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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/30/2016

Guests: Mark Burns, Stuart Stevens, Annie Karni, Kevin Cirilli, Carolyn Ryan

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 30, 2016 Guest: Mark Burns, Stuart Stevens, Annie Karni, Kevin Cirilli, Carolyn Ryan

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: The pastor`s apology.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

And good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.

Tonight, it is a primary Tuesday, the marquee race tonight out in Arizona. That`s where senator John McCain is facing a challenger from the right who sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump. We`re going to look at where that race stands later in the show.

Also tonight, the latest twists in the saga of Maine governor Paul LePage. He told a local radio station today that he might not finish out his term, but later, he tweeted a very different message.

And Donald Trump`s big immigration speech now just a day away.

But we are going to begin with the ongoing fallout today from that very controversial tweet from Trump surrogate Pastor Mark Burns. And a warning here. The image might be offensive to some. His tweet showed Hillary Clinton in blackface and it accused her of pandering to the black community.

Yesterday on MSNBC, Pastor Burns defended the tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR MARK BURNS, TRUMP SURROGATE: I truly apologize for the offensive blackface image of that cartoon. And the depiction of the blackface is offensive by itself, and as an African-American man in America, I don`t stand by anyone portraying themselves in a blackface. But the message that I intended, I still stand behind. But my apology is because I think my message got lost in the translation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Let`s clarify. That was not Pastor Mark Burns on MSNBC yesterday. That was him today apologizing for that tweet.

And Pastor Mark Burns now joins us. Pastor, thank you for taking a few minutes. And let me just start on the question of the apology. We played it there, a little transcript on the screen. But I want to be clear on this, and I want you to be clear on this with our viewers.

What exactly are you apologizing for here? Is it just the image, or is it anything else?

BURNS: You know, I`m only apologizing for the blackface that was portrayed on the image, but I am not without a shadow of a doubt apologizing for the message that I was trying to get out to the public. I do not apologize for the message that it stood behind. I mean, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party have and do pander, do pander after black people in this country.

And so, you know, again, I apologize if it offended people. The last thing I want to do is to create an offense. And for those that was deeply offended personally, for that I am sorry. But I do not apologize for the message. The message is clear. I stand by it 100 percent.

KORNACKI: The message -- that`s an interesting point, though, on the message. You`re saying you`re accusing her of pandering. You`re accusing her of taking black voters for granted. I think a lot of people would say that`s a legitimate question to raise. That`s a legitimate point of debate.

But the message went beyond that. When you bring blackface into it, when you bring something that inflammatory into it and you couple it with your support of a presidential candidate who`s called Hillary Clinton a bigot, That`s sending a message that says something a lot deeper and a lot uglier about Hillary Clinton.

Do you apologize for casting aspersions on Hillary Clinton that way?

BURNS: Well, listen, I`m a black man in America, so I know -- I know what the blackface means and I know what it stands for. And you know, and I don`t stand behind -- you know, I don`t stand behind the imagery of the blackface.

But once again, the very fact is the black vote, the voter bloc of the African-American community, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton knows that that vote largely already belongs to her.

And what is more offensive -- while we`re sitting here debating over a cartoon, what`s more offensive is the very fact that Hillary Clinton doesn`t own up to the failed policies that has impacted many in the African-American community.

And let`s be really honest here. You know, I`m going to be honest and say this here on MSNBC. The very fact that we`re talking about the African-American community, as though we`re one group of people and we`re all the same, I think that is very offensive. That`s politically correct, PC at the highest caliber. That`s what Donald Trump stands for.

We have to eliminate the language that creates this type of a language that says, Hey, black people are the same everywhere. But that`s not the case. We bleed red like everybody else. I`m not -- and let me say this one more step further is -- let me say this.

There is no such thing as the real African-American community. It doesn`t really exist. That`s a myth because black people are just Americans. A black person in Oregon does not have the same issues that a black person who might live in the urban cities of Baltimore. We put Donald Trump and other politicians in the same boat. They`re darned if they do, they`re darned if they don`t.

KORNACKI: Well, Pastor, let me...

BURNS: We say Donald Trump -- Donald Trump, how come you don`t...

KORNACKI: Let me put it this way, Pastor...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Let me follow up with this on the issue of this presidential race, on the issue of this choice that you`re talking about here between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the black community, black voters do seem to be speaking with one voice.

I mean, I can show you this. This is our most recent poll. Black voters in this country asked to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- I have to tell you, I`ve never seen a number like this -- 1 percent for Donald Trump, 91 percent for Hillary Clinton.

When you look at a number like that, do you think Donald Trump -- do you think Donald Trump has done anything to deserve just 1 percent support from black voters right now?

BURNS: I think that the very fact we are forcing our politicians to come up with policies for a particular group like the African-American group, like it belongs -- like impacts all of us, OK? See, Donald Trump is darned if you do, and he`s darned if he don`t. We will say Donald Trump, what is your policy to the African-American community? And Donald Trump begins to talk to African-Americans and he says, you know, in some areas, you can walk down the street and you can get shot and you can die.

And then once he says a very true fact because it just happened -- just happened a couple days ago, very sad story in Chicago -- and when he says that, you know, the community rises up and said, Oh, my God, how could Donald Trump talk to all black people like we are all fearful of getting shot, OK? So then he`s either darned for not talking about the African- American community and then he`s darned for talking about the African- American community because we say not all of us are like that. Why is he talking to all black people like we`re re all one, like all of us are fearful of our lives?

The fact of the matter is this. And I`m going to say a very real reality. Most people may not want to talk about it, and I`m sure people will want to argue it. But there`s no such thing as the African-American community. We`re only Americans. We`re only Americans. And it is only until we stop forcing our politicians to pander after particular groups and just start talking to us as we, the people of the United States -- that`s when we begin to eliminate the divisions within our communities.

And the Democrat Party are doing a wonderful job in keeping us divided, and the more they divide us, the more they can control us, and the more they control us, the more they keep a welfare state to millions of blacks in this country to where welfare never creates prosperity. It only creates dependency.

KORNACKI: All right, let me...

BURNS: And the Democrat Party...

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: ... I will never give you enough that you`ll thrive.

KORNACKI: OK, your indictment of the Democratic Party again is you`re saying the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted in this country. But let me...

BURNS: Yes. Absolutely.

KORNACKI: And views them transactionally, views them as votes for an election, and that`s it.

Let me show you this, though. I`m sure you`ve seen it. People were talking about this this weekend. Donald Trump, upon learning the news that the cousin of Dwyane Wade, the NBA player, had been killed in Chicago over the weekend -- Donald Trump tweeted this. "Dwyane Wade`s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I`ve been saying. African-Americans will vote Trump."

Does that not send a clear message from Donald Trump to black voters that he views them transactionally, mainly as votes, that his reaction to learning about a murder, to learning about the death of a black person in Chicago, is to say, More votes for me?

BURNS: Listen, I`m going to say this, that my friend F. Scott (ph) said, and I`m going to say it again. Listen, if I am telling you, Don`t go down that street because if you go down to that street, you`re going to fall in a ditch, don`t go down the street because if you go down the street, you`re going to fall in a ditch, don`t go down the street because if you go down the street, you might fall in the ditch.

And you go down the street and you then fall in the ditch, the first thing I`m going to say to you is, I told you so! I`m telling you right now! Don`t go down the street! Now you in the ditch! That`s all Donald Trump was saying!

It is a sad, tragic event that took place. Now four children are without a mother. Four babies are without a mother. Donald Trump has been declaring -- and it is not nothing brand-new. The very fact that we wait for Dwyane Wade`s cousin to die -- and her name was Ms. Aldridge, by the way -- she was a real person, and now there are four children...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Did Donald Trump send that message with a tweet that immediately says, More votes for me? He didn`t seem to be treating her as a real person.

BURNS: No. No. What Donald Trump was simply saying is, I am telling you that it is a very fact. You all want to say, Hey, oh, my God, Donald Trump said you could walk down the street and get shot. Oh, how -- how -- he`s racist for saying that. And then a couple days later, a woman who was doing nothing, walks down the street and gets shot.

And the sad part about -- this is the real tragic event -- the very sad part about it is, it is only because it was Dwyane Wade`s cousin that we are even talking about it, when before her, six, seven people were killed!

The very fact we`re talking about the deaths that have been taking place in the south side of Chicago is not nothing brand-new! The fact that this is what I mean by pandering after the races because we should have been discussing that. If it wasn`t just a black issue, but we make it an American issue, then all eyes will be marching down there. It wouldn`t be that Black Lives Matter would be leading the fight, but all lives would be leading the fight because what happens to you as an American happens to me!

We have the greatest, strongest military in the whole world, and one of the creeds of our great, strong military is that we leave no man behind! Men have died in trying to rescue just one man, just one man! And the very fact is, if we (INAUDIBLE) that`s why we together pledge allegiance to the flag...

KORNACKI: OK...

BURNS: ... of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands...

KORNACKI: OK...

BURNS: ... hear me, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for everybody, black lives, black lives...

KORNACKI: All right, Pastor...

BURNS: ... all lives, sir!

KORNACKI: Pastor Mark Burns, appreciate the time. Thank you.

Joined now...

BURNS: (INAUDIBLE)

KORNACKI: I`m joined now by Michael Steele. He`s the former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst.

Well, Michael, Donald Trump -- there`s been some debate about what the motive here is in the Trump campaign in terms of this outreach to black voters. Are they actually going after black voters? Are they going after these college-educated white suburbanites they`ve been losing? Is this a way of trying to look more inclusive, look more open to them?

I`m just curious, though, big picture, what is your assessment of this move from the Trump campaign and what you`re hearing from Mark Burns?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it`s a little bit more of the latter. I think it is a recognition that white female suburban voters are going to be the linchpin in this election. And right now, they`re not feeling as much about Donald Trump as they did, let`s say, six, eight months ago. So that definitely is at play here.

I also think, though, after talking with some folks in the campaign and around the campaign that there is a genuine effort afoot, albeit late, to -- sort of to open up this conversation, to begin to peel back a little bit, you know, some of the rhetoric that typically, you know, attends these types of presidential discussions. You know, Oh, we want the black voters.

You just heard what the reverend -- one side saying that you`re taking, you know, the vote for granted, the other side saying, Well, you just ignore them. I think Trump is trying to split that hair a little bit here, as well. I think this is more political calculation.

And again, there is nothing wrong with that, but I think we just need to understand contextually really what it means.

KORNACKI: In terms of the approach Trump is making, though -- we were talking about this a little bit a minute ago -- I mean, he uses -- talks in addressing black voters, says, you know, You live in war zones, he says. He makes what sound like sweeping generalizations that say, Hey, if you`re black and you`re living in this country, you`re surrounded by crime, you`re stuck in poverty, you have no opportunity. He doesn`t say anything positive, doesn`t seem to stress a positive message there.

Is that a mistake they`re making?

STEELE: I think it is, Steve, and I think we need to be careful, as well, because, remember, Barack Obama himself has laid out and indicted the community on some of its statistics that, you know, really are problematic for the black community as a whole. It`s recidivism rates, it`s education, graduation rates, it`s, you know, job rates. All of these things, the president himself has talked about.

But here is where I think your point is an important one, and I would emphasize to the campaign they pick up this particular mantle. You can lay out, you can indict the ills. You can say what is wrong. And Lord knows, we live in the community and we know what`s wrong.

But we`re also looking to you to see what you think some of the solutions should be. So there is an aspirational component here that needs to be addressed, as well, that failing that, you do come off sounding as if you are haranguing and indicting the community for the sake of indicting the community, to score political points with a group of Americans, largely white, who look down on us to begin with.

So I think you`ve got to be very specific and very careful in how you open up this particular conversation. Again, a little late to the game. Appreciate you wanting to have it, but you got to still have it the right way.

KORNACKI: All right, Michael Steele, former RNC chair, MSNBC contributor, thanks for the time.

STEELE: You got it, buddy.

KORNACKI: All right. And still ahead, Democrats are within striking distance of control of the U.S. Senate. With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, that could cost the Republicans. John McCain is one of them. He is in a primary fight tonight. Even if he prevails, can McCain and other endangered Republicans survive the year of Trump? That`s ahead.

Plus, outspoken Trump supporter and Maine governor Paul LePage now says rumors of his political demise are greatly exaggerated, this after he suggested he might step down after targeting a Democratic lawmaker with a vulgar voicemail. But the calls for his resignation continue to grow.

And new information on how the Clinton campaign is preparing to debate Donald Trump. They`re working with Trump`s ghostwriter -- that`s the writer who helped Trump put together "The Art of the Deal" 30 years ago -- working with him to try to bait Trump into some embarrassing blunders on national television.

And finally, the HARDBALL roundtable`s going to be here to tell me things about this election campaign that I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right, new poll numbers for you from the key battleground state of Pennsylvania. Let`s go to the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

This from Monmouth University, their respected poll. Hillary Clinton has an 8-point lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, 48 for Clinton, 40 for Trump, the Libertarian, Gary Johnson, sitting back at 6 percent.

Moving over to the Senate race in that state, look at this, Democrat Katie McGinty now with a narrow 4-point lead over incumbent Republican Pat Toomey, 45 for McGinty, 41 for Toomey. That is within the poll`s margin of error.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump is set to deliver his big immigration speech tomorrow night. His running mate, Mike Pence, is promising Trump will lay out his plan in great specificity.

And, meantime, Trump surrogates have been forced to interpret his message as best they can.

Earlier today, former Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston, a Trump supporter, saying on MSNBC that his plan will include a deportation force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Why doesn`t the campaign know yet whether a deportation force is part of his immigration policy? Is it or is it not?

JACK KINGSTON (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: It is part of it. We are going to learn more Wednesday.

QUESTION: So, there will be a deportation force?

KINGSTON: Craig, I have -- I can`t let the opportunity go, though, to remind you Hillary Clinton hasn`t had a press conference in 270 days. It would be great to know details of any of her plans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Trump`s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, had a very different take when I asked her about it this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think you have to go back to Mr. Trump`s speech at the convention in Cleveland, which was just a month ago, and to see there`s no deportation force mentioned in there. He speaks for himself and his campaign. He`s the face of this campaign. He is running for president. He will deliver the speech tomorrow.

And you know it`s going to be the toughest on illegal immigration than anyone`s ever been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Trump`s own statements don`t seem to be helping. Last week, he said there can be soft softening, his word there, softening in his position to avoid hurting people.

At the town hall, he even polled the audience to see what they thought he should do.

Today, his son Donald Trump Jr. insisted that his father`s position hasn`t changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: He wasn`t softening on anything. He didn`t change his stance on anything. What he did was and what he`s done all along is, he`s speaking with the people. He`s not lecturing them like most of the politicians you see today.

He`s actually having a conversation. His policy has been the same for the last six, seven, eight months.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: He still says deport. They all got to go?

TRUMP: That`s been the same, correct. But again you have to start with baby steps. You have to let ICE do their job. You have to eliminate the sanctuary cities. You have to get rid of the criminals certainly first and foremost. You have to secure the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So, what will Trump say tomorrow and will it matter to his supporters?

Frank Rich is writer at large for "New York Magazine." He joins us now. So, Frank, it`s a jam Trump is in here. Everything that he said to win the Republican nomination that appealed to the base of the Republican Party, it seems like now there`s some recognition that this is offending the voters he needs to win in November.

FRANK RICH, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Exactly.

And, clearly, I don`t know what the specifics are going to be tomorrow. Maybe there will be some big change, like Canada will pay for the wall. But I think that it`s sort of this lame attempt to appeal to, I guess, white suburban voters -- we keep hearing that -- without losing the people who have been with him from the beginning.

I actually don`t think he will lose those people. We have already seen Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh sort of forgive him for waffling on his number one issue, but I don`t see how he`s going to peel off people to be fooled by this nonsense and flip-flopping and indecisiveness.

KORNACKI: I`m also trying to figure out what he could offer. Rhetorically, he said softening. A couple days later, he said, actually, I think of it as a hardening. So, he sort of canceled that one out.

And he`s talked about -- he acknowledged in one of those Hannity interviews last week some of the folks here are good people, he was saying, are great people. So, there`s a couple rhetorical things.

But any change here that would allow undocumented people to stay in the country under a Trump presidency, I got to think is going to set off some kind of revolt on the right.

RICH: Well, certainly, it`s the Jeb Bush policy. It`s everything all the people who were running against him were saying.

That said, it seems to me that we have seen the history of Trump`s base, not enough to win an election, a national election, sticking with him. We have seen his supporters say, oh, we know he isn`t really going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. We are with him. We know he will get the job done.

And my guess is he`s betting, that like Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, they will just crumble, and somehow they will convince someone in a mainline suburb to flip for him.

KORNACKI: And that is -- that`s the bigger-picture story of this campaign, I think, that`s been so fascinating, because it`s been these two pillars that Republicans have relied on in national elections for a long time now. You have got lower income blue-collar whites that Trump has done really well with, but they have also married that with suburban support. And the suburban support right now is evaporating.

RICH: It`s evaporating, and not just because of this, but because of the stuff with race.

I mean, he`s doing the stuff about race now and suddenly liking the blacks, as he would call them, and pandering to them because he`s trying to reach white voters. He`s not trying to reach black voters. He`s not reaching them at all.

But I don`t think people are idiots. I don`t think white people are idiots who are going to be fooled by this. He`s listening obviously to Kellyanne Conway and looking at polls that he claimed to not look at in the past, and he`s saying, oh, wait a minute, the Republican coalition is what you just said. Who, who would have thunk it? Now we`re figuring it out as Labor Day approaches.

KORNACKI: Yes. And what do you make of -- basically, we are two months out right now. We got a new poll. Our new NBC online poll today puts it at six points right now.

There`s two ways of looking at six points, I guess. You could say, maybe given everything that`s happened, it`s amazing Trump isn`t further behind. Then again, in context with other recent elections, six points would be a lopsided election.

RICH: Yes.

And my guess is, that`s the way it`s going, but, of course, we can`t be sure. I just don`t see the numbers for him adding up. Hillary Clinton has run in many ways a weak campaign. It is right that she hasn`t given press conferences. And she has been dogged by controversies.

And so my guess is, if her campaign were better, she would be ahead 15 points, not six points. But six points is looking good right now.

KORNACKI: And so much attention to Kellyanne Conway becoming the campaign manager, the big shakeup, the most recent shakeup a few weeks ago, the idea that it would give Trump more discipline, it would give him more direction, it would really professionalize this campaign, do you see, just watching this campaign sort of as a spectator, do you see a difference between the Trump product now and a couple weeks ago?

RICH: Only this, that he gives speeches now, like the one presumably he will give tomorrow, where he reads from a teleprompter, it`s very long, it`s very dull, it`s very crafted language, and he will do that, and then the next day, he will send a tweet, and that will be the end of it.

So, there are longer -- longer speeches and more of them, but Trump is still Trump. The guy is not going the change. He`s 70 years old, or about to be.

KORNACKI: And, obviously, you have -- you know politics as stagecraft as well as anyone. That Donald Trump you`re talking about, the one we`re going to see tomorrow, giving the prepared speech, reading from the teleprompter, I get a sense it kills him to have to do that, because this is a guy who is always thinking, do I have the audience`s attention?

He feels maybe he`s slipping there.

RICH: Absolutely.

You know, he is a performer. He`s not my taste, but he`s a gifted performer of what he does. And he might be bridling to go by the script. He wants to be Don Rickles, or whomever, insult people, ad lib. And so you can feel him chafing.

You know, if you`re any -- you don`t have to be a student of theater. You can just watch TV. You can see when someone is reading from a teleprompter, bored out of his mind, doesn`t want to do it, isn`t speaking the way he really speaks. It comes across as phony.

And that`s not what brought him here, and he knows that, which means there`s a real tension, I`m sure, as he tries to follow the script.

KORNACKI: Not playing the game he wants to play, at least in those settings.

Frank Rich, thanks for the time. Appreciate it.

All right, coming up: the Trump effect on Republicans all the way down the ballot, as they try to hang on to the U.S. Senate. Things are looking good for the Democrats to take control come November. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The militant group ISIS says its second in command is dead. U.S. officials say the terror suspect was targeted in a strike, but they have not confirmed his death. Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was at the top of the government`s kill list.

Residents along the North Carolina`s Outer Banks are bracing for Tropical Storm Depression Eight. The National Weather Service is warning of dangerous surf and rip currents along the shoreline.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Tropical Depression Nine is expected to strengthen to a tropical storm. Governor Rick Scott is urging residents in the Tampa area and north to prepare -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Cindy and I voted. We are looking for a good turnout on the vote today. We`re tired. You can see why -- can see by these young people that we have been inspired by so many of our young interns, well over 200 of them, that have been working incredible hours and getting out the vote. And that`s why we are very confident about the outcome today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Senator John McCain earlier today out in Arizona. He`s confident he will win the primary there against former state legislator Kelli Ward.

Today marks what we are calling primary palooza, voters in several states hitting the polls, casting ballots in some major races. The most contentious one might be down in Florida. That`s where Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is fighting to hang on to her seat and her political career. The former DNC chair is up against Tim Canova. He`s a challenger who is backed by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

And there`s Marco Rubio and John McCain, both of them trying to avoid the down-ballot backlash that could come from their soft support of Donald Trump this November.

So, with just a little more than two months now until decision day 2016, Democrats could be, could be on track to take back the Senate. Let`s take a look at how that works.

For that, let`s fire up the trusty old big board. So, Senate control, that is a big issue here. It`s not just the presidential race. It`s what happens underneath. Right now, Democrats with 46 votes in the Senate. Now, if Hillary Clinton wins -- the White House party basically gets to break the tie in the Senate.

So, if Hillary Clinton wins, the Democrats would need to pick up four. If Trump were to win, the Democrats would need to pick up five. Let`s show you why the Democrats look like they are in good position right now.

First of all, it`s this. These are all the Democratic-held seats right now, all of the Democratic-held seats that Democrats are in danger of losing right now that Republicans could win this fall. There`s only one right now, Nevada, Harry Reid retiring out there. Nevada, a swing state, a state where Donald Trump actually has been doing better than some people expected. He`s very close in the polls there.

Republicans could take that Senate seat out there in Nevada, but look at the rest of this map. You don`t see many targets for Republicans right there. Republicans are playing defense. They are playing defense in a big way. How big? Look at this. These are the Republican-held seats that are in play or potentially in play.

Now, not all of these are created equally. Some of these targets here are stretches for Democrats. But all of them have the possibility to be competitive. These are seats that Republicans hold right now that Democrats believe they have a shot of winning. We can take you through a couple of them to give you a sense of it.

Look at Illinois. Illinois Democrats think they have a very good shot. Wisconsin. How about New Hampshire? You have got the Democratic governor there, Maggie Hassan. There have been polls putting her ahead high single digits, double digits. She`s looking potentially good up there in New Hampshire.

There are some very ripe targets here for Democrats. Now, they have gotten some bad news as well. They are trying to make a run at Republican Rob Portman in Ohio, has not been going well. Looks like the Democrats might be pulling some money out of there. So, that one might be falling off the board a bit.

We showed you just a minute ago a new poll has the Democrats up in Pennsylvania. So, again, these are all potential targets. McCain out here in Arizona, he`s ahead in the polls right now. The Democrats have a congresswoman challenging him, Ann Kirkpatrick, going to put some real money behind her.

If Trump were to lose Arizona, if there`s a backlash against Trump at the top of the ticket, could that help the Democrats in the Senate race, even in a state like North Carolina, even a state like Florida?

A lot of opportunities here for Democrats playing offense in a bunch of states, not playing defense in many. So, if they can get to four with the Hillary Clinton win, that would put them back in control of the Senate.

I don`t mean to get too far ahead of myself here, but another thing to keep in mind, the Senate class that`s up in 2018, I know this is kind of crazy, but the Senate class that`s up in 2018, a lot of vulnerable Democrats there. So, there are also Democrats looking at this and saying they want to get well above 50 this time, because they could be in for a lot of defense they have to play in 2018.

So, that`s the lay of the land in the race for the U.S. Senate right now.

And joining me now, Stuart Stevens. He was Mitt Romney`s 2012 chief strategist. And Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent for "TIME" magazine.

So, Stuart, the dilemma of John McCain, the dilemma of Marco Rubio, every embattled Republican Senate candidate running this fall, you need your party`s base. You need all those Republican voters who voted for Donald Trump in the primary and want to turn out to vote for him in November, but you need swing voters too, the very voters Donald Trump is having trouble connecting with.

How do you get both of them if you`re a Republican?

STUART STEVENS, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I think both of those candidates, McCain and Rubio, have pretty independent images.

Of course, McCain ran being a maverick. I don`t think he is going to have any trouble doing that. The greater challenge, you always want the top of your ticket to be winning. I think there`s only a couple examples of Senate races where the other party won when the top of the ticket was losing in really tight, close Senate races.

But this is a very strange year, as we keep saying. I don`t know if voters aren`t just going to see Donald Trump as something distinct and different and make different decisions about the Senate.

I think it`s beholden upon each of these Senate candidates to make a compelling case that one of two people is probably going to be president, they will be the best senator regardless of who that president is.

KORNACKI: You know, Jay, we haven`t seen -- we see a lot of these Republican incumbents, a lot like McCain and Rubio, who are sort of straddling it right now on this Trump question. You have Mark Kirk in Illinois. He may be the single most endangered Republican senator. He has rescinded his endorsement of Trump.

But a lot of them right now sort of trying to keep in the middle of it. Do you expect, by Election Day, we will have more Republican candidates more overtly distancing themselves from Trump?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Steve, I think, by tomorrow, you might see John McCain distancing himself more from Donald Trump. You have got Donald Trump coming into the state of Arizona to give a speech about -- that major speech you were talking earlier about immigration.

And that`s a tough subject for John McCain, when he`s pivoting to a general election against a Democrat and an electorate in Arizona that is upwards of 30 percent Latino. And so having Donald Trump come to his state in particular right after he`s won the primary to give this immigration speech, a lot of people are speculating that John McCain might un-endorse Donald Trump as quickly as tomorrow, especially if he gives this very sort of hot speech about immigration, building that wall, in the state of Arizona.

KORNACKI: And speaking of Arizona, that`s a state, it`s voted for the Republicans ever since 1996, polls, though, showing a close race there between Trump and Clinton, Trump up by five in the latest CNN poll.

Stuart, John McCain, more of a personal question. You know him a little better, I think, than a lot of people do. He had the reputation for all those years, he was John McCain the maverick, the Straight Talk Express, the guy who would tell you exactly what`s on his mind.

He`s been in a bit of a bind here, but, look, obviously, Donald Trump is a guy who went after John McCain very personally, said -- basically said he doesn`t consider him a war hero because he got captured.

Do you think, by the end of this campaign, we will see that old version of John McCain going after Donald Trump at all or answering any of this?

STEVENS: I don`t think that John McCain is going to get in a fight with Donald Trump, because he`s not running against Donald Trump.

He`s going to talk about what he`s going to do as senator and the connection that he has with Arizona voters. You know, more than almost probably any candidate in America, John McCain is a man that represents courage, who stands up for what he believes. I just don`t think that that`s a hill he needs to climb to win in November.

KORNACKI: And, Stuart, I just want to ask you, while you`re here, another big name people are trying to figure out what he`s going to do in terms of Trump, and it`s your former candidate. It`s Mitt Romney.

He`s obviously made his displeasure with Trump clear. But the question is, do you expect him to get involved and endorse one of these third-party candidates? I know he has close personal connections with Bill Weld, who is the Libertarian V.P. candidate. There`s Evan McMullin who is running as well.

Do you expect Romney is going to actually weigh in on this race?

STEVENS: I have no idea what he will do in the presidential.

I think he`s going to spend the amount of time trying to help the Senate stay Republican. A lot of candidates have asked for his help. I think that`s going to be his focus and help Congressman Ryan hold the House and help push the Ryan agenda. That`s really where Governor Romney is going to be concentrating.

KORNACKI: All right. Stuart Stevens, Jay Newton-Small, thanks for the time.

And up next, what is happening in the state of Maine? The governor said he would consider resigning, then he tweeted that reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Tonight, protesters calling for the governor to step down immediately.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Governor Paul LePage of Maine today sent mixed signals about his political future. Both parties in the state legislature in Maine have been pressuring LePage to either step down or take corrective actions following a profanity-laced voice mail to a Democratic lawmaker. LePage who is a big Trump supporter told the local Maine radio station this morning that he may not finish out his second term as governor.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HOST: Can we anticipate that you`re going to finish out your term?

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: I don`t know, George. As I said earlier, I`m looking at all options. I think some things I have been asked to do are beyond my ability and I`m not going to say that I`m not going to finish it. I`m not saying that I am going to finish it. If I`ve lost my ability to convince the Maine people that`s what we need and that`s the type of people we need in Augusta, then you know, maybe it is time to move on.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Later this afternoon, the embattled governor tweeted out regarding rumors of resignation, to paraphrase Mark Twain, "The reports of my political demise are greatly exaggerated."

NBC News reporter Tammy Leitner joins us now from Augusta. That`s the capital up there in Maine. Protesters are out there demanding the governor`s resignation.

Tammy, are they going to get what they want or is he digging in now?

TAMMY LEITNER, NBC NEWS: That`s a good question, Steve. I don`t know.

Hundreds of protesters out here calling for the governor`s resignation. They say he`s a bully who makes racist remarks and they are tired of his threats.

Now, keep in mind, at this exact same time, across town, Republicans are meeting trying to decide how to handle the governor, whether he should be censured or not. This all started because of a voice mail that he left last week for Representative Drew Gattine. Now, in that, it was recorded and there were expletives. He threatened him and at one point, he said, "I want you to record this and make it public because I`m coming after you" -- Steve.

KORNACKI: All right. NBC`s Tammy Leitner up there in Augusta -- some drama in Maine. We`ll keep an eye on that.

And up next, new information on how the Clinton campaign is preparing for the challenge of debating Donald Trump. They are talking to psychologists and people who know Trump well, trying to figure out how to bait him into a big mistake on the stage. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Donald Trump has just landed in Washington state. He`s holding a fund-raiser and rally at 10:00 Eastern in the city of Everett. But a lot of political experts are wondering why Trump is spending time in a state that last voted for a Republican 32 years ago, back in the Reagan landslide of `84.

Washington has gone Democratic ever since. That was including 1988, when it was one of just ten states won by Michael Dukakis. Trump`s trip to Washington follows campaign stops in other non-battleground states, including Connecticut and Mississippi.

We`re back after this.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think it`s going to be one of the highest rated shows in television history. We`ll find out. But I look forward to the debates. I think they`re going to be very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Donald Trump showing some confidence last week in a FOX interview. He`s referring to the first presidential debate as a show. Now, in an interview with "The New York Times", Trump also says he has little use for debate prep. Quote, "I believe you can prep too much for these things," he said. Adding, "It`s possible we`ll do a mock debate, but I don`t see a real need."

But Trump`s casual approach stands in stark contrast with Hillary Clinton`s. Her team is working with the ghost writer of Trump`s autobiography, "The Art of the Deal". It also called on a group of psychologists to pinpoint likely trigger points that may provoke the Republican nominee into making mistakes.

Quote, "The Clinton camp believes Mr. Trump is most insecure about his intelligence, his net worth and his image as a successful businessman, and those are the areas that they are working with Ms. Clinton to target."

We`re joined now by the HARDBALL roundtable. Annie Karni is a political reporter with "Politico", Kevin Cirilli is reporter with Bloomberg Politics, and Carolyn Ryan is senior editor for politics at "The New York Times".

Carolyn, it`s your paper`s story. So, I go to you first. Hillary Clinton wants to bait Donald Trump into some kind of mistake, some kind of error on the stage, it sounds like.

CAROLYN RYAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. It`s part of this -- you`ve seen the general trend where she wants the election to be about Donald Trump, his lack of suitedness for the job, his kind of temperament. And I think she`s a very good debater and she`s also good at enticing sometimes these male candidates to become over-confident.

You remember the famous moment when Rick Lazio kind of invaded her space. They`ve watched Trump, they`ve seen how easy it is to poke him and that`s really what they want to have happen. What they want the memorable clips to be, is sort of these Trump eruptions.

KORNACKI: I mean, it`s a funny question to ask, Annie, because -- I mean, we`ve all seen Donald Trump in 15 debates now, or whatever it was. But do they know what they`re getting into? Because this is a different setting for Trump.

I mean, the debates in the Republican primaries had ten candidates on stage. He could disappear for 15 minutes at a time. This is one-on-one combat. It`s a different dynamic.

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: It`s a completely different thing and the stakes are much higher. He was the main story and he always the center podium in the primary debates, but there were long stretches where he didn`t have to speak. Big question here is does he have enough to say for 90 minutes or two hours or however long the debate is, without repeating himself, or if she goads him into really being specific about his policies, can he do that.

I think his reluctance to prepare, I think it`s very typical. Bernie Sanders didn`t want to do debate prep. I think like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, I talked to people who ran their debate preps, these candidates never want to make time for it. You often have to force them in. They had to bring in George Mitchell to play the opponent for Bill Clinton because it was someone he respected to get him to put the work in. So, I think Trump saying, I don`t want to make time for it is actually pretty normal.

I think Hillary Clinton and her studiousness and immersing herself in policy books is actually the aberration in terms of wanting to do debate prep.

KORNACKI: She doesn`t mind the homework. "The Times" also reports that the Clinton campaign is conducting a forensic style analysis of Trump`s debate performance in the primaries. Let`s take a look back at a few occasions where Trump may have looked a little unpresidential in those debates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TRUMP: Look at those hands. Are they small hands? And he referred to my hands, if they`re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you, there`s no problem, I guarantee it.

That`s another lie. I never went bankrupt. That`s another lie.

(CROSSTALK)

Don`t worry about it, little Marco.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen! Gentlemen!

Gentlemen, you got to do better than that.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: This guy has never won.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How tough is it to take property from an old woman?

TRUMP: Let me talk. Quiet. A lot of times --

Honestly, Megyn, if you don`t like it, I`m sorry. I`ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me, but I wouldn`t do that.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KORNACKI: So if Hillary Clinton identifies one of those trigger points, will Donald Trump react like that, do you think, in the general election debate?

KEVIN CIRILLI, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I think what was so interesting during the primary season, that really put his opponents on the defensive, and kind of caught them off guard a little bit. The pressure for Donald Trump is going to be, can he get Hillary Clinton to talk about things that candidly she hasn`t talked about in months, the e-mail server and, of course, all of the other controversies that are surrounding her.

But there was another moment in one of the debates, perhaps Donald Trump`s strongest moment, and that was when he responded to Senator Ted Cruz on New York values. And I think that if that Donald Trump shows up to play at the debate against Hillary Clinton, it`s gonna be really interesting to see, number one, how she responds, and also how she defends herself.

RYAN: The other thing that we`re looking in these stories and blueprints about the debate, it`s not just one-on-one. He`s going to have to subject himself to a moderator, to follow-up questions, to aggressive and maybe contentious questions about policy. And this is something he`s been skillfully dodging, especially recently. He`s going on Hannity. He`s going to friendly kind of venues on FOX.

CIRILLI: At least he`s giving interviews.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: Absolutely. I admire that. But this is --

KORNACKI: You`re right. Ten candidates on a stage, a lot of people say it`s not even a debate, it`s more of a show. This will be more of a traditional debate. The round table is staying with us.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Not a hard task.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right. We`re back with the HARDBALL round table. It`s the lightning round here, something I don`t know.

Annie, we`ll start with you.

KARNI: Hillary Clinton is on track to have her biggest fundraising month yet. She`s raised like $50 million with Tim Kaine raising it for her. She`s going to be probably over $90 million, beating her January numbers.

KORNACKI: All right. I didn`t know that.

CIRILLI: Pastor Mark Burns is going to double-down on his tweet. I think the apology stands, I think he`s going to double-down, though.

KORNACKI: All right. He certainly seemed to go in that direction earlier.

Carolyn?

RYAN: Look for Democratic money to start pouring into the House races. It might be a distant hope, but they want to make the Republicans fight all over the country and spend money.

KORNACKI: All right. There it is. Thank you. Tonight`s roundtable, Annie Karni, Kevin Cirilli, Carolyn Ryan.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END