Well, I think they are.

MATTHEWS: The construction guys, are they rooting for Trump?

MILBANK: Right, right, because it`s that or what -- the other two guys aren`t really...

MATTHEWS: Or Hillary. Or Hillary.


MILBANK: ... aren`t really giving them much there.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

MILBANK: You know, what can they do?


The hardhat guys for Trump, are they yelling, "Hey, Donald"?


MATTHEWS: We don`t call him Donald.

CHAMBERS: I think a lot of people are excited about the idea of Trump or Bernie Sanders, because they aren`t the establishment. They are the kind of people they think will go out there.

MATTHEWS: Who is the Mets? Who`s the Yankees? I think Hillary is the Yankees. Is Bernie the Mets?


MATTHEWS: Probably Brooklyn Dodgers.


MILBANK: Brooklyn Dodgers, and I mean the kid from forest hills is your Mets fan in the gang.

MATTHEWS: Who is that?

MILBANK: That`s Trump.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Bernie, did he leave New York before the bums left.

MILBANK: No, no, no, he was -- the famous tabloid photo. He was there for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

MATTHEWS: I love the Dodgers.

Anyway, up next, Duke Snider, Ray Campanella. Anyway, these guys are going to tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Anne, tell me something I don`t know.

GEARAN: Well, actually my colleague, my "Washington Post" colleague, John Wagner, has an interview with Bernie Sanders that will be out this hour, in which Sanders says that he believes that this fight and the current tenor of the Democratic race is going to make it harder to unite the party in the fall and he regrets that. But he doesn`t regret what he said.


MILBANK: All right, you`ve heard about this --

MATTHEWS: Who regret, but doesn`t regret what they say?

GEARAN: Sanders regrets the fact that the division will make it harder, but he doesn`t regret having said --

MATTHEWS: I don`t think it`s going to be as bad as the Republican division.

GEARAN: Yes, I think you`re right there.

MILBANK: Well, that sort of gets to my point here. We`ve heard ad nauseam about the enthusiasm gap. So, I say, let`s see if that still exists after New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, other blue states.

And the other thing that people haven`t noticed is the satisfaction gap. When you asked Democratic voters how pleased they would be with Hillary Clinton, pretty close to 80 percent say they`d be satisfied. Ask them about the Republican voters about Trump or Cruz, 50 percent, huge satisfaction gap, even if the Republicans have an enthusiasm gap.

MATTHEWS: You have blue eyes and talking about the blue states. I thought that that was interesting.


MATTHEWS: Francesca, go ahead.

GRAHAM: We`ve been talking a lot about this, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders spat. However, one thing that`s been way overlooked is that recently, Hillary Clinton has been broadening her attacks to include Ted Cruz, and not just Donald Trump. She has been hitting Ted Cruz by name in her speeches.


GRAHAM: Possibly because she thinks that Trump won`t end up being the nominee because in the Republican race, that perhaps Ted Cruz has a chance or any other Republican.

MATTHEWS: You know else who did that? (INAUDIBLE) Bernie.

You know who else who did that? You know else who did that? The president in the clip we showed earlier. He said it`s not -- after he said whacky ideas, he said it`s not just Trump.

GRAHAM: Well, he has been saying it`s not just Trump and she has been saying other Republicans. But she has been specifically saying Ted Cruz by name over the last week.

MATTHEWS: Interesting. Anyway, thank you for the round table. A lot of thinking going on here. Anne Gearan, Dana Milbank and Francesca Chambers.

When we come back, what makes a Southern Conservative tick? It`s a question I want somebody to answer from here and I`ve got a great guest to answer it, next.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Back now to those races in Pennsylvania.

Republicans have not won the state since George H.W. Bush back in 1988. But now, the Keystone State could be in play for Republicans in 2016.

Let`s go to the HARDBALL scoreboard. According to the same Quinnipiac poll we mentioned earlier, the party frontrunners are locked in a close battle in Pennsylvania. It`s Hillary Clinton just edging Donald Trump, 45 percent to 42 percent. Surprisingly, Hillary fairs worst against Ted Cruz. It`s Clinton and Cruz both at 43 percent.

Ohio Governor John Kasich`s claim of electability bears fruit in a big way in his neighboring. It`s Kasich crushing Clinton by 16 points, 51 percent to 35 percent.

As has been the case in many other contests, Bernie Sanders fares much better in all three potential matchups. Bernie beats Trump by an eight- point spread. It`s Sanders 48, Trump 40. Bernie beats Cruz 46 percent to 38 percent. But Sanders` luck runs out against Kasich. It`s Kasich 46, Sanders 40.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back. And you`re actually listening to Bach right now played by a concert pianist Bruce Levingston.

By the way, in the other night on HARDBALL, I mentioned, I`m curious about what a Southern conservative tick, and tonight, I brought in man of the South, from Mississippi to help explain it. Anyway, he`s not a conservative.

Mississippi native Bruce Levingston is a world renowned concert pianist and author of a great new book, "Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull".

You grew up in the South. You`re one of the great pianists of the world. That was you playing now. The other night I said, I don`t understand all this rural thing. I`m a suburban city guy, all right?

So, what is it that you know that I don`t know that led to -- first of all, you wrote this book about Marie Hull, a portrait painter who in the earlier part of the 20th century was way ahead of her time, taking beautiful -- making beautiful portraits of African-American people, a white woman.

BRUCE LEVINGSTON, AUTHOR, "BRIGHT FIELDS": And all kinds of people. She painted African-Americans and white people and rich people and poor people, and treated everybody equally. And that`s what -- and she did that in the 1930s. She was born in 1890. Of course, she couldn`t vote at the time.

She was a visionary. There was something she grew up in small town, a rural town. She was from Summit, Mississippi and I`m from the Mississippi delta. It`s bit north of there. That`s the farming area of the Mississippi River.

And something about growing up in a small town, every one knows every one. Class is much less delineated than people think. You know --

MATTHEWS: There`s the person with the house on the hill, the money person.

LEVINGSTON: Certainly, that exists and existed. But even so, people all talk to one another and in order for communities like that to function, you have to talk to people. When you talk to people, you get to know them.

And that reinforces values. It`s a sense of community and also a sense of caring about people. As I grew up, I would visit, I think of an elderly judge, lady that had gone to Columbia. Her name was Lucy Haworth (ph) and she was remarkable. She, too, was one of these ladies like Mrs. Hull that said, I`m going to go and get an education. At that time people did not go to law school. But she decided, I`m going to be a lawyer. Mrs. Hull decided I`m going to be a painter, and it was something in these places that also encouraged some individuality. And that was for me --

MATTHEWS: What`s it like -- you`re a liberal I think -- what`s it like being a liberal, a moderate, in the South these days as opposed to her days back in the 1890s?

LEVINGSTON: I think not totally liberal. I think of myself as pretty independent. I`m raging moderate about some things. Some things I think of myself rather fiscally responsible, I`m certainly socially progressive.

And the thing that I find is that if people get to know you and talk to you and find out who you are as human being, pretty open to your ideas. And it may not be that they agree with you, and I`m not agree with him, but I think civility goes pretty far --

MATTHEWS: There`s still Southern courtesy?


MATTHEWS: You`re a great guy, come on, Bruce Levingston --

LEVINGSTON: Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS: -- gave me a good tone to the rural areas on this show. We`re too urban around here.

LEVINGSTON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: The name of the book is "Bright Fields", a great coffee table book. It`s going to be on my coffee table, about Marie Hull, this really pioneer women in painting portraits.

Anyway, when we return, let me finish with a presidential contest that`s now narrowed to a multiple choice -- a very narrow choice at this point.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish with this.

I once heard a Georgetown University professor tell the difference between free will and free choice. Free will is when your options for action are wide ranging. Free choice is when you`re stuck in a set number of options like in a multiple choice test.

Well, at this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, we voters are looking at a case of free choice, that`s among Hillary and Bernie, Trump and Cruz. Those are the only four who can arrive at the conventions with enough delegates to win.

And the point is, as crazy as this election season has become, it has met the goal of eliminating the options. That`s certainly the frontrunner`s goal. When you think about it, Trump`s done a good job of narrowing his alternatives. Why dump Trump if the option is having Cruz carrying the Republican banner in the fall?

Hillary Clinton is not so lucky. Bernie Sanders turns out to have a lot more mojo than anyone including Hillary and me expected.

The beauty of the primary system is it does work. We have waded ourselves to a pair of alternatives on both sides, Trump or Cruz, Bernie or Hillary. And as I said, it`s no longer a matter of free, only of free choice. Time to pick your pony and see what happens in the stretch.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.