Show: HARDBALL Date: August 2, 2016 Guest: Rep. Charlie Dent, Molly Ball, Bob Kerrey, Margaret Carlson, Ashley Parker
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Have you no decency?
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.
In his strongest comments to date on Donald Trump, President Obama today called the Republican presidential nominee woefully unprepared to be president. He also questioned his judgment and temperament for the job. And Obama said Trump is in a different league from past Republican nominees, like John McCain and Mitt Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I think the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president. I said so last week, and he keeps on proving it. I think I was right and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues, but I never thought that they couldn`t do the job. But that`s not the situation here. And that`s not just my opinion. That is the opinion of many prominent Republicans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The president called on Republican leaders to not only repudiate Trump`s statements but also his candidacy itself. Quote, "There has to come a point," he said, "at which you say enough."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think what`s been interesting is the repeated denunciations of his statements by leading Republicans. The question I think that they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? What does this say about your party that this is your standard bearer? There has to be a point at which you say, This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump responded later in a statement. He questioned the leadership of President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He said, "Obama and Clinton have single-handedly destabilized the Middle East, handed Iraq, Libya and Syria to ISIS and allowed our personnel to be slaughtered in Benghazi. They have produced the worst recovery since the Great Depression. They have shipped millions of our best jobs overseas to appease their global special interests. They have betrayed our security and our workers. Our nation has been humiliated abroad and compromised by radical Islam brought onto our shores. We need change now." Well, that`s Trump talking.
Congressman -- U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent`s a Republican from Pennsylvania. Michael Steele`s the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst. And Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.
I want Congressman Dent to start. Are you going to vote for Trump?
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I have no plans -- I`m not endorsing Donald Trump. I have no plans to vote for Donald Trump. I`ve said that repeatedly, given the incendiary comments and the lack of policy specifics and the lack of policy knowledge. Those are the issues that have kept me away from him.
Bottom line is it`s a tough situation to be in. We have two presidential candidates who are -- have sky-high unfavorability ratings. I`ve said that Hillary Clinton is unacceptable in my view, too, given the way she mishandled classified material, negligently and carelessly. And you know, Donald Trump`s incendiary comments are also a bridge too far for me to cross.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, the problem most people have, especially moderate or centrist Republicans, conservative Republicans, is there`s only going to be, like, four names on the ballot and two with a real chance of winning. That`s Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump.
What do you do on your ballot when the time comes this November?
DENT: Well, Chris, I feel like a lot of -- like millions of Americans right now who are unhappy with the choices. You know, when we have two candidates who have sky-high unfavorability ratings, you know, we feel like we`re in an awful position. But as I said, I`m not supporting Hillary Clinton under any circumstances, and I`m not prepared to support Donald Trump or vote for Donald Trump based on all these comments.
MATTHEWS: Well, that leaves a blank ballot at the top of the ticket or top of the ballot or voting for Gary Johnson, probably, and Bill Weld. Where are you on that?
FINEMAN: Well, I kind of wish that the Libertarian ticket were flipped around. I have a high degree of respect for Governor Weld. He`s an eminently qualified guy. The top of the ticket there, though, causes me a lot of concern. So I guess right now, I`m in a position where I`m not prepared to cast a ballot. That`s just where I am.
And you know, again, I want to make sure we maintain the House and the Senate. I`m very concerned about making sure that Pat Toomey wins reelection in Pennsylvania...
MATTHEWS: You got a ballot situation. What about that -- just to stay on you because you have a sort of a situation here right now with regard to Trump`s latest behavior. Is it the dope issue that keeps you away from Gary Johnson?
FINEMAN: The dope? Yes, I mean, I guess that didn`t help. I think he made some comment to the effect that he wasn`t going to smoke any dope between now and the election. It`s that. I guess I`m just -- it`s that, and it`s just other things. I`m just not very comfortable with some of his positions, those few that I`ve heard. As I said, Governor Weld is a, you know, really stand-up kind of guy, have a lot of respect for him, but I`m just not (INAUDIBLE) with Gary Johnson.
MATTHEWS: OK. Even some of Trump`s strongest supporters distanced themselves from his criticism of the Khan family. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said today the situation, quote -- this is light -- "could have been handled better."
And here is New Jersey governor Chris Christie today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to honor their sacrifice for our country and we need to honor their son`s sacrifice for our country. And to focus on anything other than that to me is missing the point. That`s what we should be doing, and any comments that we`re making publicly or privately should be with that in mind.
And so my view on this is that the Khans have a right to say whatever it is they want regarding the loss of their son. You`re not going to find me being critical of Mr. and Mrs. Khan, no matter what they do, even if I may disagree with any one particular statement they might make. It`s just inappropriate for us in this context to be criticizing them, and I`m not going to participate in that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, as former RNC chair and still a Republican, how do you face up to this? Because what the president, who`s a Democrat and has basically his thumb on the scale, he wants Hillary to win...
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
MATTHEWS: ... he`s saying, Don`t vote for Trump. Well, there`s only one other really natural option to go is Governor Gary Johnson, Jill Stein. Republicans aren`t not going to vote for the Green Party, probably.
So you`re forcing them to say, OK, you don`t like your guy because he`s saying stuff about Muslims and American Gold Star families, so you got to vote for my guy or my woman candidate here. You got to vote for Hillary. They`re not going to accept that from him, are they?
STEELE: Well, let me ask you this...
MATTHEWS: Or are they? Vote for my candidate.
STEELE: Let me get this straight. After seven years of not listening to Barack Obama, Republicans are now going to start listening to Barack Obama...
MATTHEWS: I`m asking.
STEELE: ... on who to vote for for president? Come on. So no. I appreciate the president sort of pontificating from the podium today. It was very nice to hear him opine on a very -- what is a very personal beef he has with Donald Trump, rightly so. I get it, the whole birther thing.
But look, at the end of the day, Republicans like the congressman and others are going to have to make a very personal decision about this nominee, the direction of the party, the direction of the country. Those are all going to be very personal decisions.
I`m not going to base a decision today on what I know today. Let me get closer to this election, the voting day, and see where we are. I think that`s what I`m hearing from a lot of Republicans, as well.
So I think it`s still very fluid, Chris. It`s very dynamic for a lot of folks out there. They don`t like this. They think this is a fight that Donald Trump, like so many others, have unnecessarily picked with the Khans. But at the same time, they`re not ready to go hog wild, like the president wants us to do, for Hillary Clinton because as Congressman Dent pointed out, that`s a bridge too far, as well.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to -- let me go to Gene on that. Eugene Robinson, you know, I think you may even have had this experience of holding your nose occasionally when you vote. Oh, my God, am I really doing this? Some of these guys...
EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... are not exactly the winners that you wanted. As a Jesuit or a professor at Georgetown once said, There`s a huge difference between free choice and free will. Free choice, you got a couple of options. Free will, you can make it up, like I know that Congressman Dent`s trying to do, come up with something here, come up with something.
But you`re looking at that ballot, it`s choice. It`s not free will. You`re stuck. Your thoughts.
ROBINSON: Yes. Yes. And it`s not -- you know, with apologies to Michael, for these elected officials, it`s not strictly just a personal choice. This is a public choice. I mean, they -- and I think what President Obama was doing, in a way, is sort of pointing that out and saying, you know, All you reasonable people, you`re saying all these reasonable things about the Khans and about this controversy and this and that, yet you still say you`re going to vote for this unreasonable person at the center of all this, Donald Trump. And so you want to hitch your wagon to him, be my guest.
MATTHEWS: Well, here he goes today. In an interview with "The Washington Post," your paper, today, Donald Trump refused to support -- listen to this -- Senator John McCain and Speaker Paul Ryan in their Republican primaries.
And Ryan, by the way, Trump said, I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country. We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership, and I`m just not quite there yet. I`m not quite there yet.
MATTHEWS: I tell you, Congressman Dent, this guy just is such a player. This is gamesmanship. He doesn`t even know this guy running against Paul Ryan. He`s not trying to make up his mind. He just wants to diddle (ph) here, or whatever the right word is. That`s probably not the right word.
MATTHEWS: What is he up to? What do you think Trump`s doing here?
DENT: Well, I don`t understand why he`d want to, you know, get involved in Paul Ryan`s primary. Paul Ryan`s going to win that primary. He`s got 80 percent of the vote, from what I`m told. He`s going to win. I don`t see anything productive coming out of that for Donald Trump, to, you know, kind of put a stick in the -- put a stick in the face of Paul Ryan.
It makes no sense to me at all. And in fact, it just, I guess, further antagonizes many folks that he would need to have support him. So it makes no sense to me.
I also would just like to follow up, too. You know, I heard what the president said today, too, but most Republicans -- most refugees aren`t in the business of taking advice from President Obama on how to vote in a presidential election. I just wanted to...
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this. Here`s the Khans, the husband and wife, Ghazala, and of course, Khizr. They told me that they didn`t want and suggested they wouldn`t accept an apology from Trump at this point. Here they are last night on HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHIZR KHAN, FATHER OF SLAIN WAR HERO: The best apology would be that his supporter repudiate him, be away (ph) and pronounce their repudiation. We don`t need any apology from him. We are beyond those apologies. And we were promised several months ago that he will pivot in the right direction, he will change and he will not...
MATTHEWS: I know.
KHAN: ... do all that, but...
MATTHEWS: Do you want to hear anything more from him, Ghazala?
GHAZALA KHAN, MOTHER OF SLAIN WAR HERO: No. No, I don`t want to hear anything from him, and I don`t want to say anything to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Michael, this sounds like they want the guy to lose at this point, based upon what he said...
STEELE: Of course they do.
MATTHEWS: ... about their family.
STEELE: Yes, they spoke at the Democratic convention, Chris. Of course they do. I mean, that -- I mean, I get that. And you know, taking the Gold Star family portion out of it, you know, I think that, you know, this is the unfortunate part of our politics, when we start bringing these families into this political atmosphere, a highly-charged political atmosphere, this becomes an unfortunate conversation. There`s no way that, in my view, my own personal view, that that family should have been subjected to a national stage this way.
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute! I would normally agree with you and be suspicious, like we all should be about when somebody comes forward to the advantage of one party, to the disadvantage of the other. However, the Khan family, Mr. and Mrs., both of them -- he wrote an article, public article that brought himself to the attention of the Clinton people. He raised his hand and said, I`ve got something to say and I want to say it.
STEELE: No, again, but -- that`s fine, but again, I think the political parties hold some responsibility here on both sides when they do this. This is just...
MATTHEWS: You mean they, the Democrats, should not have allowed or urged that family to make their statement more widely? There`s a problem with that, you`re saying?
STEELE: Yes. I just think the way this has played out, particularly given sort of the asymmetrical nature of the other candidate -- I mean, Donald Trump basically took what the Khans -- what Mr. Khan said as a personal attack on him when he said -- talked about not reading the Constitution. That`s what -- that`s what, you know, pricked his skin in that regard.
STEELE: And then it`s -- then we`re -- now -- this is where we are. So you know, I think that sacrifice should have been the only thing that Donald Trump talked about, but unfortunately, the politics prevailed.
MATTHEWS: Well, just to make it clear -- and I can argue -- you`re always reasonable when you`re arguing here, and I accept it as a point of view. But I`ll tell you one thing. When Trump attacked the woman here, a very quiet woman who`s in grief over the loss of her son, which we can all figure out -- we can figure out that emotion -- she didn`t want to have to confront a situation where she couldn`t speak.
And last night on the show, when I asked her what was it like the first time you saw your son in uniform, she couldn`t talk. She pulled her veil across her face, turned to the side, didn`t want to even show her face. So I accept completely her reason for not wanting to go out and say something on stage.
STEELE: Yes. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: So when he went after her on that, that to me got very nasty, very nasty.
STEELE: Yes, there`s no doubt about that.
MATTHEWS: Very nasty. Anyway, she`s what we call a civilian. You know what I mean?
MATTHEWS: A civilian. Gene, more next time, sir. I`ve been told to stop talking. Anyway, Congressman Charlie Dent, Michael Steele and Eugene Robinson, they`re all actually staying with us. We`ll get to these points later.
Coming up -- is Trump hurting his own brand? Think about it. His brand is, I`m a nationalist fighting for America, I`m appealing to working people. And then he calls on Russia to get on his side against Hillary Clinton, to hack into her e-mail.
And he`s fighting now with a Gold Star family, the ultimate patriotic family. He`s challenging the essence of his patriotic call (ph), his nationalism. And then he goes after saying a woman who gets preyed upon at work should just walk away from the job, as if working people have that option with their employers and their workplace. Most people are working paycheck to paycheck. They don`t just walk away blithely and say, I don`t like the unhealthy workplace here. Anyway, Donald Trump needs to win, and the other people he needs to win. And that`s ahead.
Plus, we`ve got two warriors join us, former senator Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner, and retired general Barry McCaffrey. We`re going to get their thoughts on the nature of sacrifice and Trump`s battle with the Khan family, who were here on this show just last night, of course.
And here`s Trump`s behavior. Is it helping Hillary Clinton expand the electoral map? New polls are giving Democrats real hope they can flip some traditional red states blue this year. Well, that`s certainly -- Hillary`s on the road right now to about 55/45, the way she`s going.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a very basic thought. It`s about life and death.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Richard Hanna of upstate New York became the first elected Republican to say he`s going to vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. In a letter to "The Syracuse Post Standard," Congressman Hanna wrote, "For me, it is not enough to simply denounce his comments." That would be Trump`s. " He is unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country."
Hanna`s a moderate Republican. He`s not running for reelection this year.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Donald Trump`s strong nationalistic appeal has rallied millions of working class voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I make this promise. We will make America strong again!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: We will make America proud again!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: We will make America safe again!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: And we will make America great again!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he`s compromised that appeal, you could say, by seeming to be in cahoots with Russian president Putin. Just Last week, Trump encouraged Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: But it would be interesting to see -- I will tell you this. Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let`s see if that happens. That`ll be next.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And this week, Trump went after the parents of a fallen soldier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: His wife -- if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably -- maybe she wasn`t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Finally, Trump got flak for failing to stand up for working- class people. He told "USA Today" that if his daughter Ivanka was sexually preyed upon at work, she would just leave.
He said: "I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case."
But many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, we all know, and struggle to find just one job and hold onto it. And they are the ones that Trump needs, I would think, if he hopes to win this election.
I`m back with Michael Steele, Eugene Robinson. We`re joined right now by Molly Ball, staff writer for "The Atlantic."
Molly, your thoughts on this. And take your time, whatever you think about all of it.
I think Trump has a strong brand, first of all, and I think it appeals to people I know in Pennsylvania who do like that get -- shove back. We have been shoved around too much. You have been shoved around too much as a working person. I`m going to shove back. That has a lot of appeal with people. And until this week or so, he`s been running pretty much evenly with Hillary on just that.
Your thoughts about what he`s been saying and whether that supports that brand or hurts it?
MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": I think it`s totally consistent.
I think that the nationalism that Donald Trump espouses is not the sort of abstract patriotism of, like, the American idea and the founders and the Constitution, as much as some Republicans wish he would talk more about those things.
It`s about muscularity. It`s about strength. It`s just like you`re saying. It`s about not being a victim, not being kicked around. If you are a working woman, you don`t let yourself be a victim of sexual harassment. You`re too tough for that. If you are the American leader, you sympathize with Putin because he`s strong, he`s tough, he doesn`t let anybody boss him around on the world stage.
So, I think, actually, that all the things that he`s saying that you are referring to are consistent with the brand that Trump has been espousing this whole campaign.
ROBINSON: Well, I differ a bit on the, if you are sexually harassed, find another job or find another career sort of line, because, as you pointed out in the introduction, most people can`t just snap their fingers and find another career or find another job. They don`t have -- most Americans have negligible savings.
They are not able to support their families in the interim while they look for that new career or that new job. And, to me, it betrays just an ignorance of women in the workplace, and the fact that there are so many female-headed households, including many that these days would be tempted to look at Trump as a potential president, and I think less tempted if those remarks really get any traction.
STEELE: First off, can I just applaud Molly? You just encapsulated the entire persona of Trump.
And you are the first person that I have heard put that as exactly as you have. And I think that`s important, an important takeaway in understanding why Trump is driving this election the way he has.
I think, to Gene`s point, I would disagree with you slightly, Gene, from this perspective. Donald Trump, in answering that question, was talking about his daughter. He was answering in the context of how he has raised his daughter and what he knows his daughter would do. And he`s projecting that back, to Molly`s point, that that`s an ideal for a lot of women.
And a lot of women would probably make that hard choice and say I`m not going to stick around with this crazy any longer. But his perspective was not from the perspective of, well, if a woman were in the situation. He was asked what would you do if Ivanka faced this, and he knows how he raised his daughter and he answered that way, accordingly.
MATTHEWS: Let`s ask -- let`s go on -- the thing about the one on harassment and about the cases we have been talking about, it just seemed to me, instead of arguing whether the person`s guilty or not of actually doing something they shouldn`t have done in the workplace, the employer in this case, and whether there`s a legitimate complaint or not, he almost brushed aside whether that was a worthy conversation.
Molly, that`s the thing I -- he should have said, well, it depends on a couple things. Instead, he said, oh, you would go get another job. It`s like the victim`s responsible for solving a problem. That seemed to be what he was saying. If you heard it differently, explain.
BALL: No. I think that`s right. And I`m not saying that it`s correct and I`m not saying that women are to blame for being sexually harassed at all.
I`m saying that the prism through which I think Trump sees the world is, you know, a sort of extreme machismo, right?
MATTHEWS: I agree with that.
BALL: And it`s the feeling of a lot of American men specifically who feel oppressed by feminism, who feel oppressed by women who think that they can run a workplace or be a boss, when making America great again is about going back to a world where men were in charge.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to a couple of these other cases.
When you ask somebody in Russia, the Russian intelligence, defense intelligence group, whatever you call it these days, and you say would you do some hacking into my opponent`s e-mails, does that sound like nationalism? I mean, that`s the ultimate in globalism. I`m going to this rival country -- it`s not the Cold War, but this rival country -- and I`m going to have them hack into my opponent, so I can be in cahoots with the government of Russia, the Russian republic.
That doesn`t sound like machismo or tough -- me against them or America first. It sounds like somebody -- what is it, globalism. It sounds like you`re going and you`re outsourcing your politics to a rival nation. I`m just looking at Trump from the position of a consistent brand. Your thoughts?
ROBINSON: You know, Chris, I would disagree a bit on that point, in that I think Trump`s version of America first is, you know, we will take care of our business, Russia can take care of its business, right?
So, the whole buddy-buddy aspect with Putin and the Russians, I`m not convinced that hurts him with his core supporters. It hurts him with a lot of foreign policy experts. It probably hurts him with a lot of moderates and independents, but I don`t think it hurts him with...
MATTHEWS: How about the other one? How about going after the Gold Star family with some -- with the brutality you would use against an opposition political type?
ROBINSON: Oh, I -- no, I think that hurts a lot, and evidenced by the fact that the Veterans of Foreign Wars came out with a statement against Trump there.
If the VFW is not in Trump`s corner, this was a bad week for him.
MATTHEWS: Michael, let`s get back to you and your attempt to try to reconcile your rational, basic nature with Trumpism, OK?
Now, he has sort of a Bonapartist nature, this guy. He brings his family on, like he`s going to give one different -- it`s almost like Bonaparte. I`m going to give one cousin or something Mexico. I`m going to give somebody else -- he brings the daughters, the sons out.
It`s pretty outrageous, I think. But it`s Bonapartist. It`s not Republican. He`s not bringing out his favorite governor, his favorite senator.
STEELE: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t have any of them.
MATTHEWS: So, how do you bring him into line or your party into line so that when -- as these months pass and we get into the debates, if there are debates, we see there`s a Republican candidate and there`s a Democratic candidate?
MATTHEWS: Are we ever going to get with a clear vision that choice or not?
STEELE: No, I don`t think we will.
And this is -- you raise a very interesting point that cannot and should not be lost here, that you put it just right. Bringing the Republican Party to Trump or Trump to the Republican Party, that`s the yin and yang tension right now.
And what you are seeing is Donald Trump, whether it`s regarding McCain and Ryan and the lack of endorsement, whether it`s his response to the response to what he said about the Gold Star family, he is pushing, he`s pulling and grabbing the party towards him. Going back again to Molly`s point about the machismo, sort of the everyman kind of approach that he has, that`s the Republican Party he wants.
He wants a strong man Republican Party that`s ready to tackle the problems ahead. So, that -- I don`t think you are going to get to a point, Chris, where you are going to have a Republican-Democrat sort of nice American pie kind of scenario. This tension is going to go with us throughout the rest of this election.
MATTHEWS: And I just wonder how many Republicans, the ones that I talk to, are ready to vote for Hillary Clinton. I don`t think she shined up her reputation lately either over this Comey comment, claiming that he exonerated her basically, which he didn`t do in his report.
Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Gene Robinson and Molly Ball.
Up next: The Republican Party has traditionally been a party for a strong military. But Donald Trump`s battle with the Khan family is eroding that, don`t you think?
We have got two former military men joining us, former United States Senator Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner, and retired General Barry McCaffrey. And they`re coming here to talk about sacrifice, that word.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s happening.
President Obama is honoring the prime minister of Singapore at a state dinner. The two leaders met earlier to discuss trade relations and regional security.
The French priest killed by two ISIS followers last week was laid to rest at a funeral in Normandy.
And Florida health officials say there`s another case of non-travel-related Zika north of downtown Miami, bringing the total to 15. Mosquito control efforts are under way to try and curb its spread. The virus is linked to birth defects -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A man came up to me and he handed me his Purple Heart.
TRUMP: Now, I said to him -- I said to him, is that like the real one or is that a copy? And he said: "That`s my real Purple Heart."
I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Donald Trump saying he`s always wanted a Purple Heart after he today received one as a gift, I guess, from a member of the audience.
As NBC News reported, the decoration, which is awarded to service members who are wounded in combat, was in fact a copy.
Well, this comes as Trump faces scrutiny over whether he knows what it is or what it means to sacrifice for his country, to actually do it.
Last night, I interviewed Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who Trump had targeted since their appearance at the Democratic Convention.
And here`s Trump`s description of sacrifice, followed by Mr. Khan`s reaction last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think I have made a lot of sacrifices. I have worked very, very hard. I have created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures
KHIZR KHAN, FATHER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: Certain things cannot be defined. His answer defines it.
Any decent American listening to that figures it out, what he`s saying, how he`s defining sacrifice. This candidate is about -- is now a candidate of a major political party and close to become president of this country, commander in chief of this country. And that is the definition of sacrifice?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by two veterans, former Senator Bob Kerrey, and General Barry McCaffrey, who have both received the Purple Heart for their service in Vietnam.
Senator Kerrey, what`s your reaction to all this? Because I`m just going to stand back and let you, because you have been a warrior, and you have been in it, and you know what courage means under pressure, and what it`s like to face the enemy and be wounded, and you know it all.
BOB KERREY (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, look, I think these comments are just -- they are so selfish.
It wasn`t like he was talking about the sacrifice of this veteran who had given him his Purple Heart. Nobody wants the Purple Heart. You don`t go into a combat hoping that you get injured.
And he had a choice in 1968. There were 300,000 people who were drafted in 1968. He had a choice. And he made a choice to find a doctor who would say he had bone spurs on his heel. I mean, that was the height of the number of people in Vietnam when he made that choice. He made a choice not to serve, to learn to play golf and work for his dad.
That`s a choice that he made. And I don`t think he understands, I genuinely don`t think he understands what happens when 75 percent of the people who were serving in Vietnam were the people he pretends to represent, his blue-collar billionaire message. I just don`t think he`s behaved that way.
And I don`t think he understands the sacrifice of Mr. Khan and the gentleman that gave him the Purple Heart have made.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Senator Kerrey is dead on target.
Look, a Purple Heart isn`t like an Emmy or Oscar, for God`s sakes.
MCCAFFREY: I mean, you know, many thousands of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, to include Captain Khan, the first medal he got was a Purple Heart when he was killed in action.
There`s just been a series of babbles out of Mr. Trump that tells me he has no conception about the armed forces or what it means to serve. That certainly includes the notion of sacrifice.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of his implication there that -- I don`t know whether to take the guy seriously or not -- his implication that somehow that -- Senator, try this one -- that getting a Purple Heart handed to you is somehow transferable, like, you know, it`s like a $10 bill? Here`s one. I always wanted one. And here`s a sawbuck for you, buddy, and that somehow like he`s actually received, received this recognition, wounded in combat, as if that medal means that he`s now recognized for being wounded in battle.
I don`t even get the thinking here itself.
KERREY: Yes, look, I -- all the way through that, he demonstrates an extraordinary selfishness.
And if you are going to be president of the United States, you are going to be commander in chief. And you have to understand that men and women are putting themselves on the line. And, as the general said, Captain Khan got the Purple Heart because he died in Iraq.
And I just -- nowhere in this conversation about Captain Khan has Donald Trump demonstrated any understanding of what this young man gave for us, any appreciation, no respect, no sympathy whatsoever.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you.
KERREY: And I don`t know how you can be commander in chief if that`s your attitude towards the men and women who are serving.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you on that. I don`t get it.
Anyway, Senator Kerrey, as you mentioned, "The New York Times" reported on the sacrifice Trump never had to make, scrutinizing how he avoided the draft in the Vietnam era.
They wrote -- quote -- "Mr. Trump`s public statements about his draft experience sometimes conflict with his selective service records. He`s often hazy in recalling details. After four education deferments, the record suggested Trump was effectively exempted from the draft in 1968, which is when Trump says he obtained a medical deferment due to `bone spurs`" -- that`s in quotes -- "in both heels of his feet."
But as "The Times" reports, for many years, Mr. Trump, 70 years old now, has also asserted there was ultimately the luck of a high draft lottery number, rather than medical deferment, that kept him out of the war.
What do you make of that? Is a 1-Y a deferment or not? And if he had a 1- Y, did he need the high draft number?
KERREY: No, it`s -- what he said isn`t true. He made a choice in 1968. He found some doctor to say that he had bone spurs. I mean...
MATTHEWS: Do we know that? Do we know it wasn`t a military physician who, in giving a physical, just found those bone spurs?
KERREY: No, there`s no -- there`s no evidence other than he`s -- look, in 19 -- in March of 1968, he could have gotten in the military. He could have served in the military if he had chosen it, if he wanted to.
This is not what I would consider to be a disqualifying condition. You saw the picture of it. And did he -- what was he doing in `68? He was learning how to play golf. He went into business with his dad. He made a choice. And now he doesn`t want to face that choice. He wants to say, no, I was -- and sort of connect it with a lottery, which didn`t come into effect until the next year.
KERREY: He didn`t get out of the service because of the lottery. He got out of serving his country because he made a choice.
KERREY: And, remember, the people who choose to serve in the military -- I was only in for three years. And the people who choose in the military, not only to put their lives at risk in training and in combat, but they live under a different set of rules.
They don`t have the freedom and the liberty that you have when you -- when you are in a civilian life. And I did -- what I hear when I hear Donald Trump talk, I don`t think he understands that choice and the change in your life and the risks that you take once you make that decision you are going to serve your country in the military.
MATTHEWS: One last thought from Barry McCaffrey.
Talk about what it was like for draftees that went into infantry. What was it like for them in Vietnam?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, in `68, I was an infantry company commander fighting in Vietnam, where I got wounded for the third time.
There were only two regular Army soldiers in our company, generally speaking, the 1st sergeant and I.
MCCAFFREY: Twenty-five percent of the armed forces in Vietnam were draftees, 35 percent of the killed in action, but at infantry company level, they were all draftees.
So, again, joining Senator Kerrey, Mr. Trump made a choice, he`s falsely portraying that choice. He decided to not join the 60,000 of us who were killed and 303,000 wounded in responding obediently to the laws of the land.
He should have been eligible for the draft and gone. He was an athlete. He was a wealthy kid. He had influence. He got out of going for that reason.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Senator Bob Kerrey, General Barry McCaffrey, thank you both gentlemen for your service to our country.
Up next, it`s never happened before, but now, for the first time in history, the Gallup poll has found fewer voters want to vote for a candidate after his convention. That`s the case with Donald Trump. Fewer Republicans are happy about voting for him after this week of wow that turned out to be a week of no.
Anyway, the roundtable joins us next. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Just 98 days now to go until the general election in November, and Hillary Clinton`s getting a significant bounce in the polls after the Democratic convention. An NBC News online poll shows Secretary Clinton now leading Donald Trump by eight, eight points nationally. Clinton at 50, Trump at 42. That`s eight point spread. That`s significant.
The results are very similar to two other national polls out yesterday, all following a pattern showing Clinton with a big lead in the high single digits, up near 10. A Gallup poll shows this year was the first time people said they were less likely to vote for a nominee of a party after that party`s convention. Fifty-one percent now say they are less likely to vote for Donald Trump -- do you believe this? -- after the Republican convention versus 36 to say they are more likely.
Anyway, joining me now for this roundtable tonight is Margaret Carlson, my old buddy, political columnist for Bloomberg Organization, Perry Bacon, senior political writer for NBC News, and Ashley Parker is a reporter for "The New York Times".
Ashley, I want you to start here. It is kind of amazing that after a week of hoopla and ballyhoo all choreographed by the candidate himself after he said I`m going to make this the most exciting convention in history, it all ends up with him below where he was when he started the week.
ASHLEY PARKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think you are exactly right. Donald Trump sort of, he`s a showman. He`s a star of reality TV and kind of a king at this stuff. He promised us very sleek, very well-produced, very star-studded celebrity convention and you know who did that? The Democrats.
PARKER: And that just didn`t happen on the Republican side. They were also sort of beset by some mishaps from Melania`s plagiarism to Ted Cruz`s pointed non-endorsement. And I think when you look at the coverage of that really hurt him.
MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG: Right. You know, a soap opera star and a wrestler, corporate wrestler guy, are not what he promised. I went to Cleveland the week before the convention and Trump was promising all winners, no losers. It was going to be a great, it was going to be a cross between a Las Vegas floor show and "The Apprentice."
Really wasn`t any of those things. The more people see Trump, the less they like him. This was four days because he broke with tradition and he was there most days, and then that final speech in which he was just bellowing couldn`t have helped him.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he did yell the whole time.
Perry, let`s go through a couple reasons why it may have gone down. First, for two or three days, you can blame the media all you want, but that was a hell of a story when it turned out that his wife, Melania, was giving a speech that had been given by the other guy`s wife, the president`s wife, the first lady. It`s a big story. It`s stunning.
I have to tell you, I`m not to the bottom of it yet. I still don`t understand how you can grab a huge chunk out of a speech that you know you went to, to look at, and it ends up surviving whole basically in the speech and neither the person who gave the speech nor the person who was advising and rewriting the speech for that person let it happen. I just don`t get the motive.
Why would you want to commit suicide? It looks like sabotage because they found out about this immediately. I don`t get that. Why did he let Ted Cruz, who he despises, speak at the convention against him? Explain.
Why didn`t he rehearse his speech he gave on nomination night on his acceptance? Why didn`t he at least read it a couple times so he didn`t have to yell it? All three are his fault.
PERRY BACON, NBC NEWS: You know, we went in the convention knowing two things. The Democratic Party was very unified. The Republican Party was not very unified.
MATTHEWS: Was Trump himself unified? Does he know what he`s doing?
BACON: Does he know what he`s doing? Great question, too. Also that, Hillary`s staff, she had a big, organized staff and Trump did not. The conventions showed that.
Melania`s speech was plagiarized in part, probably bad staff work. Ted Cruz does not like Donald Trump. The thing about Ted Cruz, as speaker for the RNC, Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Wednesday for the DNC. So, the problem Trump`s campaign came out in the convention, these were not new problems. People in the party don`t like him. They kind of came out versus the DNC, Hillary is unpopular in a lot of polls but you knew she had Warren one night, she had Michelle Obama, she had President Obama, she had Joe Biden.
I think it shows you how the Democratic Party is working together. We knew that going in. But the conventions really showed that. I assume that`s why the bounce happened was you had -- I`m not sure Hillary gave the best speech, she had all the other great speeches that were covered well, Michelle, the president particularly.
MATTHEWS: A guy who promises to keep terrorism out of the country can`t even keep it out of his own convention. It is unbelievable how many -- he talks about the snake coming in and biting, the parable of his, and then he lets Ted Cruz come in and bite him like a snake.
CARLSON: Chris, he thought until the last minute he could turn Ted Cruz, until the last minute. Then he did this stunt by coming out at exactly the right moment to do the boos. And he thought he won. He thought he won that.
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s no day at the beach. Not Trump, Cruz. He let the guy mess up his picnic, to become the skunk at the picnic. Why he let him to do that -- it was his picnic. It wasn`t the other guy`s. The other guy got to be the skunk.
Well, anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, these three tell me something I don`t know.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Take a look at this. A WSB-TV Landmark poll out of Georgia, shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied in Georgia at 45 all. That`s in Georgia. Georgia hasn`t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since Bill Clinton won it back in `92.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Margaret, tell me something I don`t know.
CARLSON: So, Chris, on this week of Donald Trump`s sacrifice, I wanted to hark back to `93 when Trump told Howard Stern that he too had many sacrifices, his Vietnam was dating in New York and not getting an STD, something he repeated and later in 2005 for "Playboy" magazine, and he substituted Iraq for Vietnam. But he`s had these attitudes for a very long time.
MATTHEWS: That`s messing things up.
BACON: After 2008 election, you had this wave of what were called voter I.D. laws, you have to present your I.D., or some kind of identification to vote. There were a lot of suits filed, saying they discriminated against African-Americans and the elderly. You`ve seen six states, including North Carolina and Wisconsin, strike down these laws. That could be a big factor in the election if those two states are close.
MATTHEWS: And, Ashley?
PARKER: So the Trump campaign has famously banned a lot of news outlets from his events, including "The Washington Post." But what you don`t know is that the Pence campaign, you know, Governor Pence is obviously sort of the kinder, more sober-minded Donald Trump has been working overtime behind the scenes to be accommodating to the press. So, if Donald Trump, he started his tone publicly, if he starts letting these outlets in, it`s going to be because of the Pence world agitating behind the scenes.
OK, thank you, Margaret Carlson, Perry Bacon, and Ashley Parker.
When we return, let me finish with a very basic thought. It`s about life. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a very basic thought. It`s about life.
It`s what President Kennedy once said. It`s that life is unfair. We all of us know this. We see it in a variety of life`s experiences that dismay us and make us in some cases feel unfairly unfortunate. And, of course, at those times when the weight of misfortune comes at us, with a direct hit. Life is unfair.
Jack Kennedy offered that in response to a question from the press about him calling up military reservist to active duty and, of course, the dislocation that causes their family.
But it`s the public conversation of Donald Trump that`s brought that fact of life now again to the surface. Does anyone not know this? Does anyone who has experienced life not know that life is -- especially in matters of peace and war, tread so heavy into our lives?
The Khan family had a son go off to battle. He in the face of death showed in that instant the grace of courage, he gave of himself so that others could live. He met the highest moral standard. Far more than that, certainly of my religion, as well as his own, and that of his family, he gave his life for others.
Donald Trump has only one thing to say on this matter, and then no more. He has to express that minimum of human regard to once having heard of what Captain Khan did for his buddies and his countries, showing quiet respect for the fact of human life, that the very good can die young. That the best we humans can do when it occurs, especially in the cause of our country, is if nothing better, offer a moment of silence and love and gratitude that we have such heroes and recognize once again that fate is no kinder to those ready to give all. As President Kennedy said before he was taken young, that life is unfair, as is death.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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