IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/31/2016

Guests: Heidi Przybyla, Steve Cortes, Sahil Kapur, Michelle Goldberg, Edward-Isaac Dovere

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 31, 2016 Guest: Heidi Przybyla, Steve Cortes, Sahil Kapur, Michelle Goldberg, Edward-Isaac Dovere

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Trump`s big gamble in Mexico.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

We are waiting for Donald Trump`s big immigration speech. That is set to come later tonight from Arizona. There are lots of unanswered questions that remain about where exactly Trump stands on deportation forces, on what to do with the millions of immigrants who are here illegally now, and where he stands on the question of birthright citizenship. Trump campaign is promising details on all of those questions and more in tonight`s speech.

But first, it was a wild day on the Trump campaign, with a visit to Mexico City. This was a surprise visit. It was announced late last night. And then this afternoon, Trump met with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, who has in the past compared Trump`s rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO (through translator): We`re not in agreement on all topics. I had a conversation with Mr. Trump that was open and constructive.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It is a great honor to be invited by you, Mr. President, a great, great honor. Thank you. I happen to have a tremendous feeling for Mexican-Americans not only in terms of friendships but in terms of the tremendous numbers that I employ in the United States. And they are amazing people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Trump also defended the "sovereign right" -- those were her word -- his words, excuse me -- the sovereign right of the United States to build a border wall. Reporters asked them about the wall and about Trump`s past criticism of the Mexican government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We did discuss the wall. We didn`t discuss payment of the wall. That`ll be for a later date. A lot of the things I said are very strong, but we have to be strong. We have to say what`s happening. There is crime, as you know. There`s a lot of crime and there`s a lot of problems. But I think together, we`ll solve those problems.

PENA (through translator): There has maybe been a poor -- a misunderstanding or statements that have maybe hurt, unfortunately. The Mexicans have felt offended by what has been said. But I am certain that his genuine interest is in building a relationship that will provide our mutual societies improved wellbeing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Here`s an interesting twist, though, President Pena Nieto later tweeting that he told Trump in their private meeting that Mexico will not pay for the proposed border wall, Trump saying, though, in that press conference that it didn`t come up.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Hillary Clinton addressing Trump`s visit to Mexico with these not so veiled comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You don`t build a coalition by insulting our friends or acting like a loose cannon. You do it by putting in the slow, hard work of building relationships.

Getting countries working together was my job every day as your secretary of state. It`s more than a photo op. It takes consistency and reliability. And it certainly takes more than trying on make up for a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours and then flying home again. That is not how it works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Yes, Trump`s visit didn`t sit well with many Mexicans, including former Mexican president Vicente Fox.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICENTE FOX, FMR. MEXICAN PRESIDENT: He is not welcome to Mexico. By 130 million people, we don`t like him. We don`t want him. We reject his visit.

I don`t understand why President Pena has offered this opportunity. I think it`s nothing more than a political stunt. Trump is using Mexico, is using President Pena to boost his sinking poll numbers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Now, later tonight, as we mentioned, Trump is set to deliver a speech about immigration in Phoenix. Phoenix is where NBC`s Hallie Jackson is standing by.

So Hallie, we`ll get to the speech tonight in a minute, but let`s start on what played out south of you, in Mexico earlier today, a last- minute trip. It was not publicly announced until very late last night.

What does the Trump campaign feel they accomplished with this trip to Mexico today?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Listen, essentially, this was an opportunity for Donald Trump to get up there with another head of state and to look, frankly, presidential. At least that was the attempt, to put on a kind of stagecraft that would allow him to pull off what some skeptics had doubted he could, and that is portrayal and the temperament of being, you know, a commander-in-chief, Steve. That`s the goal of this whole thing.

Part of it, too, was to create an opportunity to coincide with his immigration speech here in Phoenix tonight, talk about that wall, talk about Mexico, talk about what he wants to do when it comes to immigration with the people that he`s often gone after on the campaign trail.

You remember his announcement speech, when he said they`re rapists, they`re criminals, the Mexicans, and then added, some of them are good people. So it was such a fascinating moment to see from Donald Trump, going down there, this last-minute presentation, pulling it off really under the shroud of secrecy even after sources from Mexico tell us embassy officials warned the Trump campaign that moving so quickly was unadvisable, was a security and a planning concern. Trump went down and did it anyway.

You saw that there is now some real fallout from this. From the very beginning, Trump`s campaign pledge was he was going to build a wall, and Steve, who is going to pay for it? Mexico, right? That`s what we hear at all the rallies, the call and response.

Now, President Pena Nieto says he`s not paying for it. That is not what Donald Trump said during his press conference, during his joint statement, though, when he said the issue of payment for the wall simply never came up.

So the big test for him tonight will be how and if he can reconcile that more diplomatic tone that we saw from Trump with the very fiery tone that we often see from Trump on the campaign trail. It`s -- it`s -- it`s sort of yin and yang, right, how these two pieces of the puzzle today fit together for Trump on what is really a key big day for his campaign.

KORNACKI: Well, that is the question. And obviously, as you say, his campaign there was looking to present sort of a presidential image, a presidential tone in terms of how he performed down there in Mexico City. But this is a candidate you know better than anybody else. You put him in front of a crowd that wants the red meat. He seems to always rise to the occasion and give them...

JACKSON: He`s going to give it to them, yes.

KORNACKI: ... the red meat. What`s your -- what`s your read of that room?

JACKSON: Yes.

KORNACKI: What are they looking for tonight?

JACKSON: He can`t resist! OK, I`ll tell you what, Steve. If I didn`t know this was going to be a policy speech -- and I`m going to turn my back on you. I mean, this -- this is a typical Trump rally, right, big room, lots of people. The staging is set up the same way. This is, like, the energetic crowd -- presumably later tonight, it`s still a couple hours away -- that Trump loves feeding off of. This is what he likes to come (ph) do.

Tie that, though, with what is going to be and what has been billed as a major policy speech on immigration, and I think there will be some interesting moments. I want to see how the crowd reacts specifically to the discussion of the wall and to the other big question that`s still lingering out there, Steve, as you know, which is what is he going to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants?

Is there going to be a deportation force? Will he deport every single one of them and allow some to come back if they`re non-criminal? These are questions that have not been made clear from his team as the message has gotten muddled over these last couple of weeks. So energy in the room. Like I said, it`s still filling up, but it feels like a rally here tonight.

KORNACKI: Yes, and that`s what`s separated him from all those Republicans in the primaries. They would say, Well, it`s...

JACKSON: Right!

KORNACKI: ... realistic, it`s not practical to deport all 11 million. And he basically would stand up there and say, No, we`re going to get rid of all 11 million. That audience...

JACKSON: Right.

KORNACKI: ... not just that audience there tonight, but Trump voters in general -- do you think he`s bought himself any wiggle room with them to get off of that hard-line posture?

JACKSON: I do.

KORNACKI: You do?

JACKSON: I do. And here`s why. So we have been back and forth to the border and back all over the day (ph). But my colleague, Jacob -- Jacob Rascon has been here talking with supporters, people who have come to support Trump.

One woman said to Jacob, There`s nothing Trump could say that would make me reconsider my support for him. He has people who hard core support him regardless. They are committed to him. They are fiercely loyal to him. That is what we have seen again and again, that Trump maybe shifts on a position or slides or beings to or indicates that he might, and frankly, the people (INAUDIBLE) at his rallies largely don`t seem to care.

The other point that I would make is this. When you talk about Donald Trump, when you talk about he`s going to do with these 11 million undocumented immigrants, his campaign is saying one thing, he is saying another. But even those who support him, members of his Hispanic advisory council, for example, conservative groups who want to see a tough stance on immigration -- even they say, Listen, wholesale mass deportation is unrealistic. It`s not a realistic solution. We are encouraged by seeing Donald Trump begin to shift.

I had one guy, Steve Cortez (ph), who`s on the advisory council, say to me, Hey, if Donald Trump shifts, that`s actually leadership. That`s showing that he has been listening to what people want, what members of the Hispanic community want, and he is processing that and working that into maybe a policy that is changing a bit or modifying.

Here`s what he`s not going to move on, though, I don`t think, is securing the border and that border wall. He is going to be hard and fast on that because it is almost impossible to see how he could begin to pull back on that, given how he`s made that such a central part of his campaign.

KORNACKI: All right, Hallie Jackson there in Phoenix, Donald Trump giving that speech a few hours from now, the crowd obviously filling in already, Hallie. We`ll be seeing a lot from you tonight, I`m sure. Thanks for that.

And with news of Donald Trump`s visit to Mexico City leaking very late last night, critics saw it as a risky move. Former Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens had this to say. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STUART STEVENS, FMR. ROMNEY CHIEF STRATEGIST: It just never comes across as a quality you want in a president that you`re sitting in a room and you know, a guy (INAUDIBLE) Breitbart says, Let`s go to Mexico, and you`re off. I mean, this -- this is how...

(LAUGHTER)

STEVENS: You know, this usually starts in a fraternity house.

It`s almost as if they woke up and realized, You know, we`re running against a former secretary of state. Our guy used to do the Miss Universe pageant around the world. Maybe we should try to heavy this up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Well, did it pay off for Trump? For more on that, I`m joined by Heidi Przybyla, senior political reporter for "USA Today." So Heidi, we were just hearing from Hallie Jackson the Trump campaign thinks they created a presidential moment here, that part of the test of running for president, you`ve got to get over that plausibility threshold with people, make them look at you and say, yes, I could see you as president. They think putting him up there with a head of state from a foreign country there, an event like this, having more of a somber tone, maybe helps him cross that threshold with voters.

What did you think?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": Steve, watching Stuart in the opening there, I think many of us were there this morning. We look at this and we thought, This is fraught with peril. Here Donald Trump is at the last minute basically flying into the den of the man who has likened his rhetoric Hitler and Mussolini, and he`s going to use this as an opportunity to basically score his own domestic political points by rapping Trump.

But that didn`t happen. None of that happened. He was so polite. And he almost handed Trump this on a silver platter. He gave him a very diplomatic opportunity to kind of repackage himself to an American public that`s been kind of skeptical of his ability to stand on a stage next to a foreign leader, especially a foreign leader from Mexico, given all of the - - the rhetoric that`s gone on.

So not only that, but it kind of even just the backdrop itself that they chose looked almost like a United Nations, you know, very diplomatic backdrop.

So I certainly don`t think he hurt himself. He may have helped himself, for certain, with some of these independent voters who, by the way, are already starting to shift back a little bit his way. And that`s not because of anything that he`s done but because of the Clinton Foundation struggles she`s had over the past week or two weeks. We`ve seen some movement in the polls. They`re just starting to pay some more attention.

So I think he may have helped himself a little bit with that. That said, I don`t expect any major movement in the polls until we have, really, the first debate. This is something that would normally kind of be a box that a candidate like Trump would want to check, given that he doesn`t have foreign policy experience. But for all the reasons that I outlined and the tensions that have been there between Mexico and Trump, it`s -- it`s a win for him.

KORNACKI: We mentioned to that issue of the wall, Donald Trump`s vow on the campaign trail to make Mexico pay for it, the Clinton campaign tonight now pounding on the tweet we told you about earlier from the president of Mexico, the tweet in which the president says he told Trump today that he will not be paying for the wall and Mexico will not be doing that.

In a statement tonight, John Podesta of the Clinton campaign says, "It turns out Trump didn`t just choke. He got beat in the room and lied about it."

Heidi, I guess that is the question. I mean, it was at the very end of this -- of this event. It wasn`t designed to be a press conference. I think, by custom, if you`re not the -- if you`re not the president of the United States, you`re not necessarily taking questions from the press in a situation like this. Trump did allow a question.

That is when he made the comment that, Hey, we didn`t talk about the wall. The wall is for something later on. That set off some skeptical reactions. People said, Well, you know, how can you campaign on this so aggressively and not bring it up? Now

But now you`ve got the president of Mexico basically saying, Yes, it did come up, and I told Donald Trump Mexico will not be paying for that.

Is that an error, an unforced error there on Trump`s part?

PRZYBYLA: No because my personal opinion is he would have been asked -- whether he was asked at that press conference, Steve, or he was a day or two from now by a member of the media, there would have been this conflicting account of what happened in that meeting. None of us were in there, so it`s basically going to be a "he said, she said." And Trump will walk away from it, saying, Oh, yes. I`m still going to make Mexico pay for the wall. But it`s over, and nobody was there to actually get a real account of what happened.

That`s -- that is going to be just one of a number of things that he`s going to have to answer for, I think, after tonight, when my prediction is, based on all the reporting I`ve seen, we`re going to see a metamorphosis not in terms of his rhetoric and his tone, but certainly in terms of his policy, in terms of what he would do with those 12 million undocumented immigrants who are here, who are not criminals, because, as you know, and as all of us who know report on immigration, it is current U.S. policy under President Obama`s executive orders to prioritize deportation of criminals. That is current U.S. policy.

So Donald Trump`s going to have to explain, I think, for people who really care about this issue, how what he`s proposing is materially different. Perhaps he is going to say they all have to go home, and then we`ll work to get them back, and that will be somewhat in keeping with the spirit of what he`s said in the past. But...

KORNACKI: All right...

PRZYBYLA: ... maybe not.

KORNACKI: Yes. The countdown is on. We`re less than three hours away from that -- from that speech, less than two hours away from that speech, in fact. Heidi Przybyla from "USA Today," thanks for the time. Appreciate it.

And coming up, Donald Trump`s border war with himself. Heidi was just talking about this, that big speech he`s set to deliver tonight on immigration coming a week after contradictions and conflicting statements on the issue.

Plus, from day one of his campaign, Donald Trump has had an often volatile relationship with Mexico and the Mexican people in general. We`re going to look back at some of Trump`s more outrageous remarks.

And Trump won the Republican nomination with a hard-line stance on immigration, of course. Is he in danger of losing some of his base if he softens that position on immigration?

And finally, the HARDBALL roundtable is going to be here. They will tell me and you three things you might not know about this presidential campaign.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Hillary Clinton today offered her view on Donald Trump`s last-minute trip to Mexico during her speech today before the American Legion. She also talked about American exceptionalism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My opponent misses something important. When we say America is exceptional, it doesn`t mean that people from other places don`t feel deep national pride, just like we do. It means that we recognize America`s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: That was Hillary Clinton talking to the American Legion today in Cincinnati.

And a reminder. Next Wednesday, 8:00 Eastern, join Matt Lauer for a special commander-in-chief forum featuring both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This is first forum of the general election campaign, and you can watch it right here MSNBC. That`s next Wednesday night, 8:00 PM Eastern.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Having a secure border is a sovereign right and mutually beneficial. We recognize and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its borders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs, and weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Donald Trump late today speaking in Mexico City after his meeting with Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Immigration has been Trump`s signature issue throughout his entire presidential campaign, and his supporters love him for it. But over the last week, Trump has been unclear about what exactly his plans are and how he would accomplish them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY (R), FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: Donald Trump is not softening his position on immigration.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: He wasn`t softening on anything.

DONALD TRUMP: There can certainly be a softening. I have heard people say it is a hardening, actually.

We`re going to have a deportation force.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: There is no deportation force mentioned in here.

DONALD TRUMP: We are a country of laws. Going to have to go out. And they will come back, but they are going to have to go out, and hopefully they get back.

CONWAY: He is not talking about a deportation force. But he`s talking about being fair and humane.

DONALD TRUMP: We`re going to build a wall, folks. We`re going to build a wall. That wall will go up so fast, your head will spin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And we`re going to hear from Trump on immigration tonight when he takes the stage in Phoenix less than two hours from now.

Joining me now for more is Trump campaign surrogate Steve Cortes. He is also on Trump`s National Hispanic Advisory Council. Also with us is David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

So, Steve, let me start with you. The bottom-line question, we`re going to hear from Donald Trump tonight. He has been sending some mixed signals for the last week or so on this, I think, that have a lot of people talking.

This basic issue, though, of the 11 million undocumented who are in this country who Donald Trump ran around the country in the Republican primary saying they have to go -- those were his words over and over again -- they have to go. Is Donald Trump going to say tonight that there are any circumstances under which any of those 11 million can stay in this country under a Trump presidency?

STEVE CORTES, TRUMP SURROGATE: My guess is, he is going to say that. But I don`t know that for certain, so we`re all going to have to wait and learn together in a couple of hours.

But I would say this. The media tries so hard, the mainstream media, to trip up Donald Trump or to make it look like he is flip-flopping.

(LAUGHTER)

CORTES: If Donald Trump were to walk on water, the response from most of the mainstream media would be, look, Donald Trump doesn`t know how to swim.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Hang on, Steve. This is as lot more basic and a lot more fundamental, because the Republican primaries were dominated by this topic of immigration.

And you went on that debate stage, and you have one candidate after another say, Donald Trump, it is unrealistic to say you`re going to deport all 11 million. And Donald Trump`s position over and over in this campaign was, no, they`re the ones who are not leveling with you. We can and we must send all 11 million back.

So, if he is not saying that now, that is a huge departure. And that`s not the media blowing something out of proportion.

CORTES: When it comes to immigration, he`s actually been remarkably principled and consistent on the core principles. And those are two. One is that the border must be secured and that we`re going to build a wall. He`s never wavered. That`s is nonnegotiable.

The second thing -- and this was a key difference certainly with Hillary Clinton right now, but also with many of his Republican rivals -- no path to citizenship.

If you came here illegally, you committed a crime. And we don`t reward crime. And I say this as an Hispanic, as the son of a Latin immigrant who did it the right way. We don`t reward criminality with citizenship. He`s never wavered on that. That`s not negotiable.

Now, where is he saying there is room for consideration? What is the most sensible, humane policy? It`s, how do we deal with the millions of illegal alien who are already here? We want to prevent more coming. How do we deal with the ones who are here?

I think that`s not waffling. That`s real leadership.

(LAUGHTER)

CORTES: And what he is doing is, he`s listening to a lot of people. He`s listening -- you can scoff, but that`s leadership, saying, this isn`t set in stone. Core principles are. But how we carry out those core principles, that`s not set in stone.

And he`s listening to people. He is a humble man. And Trump and humility don`t necessarily -- I will be the first to admit those aren`t words you can join automatically. But I think he is a humble man. And he is listening as a leader to what people like me say, what Hispanic leaders are telling me. How do we sensibly be dealing with this?

And that same humility, by the way, showed today in Mexico City, where he put on a display of real statesmanship and acted as presidential as any candidate ever has. It was incredibly impressive.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: David Corn, let me ask you about this.

If what Steve outlining is where Donald Trump lands tonight, we could talk about the flip-flop aspect of that, and we are, but that would put Donald Trump in a position on immigration, taking a position on immigration that is a lot more popular with the general election audience than the one he has been articulating so far.

Would that not be helping him politically, if that is where he lands?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I do not believe that politicians can just change their core campaign, slogans and ideas, and then you say, oh, they got to a good spot.

He has spent 14 months denigrating immigrants and saying, we`re going to round them up and ship them back. There`s no one you can get around that, Steve. We have played the tape, Steve Cortes. We have played the tape at the top of this. He has said it again and again and again and again.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: He doesn`t denigrate immigrants.

CORN: Let me finish. (CROSSTALK)

CORTES: He denigrates illegality.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Let David finish. Then we will get back to you.

CORTES: OK.

KORNACKI: Go ahead, David.

CORN: This has been a core element. He has fired up the passions of his base that don`t want these people here.

And we know why they don`t want them here. He said this time and time again. If he is changing his view now, it is because it is not working politically. And this is cynical. And for us to talk about this as a subtle policy change is adding to the absurdity.

And you know what`s happening, Steve. You -- Steve Cortes. Steve Kornacki always knows what`s happening.

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: This is a cynical ploy to get him a better spot for the general election, after he exploited people`s passions for months, basically pushing hatred.

KORNACKI: All right, go ahead, Steve Cortes.

CORTES: OK.

My response, he has never denigrated immigrants. He wants it to be legal. He is the son of an immigrant, as I am, by the way.

CORN: Rapists?

CORTES: He`s married to an immigrant.

CORN: Rapists and criminals? That`s what he talked -- how he talked about these people.

CORTES: Some illegals are. There are some very dangerous illegals.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: He said that they all were.

CORTES: And they need to leave. No, he didn`t say all.

And they need to leave immediate. Here`s the point, as Americans and as an Hispanic. We love immigration. We love what it does for America, the dynamism it brings to our economy, to our culture.

When you look at Fortune 500 companies, Google, Tesla, Apple, started by either immigrants or the children of immigrants. And we want immigration to continue to be a bedrock principle of America. But it has to be done by the rules.

And, by the way, no one suffers more than legal immigrants when you allow illegals to cheat and cut the line and jump in front of them. It is unfair. It`s unjust. And it`s unsafe.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Let me ask it this way, Steve, though. If what you`re articulating is what Donald Trump -- is roughly what Donald Trump lands on tonight, why wasn`t he saying this during the Republican primary process?

Again, when he had all of his opponents, when he had critics in his party saying what you`re calling for in terms of deportation of all 11 million is not practical, it`s not plausible, some were saying it is not moral, why wouldn`t he make argument then?

Was it because he was trying to prime the base to get to the moment when he can sort of turn and flip-flop now? Was he trying to win them over with that rhetoric then?

CORTES: Well, again, a couple things.

First, I don`t want to speak for Donald Trump right now, even though I do work with the campaign. I don`t know, frankly, exactly what he is going to outline tonight. So, I am as anxious as all of us are to see the exact specifics.

But I do believe that he is going to back off the idea of complete deportation. But a candidate is allowed to evolve, and, by the way, particularly when we talk about an outsider. The beauty of Donald Trump is that he is not part of the rigged, crony system that Washington, D.C., has...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: This is a con. This is a complete con. This is bait-and- switch.

CORTES: A system which has inflicted misery upon many Americans, which has made us less prosperous and less safe.

And, as an outsider, he is certainly allowed -- for instance, another example where he grew, I would say, as a candidate, his first response was regarding security, he said no Muslim, a temporary ban on Muslim visitors. He then massaged that and nuanced it, and said, you know what? It makes more sense to say areas of the world in which Islamist terror is prevalent, we should be very careful about vetting those people, to me, a much more sensible policy.

CORN: You`re giving him credit for -- you`re giving him credit for watering down his bigotry.

Talk about low expectations. I mean, come on, Steve.

CORTES: You know, to call him a bigot is the only play in the Democratic playbook.

CORN: He was a bigot. He wanted to keep Muslims out. Now he wants to keep out only some Muslims, so we should give him some credit for that? Are you serious?

KORNACKI: All right. All right, we are going to cut it short there. We`re going to have to because of time. But we are, in about 90 minutes, going to find out exactly what Donald Trump does say going into the homestretch of this election his position is on immigration and that question of those 11 million. What exactly do you do? What would he do?

Steve Cortes, David Corn, thank you both for joining us.

A reminder, you can watch live Donald Trump`s immigration speech from Phoenix, Arizona. We will carry it for you 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here MSNBC.

And up next: With Trump`s surprise visit to Mexico today, we thought he would look back on some of the more outrageous things he has said about Mexico and the Mexican people. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump`s meeting with the president of Mexico today comes after months of bashing that country and its political leadership. Trump has called the Mexican government corrupt and dishonest.

He has said they are intentionally sending criminals into the United States. On the campaign trail, Trump has threatened a trade war and repeatedly said that Mexico will pay for a wall on the Southern border. Let`s take a look back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP: They`re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me.

Every time Mexico really intelligently sends people over, we charge Mexico $100,000 for every person they send over.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP: We`re going to have a real border, because we`re going to have a wall.

Someday, when I`m no longer around, they will call at the Trump wall. It`s got to be the greatest wall.

If I`m president, I guarantee you they will pay, and they will be very, very happy about it.

The president of Mexico yesterday, or the ex-president, or whatever, whoever, who cares, he said, we will not even consider paying for the wall.

Ten feet taller. And every time they protest, it`s going to go up a little bit higher.

Mexico will pay for it, because they are not doing us any favors. They could stop all of this illegal trade if they wanted to immediately.

The Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don`t want to pay for them.

They`re bringing drugs. They`re bringing crime. They`re rapists.

Somebody is doing the raping, Don. You know, it`s -- somebody is doing it. There`s women being raped. Well, who is doing the raping? Who is doing the raping?

We have to take people that are here illegally, and we have to move them out. And you know what? It`s going to be done.

We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Given that history and more, probably not a surprise that, among the people of Mexico, just 4 percent say that they have a positive opinion of Trump. Seventy-five percent say they have a negative opinion.

I`m joined now by NBC News and Telemundo`s Jose Diaz-Balart in Mexico City.

So, Jose, we were talking about the politics here in the United States. Donald Trump and his campaign think they pulled off a presidential moment today. That`s the logic.

Here`s what I`m curious about. For the president of Mexico, this man, Donald Trump, is, it`s probably not an understatement to say, despised by many Mexicans. The president of Mexico himself, as I understand it, not doing well in the polls down there. What did he have to gain, what did he gain from this event today?

JOSE DIAZ-BALART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I`m not sure, Steve, that he expected Donald Trump to take him up on his offer to come to Mexico and meet with him in the short period of time that there is between now and the elections.

I think that, when Enrique Pena Nieto invited Hillary Clinton and invited Donald Trump to meet with him here in Mexico City, it was a thought that maybe, in the future, whoever won the presidency, during that transition period, or right after, would decide to come and visit Mexico.

I don`t think he expected it. I don`t think anybody expected it to be so quick, the response. But, geez, think about this. This is a president that has, according to some of the reason polls, about 23 percent favorability in this country, Enrique Pena Nieto does.

And here he was today standing by Donald Trump in a joint conference. And Donald Trump says, we talked about the wall, but we didn`t talk about who was going to pay for it, not in this meeting. President Pena Nieto doesn`t say or do anything.

They go walk off into the distance of the Pinos residence. And then, exactly 20 -- 41 minutes ago, the president of Mexico tweets. He says: "Beginning of our conversation with Donald Trump, I made it very clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall."

Well, why wasn`t that in any way reflected on the public comments that were stated here today? It just -- there is a lot of people just shaking their heads and wondering, what was really behind this meeting as far as from the president of Mexico.

I think the best explanation is that he threw the offer out there, and just like Hillary Clinton didn`t answer it immediately, still hasn`t, he didn`t expect Trump to do it either.

KORNACKI: And, you know, the other aspect of it, we played some of the rhetoric, a lot of the rhetoric that Donald Trump has made headlines with, talking about Mexico, talking about Mexicans.

DIAZ-BALART: Yes. KORNACKI: The Donald Trump who showed up today at this press conference, though he did extend his hand to President Pena Nieto, say, I consider you a friend, he said he talked about first-generation, second- generation, third-generation Mexican-American, he said -- his words here -- he considers them beyond reproach.

So, there was a change in tone in terms of the Trump who showed up in Mexico City for this press conference.

DIAZ-BALART: Oh, yes.

KORNACKI: Did that -- do you think that won over anybody in Mexico, won him a second look from anybody in Mexico?

DIAZ-BALART: I don`t know.

But if you closed your eyes today during that conference, if you closed your eyes and you didn`t pay attention to who was saying those words, it could have been Jeb Bush saying those words last year, Jeb Bush. It could have been Marco Rubio saying those words last year during the primaries, because that`s the position of, well, those two Floridians, you know, no pathway to citizenship according to Jeb Bush, pathway to citizenship in the long term, according to Marco Rubio, but talking about the need to brush up on the border.

As a matter of fact, Steve, if you think about it, that could have been may be one of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group that in the Senate some years ago passed a bill that said border security. It said thousands of new border guards to deal with the porous border. It talked about a pathway to legalization for the 11 or 12 million undocumented that live in this country.

A lot of the things that seem to be coming out now could have been written just maybe three years ago by the Gang of Eight or by Jeb Bush.

KORNACKI: It`s a very interesting observation.

And the question leading into that speech Trump is about to give, then, is, is that the same Donald Trump we`re going to see tonight, or are we going to see him revert to the form that we knew before today?

Jose Diaz-Balart in Mexico City, thanks for the time. Really appreciate it.

DIAZ-BALART: It`s going to be interesting to watch.

KORNACKI: All right.

DIAZ-BALART: Thank you, Steve.

KORNACKI: And up next, looking to Donald Trump`s immigration speech tonight, can he hang onto his base if he softens his stance on the issue that got him this far? The HARDBALL roundtable is going to join us next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Can he hang on to his base if he softens his stance on the issue that got him this far?

The HARDBALL roundtable is going to join us next. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The perception that Donald Trump has softened on immigration or is about to soften on immigration has some on the right concerned that he could lose support among his most loyal base of supporters, though he`d been drawn to his hard-line positions on immigration early in the campaign.

But Trump`s son Don Jr. telling CNN yesterday, nothing has changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: His policy has been the same for the last six, seven, eight months.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, he still says deport -- they all got to go.

TRUMP: That has been the same, correct. But, again, you have to start with baby steps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Rush Limbaugh is saying he never took Trump seriously in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALLER: He`s doing a disservice to all of us Republican primary voters who didn`t vote for Trump, that are struggling whether or not to vote for Trump, when you diminish the impact of the single policy that he ridiculed all other candidates for over a year.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: In the first place, I don`t think Trump has changed that much from what em. I never took him serious highway this.

CALLER: But 30 million -- or 15 or 10 million did.

LIMBAUGH: And they still don`t care. My point, they still don`t care. They`re going to stick with him no matter what.

CALLER: But this is why Trump is going to get annihilated.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KORNACKI: Trump`s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told "The Today Show`s" Savannah Guthrie today that we will hear more details on Trump`s plans on addressing illegal immigration in the speech tonight, including what Trump plans to do about those 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP`S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: You are going to hear many things from Mr. Trump today in his speech on immigration. One, no amnesty. He is absolutely going to build that wall. That`s been the center piece of his campaign from day one. He also will repeal all these executive amnesty orders that President Obama has put into place.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, THE TODAY SHOW: Does he still man to round up and deport every last illegal immigrant starting on day one?

CONWAY: You are going to hear how he`s going to address the 11 million, and some other issues as well, including sanctuary cities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So, will Trump`s speech be enough to hold his base and perhaps bring in new voters?

Sahil Kapur is a reporter with "Bloomberg Politics", Michelle Goldberg is with "Slate", and Edward-Isaac Dovere is senior white house reporter with "Politico".

So, OK. There is some suspense here. We don`t know what Trump is going to say. We had Steve Cortes from his campaign out here earlier. It certainly sounds like he is building up toward some kind of departure from the hard line position in the primary season of "everybody here illegally has to go".

Can he do that? Can he get away with that? Can he sell that?

SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: That`s the one thing he is shifting on. This is a really important part of this platform and the softening we`ve seen in the last week or week and a half. The one thing he is pivoting away from is the promise to deport and expel all 11 million people here illegally.

The critical thing to understand about that is that prominent immigration restrictionists are not clamoring for this proposal. They realize it`s unrealistic and they prepare to focus on other things.

Now, Trump has stuck firm with all the other things at his immigration platform -- the wall, opposition to any kind of legalization or citizenship, entry/exit tracking system, the E-Verify for employers, all that other stuff. So, to that sentence, if Trump holds to that, he`s still running as the most, you know, prominent immigration, or most hardcore immigration restrictionist.

(CROSSTALK)

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, SLATE: There is another part of his policy that we`re unclear about, which is how -- whether he`s going to stick to this proposal to ban Muslim immigrants. It is amazing that we`re less than 70 days away from the election and we`re all waiting with kind of baited breath to find out what is Trump`s immigration policy, right? That`s an astonishment that we`re waiting to find out what the policy is, that was the central plank, the central rationale for his candidacy.

And so, yes, he hasn`t shifted on a lot of the things that he had in common with his Republican opponents. Yes. You know, E-Verify, all these things --

KORNACKI: He found that sweet spot in the Republican Party, just politically, where you had the rest of the party saying it`s just impractical. You can`t deport 11 million people. You can`t round them up and deport them, and his position was basically, hey, Republican voters. Don`t listen them, you can and I will.

GOLDBERG: Has anyone asked him recently like how exactly does his current position differ from Rubio`s or even Jeb Bush`s?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, POLITICO: It is not true that he has only changes the position on the one thing. We don`t know where he stands on the deportation force, we don`t know where he stands on the wall, who`s going to pay for the wall, even whether he brought it up with the Mexican president, we don`t know.

All of these, we`ve got a bowl of junky oatmeal that Trump has put forward about his immigration plan. We don`t know what it is. And I don`t know if he -- if somebody asks him how he compares to Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush`s plan. Whatever he says in that answer might be different from what he might say an hour later or one of his staffers might say, or what the difference might be and what he says tonight versus what he said in Mexico just now.

It`s just -- the question of whether it matters is the big one. And whether Rush Limbaugh is right that his supporters --

KORNACKI: We played all that rhetoric, all of the thing -- the provocative inflammatory things he said over the last year, does that all add up to buying him enough wiggle room with his base that he can get out and change his position like that?

We`re going to squeeze a break in. The roundtable is staying with us, though.

Up next, the race is narrowing, that is according to a new poll out late today.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And we`ve got some new polling from the battleground state of Wisconsin. For that, let`s go to the HARDBALL scoreboard.

This from Monmouth University. Hillary Clinton now with a five-point lead over Donald Trump in the Badger State, 43 percent for Clinton, 38 for Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson back at 7 percent.

But check out the race for the Senate right now in Wisconsin. This is a rematch from six years ago. Russ Feingold, the Democrat, the former senator, he`s up 13 points over the incumbent who beat him in 2010, Republican Ron Johnson. Feingold with 54 percent in this poll, Johnson back at 41 percent.

We`ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right. Another new poll out today to tell you about, showing a tightening race, especially when you include the third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. In this one, Clinton beats Trump by just two points, 41 percent to 39 percent, in the four-way match-up. Make it a two-way contest, the result grows a little larger for Clinton, a six-point lead there, 48 to 42 percent.

Since last month, Clinton has lost a point in this poll. This is a FOX News poll. While Trump has gained three.

We`re back now with the round table, Sahil, Michelle, Edwards.

So, we`re looking ahead. About an hour from now, Donald Trump expected to give this speech. I was raising the question, Michelle, before the break. Donald Trump, I guess one idea here if he`s flip flopping, has he bought himself cover with his base by all the inflammatory thing he`s said over the last year? But the flip side is, all of those inflammatory things, the voters he`s trying to reach by flip flopping, are they tuned out to him because of that?

GOLDBERG: Right. Well, my suspicion is that his hard-core supporters, you know, when I interviewed some of them, they almost take kind of vicarious pride in Donald Trump`s ability to maneuver. And so, they don`t -- you know, they kind of, he can do almost anything as long as they feel like he`s kind of effectively with him, that he kind of channels their emotions in some sense. A lot of the people that I`ve interviewed, at least, are not going to be really hung up on the details of policy.

And, clearly, part of what he`s trying to do now, he knows that he`s getting killed with college educated white women. If he loses, that`s going to be why. So he`s trying to appeal to some of them, with the softening of his position on immigration. Although, my guess is that what he will do tonight is to try to thread that needle by kind of softening his policy position or maybe just the questions about what you do with those 11 million, while getting tough on criminal migrants.

I bet we`ll see a lot of demagoguery about the 10,000 Syrians that Obama has allowed to be resettled here. And so, the idea will be to find of focus on crime and issues where there`s not a lot of -- where he can kind of get people`s emotions up without making any kind of --

KORNACKI: Yes, but that`s the kind of voter Michelle is describing, and we`ve seen this college/non-college divide among white voters, whatever you want to call it. But like the kind of voter who has been turned off to Trump, who would normally vote Republican in an election like this, that`s who we`re talking about, can they get past -- even if he comes to a position that`s more agreeable for them, a tone that`s more agreeable, can they get past the last year?

KAPUR: That`s what the rhetorical softening and these changes that he`s trying to make are about all these minority outreach, I don`t think it`s ultimately about reaching African Americans and Hispanics, he`s too far gone with them. It`s about reaching college-educated whites, who are voters for the Republican candidate in every election going back to 1952.

This is a group that he can do a lot better with, unlike minorities, and he`s vastly outperforming Mitt Romney and previous nominees among working class whites, among non-college-educated whites. If he can get his numbers up with college-educated whites, that would help. And what he`s trying to do is change the perception that he appeals to racism and bigotry, which comes up in polls over and over again. His campaign is aware of this. And the temperament issue with college educated whites --

DOVERE: This doesn`t happen in a vacuum, of course, right? The Clinton campaign is going to be fighting against this. There`s a lot of video to keep showing, have air time booked.

KAPUR: Right.

DOVERE: And the question is whether people`s short attention spans can be played off --

KORNACKI: Right. I mean, that announcement speech where he said rapists and that won`t disappear into the ether necessarily.

We got to squeeze in one more quick break, and we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right. A reminder, we`re just over an hour away right now. MSNBC is going to have live coverage of Donald Trump`s speech on immigration, that will start at 9:00 eastern on "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW".

That`s going to do it for us here, though. Thanks to my round table tonight, Sahil Kapur, Michelle Goldberg, Edward-Isaac Dovere.

We will be back with a special edition of HARDBALL at 11:00 Eastern tonight.

And "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