Show: HARDBALL Date: August 12, 2016 Guest: Eli Stokols, Heidi Przybyla, Michael Caputo, Jamal Simmons, J.D. Vance, Jonathan Allen, Anne Gearan, Richard Fowler
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Uncertain trumpet.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Well, Donald Trump, who believes love means never having to say you`re sorry, is starting to take back his words. He woke up this morning telling us all his repeated claims that President Obama is the founder of ISIS wasn`t meant to be for real.
Trump made the about-face in a tweet this morning saying, quote, "Ratings- challenged CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama and Clinton the founder of ISIS and MVP. They don`t get sarcasm."
Well, at a rally later this afternoon, Trump again said he shouldn`t have been taken at his word and attacked the media for doing that. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I make one mistake, a little thing -- Oh, he mentioned something wrong! He got a wrong date! It`s, like, headlines all over. So I said the founder of ISIS. Obviously, I`m being sarcastic. Then -- then -- but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: And they all said, He should not say that. That is -- they should call him an enabler. Call him an enabler. He`s an enabler.
I said that doesn`t sound the same. He`s an enabler. People will say, What`s -- these people are the worst. So they knew I was being sarcastic! But now they`re analyzing. Did I really mean that? How could I say that?
These people are the lowest form of life, I`m telling you!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, this comes after Donald Trump in just the last 48 hours made the accusation multiple times, repeatedly doubling down on his charge every chance he got. And here`s Trump doubling and tripling and quadrupling down on the charge that President Obama is a founder of ISIS. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He is the founder of ISIS. He`s the founder of ISIS, OK? He`s the founder!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: As far as I`m concerned -- and I`ll say it, and I`ll say it to anybody that wants to listen -- he is a founder of ISIS. They must love him.
Barack Obama is the founder! He is the founder in a true sense!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mentioned President Obama being the founder of ISIS. What did you mean by that? And Hillary Clinton...
TRUMP: Exactly that. He`s the founder of ISIS. Yes. He`s a founder. He`s a founding father.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it`s appropriate to call the sitting president of the United States the founder of a terrorist organization that wants to kill Americans?
TRUMP: He was the founder of ISIS, absolutely.
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace...
TRUMP: No, I meant he`s the founder of ISIS.
I call President Obama and Hillary Clinton the founders of ISIS. They`re the founders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t think I`ve ever seen anything quite like this.
Anyway, I`m joined right now by NBC`s Hallie Jackson. She`s at the Trump rally in Altoona, Pennsylvania, home of Jack Murtha.
Let me ask you this, Hallie. Why didn`t we all believe what he said? I mean, for weeks now, time after time, even when Hugh Hewitt tried to talk him off the cliff there, or off the 34th floor window, he said, No, no. No, no. He`s the founder of ISIS.
And then this morning at 6:30, he gets up and says, Oh, that was not what I meant. That was sarcasm or something. How do you figure?
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I mean, listen, this is a pattern that fits into Trump`s playbook in the past. I think you nailed it with the repeated times that he was given an opportunity to get out of what he said. He was asked point-blank, What did you mean? Do you want to walk it back? Didn`t you mean X, Y or Z? And Trump repeatedly said, No, I meant he`s the founder of ISIS.
Here`s the deal. I think what happens is Trump sees the reaction, he floats these, if you can call them trial balloons, he looks at how the media, he looks at how supporters and others are reacting, and then he decides how he will either walk it back or
not. And even his walk-backs are only semi-walkbacks. He came out right before the morning shows this morning, tweeted about it being sarcasm. Later in the day, talked about it being sarcastic, even though he acknowledged not totally sarcastic, so even then, kind of walking back the walkback, if you will.
But for Trump, we have seen this. Remember, Chris, remember when he suggested that the Russians should hack Hillary Clinton? He was asked about that in an interview, and he said at the time that of course he was being sarcastic.
What this does, it allows him to do a couple of things that play well with rooms like this one here in this conservative part of Pennsylvania. Number one, it allows him to go after Democrats for spinning these what he calls talking points. And number two, it allows him to hit the members of the media who are standing on this platform with me, which is something that his supporters love to see and which has, for Trump, proven to be an effective strategy.
MATTHEWS: Hallie -- anyway, moments ago, Donald Trump said the only way he could lose Pennsylvania and the election is if his opponents cheat. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The only way we can lose, in my opinion -- I really mean this, Pennsylvania -- is if cheating goes on. And we have to call up law enforcement and we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching because if we get cheated out of this election, if we get cheated out of a win in Pennsylvania, which is such a vital state -- especially when I know what`s happening here, folks -- I know -- she can`t beat what`s happening here.
The only way they can beat it, in my opinion -- and I mean this 100 percent -- if in certain sections of the state, they cheat!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what he`s talking about, Hallie. He`s talking about Philadelphia. That`s what he`s -- "certain sections of this state"? "Certain sections"? I know what he`s talking about when he`s out in Altoona and Johnstown. That`s a message, they cheat in Philly. That`s what he`s saying. They wouldn`t cheat here in Johnstown or in Altoona or even Pittsburgh. No, they cheat back in the east, back in Philly. I know what he`s saying.
JACKSON: Right. I mean, he talks about Philly. He brought up Philly, by the way, and you know, as a Pennsylvanian yourself (INAUDIBLE) I mean, people here booed, right? They jeered the mention of that, the mention of Philadelphia, for example.
But this idea that Trump is continuing to talk about a rigged system plays on two fronts. Number one, to Trump, it`s a way of continuing to promote this argument that the big guys are stacking it up against him, that he`s the underdog and that he`s fighting for the people like the ones in Altoona.
On the flip side, his critics argue that this is actually one of the more dangerous long-term arguments that Donald Trump is making, that when we all wake up on November 9th, if Trump loses, he can then point to the system and say it`s not right, it`s not fair, it`s rigged, and that undermines the foundation of what the election system is built on in this country.
It is an argument that he started making just a couple of weeks ago and that he`s brought up time and time again in places in rallies like this one.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it`ll sell in Ecuador. That`s the kind of stuff they do in third world countries with less developed democracies. You always say you`ll have it stolen because then you never really lose. Anyway, thank you, Hallie Jackson, for the reporting there up in Altoona.
I`m joined right now by Eli Stokols, national politics editor at Politico, as well as Heidi Przybyla, senior political reporter at "USA Today."
Heidi, this has really gotten out of hand. Why do we even record his words? Because two days later, he says they don`t matter, they were something else.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": Well, on both points -- I mean, in terms of the rigged system, this is the same argument that we heard him make in the primaries when it looked like Ted Cruz was going to be challenging, which is that he`s struggling in the polls, these numbers may be baked in, and he starts to lay the groundwork for what is going to be the excuse for why he winds up losing, is that the whole thing was rigged. It was the establishment taking him down. And it`s essentially the same thing he did in the primaries, kind of a preemptive strategy.
MATTHEWS: What we have from leaders is basically their physical sort of appearance on the stage. You look at them, and then you listen to them. There are no actions in politics. They`re words. And if his words are totally indescribable, unreliable, incredible, what is his campaign about?
If he says, This doesn`t matter because I didn`t really say this -- and this has gone on from the time -- the other classic example of course, Eli, was when he said the Russians, I want them to hack into Hillary`s e-mail. I want them to do it.
ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Or when he said last week that, you know, the video showing the money drop was showing the money drop, rather than hostages being released. I mean, he just, again, has this cavalier approach to words and to facts and to the truth. And that is something that, yes, worked well for him in the primary.
But like Hallie said, you know, his message plays well in that room. His problem is he`s still talking to the same room. It`s a challenge covering him. It`s like trying to describe a snow globe that never settles. The clips you played -- he`s sitting there saying, It was sarcastic. Well, it wasn`t that sarcastic. I mean, he`s constantly contradicting himself, makes it really challenging and I think...
MATTHEWS: How do you follow him?
STOKOLS: ... his supporters see what they want to see.
MATTHEWS: I know.
PRZYBYLA: I thought this was different, though, Chris. In some ways, Trump does kind of, you know, go off the cuff and go off message, and he makes a gaffe here or there, and it gets blown up. In this case, this was pretty deliberate. Like you showed with your clips, he did it over and over again.
And I really think in Trump`s mind -- because let`s be clear here, no one`s running this campaign but Trump -- and in his mind, this was a good strategy to try and...
MATTHEWS: I have a 30/20 theory. He has 30 percent who are going to vote for him no matter what he says. And they`re the ones that like the birther thing. They like it, the -- he`s really from Africa. He`s not really one of us. And then you throw in this latest stuff -- you know, of course he`s the founder of ISIS. He`s from Africa! He`s a Muslim! Of course! That 30 percent are buying the literal charge.
And then he gets worried, he goes, Wait a minute, I can`t win with 30 percent. I need the 20 percent thing of who`s (ph) the suburbs, the people who read the newspapers. I better pull back. So he gets up at 6:30 this morning realizing, I can`t win with 30 percent, I got to go back to the suburban people, the independent voters who just want a change, who don`t like this dynastic Clinton and Bush thing going on all the time, I got to get them back.
So he says it was just sarcasm. But then he`s scared for a second, flop sweat again, he goes, Oh, my God, I better say I wasn`t really being sarcastic. He`s trying to get the 30, his core, and pick up the 20, and he`s getting a little bat crazy about this.
STOKOLS: Yes, and I think it`s just a matter of who he`s listening to, right? He knows what he thinks and believes and thinks he should be able to say. But you know, he`s losing his leverage with the RNC and with...
MATTHEWS: ... that 20 percent he needs.
STOKOLS: ... trying to hammer into him, Hey, get on message finally. You know, he needs the RNC because they`re basically his campaign in all the states. And so when they come and they call him and yell at him -- you know, at some point, he`s running out of leverage because...
MATTHEWS: He was up near 50 percent. Now he`s gone down to about 35 percent, if you look at the trends.
Anyway, Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut took to Twitter this morning to criticize Trump with a remark showcasing true sarcasm, saying, quote, "What I`m looking for is a president who has a good sense of humor about ISIS, assassinations and Russian cyber-warfare."
But Trump`s allies have also been critical of recent comments about the president. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee told a local reporter at "The Tennesseean," quote, "To say that an elected official in our country founded a terrorist organization like ISIS is taking the facts that took place in 2011 and carrying that far too far."
Even Newt Gingrich is showing exasperation with the Trump campaign. Here`s what he said this morning on Fox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: But one of the things that`s frustrating about his candidacy is the imprecise language. He sometimes uses three words when he needs ten. I know what Trump has in his mind. but that`s not what people hear.
And I think that`s -- he has got to learn to use language that has been thought through and that is clear to everybody and to stick to that language because otherwise, the mainstream media`s going to take every possible excuse to pile on him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This isn`t about piling on, though. Let`s take a look now at the pattern here. Just this morning, at 6:30 -- you got to get up early to catch Trump. At 6:30, he tweets the fact that, you know, it was just sarcasm, this day-after-day relentless thing I just showed you a few moments ago of him saying Obama is the founder of ISIS, along with Hillary Clinton, of course.
But this isn`t the first time that Trump has clarified a statement just like this. After he asked Russia -- like talking to a country -- to commit an act of cyberterrorism against Hillary Clinton`s campaign last month, Trump later explained he was just being -- here`s the word -- sarcastic. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
When I`m being sarcastic with something, first of all...
TRUMP: Of course I`m being sarcastic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know Fred Armisted (ph) when he started his act on "Saturday Night Live" -- "Just kidding!" And he thought that was a great line, "Just kidding." That`s what Trump`s like now! (INAUDIBLE) No, I`m just being sarcastic.
STOKOLS: You know, a lot of -- and a lot of his appeal is doing it so differently, being so unconventional, being willing to just kind of throw everything out and be entertaining.
But you know, most people, I think at this point -- the election`s gotten to this point where it`s we`re looking at who`s going to actually be president. There`s a seriousness to it now. And I think, you know, you want sarcasm, you watch a Bill Murray movie. You watch "SNL." You don`t necessarily want to see that in someone whose words...
MATTHEWS: How about this...
STOKOLS: ... are going to have -- you know, going to have geopolitical impact.
MATTHEWS: How about this? He says, Don`t invest in the stock market. A president of the United States says that, it could cause a collapse of the market. You know, he says things that, Oh, that doesn`t matter.
PRZYBYLA: Add it to the list. We`ve got to move on day by day when he says these things.
But I really do feel like, Chris, we`re reaching that ceiling point in the polls, where he came out of what was generally not the most successful Republican convention in history, compared to a very successful Democratic convention, and it`s only been stumble, stumble, stumble...
PRZYBYLA: ... since then with the Gold Star family fight, the 2nd Amendment comment the other day. And I really feel like those people who might have given him a chance, the independents, the more moderate Republicans -- those are starting to harden.
MATTHEWS: That 20 percent he needs to go from 30 to 50. And I`ll talk about it at the end of the show. But also, as you were so smart to say, when he came out of that convention -- it was a dull convention. He gave a pretty good speech at the end. It was a real barn-burner at the very end. But the week wasn`t that good. And then he comes on -- this week was worse. I think it`s a worse week for him than the convention in Cleveland...
PRZYBYLA: (INAUDIBLE) economic rollout. You wouldn`t know it.
STOKOLS: Paul Manafort at the convention said, you know, as soon as Americans see Donald Trump as a believable president, this election`s over. They didn`t see it that week, and they certainly haven`t seen it since then.
MATTHEWS: What do you think Paul Manafort is thinking when he goes to bed at night, how great things are going?
STOKOLS: Eighty-seven days left.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. Eli Stokols, thank you, sir. Thank you, Heidi Przybyla.
Coming up, new battleground polling makes the point you made, shows Hillary Clinton out to a big lead in some key states. And that`s raising the possibility this race might be a runaway. With less than 90 days until the election, Donald Trump has a lot of ground to make up, and that`s putting it nicely.
But can Clinton afford to play it safe? Right now, she can afford to play it safe, right now, this week. I think this was a good week for her.
Plus Donald Trump was in Erie and Altoona today up in Pennsylvania. He`s heading to Youngstown, Ohio, Monday. Trump`s counting on those disaffected white voters in the Rust Belt, you know, the kind of people that J.D. Vance writes about in his new book, "Hillbilly Elegy," and it`s about the Appalachian people in southwestern Pennsylvania and that part of the country. Vance joins us tonight to help us understand those hard-core supporters of Donald Trump.
And Hillary Clinton releases her 2015 tax returns. (INAUDIBLE) now she`s daring Trump to do the same. The HARDBALL roundtable will be here with that and the question of why people are asking after Donald Trump`s rough few weeks, Why, and does Trump really want to win this thing?
I keep hearing that, but I`m not into psychobabble. I think he wants to win. He doesn`t know what he`s doing, though, right now.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the outlook for this campaign. I got it figured, I think, right now this week.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: We`ve got new numbers on two states President Obama won in 2012, but Republicans had hoped to pick up this September -- this November, I should say. Let`s check out the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."
In Virginia, Hillary Clinton holds a 13-point lead in Virginia. It`s Clinton 46, Donald Trump 33. In Colorado, it`s a 14-point edge for Clinton. She`s got 46 percent of the vote to Trump`s 32. These are not good bellwether results for Trump.
Coming up in just two minutes, two other states that could prove to be even more trouble for Trump, the polls that foreshadow a possible landslide victory, if you look at the race right now, for Hillary Clinton and if these numbers hold up until November. Steve Kornacki at the big board when HARDBALL comes back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We have new numbers out tonight from our NBC News/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll of two states Donald Trump we`ve always figured needs to win for any plausible path to victory on his part, starting with the always crucial state -- swing state of Florida, a state Obama carried in 2012 and that Trump needs to pick up. But Clinton there holds a lead of 44 to 39. It`s a 5-point lead, not huge but real.
Also, in North Carolina, a state that Mitt Romney won in 2012 that Trump needs to hold in November -- the Republicans need to hold onto that -- and Clinton has opened up a 9-point lead there, 48 to 39.
Without Trump carrying these two important battleground states, Florida and North Carolina, just how big could a Hillary Clinton victory be in November?
MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki has the latest for us at the big board.
Steve, I have been trying to figure out how Trump wins for weeks now. And everybody tells me he`s got to win Florida. He`s got to hold North Carolina for the Republicans. Even then, he has to go on to win Pennsylvania and Ohio and some other states. But those are essential.
How do they look now?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, those are cornerstones.
Let`s take you through it. First of all, if there`s a simple Trump road map, at least theoretically, this is what his campaign has been pointing to for awhile now. What he would have to do to improve on where Romney was in `12, you win Pennsylvania, you win Ohio, you win Florida.
That has been the simplest path for Trump to take. You see that would get him to 273. Like you say, though, he`s got a problem here. He`s down in Florida right now. We had him earlier this week in our NBC/Marist polls down five points in Ohio. Big, big problem for him in Pennsylvania. There`s a couple polls out that have him down double digits there.
Those key three states for him, he`s not leading in any of them and he is getting flat-out blown out in Pennsylvania. Then you add on to that North Carolina. North Carolina, as you mentioned, a Romney state in `12, but right now, Hillary Clinton is the one, she is in position to flip a red state to blue. And look what happens.
If she does that, if she flips North Carolina, even then, if Trump gets those three he`s been talking about, look at that. He`s short of 270. So, yes, he`s got to get North Carolina, he`s got to hold the Romney states and he`s got to start flipping blue states. But the reality is, we talk so much about what Trump needs to do.
Right now, Hillary Clinton is in better position to flip red states than Trump is to flip blue states.
MATTHEWS: Yes. You`re the best, Steve. Thank you so much, Steve Kornacki up in New York.
Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist, and Michael Caputo is a former Trump adviser.
Michael, you`re up first.
What do you make of this thing? Because I keep thinking, everybody is watching the same television shows pretty much. Well, they watch their own, I should say. But, nationwide, they watch the same stuff. The numbers seem to be moving pretty much in the same direction. Trump`s not moving up anywhere. He`s moving down everywhere. Your thoughts?
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I`m most disturbed out of these polls that come out today about Virginia and Colorado.
Those are two states that were traditionally Republican for many years and they have been tilting more and more blue. And it looks like they have probably gone blue. But the NBC/Marist/"Wall Street Journal" poll has always been bad for Trump.
But I think really what`s got me concerned here is that is -- is North Carolina, like you mentioned. If Hillary`s really -- let`s say she`s up five, instead of the nine that`s in this poll. It`s still bad for Trump because he`s got to win North Carolina. And, of course, Arizona and Georgia are also said to be close, and those are must-win states.
So, when it comes down to it, you`re right. It`s going to be Florida and Ohio, but if we don`t win North Carolina, we have got a problem.
MATTHEWS: Jamal, everybody watches television. Let me put it this way. They don`t watch the same shows. Some people watch FOX, some watch CNN, some watch us on MS. But they do know the same stories coming out of Trump`s mouth.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Some people watch the Olympics.
MATTHEWS: And some people come out of -- well, sure do. That`s normal.
But they hear Trump saying the same stuff everywhere, and it has got to be troubling to them.
SIMMONS: Oh, yes, I`m sure it is troubling to them.
I think that`s one of the reasons you are seeing these numbers hover around this 40 percent mark. What`s interesting to me is, it looks like Hillary could be on the verge of an Electoral College majority. The question, though, does she get an actual numerical majority? Does she win 50 percent of the vote?
She might have a 47, 48, 49 percent ceiling because everybody else goes to third-party candidates. And I don`t know what that tells us, but it does maybe hold down some of these other races around the country that we see that are looking pretty good in the Senate.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of that, Michael? Who wins when these third - - I keep hearing people talk about going to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian guy with Bill Weld. I don`t see a lot of movement there. It`s somewhere above 5. It`s up around 7 or so, 7, 8.
Some people say it`s moving. I don`t see it moving yet.
CAPUTO: Well, I also think that people are writing off the Green Party. They are going to be in a lot more states than people even realize, and they are probably going to be on the ballot in places where Hillary Clinton is going to be on the margin.
So these third parties are going to play more of a role than people expect.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there will be a Ralph Nader thing going on with Jill Stein, where people on the left say the hell with the Democrats, I`m going hard left, I`m going to vote for Nader, this time, I`m going to vote for Jill Stein?
MATTHEWS: Do you think that will happen, really?
CAPUTO: But, Chris, though, don`t talk about a landslide yet. That`s like measuring for the drapes in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
CAPUTO: It`s not going to happen. This is going to be a lot tighter than you know.
It`s really early right now. If this were 21 days from now, if this were Labor Day and we had these numbers, I would be really concerned. There`s a lot of time left on the clock. And Paul Manafort and Donald Trump have time to right this ship.
MATTHEWS: Well, the betting window is open here any time I`m not on the air. So, give me a call. I don`t usually make bets, but if you`re up for a really wild, crazy one, I might do it. Been doing that since high school.
SIMMONS: Well, here`s the one place we might be in a little bit of agreement here, is I do think there`s a possibility you could see some young voters, 71 percent of whom were with Bernie Sanders, who are too young to remember the 2000 election, when Ralph Nader basically cost Al Gore the White House.
You could see some of those voters...
MATTHEWS: There`s another person that cost Al Gore the White House. Al Gore, who lost Tennessee.
SIMMONS: I`m going with the Nader if I can.
SIMMONS: But what you could see are some of these young voters who are too young to remember the sting of that get enchanted by one of these third- party candidates and peel off. I think that`s the only reason Democrats have to worry about a little bit of overconfidence and stay focused.
Michael, I thought it was going to be close. It may well get close again. But, right now, Trump doesn`t seem to have the ability to sustain two or three days of good press.
He started off Monday this week. You tell me what went wrong. He went off. He had a whole plan to talk serious economics and trash Hillary Clinton. And yet he`s gotten so overboard with the trashing of Hillary Clinton, it`s not credible. She didn`t found -- she wasn`t a founder of ISIS. That`s too long a stretch for people to buy.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
CAPUTO: But he was also not a leading recruiter for ISIS, as Hillary Clinton said. I checked his resume. He`s not a recruiter for ISIS.
So, they are both exaggerating. They are both being sarcastic.
CAPUTO: I think they are both being sardonic on this.
But I think, also, I will stipulate that Newt Gingrich was right here. The word choice makes things difficult. And when we are behind like this, word choice really matters.
MATTHEWS: You are a highly articulate fellow. Why don`t you become a tutor to Donald Trump?
Anyway, thank you, Michael Caputo.
He can use you. Put a towel over your shoulder and stand next to him, say, I think I can help you with that, Donald.
Anyway, thank you, sir. Michael Caputo, have a good weekend.
CAPUTO: Call me.
MATTHEWS: And, Jamal, Jamal Simmons, thanks for coming here, Jamal, with me right now.
Still ahead: Donald Trump has tapped into an anger this year of white working-class voters. We all know that and talk about this, but my next guest really tackles that voting bloc head on in a kind of an interesting and understanding way, with a compelling narrative for those often left behind by our economy and our society.
It`s the untold story of 2016. It`s going to be fascinating. Stick around and watch this. It explains that 30 percent core for Trump through hell and high water.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
From the outset of this campaign, Donald Trump has made the strategic gamble that he can turn out an oversized share of this country`s white working-class voters. It`s one of the reasons why he`s in Altoona, Pennsylvania, tonight.
Trump`s bet is that his appeal in the Industrial Midwest and other areas hollowed out by the exodus of manufacturing jobs will make up for any shortcomings he is likely to have with moderate, minority and well-educated voters.
Now a new book by 32-year-old J.D. Vance has managed to capture with striking precision the very people that Trump is hoping to carry him to victory. It`s titled "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis."
It`s a personal story about Vance`s own family, but "The New York Times" aptly describes it as -- quote -- "a tough-love analysis of the poor who back Trump," calling it -- quote -- "a compassionate discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald Trump. Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election. And he`s done so in vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans. Imagine that."
I`m joined right now by the author, J.D. Vance.
Well, this is a remarkable work you have done here. Great writer. You are a great writer.
J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR, "HILLBILLY ELEGY: A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS": Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And I kept thinking of Thomas Wolfe, one of my heroes, and "You Can`t Go Home Again." So, I`m not sure you can go home again after writing this book.
Let`s talk about your family. What is it that you are trying to achieve in talking about people you call hillbillies, rednecks, whatever? Why did you want to write about that? What are you trying to get across to everybody else?
VANCE: Well, what I wanted to try to get across and what I wanted to try to explain is that these problems of inequality and upward mobility are really complicated.
And I think that, on the left, we tend to have the conversation about what government isn`t doing, and, on the right, we tend to have a conversation about what individuals aren`t doing. And it seemed to me that we weren`t having a conversation about what both weren`t doing and what both could do better.
And so I thought that by opening up my own life and my own family and being very honest about my own problems, that I could be part of a better conversation.
MATTHEWS: What do you think makes people who have it rough, they live out in mountains, they don`t have jobs, they don`t have obviously the things most of us think are good things to have in life, they don`t have beautiful homes or beautiful jobs or families that can sort of get educated and move ahead to the next generation, what makes them break bad?
MATTHEWS: What`s the cause and effect here? Because you are talking about people living in mountains and they`re thinking they do things that are self-destructive. What`s the chicken-and-the-egg answer here?
VANCE: Well, I think it`s not just the people who live in the mountains, but it`s the broad Appalachian diaspora that have located themselves in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and so forth.
So, I think it`s a broader trend. It`s not just the people who are living in the hills. But I think the answer again is pretty complicated. One of the things I realized in writing this book is that family breakdown and family chaos, which I thought of before I wrote the book, is primarily a problem of individual character.
It`s intergenerational. It`s that families pass on their chaos and their domestic strife to the next generation. So, in the same way that a lot of other problems pop up and that have existed for many generations, it`s just complicated. It comes from a combination of economic dispossession, but also learned helplessness and problems that people have acquired through their families and from their neighborhoods.
MATTHEWS: I`m not finished the book. I`m just into it.
But I have thought that one of the things -- we have talked about this, one of the people in our -- one of our producers who is from Africa -- we talked about how the whites have a particular situation because they come up with the idea, OK, the white people have had advantages, privileges even in Western society, and if they don`t make it, hey, what went wrong with me?
And that`s different than minority groups, who never felt they had any special break coming to them. Now, when white country people see black people making it in society, when they see immigrants from South Asia or whatever, East Asia, making it in our society, see them on television in roles, quite significant roles, do they get a special bitterness from that?
VANCE: I don`t know if they get a special bitterness from seeing other people succeed.
But I do think they get a special bitterness from the expectations that they had for their own lives not materializing.
VANCE: So, my grandparents really were optimistic about the future. They thought that their children would have the American dream, even though my grandparents were born in poverty in Eastern Kentucky coal country.
But it hasn`t really materialized. And you think about these areas that have really suffered economically that have stagnant upward mobility, it`s a certain pessimism about what their own children and grandchildren will expect. And I think that`s where the real bitterness comes from.
MATTHEWS: You talk about the values there that I consider like loyalty and honor.
And loyalty and honor I think are great values. But you see in the culture you grew up in, that`s a problem. They are a problem, loyalty and honor.
I think loyalty and honor are obviously great traits, and they are some of the things I took from my culture, that hillbilly culture that I love and really care about. But it has its limits. Right?
So, when I was 5 years old, loyalty and honor meant that if someone insulted my mom, I had to punch him in the nose. And I got in a lot of fights because of that.
But if you think about what that means in the context of a modern 21st century marriage, or you think about what that means in a corporate boardroom, conflicts cannot be resolved like that. Successful conflict resolution requires a calmer head and cooler thoughts.
And I think that`s one of the things that I had to learn in my own life. And, frankly, it`s something that I didn`t know growing up. It`s something that I had to adjust to.
MATTHEWS: Some of the things you write about remind me of, you know, Southie in Boston, South Boston, South Philly, Irish and Italian in different places there, or my relatives, some of them.
This whole neighborhood thing, loyalty to neighborhood, loyalty to your church, to your crowd, sometimes violence, sometimes, like, street fighting, it doesn`t seem alien to me, the people in the country. Explain the overlay.
VANCE: Well, I don`t think it should be too foreign, because I think, in a lot of cases, these values and these traits exist not just in the Appalachian Mountains, but exist in the broader working class, so just the broader white working-class that doesn`t have a college education.
One of the things that occurs to me is that if you grow up poor and you don`t have a lot going for you, your honor is one of the few things you really have, right? So you are willing to protect it at all costs. But, again, if you are upwardly mobile and you`re trying to get ahead in the world, those traits don`t necessarily serve you well when you are sitting in a corporate boardroom.
MATTHEWS: I like the way you write, sir. And I like the way you -- you have certainly done well getting into Yale Law School.
And, by the way, it`s "the" Ohio State University. You didn`t get the definite article in there.
MATTHEWS: You`re going to pay for that.
Anyway, thank you so much.
VANCE: Thanks for calling me out.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, J.D. Vance, for writing a great book.
The book is called "Hillbilly Elegy." You ought to read it. It`s a fast, beautifully written book. As I said, you can knock this baby off in a weekend.
Up next: After Trump`s rough week, Hillary Clinton tries to keep the pressure on him, releasing her own tax returns and demanding he do the same. I like this, tit for tat. I`m showing mine, you do it. Get out there and do it. Well, this as some wonder about the Republican, does Donald Trump really want to win? He certainly does not want to show his tax returns. We know that.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It`s been a three gaffe, actually three gaffe-filled weeks since the conventions for Donald Trump. But this week, he seemed to start on sounder footing. Don`t you think?
On Monday, he went on offense with a serious economic speech. Here he goes to remind you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All Hillary Clinton has to offer is more of the same, more taxes, more regulations, more bureaucrats, more restrictions on American energy and on American production. More of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But that pivot towards the economy and serious stuff was short- lived.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick -- if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don`t know.
ISIS is honoring President Obama. He`s the founder of ISIS. He`s the founder of ISIS. OK? He`s the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton. Cofounder.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Each of those missteps, he took back that founder of ISIS thing. Each of those missteps came a lost opportunity for the Trump campaign to try to focus on the media`s attention or try to get the media to focus on Hillary Clinton which is always what you don`t want in politics.
And now, the Clinton campaign is trying to seize the moment and released Hillary Clinton`s and Tim Kaine`s tax returns today, in an effort to put pressure on Trump for not releasing his.
Well, tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable is Jonathan Allen, co-author of "HRC", you`re writing a new one, right?
JONATHAN ALLEN, HRC: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Promote that early on and keep it going. Anne Gearan is national political reporter for "The Washington Post", and radio talk show host, Richard Fowler, also joins us now.
So this was, you know, like in the Phillies, I follow them in Philly, you know, we all follow our favorite teams. When they have a bad week you keep hoping next week will be better. Trump comes out of the convention, it wasn`t a great convention. The last speech was pretty good but the rest of it was a disaster, I think. And then he`s hoping this week is going to be good, it was terrible.
RICHARD FOWLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: What`s going on? Why can`t they string five days together?
FOWLER: I don`t think they can string five days together which is shocking to me because Trump is a business guy.
MATTHEWS: You`re laughing.
FOWLER: I am laughing.
MATTHEWS: You are enjoying this.
FOWLER: You got to enjoy it. It`s comical. It`s like a really good, really bad reality show where the main star always does something crazy the week after so you continue to tune in.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, it`s Howard Stern?
FOWLER: Kim Kardashian.
MATTHEWS: That`s the second time in the history of the show that name has been put together. Put it away.
ALLEN: Trump-nado, like Shark-nado.
MATTHEWS: Anne, come on, be serious. Why has Trump had such a bad week? He knew the challenge, had to get serious, straight in his face out, say something intelligent and focus the heat on Hillary.
ANNE GEARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: He can`t seem to get out of his own way. He had several opportunities this week where he could have trained scrutiny on her. I mean, there was the release of some more e-mails which while not damning, are unflattering. He could have spent a lot of time talking about that.
MATTHEWS: It did show there wasn`t a firewall between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department. It certainly shattered that.
GEARAN: The foundation aides thought they could seek favors from State Department aides, that does not rise to the level of Hillary Clinton saying or doing something on behalf of the foundation which is what Trump is trying to get at.
MATTHEWS: She`s doing what she said she wouldn`t do.
GEARAN: Right. It shows there was no firewall. But he really missed that opportunity. That should have been a giant opening for him and instead we spend three days talking about second amendment threats, is he inciting threats on Hillary Clinton`s life and is she, are she and Barack Obama the founders of ISIS. I mean, it`s an absurd conversation.
MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t Trump every night sit around and say what`s Hillary Clinton scheduled to do tomorrow, anticipate where she will do something wrong or something coming out about her and jump on that?
Play offense. You have to anticipate. You got your homework. What`s she going to do, where`s she going to be, let`s be ready to strike and get it on her.
ALLEN: Trump doesn`t have that kind of patience. I mean, what we watched from him is an inability to sit back for five minutes and not be the center of attention. When his advisors tell him to do something he does the opposite. Like an infant. If you have a small child and tell him to go to bed, they go, no, I`m not going to bed. If you go don`t go to bed, they might go to bed. The advisors --
MATTHEWS: You have kids. You know this.
ALLEN: I do. The advisors obviously are telling him to keep it cool and he has no ability to do that.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the problem is he`s a business guy, I don`t care whether he`s got one billion or 11 billion, I don`t think the lifestyle changes. But he`s used to being right and succeeding. He`s used to a business press which you only get, you are a business reporter, you get in when the guy or woman says you come in. He`s not used to everybody following him and attacking him. He`s not used to this.
GEARAN: No, he`s not. Yes, a lot of the reason that he is behaving the way he is I think, we are all playing armchair psychologists here, but is because he has profited in his business career by having a combative personality. You do not let something slide. You don`t just take a punch, you don`t step aside, you don`t try to change the subject. Somebody punches you, you punch back.
And that is what he has been unable to stop doing despite the advice not only of his advisors but Reince Priebus is on the phone with him going please don`t do that and he does it anyway.
MATTHEWS: You what it tells me, I will talk about this at the end of the show, there`s an opportunities for him not now, I think he`s really screwed it up, maybe a month from now. Right now, I don`t think he can win, right now. Because that 20 percent he needed, he has 30 percent no matter what he does. He`s right. He could shoot people down on Ffifth Avenue practically and still have the 30 percent.
But he needs another 20 percent and he`s losing that 20 percent. He`s almost lost two-thirds of it now. He can`t get that. This game only works for the hardcore.
FOWLER: I completely agree with Anne. I think he can`t get it because he`s not punching smart.
For example, this week, "Politico" reported the president is pushing TPP. Great opportunity for Donald Trump to jump in and say listen, you know, this is bad trade deal, Hillary believes in it, even though she says she doesn`t --
MATTHEWS: By the way, there`s truth there. He probably is, the president is probably going to try to get it through in the lame duck after the election.
FOWLER: He absolutely is. That`s what Clyburn said to our show on the floor of the Democratic convention. So, it`s going to happen. He should be punching every day, a left hook in Hillary`s chin, and he`s missing it.
MATTHEWS: He could pick up some Bernie people with that.
ALLEN: He`s doing the opposite right now, which is you could go after Hillary Clinton on some of these State Department e-mail issues, go after her on flipping on TPP, and instead what he`s saying is she`s the co- founder of ISIS. Now, I mean --
MATTHEWS: Is that to cover up the Second Amendment thing from earlier?
How many people subscribe to the rock star problem, where the rock star gets so high up, like the movie, "Jersey Boys." Tell me how you`re going to behave, you sell 100 million records, he can`t take the attitude. He`s being self-destructive because he can`t take it up there. Is that what`s going on here?
A lot of people telling me he wants to lose. He can`t take the altitude. He`s too high up there.
GEARAN: I don`t know what`s in his head other than that he isn`t taking the advice people are giving him in which they say if you want to win, do X, Y and Z. I mean, it`s a hard thing, right? He thinks in many respects, you see him behave that he`s doing what he`s always done and that`s always been successful for him.
MATTHEWS: So, he looks at some guy and says he ought to do this, how much you worth? How much have you got? You have a house on Fifth Avenue like I do?
ALLEN: That`s why they hit him with Bloomberg and Cuban.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, yes, I don`t know about Cuban. Cuban guy? Mark Cuban?
Yes, I don`t know about that.
Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us. And up next, these people tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Well, yesterday, we showed President Obama`s summer play list. Well, today, we learned what he`s reading. According to "The White House", the president`s summer reading list includes, "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead, that makes sense. "Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life", by William Finnegan, who would have figured? "H is for Hawk" by Helen Macdonald. "Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson. And "The Girl on the Train" by Paul Hawkins.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Back with our HARDBALL roundtable.
Richard, ell me something I don`t know.
FOWLER: Texas is a donor-rich state. Donald Trump is having a first big fund-raiser in Texas. Too bad, none of the big Texas donors are going to be there, Chris. Only two of the top 20 Texas donors will actually be there, from a close source in Texas.
MATTHEWS: Bad news for him.
FOWLER: Bad news.
MATTHEWS: He goes where the money is and the money`s not there.
FOWLER: So, we`re all talking about Hillary Clinton`s tax returns. She`s trying to get Donald Trump to release his. If he doesn`t and he wins, he will not be under any duty to release them even if he`s president. Federal law protects income tax returns. They never have to become private and, in fact, Gerald Ford never released his.
MATTHEWS: Just like Bernie, we`ll never know.
We`ve never seen it.
ALLEN: Republicans are worried and Democrats are ecstatic about what they`re seeing in polls. But even more so what they`re not seeing on the ground, which is a Donald Trump organization in any of the major battleground states.
MATTHEWS: He`s not there.
ALLEN: I`m sorry?
MATTHEWS: He`s not there.
ALLEN: He`s not. There`s just nobody on the ground for him.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Jonathan Allen, it`s good to have you back. We missed you, sir.
Anne Gearan, thank you. Richard Fowler, thank you.
When we return, let me finish with the outlook for this campaign. I`ve got it sort of figured. Stick around for a few minutes and find out what we think of the week and what I think, anyway.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish this Friday night with the outlook for this campaign. It looks to me like Donald Trump has a core of 30 percent. These are people who share the angry indictment she is making against the direction the country`s leadership crowd are taking us in, who see the Republicans as well as the Democrats as sitting in the cockpit, steering in the direction that suits them, making trade deals for the good of Wall Street, flooding the country with illegal immigrants to provide cheap labor, and a growing voter bloc for the Democrats, getting our country into stupid wars that served the purposes of ideologues while leaving the fighting, dying and suffering to the country`s working people.
Thirty percent is not enough to win. A presidential candidate who polls at that level is destined not just for defeat, but for humiliation, headed toward not just merely the failure to win the country`s highest office, but a footnote in the history books, like that accorded Landon in `36, or Dewey in `48, Goldwater in `64, McGovern in `72, losers with a capital L.
Candidates who make their parties decide the morning after that they`ve made a huge mistake, and need to go in a totally different direction the next time.
What`s bringing down Trump right now is not the 30 percent holding for him. But the 20 percent he had been courting with great success before now. That 20 percent he`s interested in includes Republicans who want to be loyal to their party, independents who believe the country is ill-served by have two families, the Bushes and Clintons benefit from dynamic successions and some Democrats desperate for something new, ready to take a risk on someone new, even more than a bit odd from the usual political type.
Well, it`s this 20 percent that Trump has been kissing away by his recent buffoonery, this ballroom brawl with the Gold Star family, this high school-ish back and forth with Speaker Paul O`Neil, this claim that Barack Obama is the founder of a terrorist group? Can Trump win these people back, this 20 percent to give him a good look than begun to look away? Can he string together enough good days to make up for the non-sense of the past weeks? Can he make us forget about his tendency to say things that people don`t believe, that he tends to eventually admit he doesn`t either? Can he stop being the Donald Trump who now bounces in our brains like an 8- year-old on a trampoline?
Well, as of Friday, August 12th, that`s today, that strikes me as elusive, with each new day each early morning tweet, each aside to audience, each line retracted as sarcasm, Trump seems on a march down to the 20 percent that will stick with him less out of loyalty toward him than spite toward the elite, who have wished this guy defeat since his first, well, since he first came down the elevator of his golden tower.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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