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Hardball With Chris Matthews, Transcript, 8/9/2016

Guests: Gov. Dannel Malloy, Susan Page, James Jeffrey, Laura Bassett, Zeke Miller, Bob Wright

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 9, 2016 Guest: Gov. Dannel Malloy, Susan Page, James Jeffrey, Laura Bassett, Zeke Miller, Bob Wright


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Donald Trump is spending tonight seeking to defend his charge that once Hillary Clinton has gained power, she will terminate the right to bear arms, and that the only way to stop her once she possesses that power will be for those Trump called "2nd Amendment people" to take action. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially, abolish the 2nd Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick...


TRUMP: If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the 2nd Amendment people, maybe there is. I don`t know.


MATTHEWS: Wow. "Don`t treat this as a political misstep," said Connecticut senator Chris Murphy. "It`s an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy and crisis." Senator Elizabeth Warren was more personal. "Trump makes death threats because he`s a pathetic coward who can`t handle the fact that he`s losing to a girl." That`s an unusual use of the word "girl" these days.

Anyway, "What Trump is saying," Hillary Clinton`s campaign manager reacted in a statement, "is dangerous. A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way."

Trump`s communications adviser, Jason Miller, said the media was misinterpreting what Trump meant. He said, quote, "It`s called the power of unification. 2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won`t be for Hillary Clinton. It will be for Donald Trump."

The problem with that defense is that Trump was speaking about what 2nd Amendment people would do if Hillary Clinton wins and gets to pick judges, not what they can do in this election.

With me tonight, Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." Michael Steele, of course, is the former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst.

Governor, your thoughts when you heard -- I was watching the gentleman behind Trump when he said it. He just goes, Wow, and looks at the person next to him. He can`t believe he just heard a guy saying "2nd Amendment" actions here. Your thoughts.

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: I instantly thought about Rabin in Israel. There were rallies going on in Israel where "Death to Rabin" was shouted, and politicians didn`t respond.

So I`m going to respond. This is insanity. It`s a sickness. It`s an evil. And Republicans and Democrats, independents have to stand up to this. We have to reject this. Otherwise, this insanity will play itself out in our own country.

And over our existence, we`ve had enough assassinations. We`ve had enough death. And we just have to reject this, and people have to come out to the polls and respond.

And the final thing -- this idea that she doesn`t support the 2nd Amendment -- I have been in the room when she has argued the 2nd Amendment. She understands the significance of that. That doesn`t mean we sell guns to terrorists. It doesn`t mean we sell guns to people who are mentally ill. It doesn`t mean we sell guns to people when they come out of jail.

We`ve got to stop the insanity.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what Trump said. "Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the 2nd Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick -- if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the 2nd Amendment people, maybe there is. I don`t know."

And at that point, the guy behind him goes, Wow. He`s talking about 2nd Amendment solutions here? What`s that about?

MALLOY: It`s -- it`s insanity. It`s this -- it`s this threatening. It`s this bravado, this sick bravado of Donald Trump, where he`s just tougher than everybody else. And because he`s so much tougher than anybody else, he can just put anything out there and then somebody will clean up the mess after him. He`s got more housekeepers than anybody I know cleaning up the mess after this guy.

But I am infuriated that someone running for the highest office in our nation would play with the kind of language. This is not a dogwhistle. This is a confrontation which he`s calling for.

MATTHEWS: Michael, before you start, I want you to look at this with me. Here`s the man behind Donald Trump as he made that reference to 2nd Amendment actions. Watch this.

He goes, Wow, and his partner, maybe his wife, laughs and he sort of chuckles. He can`t believe that the governor -- the candidate for president has just said, quote, "The 2nd Amendment people, maybe there is. They can do something."

And by the way, he`s talking there about what happens if Hillary wins and gets to pick the judges, not about how you vote in the election.


MATTHEWS: What`s he up to here?

STEELE: I have no idea what he`s up to and I`ve stopped trying to figure it out. I really have. You know, I`m not going to be...

MATTHEWS: That guy thinks he knew what he meant!

STEELE: I`m not going to be that far off from where Governor Malloy is, quite honestly. I just think that there comes a point where Mr. Trump, the campaign, everybody has to realize that words mean things, and given the history up to this point, that when you start speaking again off script, when you start, you know, trying to pull the audience into you because you may feel like you`re losing the audience...

MATTHEWS: Yes, we were talking about that before we went on.

STEELE: That -- that...

MATTHEWS: His fear of flop sweat is so extreme...

STEELE: That is...

MATTHEWS: ... that he -- that he has to keep the audience ignited, like he did. Oh, by the way, and then throws down little ambiguous thing, Maybe you can use your gun.

STEELE: And whenever he`s speaking, he does that pause. After he read what he`s supposed to say, then he goes, Oh, by the way. And I`m, like, OK, here we go. Here comes the rest of the shoe.

MATTHEWS: Anyway (INAUDIBLE) what did you think? I thought of Sharron Angle, the woman who talked about "2nd Amendment solutions" in Nevada the last time we had an election.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA Today": You know, even if you give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt and say, OK, he didn`t mean that, he meant political activism, what did people hear? What did that man hear?


PAGE: And when -- you know, one of -- one of the things about candidates and presidents is that they have a lot of supporters, and some of them are fantastic and some of them might hear a message that encouraged them to do violence.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) John Hinckley here?


MATTHEWS: This is a sad part of our reality as a country. We lost Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley. Teddy Roosevelt was shot at (INAUDIBLE) by FDR, Cermak, the mayor of Chicago got killed instead of him. Harry Truman had a Puerto Rican nationalist try to get him at Blair House. Kennedy was killed, Ford shot twice. Of course, you know, Reagan barely survived because they had good doctors and three minutes away because he got there in time.

You know, this is a weird country. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King -- God, everybody. It`s amazing.


MATTHEWS: ... people have been killed in this country, political people.

STEELE: Right. There`s no room for that...

MATTHEWS: Bobby Kennedy.

STEELE: ... in the political discourse, period. And I just think that the more we move away, and our leaders take us away from that space, the stronger we are.

MATTHEWS: Here`s another...


MATTHEWS: I want to let one person talk here who was almost assassinated. Responding to Trump`s remarks today, tonight, former U.S. congresswoman Gabby Giffords from out in Arizona put out this statement. "Responsible, stable individuals don`t take Trump`s rhetoric to its literal end, but his words may provide a magnet for those seeking infamy. It must be the responsibility of all Americans and Donald Trump himself to his supporters, to those who remain silent or oppose him, to unambiguously condemn these remarks and the violence they insinuate."

And Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, of course, who was shot and killed in `68, tweeted, "As the daughter of a leader who was assassinated, I find Trump`s comments distasteful, disturbing, dangerous." Governor?

MALLOY: Let me just say this. And Chairman Steele made a very important point. When he goes off script, he`s in trouble.

Can I just tell you something? I`ve been a mayor or governor for over 20 years. Governing is off script. That`s what it is. You have to respond. You have to lead. You have to use the right language. You have to be able to compel people to do good things, not bad things.

And this is the most disturbing example -- listen, right before we got on, he was talking about how NATO is obsolete. Well, if NATO is obsolete, we`re in big trouble. That`s one of his lines.

But this line, this crossed the line. We can`t tolerate this. People of good will have to reject this rhetoric.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at something that I think is in the political mind of all of us. This was what Sharron Angle did back in that Nevada race for the Senate. Let`s watch what she said, which should have been on his mind, if nothing else was. I know of a politician who said something crazy like this, I better not say it myself. Instead, he did. Let`s watch Sharron Angle.


SHARRON ANGLE (R-UT), SENATE CANDIDATE: I feel that the 2nd Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This is not for someone who`s in the military. This is not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact, when you read the Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we needed it at any time...

ANGLE: ... becomes tyrannical...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... in our history, it might be right now.

ANGLE: Well, it`s to defend ourselves. And you know, I`m hoping that we`re not getting to 2nd Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problem.


MATTHEWS: So she`s hoping we don`t get to the fact we got to blow the heads off our politicians. I mean, God, that`s what she`s saying there!

PAGE: "2nd Amendment remedies."

MATTHEWS: What are -- are there any other -- that`s what I mean. Trump reads the papers, doesn`t he? He knows this happened. Why would he repeat it?

STEELE: Because he`s not thinking about that in this moment. He`s in a different vein, in a different mindset. To what we just said, he`s trying to keep the audience with him. He`s trying to expand on a point that he`s just made to reinforce that point, and it takes him down a rabbit hole.

MATTHEWS: Here`s Rudy Giuliani doing his best to -- here`s Rudy Giuliani, Governor. Listen to him for a second. Then you can react. He accused the Clinton campaign -- it`s not just the Clinton campaign, Mr. Mayor, misrepresenting Trump`s -- here`s Giuliani just moments ago.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: What he meant by that was you have the power to vote against her.


GIULIANI: You have the power -- you have the power to campaign against her! You have the power to speak against her! You know why? Because you`re Americans!

So the Clinton people -- so the Clinton people -- this is how corrupt they are. From their days back in Arkansas, they were corrupt. This is how corrupt they are. They spin out that what he meant by that was that it was a joke and that what he meant by that was that they would kill her.


MATTHEWS: Governor, what do you make of Rudy`s attempt there? I`m not sure he listened carefully to what Trump said because Trump didn`t say, You can vote against this guy or you can use your -- you know, your army of voters from the NRA on down to stop her from getting elected. He`s saying once she has the power, there`s nothing you can do about it. Of course, 2nd Amendment people might have something to do there.

I mean, that was an amazing statement of sequence, not about stopping somebody from getting elected. How to stop them from doing what they`re constitutionally able to do once they`re in office is what he was talking about. And that`s the scary part.

MALLOY: Donald Trump does not need a chief apologist, particularly one who`s going to grab things out of the air and make it up. The former mayor of New York has done some wonderful work in the past and said some wonderful things and I`ve disagreed with him on others, but he`s just -- he`s dead wrong on this particular point.

It`s not as if he said, Well, we got to hang onto the Senate and make sure that doesn`t happen or we`re going to have a good Senate debate about confirmation. He didn`t say those things. And he didn`t blow a whistle. He said, Well, maybe there`s some people out there who are really committed to the 2nd Amendment who will take matters into his own hands. That`s what he was saying, and it has to be repudiated...

MATTHEWS: That`s the way it`s been heard.

MALLOY: ... for democracy.

MATTHEWS: Let me go (INAUDIBLE) we got a straight reporter here.

PAGE: Well...

MATTHEWS: How`s this going to play? I`m looking at it on the wires. It`s playing as something he shouldn`t have said.

PAGE: It is, but it is item number 157 of things he shouldn`t have said or where someone has come out and said that was what he meant to say or that wasn`t what he meant when he said that. Look how uncomfortable...

MATTHEWS: Do some people want to hear him say that?

PAGE: Look how uncomfortable Rudy Giuliani was in even describing what it was that other people heard. He didn`t want to go there to describe how other people were interpreting the remarks.

STEELE: I think Susan made the most important point, and that is that these words that come out of your mouth matter. When you`re the presidential nominee, you`re one election away from assuming that office, what you say, people do interpret.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about how it takes two to tango because there`s an element here. I think he`s totally responsible for what he did, but he`s getting a little Captain Queeg-y here, OK, just a little bit. Look at -- and I think the Democrats know how to play this very well.

Now, watch this, Governor. Enjoy this one aspect of this terrible thing that was said.

This is, of course, Elizabeth Warren, who`s wicked in her sarcasm. She is something else. "Donald Trump makes death threats because he`s a pathetic coward who can`t handle the fact that he`s losing to a girl." Now, the only feminist in 100 years to use that word for a grown-up person, anyway, like Hillary Clinton.

But she knows what she`s saying.

STEELE: She knows exactly...

MATTHEWS: And so part of it is getting the other guy, twisting him, making him go a little loony like this.

STEELE: Right. Yes, no. And the thing about it is that he will likely respond to that in some way, and it really is to sort of, you know, paint the picture of the bully going after a girl and -- and...

MATTHEWS: Or as Peggy Noonan says, the bull that has been tormented so much by the picador...

MALLOY: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... that it goes right into the sword (ph). Last word from you, Governor. I mean, maybe these metaphors are dangerous, but I do find them apt.

MALLOY: I mean, I think the senator cut him to the quick. The reality is, this is a bully. He says it from up on the stage, gives them an opportunity to think about what he may have made mistakes about and get the apologists all lined up, and it`s not really what he meant.

I`m telling you that this is a dangerous human being who must be repudiated lest we repeat what we`ve seen happen in our own country and seen happen in other countries.

Let`s be very clear. He does not have the temperament to be president of the United States. This is not someone we turn the codes over to.

MATTHEWS: I wish you were running, Governor. Governor Dan Malloy, thanks for coming. I do with you were running for president. Anyway, Susan Page, as always, a -- sort of center of -- of intelligence and common sense and journalistic integrity.

STEELE: Yes, she is.

MATTHEWS: And then there`s you and me!


MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, thank you.

Tonight at 11:00 Eastern, by the way, join me for a special -- I guess these are catching on -- a live edition of HARDBALL tonight. We`re going to have the latest on the presidential race, all the news that`s breaking tonight. Also, the hot news coming in from Wisconsin, where House Speaker Paul Ryan is fighting it out in his primary, probably (INAUDIBLE) 90 percent. Anyway, that`s coming up in our late night edition at 11:00 Eastern.

And coming up right now, Donald Trump`s hitting back against 50 Republican national security experts who say he`d be a dangerous president. That`s pretty strong stuff. We`ll hear from one of those experts, along with retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey, who also says Trump`s unfit to be the president.

Plus, is Trump trying to blow up the presidential debates? He says he wants to debate, but he wants to renegotiate the debate terms. Will he join Hillary Clinton on that debate stage even if he doesn`t get what he wants?

And the HARDBALL roundtable`s coming here to tell me something about this presidential race that I don`t know.

And finally tonight, the COO who oversaw the growth of NBC, including the creation of this network and the network`s coverage of the Olympics right now, speaks out on Trump, personal responsibility and the challenge of autism.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, those polls in Wisconsin close at 8:00 PM Central time tonight, so in less than two hours, we`ll have a sense of how the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, fared in his race for renomination. Ryan was challenged at home from the right by conservative businessman Paul Nehlen, who was on here last night.

But 11:30 -- at 11:00 PM Eastern tonight, in a special live late night edition of HARDBALL, we`re going to bring you the full results of that race and what it means for the GOP.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, on Monday, in a rare move, 50 of the country`s most respected Republican national security officials joined forces to sign a letter saying that Donald Trump is unqualified to be president. This is rare stuff. They went on to say that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country`s national security and wellbeing, they said.

Well, this morning, Trump struck back, saying that this was nothing more than failed Washington elite people lashing out. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: These were the people that have been there a long time, Washington establishment people. They`ve been there for a long time. Look at the terrible job they`ve done.

I hadn`t planned on using any of these people. I guess, for the most part, I haven`t even spoken to any of these people because I like to speak to a new group. The old group was not doing it.


MATTHEWS: Well, among those, some of the prominent signatories in that group were former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Homeland Security Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, all of them.

The letter comes at a time when Trump is struggling to regain footing after a particularly bad couple of weeks.

I`m joined by one of the co-signers of the letter, U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, visiting fellow of the Washington Institute, and retired Four-Star Army General and MSNBC military analyst Barry McCaffrey, who just last week in an opinion piece for "The Seattle Times" wrote Trump was unfit to lead.

General, I want to hear from you first, because you are not in the business of offering up foreign policy or certainly not political opinion. Why now?


I have tended to talk about policies, critically or supportive. I have tried to be analytical, but I have stayed away from the candidates. And, by the way, I`m not here to endorse anyone`s campaign. But it seemed to me, Chris, listening to Mr. Trump -- and, by the way, I object to the notion that his problem is, he`s going off-script.

We are actually hearing Trump and his actual views. And his views were praising Saddam Hussein, a mass murderer, praising Putin, being apparently unaware that he`s actually invaded another country and seized ground, threatening NATO, loose talk about nuclear proliferation, and then finally, the final straw to me was his insulting behavior to this grieving mother of one of our young troops killed in action, one of 60,000 killed and wounded fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This guy, it seems to me, has the wrong character to be president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Does he strike you as sort of a character out of "Seven Days in May"? How do you see him politically? Do you see him as somebody who will just grab power, like the man on horseback in historic terms, that mythical notion of a guy who just comes in and does what he wants to do?

MCCAFFREY: I think that is going to be part of the danger, by the way.

We have to have an acceptance of the Constitution, of the notion of three co-equal branches of government. I don`t think Mr. Trump will think any of that applies to him. And, you know, so I think the problem will be that most of life is off-message. And we are hearing the kind of impulsive, violent, provocative and badly uneducated opinions that he comes out with, primarily national security.

That`s what I`m talking about, homeland security. By the way, Governor Tom Ridge, Governor -- Judge Chertoff, General Hayden, these are some of the most respected people in the country. They are American patriots. And they think he`s reckless and shouldn`t be elected.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Ridge is near the top of my list, as you agree -- I agree with you.

Let me now go to Ambassador Jeffrey.

Ambassador, first of all, let me ask if there`s a policy difference between you -- because Trump has been very tough on the neocons. He`s been very tough on regime change as a practice, going into countries like Iraq and knocking off Saddam Hussein, going into Libya, helping to knock off Gadhafi, or being obsessed with getting rid of Assad, Bashar al-Assad.

Is that your policy, or do you have a difference with him on his fitness or his ideology?

JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Chris, I`m a career diplomat, retired. I didn`t support regime change. I`m one of the people sent in to spend three years in Iraq on the ground trying to clean it up.

I know what foreign policy messes are. And we have got some explaining to do to the American people in the past, but this isn`t the way to do it, not with his agenda.

MATTHEWS: What do you think his appeal is on foreign policy? Why is he up to -- well, he`s falling right now. It`s a bad time for him, but he got up to the low 40s. He was competitive with Hillary Clinton as recently as two weeks ago, I mean, very competitive. What`s that about, in terms of foreign policy? What`s his appeal?

JEFFREY: Well, I think there`s a general appeal, I`m a tough guy because I say I`m tough.

And I think that appeals to a lot of people, because strength in foreign policy is important. The problem is, unlike in domestic affairs, there`s no checks and balances for foreign policy. The president, as commander in chief, and as the man or woman in charge of our diplomacy basically decides without any constraints. That`s what worries me.

MATTHEWS: Well, the president of the United States, as commander in chief, General McCaffrey, doesn`t have a cap pistol. He has the United States military forces ready to take orders. Do you have a sense that there`s somewhere in the chain of command that would stop a guy like him if he managed to be president? Would there be a defense chief or the Joint Chiefs?

How -- would there be any effective brake on a guy who`s president who doesn`t act like he`s a grownup even?

MCCAFFREY: Well, of course that`s one of the concerns. You know, 2.2 million men and women in the armed forces globally deployed, the most professional force we have ever had in uniform, and yet he`s -- Mr. Trump has proposed things that are patently a violation of U.S. law, torturing American detainees, targeting their jihadist families, just astonishing rhetoric.

At some point, there would be a confrontation where the chain of command won`t follow illegal orders. And so I think one of the problems will be a real constitutional crisis, not just for the armed forces, but with the notion of government, respect for the Supreme Court, deference to Congress with the money power, and the confirmation authority of the Senate.

So, I don`t think we know. This guy is impulsive, and I don`t believe he will think the Constitution applies to him. That`s my own personal judgment.

MATTHEWS: Well, this weekend, Jim Rutenberg, who is really a smart writer -- he`s a media writer for "The New York Times" -- he said that Donald Trump`s campaign right now is testing the norms of objectivity in journalism, which is sort of a parallel with the military.

"Mr. Trump`s candidacy is extraordinary and precedent-shattering, and to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous with readers. It would be an abdication of political journalism`s most solemn duty, to ferret out what the candidates will be like in the most powerful office in the world."

And the reason I was grabbed by that, Mr. Ambassador, is that you folks that normally don`t take partisan positions are doing what a lot of people in journalism, straight journalism, not opinion journalism, are being confronted with, because how do you play or cover a campaign in the normal way when you have a candidate who clearly isn`t normal?

You know what I`m talking about? This guy is saying stuff that you would normally say, oh, you can`t say that. You can`t say NATO is finished. We need allies in the world. Every time we chase a fugitive in the world, we need somebody to help us. We need help when we have to go to war. We need allies. We can`t just tick off or forget them.

And yet it`s new for many people to say one guy`s objectively wrong for the country, he just is wrong. That`s a hell of a statement.

JEFFREY: Exactly.

But one thing we do bring to this fight, Chris, is that we have had a lot of experience overseas or working with people overseas.


JEFFREY: And we have seen two things, first of all, first-hand, as General McCaffrey has more than me, what happens when things go badly wrong to our young men and women. And that bears heavily on us.

Secondly, we have seen other governments, countries as well off as the United States in many respects, melt down because of bad leadership. It hasn`t happened here, but it`s happened in other decent countries, and it`s something that also bears heavily on us, because we know we are not immune to this.

MATTHEWS: This weekend, I was fortunate, or unfortunate -- I guess fortunate to meet with some men who have served in places like Iraq, which you are very familiar with, gentlemen. And they have been disfigured. They have been -- lost limbs. They have had their life changed around psychologically.

It`s just amazing, the world they face now because of war. And I think that doesn`t mean we can`t have wars or we shouldn`t have them, but it does mean that the person at the top who makes that decision has to be almost perfect in deciding who gets hurt.

MCCAFFREY: Cautious.

MATTHEWS: Yes, who gets hurts.

MCCAFFREY: The president needs to be cautious.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You have said it well.

Thank you, guys, for coming on, Ambassador James Jeffrey and General Barry McCaffrey.

MCCAFFREY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: debating the debates. Trump lays groundwork for renegotiating the biggest three nights this fall. He wants to fight over the debates, which is going to be interesting. What does he want?

And a reminder: Join me for a special edition of HARDBALL tonight at 11:00 p.m. We are going to do it again, a whole new show. And it`s really great at night. There`s something cozy about as we get to the bewitching hour.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

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

Delta has canceled nearly 700 flights today as it works to recover from a power outage on Monday. About 1,000 flights were canceled yesterday.

Texas is reporting its first Zika-linked fatality. Officials say a baby girl born with microcephaly died shortly after birth; 97 cases have been reported there, but none were contracted locally.

And three children remain hospitalized after falling three stories from a Ferris wheel at a county fair in Tennessee. Authorities say a mechanical issue is to blame -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the Clinton campaign last night agreed to three debates, all three of them proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and goaded -- this is always part of the game -- Donald Trump to do the same. Whoever agrees first says, come on, get out there.

As chairman John Podesta -- he`s the chairman of the Clinton campaign -- said in a statement: "It is concerning that the Trump campaign is already engaged in shenanigans" -- haven`t heard that word around -- "around these debates. We will accept the commission`s invitation and expect Donald Trump to do the same."

So the dare is out there.

But in an interview with "TIME" magazine today, Trump held out, saying: "I want to debate very badly, but I have to see the conditions. I renegotiated the debates in the primaries, remember? I`m sure they will be open to any suggestions I have because I think they will be very fair suggestions."

He also added that he wants a role in selecting the moderators -- fair enough -- saying: "I would say that certain moderators would be unacceptable, absolutely. I will demand fair moderators."

So, is Trump trying to blow up the debates? That`s a question there`s a buzz about, that he`s just really saying, I don`t want to debate.

The roundtable tonight to debate, Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer with "The Washington Post." Laura Bassett covers politics for The Huffington Post. And Zeke Miller, one of the great American names ever, is a political reporter for "TIME" who broke this story.

Zeke Miller, I got to go to you.

ZEKE MILLER, "TIME": Hey, Chris. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Is he trying to get out of this or trying to get -- obviously wants the right moderator. He wants to get -- what else does he want besides a moderator who will not undercut him or humiliate him or look down on him?

MILLER: There`s always that little bit of negotiation that goes on with any of these debates, the height of the podiums. Is somebody going to be taller than somebody else on stage and those cameras?

MATTHEWS: Don`t you love that trick? Michael Dukakis, they let him have a riser, but then they had camera angles to show the riser from the side. All these games.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Donald Trump likes to think of himself as the great negotiator. He wrote "The Art of the Deal" and talks about that.


MATTHEWS: What does he want?

CAPEHART: What he wants is the ability to show he`s strong, to show that he got a win, more so than anything else.

MATTHEWS: OK. He`s much taller than Secretary Clinton. He`s about 6`2`` or 6`3``. Hillary Clinton is average size, 5`6` or something, I guess. And so will there be a fight over the risers now?

CAPEHART: Oh, absolutely.

But I think, for Trump, the more critical factor will be the fight over the format, which has already been announced. Each of the debates has a different format, as well as the moderators. Who will be the people who are going to ask the questions, and will they interject or not?

MATTHEWS: Laura, I want -- I`m sorry.

Jonathan, you were jumping there.

I would think the one thing Trump wants is an audience. He wants a peanut gallery. He only works -- those jokes don`t work unless you hear that cackle of excitement, crackle of excitement.

CAPEHART: Right. He has to hear the applause and he has to hear the laughter. And he has to hear the boos, because the boos are the cue to him to keep talking until he gets the applause and the laughter.

But, to me, I think he`s trying to blow up the debates, because, OK, fine, everyone wants to negotiate over the moderators. But, please, name a news organization or journalist who would be acceptable to him.

MATTHEWS: Well, that will hurt somebody.


MATTHEWS: Jonathan, you know that`s -- once he says this is my kind of person, then you`re in trouble. Then you`re in trouble.


MATTHEWS: But he`s already declared war. I`m not a media critic. He has already said CNN, the Clinton network. But he can do it. He can -- look, he`s got the power.

But the danger he might face is information questions.


MATTHEWS: If I were Donald Trump, what I would fear most is exposure of not knowing who the prime minister of Canada is or something like that, just not knowing something really basic to being president.

BASSETT: Exactly.

I think that there`s a lot of things that the debate moderators could do to make Trump look really stupid. And so I think when he said -- I thought it was interesting when he said I want debate moderators who are fair and balanced, which happens to be the same line that FOX News uses.

MATTHEWS: That says Bret Baier to me, Shepard Smith.

BASSETT: Right. But even Megyn Kelly is not enough -- is not fair and balanced enough for Donald Trump. He obviously feuded with her.

So, I think he`s trying to pick people that are going to be kind to him.

MATTHEWS: What about the format of the third debate? It`s always been -- we ought to know for a style debate. It`s a give and take. They sit on these stools. It`s kind of embarrassing. They got to sit on stools and interact. Is that -- would he be against that?

CAPEHART: Well, that kind of debate, I think he would actually like, because then he would be able to go after Hillary Clinton in ways that he wouldn`t be able to, I don`t think, in any of these other debate formats.

MATTHEWS: Is he going to call her crooked Hillary to her face? This is a question I always ask. Would you say that to her face, five feet away, you`re crooked?

CAPEHART: I bet he would.

BASSETT: Oh, he certainly would.

MATTHEWS: He would?

BASSETT: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: If you look at the primary debates as instructive, he was never one-on-one, but he -- there were two different Donald Trumps that would show up.

You would have the Donald Trump every once in a while that sort of faded in the background. And you would have the Donald Trump that would engage sort of one-on-one, in sort of the personal attacks.

And the challenge for the Clinton campaign is which Donald Trump do you prepare for? You have to do two different debate preps.

MILLER: Well, he is not going to be able to hide in the background when it just the two of them.

MATTHEWS: She`s good at this stuff. She`s great. If she can prepare the substance being talked about, sort of the normal boundaries of what you talk about, she will be great.

But he will try to get outside those boundaries, I would think, and try to jump her from somewhere where she`s never been thinking, because she`s smart about all the homework. She gets the homework done. She has got people helping her. She knows her stuff that you would reasonably want.

Trump may find something that he wants to bring up that she`s not -- you know, and start arguing about something...


BASSETT: Why wouldn`t he have already brought it up? Trump is not a disciplined candidate.


MATTHEWS: He did. He is talking about Second Amendment remedies or whatever tonight. He`s all over the place.

BASSETT: You think that would shake her in a debate? I think she is going to wipe the floor with him. And she knows it. And she smells blood in the water already. You could tell from her campaign`s response today.


MATTHEWS: Why does she -- OK. I like that. But that`s not her attitude towards the media.

BASSETT: Blood in the water?

MATTHEWS: No, no, can`t wait to have the next press conference.


MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton does not -- a lot of respect her. She`s done her homework. She deserves to be maybe president of the United States. There`s certainly a 50/50 shot at it now.

But she doesn`t like mixing it up with the press. So, why would she like mixing it up with Donald Trump?

BASSETT: Well, I think she knows that she can win. I think she knows that she has way deeper knowledge than he does about any policy issue that could ever possibly come up.

MATTHEWS: We got some new polls, swing poll states to tell you why Trump may be a little dangerous and wanting to know he has to win this debate, because he may go into this behind in the swing states.

Today, it comes out, NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll and Marist has just come out. Catch this. In Iowa, Clinton is leading Trump by four. In Ohio, she leads by five. And he needs Ohio. In Pennsylvania, the lead is now 11. And he needs Pennsylvania. These are all states Trump needs to win.

Meanwhile, a new NBC tracking poll this week shows Clinton opening up a 10- point lead nationally, his biggest gap yet.

So, it seems to me you can always tell -- Laura, you first -- but the person who goes into the debate and goes on offense is the person behind.


MATTHEWS: The person who is ahead cools it.


MATTHEWS: That means Trump goes in. And if you see the guy, often a guy, who attacks, they look like it. And they don`t look good, because then the opponent can just say something like, there you go again. And people root for that person because they are being attacked.

BASSETT: And I think he`s already imploding for that reason.

I think, as his poll numbers slip, he`s starting to make more and more -- I don`t even want to call them gaffes, because it`s so far beyond that, I mean, suggesting Hillary be...

MATTHEWS: Is he pressing too hard?

BASSETT: Yes. I think he`s panicking a little bit. And I think it`s starting to show.

MATTHEWS: Would you have ever voted for Trump?



Would you have ever thought of voting for Trump?



BASSETT: Thought of voting for him?

MATTHEWS: Yes. When did you decide?

BASSETT: Not to vote for Trump?


BASSETT: Oh, when he was on "The Apprentice" acting like a clown.


MATTHEWS: So, this hasn`t been an open mind situation for you?


MILLER: I don`t vote. So...

MATTHEWS: You don`t, really?

MILLER: No. No. I`m of that school of reporters that don`t vote.


MILLER: ... "The Post" too.

MATTHEWS: Do you opine on yourself when you go to bed at night?


MATTHEWS: Do you opine ever secretly?

MILLER: No, not really.

MATTHEWS: You`re amazing.

You know that there are people like Len Downie, the old executive editor of "The Washington Post," who would never vote, and never...


CAPEHART: Well, I`m an opinion writer. I vote. And...

MATTHEWS: Would you ever have thought of voting for Trump?

CAPEHART: Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Ever? Since when?

CAPEHART: Since June 16, 2015, when he said Mexico is sending over...

MATTHEWS: Rapists.

CAPEHART: ... rapists and folks like that. Yes. There was no...

MATTHEWS: You thought that was an exceptional comment?

CAPEHART: ... no possible way. That`s why I think coming up in the debate --


MATTHEWS: I have the right to ask any question here and I have done it.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these people tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Zeke, tell me something I don`t know.

ZEKE MILLER, TIME MAGAZINE: Carly Fiorina, the former presidential candidate, is getting ready to run for RNC chairman in January, should Donald Trump lose. And that race is going to be the big fight for the future of the Republican Party. The first fight in terms of how to define the post-Trump GOP --

MATTHEWS: Is she going to be more like Michael Steele or more like Reince Priebus?

MILLER: Somewhere between, I would suspect. Would be the first woman ever in that job.


LAURA BASSETT, HUFFINGTON POST: Trump still has an advisor in Al Baldasaro, from New Hampshire, who during the RNC called for Hillary to face a firing squad. Considering his comments today suggesting maybe second amendment people should take that into their own hands, he`s going to have some explaining to do.


MATTHEWS: Explain this part, can you help him? Why?


MATTHEWS: Why a firing squad? What capital crime did she commit?

BASSETT: He was upset about the Benghazi situation. He said she should face a firing squad for treason.

MATTHEWS: What did she do? I keep wondering what she did in Benghazi.

BASSETT: Didn`t send enough security forces, I suppose.

MATTHEWS: Then why didn`t they hold a decent hearing? Still waiting for Congress to hold a decent hearing. Secretary Clinton, let`s go through minute by minute where you were when you first heard this guy was in trouble, your friend, Chris Stevens.

They don`t know how to have an organized hearing. Everybody asks stupid question after stupid question and Hillary never had to do, which I think would have been helpful for her, when I first heard it was 6:15, blah, blah, blah. I just checked it. Then we did this, then we called, I talked to Leon, we saw where the nearest forces were but then I heard he was dead.

OK? I never left this issue. I never got off of it. I never went anywhere else. I tried to save my friend`s life.

But they don`t know how to have clear conversations in these hearings. Your thought? Go ahead.


MATTHEWS: They don`t get the clarity.

Yes. Go ahead.

CAPEHART: So, a week from today, my new podcast at "The Washington Post" premieres. It`s called --

MATTHEWS: This is about you.

CAPEHART: Yes, it is about me. It`s called, I can`t -- I didn`t give the graphic. You can see, it`s keep up, or if you see it really fast, it sounds like keep up.

MATTHEWS: You like that caricature of you?

CAPEHART: Yes, my friend --

MATTHEWS: Your glasses are regular sized. Why do you have huge glasses?

CAPEHART: The old glasses I have. It will be great political conversation.

MATTHEWS: What`s our takeaway on this?

CAPEHART: Get it on iTunes starting August 16th.

MATTHEWS: You are so state of the art.

Anyway, Jonathan Capehart, Laura Bassett and Zeke Miller.

Up next, the COO who oversaw the growth of NBC, including the creation of MSNBC and the network`s coverage of the Olympics, speaks out on Trump, personal responsibility and the human challenge of autism.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Join us again tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We`re going to have a live late night edition of HARDBALL with results of that squeaker election out in Wisconsin with Paul Ryan running for renomination.

Lots more news breaking tonight. Lots of news breaks late at night. That`s only on MSNBC, the place for politics.

HARDBALL back after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, during Bob Wright`s career as head of NBC, he launched CNBC and MSNBC. In 1988, his team negotiated unprecedented rights to televise the Olympics, which you`re watching right now. He built up the network`s primetime schedule to include hit shows like "Seinfeld." And with such a long career as seen here with Johnny Carson. He`s made friends for life.

And now, he`s the author of "The Wright Stuff: From NBC to Autism Speaks", that`s organization he cofounded with his late wife Suzanne.

Bob Wright, welcome to the show.

BOB WRIGHT, CO-FOUNDER, AUTISM SPEAKS: Thank you very much, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Bob -- thank you.

I want you to talk -- you`re a citizen and you`ve had great responsibilities running this whole network. What do you think of what we`re talking about, of Trump, you know him from "The Apprentice", what do you think about this choice and what we have as a choice, Hillary or him basically?

WRIGHT: Well, I wanted to announce that I`m running for president of the United States. I`m running on the Republican ticket, the mainstream Republican ticket, which is a center-right party, and I`m running against the progressive party, Democratic Party, and the moderate Democratic Party. And my Christian -- conservative Christian party, which is also a Republican Party, but somewhat different.

I think you`ve seen what Donald is, I`ve known him a long time. And he`s a person with a lot of capacity, and he`s got himself in a really tight spot here, there`s no question. He appeals to an awful lot of people, but this is what`s happened to our politics, both with both parties. He`s trying to deal with both what I`ll call the Christian conservatives and the mainstream Republicans, and neither one of them are going to be satisfied. Then, you go over to -- and Hillary`s trying to do the same thing, trying to manage and balance the progressives with moderate Democrats.

And he`s just having a lot of trouble now, and he`s saying things that go to both parties. It`s quite awkward. But there`s a lot of time left and if he stays with economics, if he stays with his taxes and he stays with immigration and jobs, you know, that`s how he got there. So, we`ll have to see.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your book, it`s called "The Wright Stuff", playing off your name. You were ahead of this corporation, certainly NBC Universal, an amazingly successful career.

What is it you learned? Because you had responsibilities most of us will never imagine having, what did you learn?

WRIGHT: Well, the whole tentative of the book is -- when I was putting my life together, with the help of my wife who just passed away --


WRIGHT: -- less than two weeks ago, which is a terrible tragedy, and by the way, about a third of the book is dedicated to her -- I mean, in terms of material in the book.

What I always try to do is say, if you want to be ambitious and if you want to be in a large business or small business, you must learn to accept and be responsible for what you`re doing. You have to accept full responsibility. You can`t be blaming other people. You can`t constantly say, this is a bad luck thing and all that.

You also have to have a lot of passion, and you have to have a lot of passion in what you`re doing, and you have to try to control, if you have a lot of good ideas -- you have to try to control them as best you can, and gather some very good people around you. And push them on. And that`s what I tried to do.

And other people have done that very successfully. A lot of them were entrepreneurial, but you can be entrepreneurial in a large corporation like GE.

MATTHEWS: Take a minute or two and talk about what you and Suzanne did for autism, and what you`re trying to build in terms of getting other people involved.

WRIGHT: Well, we had the misfortune of having our first grandson diagnosed with autism and he was quiet severe at the time back in 2004. And we traveled around the United States and we looked -- we were trying to learn about it, we couldn`t get help from the major medical organizations. They said, well, autism is not something that we treat, because there`s no insurance coverage for it. So, really, you have to get therapies and people have to pay for them themselves.

We couldn`t believe this travesty. All these parents out there, all working people, and they were broke, you know, doing what you have to do to deal with a child with autism. It`s 30 hours a week at least in the early days. And that`s hundreds and hundreds of dollars a week. And people just don`t have that kind of money. And so, that`s how we got into this whole thing.

MATTHEWS: Can you improve the life experience and communications ability of an autistic child?

WRIGHT: Yes, you can. You can certainly improve -- you can`t improve every one, because no two children are the same. They`re all different.

But, by and large, at least 50 percent of children, if they get early access to therapies, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies, and they can get that with a diagnosis at least by two years old, 2 1/2, all the way up to first grade, they have a 50 percent shot to matriculate to a public high school system at or near average grade level with a lot of help. And that`s a big deal. The other half is going to have a much tougher struggle.

MATTHEW: You know, you`re only a couple of years ahead of me in life. I think you`re two years ahead of me at Holy Cross. And I must say, you and your wife Suzanne, who we just lost, have been like parents to this network all these years.

And tell us about Suzanne.

WRIGHT: Well, Suzanne was a very unique person, and she had enormous personality. And she was just so transparent. She was always looking to be in people`s lives, to help them out. She helped me immensely in business. She was a great partner, and she`s a great homemaker. She cooked thousands of meals at home.

She gave up her schooling to marry me and stay in law school. Then, she had to go back and she spent years, five years getting back her -- getting a degree at Sarah Lawrence, and the same time, doing all the things she was doing with other children and with charities and with our own family.

And when this came along, she just poured herself into it. She just cried because Christian was her first boy and he was perfect. We thought he was going to be a star. He was an early talker and all that. So, she was the champion of this and created so much of the energy and the passion that went into it. She was 24 by 7 and then she created a marvelous organization, and we`re around the world. It`s a worldwide organization now.

MATTHEWS: Well, Bob, it`s an honor to have you on the show, thank you so much for coming on. Take care of yourself.

WRIGHT: Don`t forget to vote for me.

MATTHEWS: You`re just kidding.

You`re not kidding about this book. It`s called "The Wright Stuff". It`s in your bookstores. The guy who knows what he`s talking about and who does take responsibility personally for the things in his life, and the people.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.