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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 9/2/2016

Guests: Catherine Rampell, Amy Holmes, Deana Bass, Jonathan Allen, Glenn Thrush

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 2, 2016 Guest: Catherine Rampell, Amy Holmes, Deana Bass, Jonathan Allen, Glenn Thrush

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Game time for Clinton and Trump.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

The Labor Day weekend is upon us. And while that means Americans are going to have a three-day weekend to celebrate the waning days of summer, it also marks the traditional kickoff of the general election campaign, the home stretch.

Now that means less than 10 weeks to go until election day, and all indications are that the candidates are entering this home stretch on an uneven playing field, Politico reporting today that the Clinton campaign is, quote, "displaying unchecked confidence," noting that advisers to Hillary Clinton`s campaign have identified so many paths to an election day victory, they`re now focusing not only on the one or two battlegrounds that would ensure a win, but on opening up the possibility of an Electoral College landslide. That`s the view from Clinton world.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has yet to answer some fundamental questions about how they can pull this thing off. Quote, "The plan to get to 270 electoral votes remains unclear. The battleground state deployment plan is a work in progress. Money from big donors is slowing to a trickle, and aides are confused about who is calling the shots. Donald Trump`s campaign is teetering, threatening to collapse under the weight of a candidate whose personality outweighs his political skill." That is from Politico.

So with that in mind, let`s take a look over here at the big board about where things stand in this race as we hit the Labor Day home stretch. So what you`re looking at right here -- this is not where the race stands right now. This is where Republicans wanted the race to stand right now.

When this general election campaign began a few months ago, when Donald Trump locked down the Republican nomination, if you had said then to Republicans, Where do you hope this presidential race stands at Labor Day, they would hope it looked something like this, a very close race in terms of electoral votes and a battleground that would look something like this, basically a 50-50 chance for Donald Trump to get to 270.

But we`re going to show you now piece by piece what it actually looks like, and that`s because there have been some developments over the last few months. We`re going to start with two states that everybody -- and I mean everybody -- at the start of this campaign said were swing states that no longer look like swing states.

I`m talking first about Virginia. Latest poll there, Hillary Clinton up 12 points. Virginia -- this is a state Republicans won clear through 2004. In 2008, Obama won it narrowly. In 2012, he won it narrowly, you can see here, by 4 points. But Hillary Clinton`s lead has exploded into double digits in that state right now. Not looking like a swing state. Neither, for that matter, is Colorado. Our most recent poll there has Hillary Clinton running 14 points ahead.

So what does that do to the map? Two states we thought were swing states right now are looking a lot more like Hillary Clinton states.

Here`s something else that`s changed in the last few months. Some of these red states, states we all just penciled in at the start of this and said they`re going to be Trump states because they`re always Republican states - - they`re not looking like red states right now. I`m talking about North Carolina, a state Mitt Romney won by 2 points in 2012. Most recent poll, Hillary Clinton up by 2 in North Carolina.

How about Georgia, a state Mitt Romney won by 7, a state that last voted for a Democrat for president back in `92? Most recent poll there`s got Trump up 4, not a very comfortable lead for Donald Trump. It is a lead, but you can`t call that a safe red state with a margin like that.

How about Missouri? Mitt Romney won this by 10 points. Donald Trump`s up a single point in the most recent poll. How about Arizona? Again, double digits for Romney four years ago, 3 for Trump right now.

So what does that do to the map? It takes these four red states we`re talking about here, you can`t call them red states now. You can`t say Carolina is in the bag for Trump, you can`t say Georgia is, you can`t say Missouri is, you can`t say Arizona is. Look how that starts to change the electoral map.

Now, some of those other battleground states, let`s give you a quick view of what it looks like on the ground in those states. You can start with New Hampshire. Look at this. Remember, Donald Trump won this in the primary. Four years ago, Barack Obama won it by 6. Hillary Clinton -- new poll out just in the last few hours, an 11-point lead. There have been a couple polls like that for her in New Hampshire.

Pennsylvania -- how much talk have we heard from Republicans about Trump competing in Pennsylvania? It was 5 points in 2012. Most recent poll this week, 7 points for Hillary Clinton. There have been polls, some putting her double digits ahead in Pennsylvania.

You can go right through them. Hillary Clinton leading, small but leading in Florida, a state Obama won by a point. Hillary Clinton leading, again, it`s small margin but it is bigger than Obama`s margin in 2012, a 4-point lead for Hillary Clinton in Ohio. Wisconsin, down to 3. Democrats would like that to be more. That`s actually good news for Donald Trump. But still, bottom line, that is a Hillary Clinton lead in Wisconsin.

Iowa -- best news for Donald Trump in any swing state, the best news right now, is right here, a tie. He`s not ahead, he`s in a tie in the most recent poll. This is a state Obama won by 6 points. Nevada also, Hillary Clinton, a smaller lead than President Obama had, but still a lead.

Keep that in mind. All those battleground states, you can`t point to a single one right now where Donald Trump is ahead. These are states he`s got to be flipping. In fact, you look at it and you say she`s up double digits in New Hampshire, high single in Pennsylvania, those are looking blue right now.

Bottom line, heading into the home stretch, look how close she is to 270. Look how far he is. The gray states left, Trump would basically have to run the table to get to 270. He needs a shakeup to get back in this race and to have a path to the White House.

I`m joined now by MSNBC political analyst David Corn, Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones." Amy Holmes is a political analyst with RasmussenReports. Hugh Hewitt, conservative radio host, MSNBC political analyst.

Hugh, let`s start with you. Home stretch is here. Donald Trump is down. He has trailed consistently in the national polls all summer. What is the single most important thing he has to do to get back in this game?

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you said there needs to be a shakeup. Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada are the three states where he`s got the best news. I think it does come down to Pennsylvania in the end.

But luckily today -- I know you are coming to this later in the program, Steve, so I don`t want to spend too much time on it, but on October 20th, 1973, there was a Saturday night massacre. Well, September 2nd, 2016, is a Friday night massacre of the DOJ and the FBI`s narrative and reputation on Hillary Clinton and the e-mails.

It`s a disastrous story for Hillary Clinton, and it will change the race beginning Monday. And I don`t think the old Labor Day -- take a siesta, take a snooze -- I think we`re all going to be studying this report over the weekend. She had a terrible week. He had a very good week. That shakeup is beginning.

KORNACKI: OK. Well, you`re right, Hugh, we will be getting to that a little later in more detail. But David Corn, a version of the same question I asked Hugh, I`ll ask you, but from Hillary Clinton`s standpoint. She`s ahead. What is the biggest threat that Hillary Clinton faces in the home stretch of this campaign? Is it the e-mail story? Is it the DOJ?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No.

KORNACKI: Is it something else? What is the biggest threat, in your mind, that could trip her up?

CORN: I read the report. Other people read the report by now. It doesn`t go any further than what we`ve already heard, that she was careless or reckless with handling the e-mail, which she`s apologized for. It`s a real problem, it`s a real issue, but not -- she didn`t know something about classified material? Donald Trump didn`t know what the nuclear triad was.

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: So you don`t think that`s a threat. What is? What is?

CORN: I think -- well, I think the -- I think the thing she needs to worry about the most is that Donald Trump becomes sane. He had a chance this week. He went to Mexico. He got kudos because he didn`t drool while standing next to a foreign leader.

But then he came back and gave a speech that was supposed to be part of a pivot, a minority outreach. He lost, I don`t know, half of his Latino advisory board. So he`s not doing anything to reach those voters in the swing states that you just went through.

So I think now she`s like Muhammad Ali playing rope-a-dope, just let him flail. And if he stays where he is, she`s in a good position. So basically, make no mistakes, do well at the debates, which are the next possible turning point, if they happen, in this campaign. But really, let him go around and around like a Tasmanian devil who can`t even keep his own Latino advisers aboard!

KORNACKI: Well, after a campaign meeting at Trump Tower yesterday, top aides were confident of victory following his speech Wednesday night. According to "The Washington Post," Trump`s tough talk on immigration combined with a whirlwind trip to Mexico on Wednesday had, in the words of one adviser, won him the election.

But "The New York Times" reported yesterday that several associates close to Trump have told his son, Eric, that Trump is in real danger of losing. Quote, "RNC strategists indicated to the younger Mr. Trump his father`s already narrow path to 270 electoral votes he needs to win could vanish. Going through the swing states one by one, party officials showed Eric Trump that his father was drastically underperforming other Republicans in the polls."

Amy Holmes, that`s sort of a version, I think, of what we just walked through there in terms of what the state-by-state map looks like right now. But they mentioned, the first article we have there, the immigration speech. Trump`s campaign apparently, according to this reporting -- they feel they took a big step forward with the immigration speech this week.

Given the polling realities, the swing state realities, all that he`s up against, do you think he helped his cause at the end of this week by what he said this week on immigration?

AMY HOLMES, RASMUSSENREPORTS: I think he helped his cause by the trip down to Mexico. And in answer to David Corn`s question, yes, Donald Trump looking presidential is a big threat, and even Howard Wolfson, a former communications director for Hillary Clinton, said that Donald Trump`s trip to Mexico was a home run.

Now, the media is analyzing Donald Trump`s speech in Phoenix in very different ways. I watched it, and I heard a tough tone, but in fact, in terms of substance, I thought that he was actually kind of, you know, strained (ph) -- the middle of the road and the middle line there. And many of the things that he outlined are, in fact, actually U.S. policy and administration policy.

I understand that the speech was fiery, but I think a lot of voters listening -- they like that message from Donald Trump that he`s going to be putting America first. And I`d be surprised if Hillary Clinton disagrees with that.

KORNACKI: Let`s stay on that for a second, Hugh Hewitt, because it`s interesting, we talk about the tone of this speech and the emphasis Donald Trump had there on crime. He had the parents of victims of crimes that had been committed by illegal immigrants.

I`m looking, just when I sort of slice and dice the demographics here, trying to figure out why Clinton`s winning, why Trump`s losing. And I`m not the only one to look at this, but it comes down to these white suburbanites. It comes down to people who are a little bit more conservative economically, pocketbook issues. They worry about their taxes. But they don`t like the idea of being associated with somebody who says the inflammatory things Donald Trump has.

And I`m just looking at the tone of that speech this week, and I`m having a hard time seeing how those voters warm up to him because of it.

HEWITT: Well, it depends if they listen to it or to the coverage. I was on with you on Wednesday night, Steve, and I agree that I thought it was a very energetic speech, but comprehensively in the middle of the Republican position on immigration.

And going back to your I think very completely accurate assessment of the map -- Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada are where Donald Trump has to shake the map up. How does the speech play in those three states and in Pennsylvania? I think it plays very, very well.

It`s not going to get you back Colorado. That`s gone. You know, I think it`s a completely blue state right now. Nevada is a funny state because of Trump`s presence there. But how does it play in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin? He promises security to a country worried about security.

He elevates for the media to understand the victims of crime of those not in the country legally. And he does so with a little bit more humor and grace than we`re used to, and especially the visit to Mexico. It was his very best day of the campaign, in the middle of a week where Hillary Clinton began with the Gilbert Chagoury on the front page of "The Los Angeles Times," ended up with this terrible report today.

So I think by this time next week, we will see a much tighter race.

KORNACKI: All right. So some senators this week, meanwhile, sounded like they believe a Hillary win is in the cards for November. Senator John McCain, who won his primary in Arizona on Tuesday night, is now using the prospect of a Clinton presidency in a new TV ad. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If Hillary Clinton is elected president, Arizona will need a senator who will act as a check, not a rubber stamp, for the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And in Louisiana, Senator Bill Cassidy said on C-SPAN last night that it`s not the Republican message that`s at fault, but the messenger at the top of the ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: The message that we have is pretty good. It may turn out that Mr. Trump is not the messenger. Maybe he is. But it really seems to boil down to Mr. Trump`s personality being not what people like, as opposed to some of the issues. I think where the issues are, Republicans are kind of where many of the American people are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Well, Amy, that McCain ad -- it just takes me back, 1996, when the Republicans concluded Bob Dole was toast in the presidential race, they wanted to save the Congress, they started campaigns saying, Hey, give us a check against a second term of President Clinton. Seeing shades of that right now in that ad.

HOLMES: Well, I think that ad has a lot more to do with John McCain being in a tough reelection battle, and he`s trying to appeal to the moderates, his moderates, in Arizona.

But you also always have to ask the question in politics, "compared to what?" We`re talking about Donald Trump and his tone or his demeanor. Well, Hillary Clinton this week, it was reported by "The Washington Post," is at her highest negativities and unfavorability in her career!

And the bad news that has come out over last week and this week, including the Clinton Foundation and the revelations by the AP that half of the people that she met with who were outside of government came -- were donors to the Clinton Foundation -- this has not been good for her.

And I would actually say that that very fiery speech that she gave attacking Donald Trump and Donald Trump voters -- I thought that that was a sign of weakness. Typically, the top of the ticket, they`re the good cop, and the vice presidential candidate -- they`re the bad cop who slings the mud.

Well, Hillary Clinton was willing to sling that mud because I think she`s afraid of Donald Trump and she`s trying to frame him as unacceptable and is afraid that his message is getting through.

KORNACKI: And David Corn, just very quickly on that -- I mean, this is a story we`ve been talking about, I`d say `96 -- since the `90s -- Hillary Clinton, those high negative numbers, those high unfavorable numbers -- I mean, are we at a point, though, where we have to say whatever happens in this election, she may still win, that problem for her in particular is just unfixable?

CORN: It may be. But her negative numbers, as high as they are, are still lower than Donald Trump`s. And I still can`t get over how anybody can look at his speech, which drove his own Latino advisers out of the campaign kicking -- you know, screaming and running, as something that would play well with the general electorate and put him in a better position. It`s ludicrous to think that he gained when he lost his own supporters!

So I think there`s a long way to go before Donald Trump shows any of those voters that you talked about, Steve, those suburban Republicans and moderates, that he`s a guy with the temperament, the knowledge or the ability to talk in a way that doesn`t cause them to pull their hair out of their head.

KORNACKI: All right, David Corn, Amy Holmes, Hugh Hewitt -- thanks for the time. Appreciate it.

HOLMES: Thank you.

HEWITT: Thanks.

KORNACKI: OK, and we are -- Hugh Hewitt mentioned this. We talked about it a little bit. We are going to get a full report on those FBI notes on Hillary Clinton in just a minute.

Also coming up, on the eve of Trump`s trip to a black church in Detroit, basketball star Dwyane Wade says Trump used his cousin`s death for political gain. That`s ahead.

Plus, the first presidential debate now just over three weeks away, and we`re learning more about the two big things Hillary Clinton is planning to do when she takes the stage against Donald Trump.

And the inside story of how Trump changed his immigration speech Wednesday night to try to stick it to the Mexican president after learning that the president had tweeted that Mexico wouldn`t be paying for Trump`s border wall.

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

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: The FBI today released documents of its interview with Hillary Clinton on the investigation into her use of a private e-mail server that contained classified information. Clinton told investigators that she had used a personal e-mail address as secretary of state out of convenience and that she did not remember anyone raising legal concerns about it.

With the details, we go to NBC`s Kristen Welker at the White House. So Kristen, what are the headlines coming out of this?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a lot of headlines, Steve. Let me give you a few of the big ones. One, Secretary Clinton saying that she didn`t remember all of the briefings that she received on how to handle sensitive information because of that concussion that she suffered back in 2012. That`s one of the revelations from these documents that`s raising some eyebrows.

Another one, she told FBI investigators that she didn`t know what the letter "C" meant on some of the e-mails. Well, it stands for "confidential," and she said she wasn`t clear about that.

I spoke with a former federal official who said that is really hard to believe, given that she was secretary of state, given all that -- the briefings that she had.

And then finally, the FBI saying that they had no evidence that her server was ever hacked, but at the same time, that`s inconclusive because she had so many different devices that she used, as many as 13 over a period of time. And so they say it`s not conclusive that her server was never hacked, but they just don`t have any evidence to suggest that it was.

This, of course, all providing fodder for Donald Trump. He called her a liar, of course. You guys just had that conversation in which Hugh Hewitt seized upon this controversy.

And the bottom line here, it keeps the e-mail issue in the headlines for yet another day, heading into Labor Day, and it continues to fuel those high unfavorable ratings and voters` lack of trust of her. So this is something she`s going to need to address after Labor Day, and particularly in the debates, Steve.

KORNACKI: That`s right, the story that started well over a year ago.

WELKER: Indeed.

KORNACKI: We`re entering the home stretch of the presidential campaign, still there. Kristen Welker, thanks for the time. Appreciate it.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have tremendous numbers of African-Americans that have really had a hard time, I mean, beyond belief.

And, you know, I read the numbers where you have so many in poverty, and the crime is horrible, and the education is terrible, and they live terribly.

And I say, what do you have to lose? I say to them, what do you have to lose? Give it to me. I`m going to fix it.

And a lot of people are agreeing with me. What do you have to lose? The Democrats and the Hillary Clintons of the world have done a terrible job. She`s been there for 35 years. She`s done a terrible job.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After a week of trying to shore up the Hispanic vote, Donald Trump is now focusing on the African-American community. Today, he sat down with a roundtable of business, civic and religious leaders in Philadelphia. Tomorrow, he heads to Detroit to visit with Great Faith Ministries. That`s a primarily black church.

Yesterday, "The New York Times" reported that the normally unscripted Trump would leave nothing to chance in Detroit -- quote -- "Mr. Trump had planned to be interviewed by its pastor in a session that would be closed to the public and the news media with questions submitted in advance. Instead of letting Mr. Trump be his freewheeling self, his campaign prepared lengthy answers for the submitted questions, consulting black Republicans to make sure he says the right things."

This morning, that pastor, Wayne Jackson, said he would have new questions. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR WAYNE JACKSON, GREATER FAITH MINISTRIES: These answers -- I mean, these questions are not going to be just -- as a matter of fact, I have questions that they don`t know about, no one knows about. I have changed them after that came out.

Now, I want to make something very clear. There was no conversing with the Trump campaign and myself to try to get him up in hand on these questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And late tonight, there is now growing confusion about tomorrow`s meeting. The campaign is saying Trump will address the congregation. Pastor Jackson is saying he will not.

For more on Trump`s visit, I`m joined by Deana Bass, former press secretary for Ben Carson, and Jonathan Allen, co-author of "HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton."

Well, Deana, let`s start with you.

So, Donald Trump, the interesting thing in this outreach he`s been doing the last few weeks, outreach to the black communities, he really hasn`t spoken in front of a predominantly black audience. He`s delivered this message largely in front of white audiences.

And we played a clip of it there of what he has been saying, at least until now, where he stresses sort of negative aspects, as he sees it, of black life in America, talking about crime, talking about poverty, things like this.

If he goes to a black church in Detroit tomorrow with that message, how do you think that will go over?

DEANA BASS, FORMER BEN CARSON CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I think first of all, it`s important to recognize that we have been complaining about the fact that Donald Trump has not gone to the black community. Now people are complaining that he actually is going to the black community.

It`s a great thing that he`s going there. And when he gets there, I hope that he will talk about these issues that he`s raised before, but I think that he should also talk about jobs and the economy. These are areas where black Americans are struggling, and we do need more jobs and economic opportunities in places like Detroit.

But we also need -- you know, economic opportunities in place of educational opportunities as well. So, I think it`s very important that Donald Trump is going there. I think that it will be helpful if he changes his language so that it`s not as negative, but he`s pointing out the fact that, for 30 years, Hillary Clinton has been talking to the African- American community and has earned the vote of African-Americans, but she`s done very little to improve the plight of people in areas like Detroit and areas like Chicago.

So I`m excited to see what happens after this meeting with Bishop Jackson`s church.

KORNACKI: Well, in terms of the politics of this, there`s a new national poll from "USA Today" and Suffolk University. It breaks down the respondents by race.

And among black voters, Trump is getting just 2 percent of support. You can see it there. That puts him not just well behind Hillary Clinton, but also behind Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green Party candidates, just two points there.

Jonathan Allen, there was also a poll, an NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll a few weeks ago that put him at 1 percent, had Hillary Clinton 91, Donald Trump 1 percent with black voters.

I know there`s a school of thought out there that, while this is on the surface outreach to black voters, Donald Trump is really using this as a way of reaching a different segment of the electorate, white voters. Do you think there`s anything to that?

JONATHAN ALLEN, CO-AUTHOR, "HRC: STATE SECRETS AND THE REBIRTH OF HILLARY CLINTON": Absolutely.

So, first, let`s take this in a couple parts. Number one, when you have got -- when you are polling at 1 percent or 2 percent among African- Americans, what that really means is, you are within the margin of error of zero, Steve.

It`s possible that -- obviously, it`s not going to be zero, but it`s going to be very low. Number two, I do think he`s absolutely trying to communicate to white moderate Republicans that he`s not a bigot, that he can go talk in African-American communities about issues of importance to African-Americans and perhaps also to Latinos later on.

But I think the idea is to make them more comfortable with the idea that they are not voting for someone who is a bigot. But this interesting thing he`s doing at Great Faith Ministries in Detroit, it`s somewhat surprising.

The whole idea for him is to go in there and show that he`s got comfort with and he is comfortable with the African-American community, to be able to go into a black church and speak about issues in a way that is reassuring about his intentions.

And yet we find out that all of the questions and answers are scripted, which shows the exact opposite, that he`s so uncomfortable, that he`s not willing to go in there and actually have a real discussion.

BASS: I don`t see it -- you know, with all due respect, I don`t see it as an issue of him being uncomfortable.

I think that what we have to understand is -- Jon, you have been there. We have seen this happen with other candidates. It is very common for campaigns to receive questions in advance. And it is very common for staff to prepare remarks.

But we know this of Donald Trump. He is not a scripted candidate. And so even if he takes these comments and reads over them and reviews them, we know that Donald Trump, in most situations, he is going to speak from his heart and he is going to say what he wants to say. I think that Kellyanne Conway has done a great job. I`m glad that Steve Bannon is there.

But the bottom line is that, from the very beginning, this has been Donald Trump`s campaign. And Trump will be Trump, whether you give him a script or not.

ALLEN: That`s terrible for Donald Trump.

KORNACKI: And, again -- again, right now, we are still trying to figure out exactly what is going to happen at this church tomorrow. We are hearing something from the Trump campaign, something else from the church itself.

The original reporting they have told us at times is wrong. So, we`re going to find out when he gets there exactly what this is.

But, also, since the beginning of this outreach Trump has been making the last few weeks, he has stepped on his own message a few times. Last weekend, after NBC -- NBA star Dwyane Wade`s cousin Nykea Aldridge was shot to death in Chicago, Trump tweeted: "Dwyane Wade`s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will vote Trump."

This morning, Dwyane Wade finally broke his silence and responded. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWYANE WADE, NBA PLAYER: I was grateful that it started a conversation.

But, on the other hand, it just -- it was a -- it just -- a bad taste in my mouth because of what my family is dealing with and what our city of Chicago is dealing with. And it looks like it`s been used as a political game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Deana, there is this particular example.

But here`s what I`m curious about. The Republican Party in general, more than a half-century now -- you go back to Barry Goldwater in 1964 -- you can`t find a Republican nominee for president who has broken 20 percent of the black vote. So, in general, Republicans do not do well with the black vote. But Donald Trump, 2 percent in this poll we put up tonight, 1 percent in ours. He`s doing even worse. Diagnose the problem, as you see it. Why is he doing even worse than Republicans who normally don`t do well at all?

BASS: You know, Donald Trump`s rhetoric in the black community has not been helpful. I will completely admit that. I will not co-sign on the language that he`s used.

But what I cannot stand is this idea that, this week, we have had, I think, 90 deaths in Chicago, and these are cities that have been led by Democrats. So, the only thing that I can say to that is, I don`t understand why the message doesn`t resonate, that we continue to give our loyalty to Democrats and we have gotten very little in return.

So, I think it`s very important that candidates like Donald Trump raise awareness and speak in ways that may be a little controversial, but Dwyane Wade said it. He`s brought attention to this situation. And I think that is very important.

KORNACKI: All right.

Deana Bass, Jonathan Allen, thanks for the time.

Up next: the first presidential debate just over three weeks away now. We have got new details about the two things Hillary Clinton is planning to do when she finally meets Donald Trump on that stage.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Tropical Storm Hermine continues bringing heavy rain and damaging winds to the Southeast. The storm is now in the Carolinas after sweeping through Florida and Georgia earlier today with winds of up to 70 miles per hour.

At least one person was killed in Florida and tens of thousands were left without power. The storm is expected to dump more than -- more heavy rain on the Mid-Atlantic states this weekend, as tropical storm watches are in effect as far north as Rhode Island -- back to HARDBALL.

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The first presidential debate now just over three weeks away, and we now know who the moderators are going to be for these three potentially blockbuster bouts between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Our own Lester Holt, the anchor of "NBC Nightly News," is going to be at the helm for the first debate. That`s going to be on the night of September 26. Other moderators include Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace.

Politico reports that Clinton around her advisers are consumed by the challenge of preparing to debate a man they see as the ultimate wild card, while at the same time not doing further harm to her image.

According to Glenn Thrush -- quote -- "Hillary Clinton has expressed frustration, even a little trepidation about her first face-off with Donald Trump later this month, recently telling one person close to her that she`s perplexed about which Donald Trump will show up. And she has told friends since the spring at fund-raisers and in private huddles that she`s especially worried about the new scurrilous attacks on her family fed by Trump -- fed to Trump by allies like Roger Stone."

Thrush also writes -- quote -- "Over the past two or three weeks, advisers have been peppering her with Trumpian attacks, including awkward wild card shots at her family."

Politico`s Glenn Thrush, who wrote that story, joins me now.

Glenn, thanks for taking a few minutes.

So, they want to know which Donald Trump will show up. We know there`s the bombastic Donald Trump who would say, little Marco Rubio. We know that guy. What`s the other Trump, though, that they think could be out there?

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: The Trump that we saw in Mexico with the tranquilizer dart sticking out of his neck, Steve.

(LAUGHTER)

THRUSH: I mean, this domesticated version of Trump.

Hillary told a crowd at a fund-raiser in the Hamptons earlier this week that she was concerned that he would attempt to project gravitas.

And, frankly, that`s actually a much more difficult sort of debate for her. Their whole game -- and I think this is a weakness. And I think people on their team, on Clinton`s team, are trying to compensate for that weakness. They have really been relying on Trump acting like a wild man.

If the guy comes out and tries to behave presidential, as he seems to be getting in terms of counsel from Kellyanne Conway, his new campaign manager, and Roger Ailes, that is -- that, in and of itself, is a tame wild card that will be more difficult to deal with.

KORNACKI: So, what`s the thinking there? Do they then try to rile him up? Do they give her some lines to try to provoke a response? How do they handle that?

THRUSH: Yes, absolutely.

I think, you know, well, part of the point of my piece was, she really has a two-fold challenge. The first is to deal with him if he`s crazy. The second is to make him crazy, so that they can deal with him if he`s crazy, because she will look better by comparison.

But the second component of that is to really deal with these trust issues. And we just saw this whole batch, this 11-page summary of her discussion with the FBI. We have seen a real erosion in her trust numbers. "The Washington Post" reported a couple days ago that it`s at a 25-year high.

She`s got business of her own to do with the American people. And, frankly, for a really long time, their strategy has just been to beat the hell out of Donald Trump and pray for the best.

But we have seen significant erosion in her numbers. Interestingly enough, Steve -- and you look at the polls just as well as I do -- Donald Trump has not picked up the support that Hillary Clinton has lost, the three or four points nationally. So, they are just kind of laying out there.

So, she -- what she really needs to do is what she has always needed to do, make the case, the affirmative case with the American people that she`s trustworthy and likable.

KORNACKI: I`m trying to picture -- I`m trying to remember a national debate with as much anticipation as this one.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: The only thing I can come up with is Sarah Palin in `08. But I think this is that times 10.

Glenn Thrush, excellent reporting. Very good to have you on the show. Appreciate it.

Up next: new details about how Donald Trump changed his immigration speech after a tweet from the president of Mexico saying that Mexico won`t be paying for that border wall.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

"The Wall Street Journal" has shed new light on Donald Trump`s immigration speech Wednesday, reporting that Trump revised his speech at the last minute after seeing a tweet by Mexico`s President Enrique Pena Nieto. The tweet was the Mexican president`s public vow not to pay for Trump`s proposed border wall which Trump had previously said he had not discussed in their earlier meeting.

"The Journal" reports that Mr. Trump was peeved that Pena Nieto had gone public and the Mexican president had broken what Trump considered a deal, to keep the question of paying for the wall off the table, at their initial meetings.

So, Mr. Trump hurriedly inserted a new sentence into his immigration speech, after noting his usual style of the U.S. would build a great wall along the southern border, Trump then added this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. Believe me, 100 percent. They don`t know it yet but they are going to pay for the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Hey, and joining me on the roundtable tonight, Catherine Rampell, opinion columnist with "The Washington Post", Jonathan Alter, columnist for "The Daily Beast", and Beth Fouhy, senior politics editor here at MSNBC.

So, Beth, end of the week, I`m trying to put in perspective a little bit what Trump got, what he didn`t get out of that Wednesday in Mexico. That night in Arizona. The speech itself obviously the headlines from the hard line rhetoric from Mexico earlier in the day, it was the image, it was having him stand on the same stage there and try to project a different image.

Which of those do you think ends up having more resonance at the end of the week?

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: I think that meeting with the president is going to be just wiped from history basically. Except for their sort of proxy Twitter war, that was such a tiny little moment compared to that speech that happened in prime time, that big speech in Phoenix. Prime time carried live by us, by CNN, by others, so much incendiary material there that Hillary Clinton can chop up into ads and certainly will, we will probably start seeing them next week.

In my opinion, that speech was basically, could spell the end of the Trump campaign. It`s not -- it was a speech that basically pushed away everybody but his base. And unless his base can somehow materialize and redouble and re-triple into a winning coalition, I don`t see where he goes from here.

KORNACKI: Speaking of the point you just raised, in response to Trump`s visit to Mexico, the Clinton campaign has a new web ad. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Who`s going to pay for the wall? Who?

(MUSIC)

TRUMP: We did discuss the wall. We didn`t discuss payment of the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: OK. Putting everything else aside, I will defend Trump on a very, very narrow point. I don`t think he ever claimed he was going to negotiate payment for the wall in his first meeting during a campaign.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, THE WASHINGTON POST: When he has no leverage because he`s still a candidate and doesn`t actually occupy the oval office?

KORNACKI: I will give him that without being commentary on anything else.

But to the point Beth was just raising, we talked about this earlier in the show, in terms of the politics of this for Trump, when you look at the voters who have been defecting from him, the traditional Republican voters, the sort of culturally moderate suburbanites. I tend to myself watching every speech he gives now with those voters in mind, are they hearing something new that might win that, win them back --

RAMPELL: I think he`s given up on them. I really do.

KORNACKI: So, does he just drive it up with everybody else? Is that --

RAMPELL: I guess. That speech as Beth noted was very much a play to his base. Even Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, who may or may not still be being paid by Trump, went on TV and said this was an attempt to get white male voters. So, I think he`s basically given up on anybody on the fence at this point.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t agree with that. I think he was very erratic which didn`t help him. He lied which didn`t help him, clearly in the short term. But he lies every time his lips move, so I don`t think that was particularly out of the ordinary.

What he did here rather interestingly to me was appealing to two constituencies. He threw red meat for the base. He secured that business because he needs the sporadic white voter who doesn`t usually come out and is not being counted by any polls except "The L.A. Times" poll which shows Trump even. He needs them to be motivated to come out. That`s what that speech was about.

KORNACKI: Do you think that could work?

ALTER: It could work. Absolutely could work. Nate Silver agrees that it could work, the pollster, or the poll aggregator.

KORNACKI: Right. The one who said Trump had no shot at winning the Republican nomination.

ALTER: He`s spot-on in 2008 and 2012.

So -- but my larger point is that what he did for the white women suburban voter, who I do not believe he`s given up on, is he did what in the military is called covering your retreat with fire. So that speech was like a military force is withdrawing, they don`t want to be seen as cowards in retreat so they lay down a huge barrage of fire to cover their retreat.

What was he retreating from? A commitment all year long to deport 11 million people immediately. That was not in the speech. So when he and Hillary are discussing this in the debate, he will have a semi-rational policy on immigration.

KORNACKI: I think the question, though, Jonathan is saying there`s about five million or so undocumented in the country right now that are not visa overstays, no criminal record, anything like that, and Trump in this speech, if you listened very carefully, he`s basically saying nothing about legal status or anything, he`s basically saying we will leave them alone.

FOUHY: I didn`t hear --

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Can he now, in a debate, can he be more moderate on this?

FOUHY: Honestly, I don`t really understand why the focus on how many people he would deport and when has become such a discussion. I mean, there was so much else in that speech to offend suburban women. I mean, characterizing so many immigrants as criminals, taking away jobs, murdering people. He has a whole group of women coming up onstage talking about the illegal immigrants who murdered their children.

He could not have painted immigrants to this country in a more negative light. The disagreement about who and when they would be deported just seems to be a tiny fraction of the point he was making that night.

KORNACKI: Right. What he said and what they said the day after, too, was it`s nothing about giving legal status or giving citizenship to anybody. It`s saying that a few years from now, down the line, after we have done all the priority deportations that he outlined, they would then revisit it. I`m just thinking if your goal in doing that is to sound more moderate, is to change your tone and appeal to those voters, if that`s all you`re offering and it`s couched in all this other rhetoric, I don`t see how you win those voters over.

RAMPELL: Again, I feel like every time he does an interview about this, he changes his mind about what`s happening to the 11 million.

FOUHY: He`s changed it twice since Wednesday night.

RAMPELL: Exactly.

ALTER: He can now say or people can ask him rationally, isn`t your policy of deporting criminals first the same essentially as Barack Obama`s policy? And when he says, well, in that respect, yes, it is the same, in a debate that might sound appealing to moderate voters.

KORNACKI: All right. I`m just trying -- let`s picture Donald Trump saying, I agree with Barack Obama in the debate, I`m not sure that one`s going to happen.

But the roundtable is staying with us. More to talk about.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: You can play HARDBALL all week long online. Follow the show on Twitter and Instagram, like us on Facebook. You`ll get access to interviews, videos, and behind-the-scene photos, as we hit the road covering the wild presidential campaign in 2016.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Back now with the HARDBALL round table -- Catherine Rampell, Jonathan Alter, Beth Fouhy.

So, when we started to talk about -- Jonathan was talking about the debates here, what Donald Trump`s strategy might be. We had Glen Thrush earlier today.

Catherine, what do you think? The Donald Trump who shows up to debate Hillary Clinton, is he going to try to reenact what he did in Mexico City, try to be more calm and a different guy?

RAMPELL: I don`t think so. I think where he feels comfortable, where he feels like he`s in his element is where he`s a little more off the cuff, a little more off the cuff, a little bit more of a bullying personality. I think his campaign is probably going to want to keep him on script and prep him for those debates. But all the reporting that I`ve seen on this has indicated that he has resisted, you know, reading policy briefs and doing a structured mock debate and things like that.

So, I think his preference is probably going to be a little more off the cuff, which may or may not work.

KORNACKI: Well, it sounds like that`s what the Clinton campaign wants. They don`t want Trump to show up and try to look presidential. They want Donald Trump to show up like he did in the Republican primary debates.

FOUHY: And I want to give a shout-out for our Commander-in-Chief forum here on NBC on Wednesday. That will be a dry run for Donald Trump, to be standing in front of an audience getting questions. They won`t be on a stage together, but he will be getting questions that are much deeper and much more policy-focused than he is getting anywhere else.

And he will be pressed to go deeper than he has been especially on issues, on matters of foreign policy. So, he`ll get a taste of that and decide what`s the best way to go? To go back to his natural state, or that he actually can play in the policy arena and can get to the point where he could stand and go toe to toe with Hillary Clinton.

KORNACKI: And it`s interesting, Jonathan, we keep looking back to these Republican primary debates. And we forget sometimes, ten candidates on the stage, they had commercial breaks every 15, 20 minutes. Donald Trump could stand there and disappear for 20 minutes at a time. The whole conversation could play out around him, totally different dynamic. One-on-one commercial-free against Hillary Clinton.

ALTER: It`s going to be harder for him. He doesn`t know really much about the issues in detail. He can make gaffes that reveal his ignorance.

But remember, for the last couple of weeks, he`s had this stump speech that he`s been reading from a teleprompter. He has 25 days between now and the first debate. Three times a day, he`ll be reading that speech which is full of one-liners that are pretty effective.

It`s a pretty good speech, whether one agrees with it or not, and he will be able to take elements of that stump speech, which he has pretty much committed to memory now, because he`s read it so many times and slot them in in answer to various questions.

KORNACKI: Sounds like the evolution after many, many months into something resembling a conventional candidate. The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: All right. We`re back with the HARDBALL round table. Just a minute left.

Catherine, tell me something I don`t know.

RAMPELL: This November, a record high number of states are considering expanding legalization of marijuana. So, right now, California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine are thinking about legalizing recreational marijuana. Florida, North Dakota, medical marijuana. So, it could be a big thing.

KORNACKI: Something to watch for in election night.

Jonathan?

ALTER: "The Wall Street Journal" building on a Yahoo story reports about Donald Trump`s mob connections. He wasn`t in the mob, but he did not take proper precautions when he was in New York real estate to isolate -- insulate himself from mobbed up characters. He even went to the birthday party of the daughter of a big mobster.

KORNACKI: All right. Beth?

FOUHY: Something we actually do know but we don`t talk about enough, is that Hillary Clinton does not have a cakewalk to this election. Her polling numbers have been cut in half just in the last couple of weeks, from a high of ten points, separating her and Donald Trump down to five. She`s going to have a tough autumn.

KORNACKI: OK, the home stretch. It`s Labor Day weekend.

Catherine Rampell, Jonathan Alter, Beth Fouhy -- thank you.

Chris Matthews returns Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. He`ll be joined by special guest Tom Hanks, star of the new movie "Sully".

"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