Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/23/2016

Guests: Susan Page, Heidi Przybyla

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 23, 2016 Guest: Susan Page, Heidi Przybyla

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: How not to run for president and win.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

When Donald Trump rode down the escalator at Trump Tower on June 16th, 2015, to announce his candidacy for president, even those who hoped he would shake things up wondered how long he`d last. His attack on Mexican immigrants that day stoked outrage. It was hard finding an expert who predicted he`d wind up taking the oath of office.

But over the next 17 months, Trump roared past a field of 16 Republican challengers and one of the best financed and best prepared Democratic candidates ever. At every turn, he seemed to check the box for what not to do while running for president.

Trump went to war with a popular news anchor on a conservative network, attacked a beauty queen for gaining weight, called for his Democratic opponent to be locked up and put away, said women who get abortions should face criminal punishment and defied Republican orthodoxy on war, relations with Russia and trade. He called for banning an entire religion from entering the country and weathered a storm over recorded comments from 11 years ago that seemed to endorse assaulting women.

For the next hour, we`re going to show highlights or lowlights of the most confounding, out-of-the-box presidential campaign ever, a campaign that broke every rule, yet somehow turned out on top. And that`s the story tonight, how not to run for president and win.

I`m joined for the hour by former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele, "USA Today`s" Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, "USA Today" senior political reporter, Heidi Przybyla, and the HuffingtonPost global editorial director Howard Fineman.

And tonight, we begin with Donald Trump`s comments about women. For months, Trump`s approval rating among women hovered at historic lows. The conventional wisdom said they`d preclude him from ever making it to the White House. He then inflamed the problem.

At the first Republican debate, the primary debate, Trump was angered by a question moderator Megyn Kelly asked him about his past statements on women`s looks. He didn`t let it go, attacking Kelly again and again over the next week. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous question. And you know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.

She asked me a question. It was an inappropriate question. It was a ridiculous question. Even the other candidates came up to me and said that was absolutely out of line.

The fact is, she asked me a very inappropriate question. She should really be apologizing to me, you want to know the truth. And other candidates have said that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Susan, I thought, just as a guy watching this thing, that Megyn Kelly, who -- and nobody`s not a competitor in this business, everybody`s doing their job, trying to get ahead -- that she won that exchange, that she made him look out of control, that his temperament was totally out of whack. And she seemed calm and tough, doing her job.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": I agree completely. She acted like a professional asking an appropriate question, but not enough to cost him the presidency along with a series of other exchanges where you take them in isolation and (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: At the end of the day, he lost women. Hillary Clinton got 54 percent of women. But he won white women by 10 percentage points, and that was a surprise.

MATTHEWS: Well, what did you make of that, Heidi? Because I thought the - - out of the blood thing, I just though -- I didn`t even get it the first time, and I thought, Oh, my God, this guy`s gross, and yet it didn`t seem to stop him.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY: Well, it actually created that outcome, Chris, because it was such a good question and it did parlay back his exact words, which spoke for themselves to all American women.

And he was very upset about that and he couldn`t let it go because if you look at this war he had with Megyn Kelly, it started with that, and that is what prompted the, you know, "blood coming out of her wherever" comments, but he continued to beat up on Megyn Kelly for the duration of the next couple of months, even when looking at news reports, she was behaving no differently than her male competitors, asking questions no differently than her male competitors, but Trump kind of made her this unwitting symbol of sexism.

MATTHEWS: Right. OK. Apart from sex, apart from the context (INAUDIBLE) here, he broke the oldest political rule in the business. When you`re in a hole, stop digging. Michael...

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes?

MATTHEWS: ... he just -- he wouldn`t get out of that -- he wouldn`t get out of the fight with this popular anchorwoman.

STEELE: He loves rabbit holes. And the more he finds, the more he finds an opportunity to go down them. And the interesting thing about the exchange with Megyn Kelly is that he did the one thing that you didn`t think was possible. He made Megyn and Fox News a creature of the -- you know, the vast right-wing conspiracy against Republicans running for office. In other words, you found Republicans chiding Fox and Megyn for the way they engaged with Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this first debate. Hillary Clinton knows how to fight, too. She seemed to bait Trump by bringing up a former Miss Universe who accused him of making fun of her weight. Trump blew the story into a much bigger deal by spending the next few days attacking the beauty queen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: She was the winner, and you know, she gained a massive amount of weight. And it was -- it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude.

I saved her job because they wanted to fire her for putting on so much weight. And it is a beauty contest. You know, I mean, say what you want, Bill, I mean, they know what they`re getting into. It`s a beauty contest. And I said, Don`t do that, let her try and lose the weight. Can you imagine I end up in a position like this? So that`s the way it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, over Twitter, Trump even urged people to hunt down a supposed sex tape, which turned out to be nonexistent.

Howard, again, he goes into the hole, he fights (INAUDIBLE) like a foxhole, he wants to fight on this line.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIR., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well...

MATTHEWS: Him against women.

FINEMAN: Chris, let me suggest two themes here that we`re going to be discussing for this entire hour. The one is that the media failed to analyze how Trump used the media.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: OK? Let`s talk about that for a second. He loves the controversy. He courts the controversy. He uses the controversy. He sucked the energy and wind and attention out of every other candidate in the race. Donald Trump`s motto was and is, If the attention is on me, no matter what the cause, it`s a good thing, number one.

The second subpart of that is, Attack, attack, attack, always attack your accuser. So that`s one thing. We in the media missed the way he used us the entire year.

And the second big point is, people want change and wanted change, and they will pick up whatever cudgel they need to pick up, no matter what you say about that instrument. That`s what happened this whole year.

MATTHEWS: And the irony is, of course, once again, to make your point, that the guy who got hurt in this next episode was the guy from the media.

The biggest bombshell of the campaign was in early October when audio surfaced from a 2005 interview -- or actually, an overheard comment by Donald Trump and former "Access Hollywood" host -- former "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush, talking about women prior to a promotional shoot.

Listen to what Donald Trump says he can get away with because he`s a celebrity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I`ve got to use some Tic-Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I`m automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It`s like a magnet, kiss, kiss.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I don`t even wait. And when you`re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab `em by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So he`s president of the United States-elect and Billy Bush is out of a job. I mean, I guess that`s what happens to the media in a story.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. But I mean, that one I thought was probably mortal.

PAGE: We all thought that.

MATTHEWS: Felt like it at the time.

PAGE: It was -- but it was like the 56th mortal wound that we thought he was -- remember when he said John McCain wasn`t a hero, and we thought that was a mortal wound, and that was like an innocent time from long ago that that would have been so devastating.

I actually think, with all these candidates, their strength -- and multiplied for Donald Trump -- your strength is your weakness, your weakness is your strength. His weakness is that he says outrageous things and will never back down, will never apologize. And that`s his strength because people figure, I want change, I want things shaken up, I want him doing that on my behalf. So in a funny way, it helped make his brand.

MATTHEWS: To make Howard`s point here, every fight he had was with the establishment. Everything he said, as gross as it was, whatever it was, no matter what you thought of what he said, it said also -- subtext -- I`m not one of them.

FINEMAN: Right. And therefore, I`m a change agent.

MATTHEWS: I`m a change agent. Heidi, the issue here with that tape, we all thought would be about women, how there`d be a -- I think a lot of women must have because the woman vote wasn`t that bad for him compared to everything that -- it`s sort of a standard women vote, less than a majority for the Republican. It seems like he benefited, and women weren`t as outraged as people were attracted by his insolence.

PRZYBYLA: We all went back to our partisan corners. I mean, but let`s -- let`s also point out that there was a significant gender gap here, and for the first time, the Democrats -- in a long time -- the Democrats took married women. So I don`t think we can completely dismiss this and say that women decided at the end of the day that this was all OK.

I think this would have been a mortal wound, and it definitely was going into that final debate in Las Vegas. It was very grim. I saw no surrogates on my plane flying out there other than Jeff Sessions. So I think that had the FBI not jumped back in and shook things up a little bit and some other intervening factors, that this may have really been a mortal wound.

But I think it`s also a little depressing for some women who did kind of put things -- their reputations on the line in coming out in terms of what the -- the lesson is because of the -- the blowback that they personally...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He hasn`t settled that stuff yet.

FINEMAN: Can I say, it`s depressing for everybody, OK? It`s not just for women. It`s depressing for everybody that he was able to use these things in the way that Susan said, to show in an odd, upside-down way his insolent bravery.

PAGE: And the gender gap this year, 11 points. That`s not a record. That only matches the record from 1996, which was Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. And can you imagine that Donald Trump did as well as Bob Dole did among women?

STEELE: And for me, I think it still boils down to the fact that people in the media and in the political class continue to look at this election through conventional lenses. And they looked at women...

MATTHEWS: Excuse me for living.

STEELE: Well, I know, I know.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: I know, but, you know, here -- here it is with the egg on your face after this guy has weathered all these storms.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: It really goes to what you were saying, Heidi, that at the end of the day, people were kind of looking at this and were kind of maybe put off, but also attracted at the same time.

MATTHEWS: I think we`re taken with the exclamation point when something happens -- Oh, my God, he did that. Oh, my God, he did that. Outrage, outrage, as we read the headlines in the big paper and go -- in the news -- Oh, my God, oh, my God. And the people out there go, Huh. They`re making a big deal about this. Let me think about it myself.

(CROSSTALK)

PRZYBYLA: And the thing we have to keep coming back to, as well, in terms of not overanalyzing exactly what happened here with Trump`s message and Trump`s voters, is that always, always come back to the fact that half of the registered electorate, the voting electorate, chose not to vote.

There`s been some really compelling journalism out of these Milwaukee districts, for example, Philly districts, of these voters who voted in 2012 but were so disheartened by, you know, what has or hasn`t happened and didn`t feel like this would really make that big of a difference in their lives, just stayed home.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, we have to go.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: (INAUDIBLE) which is first woman nominee for president, and it didn`t work in her favor in terms of consolidating the votes of women.

FINEMAN: I was also going to say that Donald Trump may have, in an odd way, also made politics so distasteful, dragged it down so far, it depressed the vote of everybody but his firmest allies.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Anyway, the panel`s sticking with us. And up next, Donald Trump`s angry rhetoric on race. From day one of his campaign, he painted ethnic groups with a broad brush, using racial language and imagery. He called Mexicans rapists. And that kind of talk would have destroyed any other politician, but not in this case Trump.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, recognizing an opportunity, ever (ph) savvy businessman burst onto the political scene -- that`s Trump -- by warmly embracing the birther movement calling into question President Barack Obama`s nationality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Why doesn`t he show his birth certificate? And you know what? I wish he would because I think it`s a terrible pall that`s hanging over him.

Nobody ever comes forward! Nobody knows who he is until later in his life. It`s very strange.

He may have one, but there`s something on that birth -- maybe religion. Maybe it says he`s a Muslim. I don`t know.

I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they`re finding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have people now down there searching, I mean, in Hawaii?

TRUMP: Absolutely. Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they`re finding!

I still would like to see his college records. I mean, I`d like to see a couple of things.

Trump comes along and said birth certificate. He gave a birth certificate. Whether or not that was a real certificate, because a lot of people question it -- I certainly question it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Outrageous. Anyway, questioning President Obama`s birth certificate provided Trump with the foundation upon which he built his 2016 campaign. So it`s not entirely surprisingly that he declared his candidacy by attacking an entire nationality. Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they`re not sending their best. They`re not sending you. They`re not sending you. They`re sending people that have lots of problems, and they`re bringing those problems with us (sic). They`re bringing drugs. They`re bringing crime. They`re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, accusations plagued his campaign to the bitter end, of course. And for more on how Trump demolished political norms when discussing race in America, I`m back with our panel, Michael Steele, MSNBC political analyst, Susan Page with "USA Today," Heidi Przybyla, also with "USA Today," and Howard Fineman with the HuffingtonPost.

Let`s go from this end over. The rapist thing just jumped out at me. What is that based on? What is it based on, any data? I don`t think it would ever be anything to do with data. How many rapists are there?

STEELE: (INAUDIBLE) based on crimes that have been committed by illegals here in the United States over a period of time. So you take one or two instances, and you kind of glom them together, and it becomes a pejorative representation of everybody.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: And so Trump has this unique way of taking language and sort of exploding it up. So you know, you can do one thing, but then (ph) all women, all right? You can say one thing, and it`s, like, Well, I`ve been hearing from a lot of people. And so that kind of political rhetoric worked very effectively for him, and he was able to -- because he can always, as you saw in the clips, deflect. You go, Well, I`m not saying it, someone else said it. It may have just been one guy standing in a corner whispering to himself.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s get back to journalism for a second on one point. He said -- let`s just fact check this -- I`ve got people out in Hawaii, and you won`t believe what they`re coming up with. And then he goes to this Manchurian candidate theory that not only did the guy sneak in the country, but he`s assumed a false identity, that he really wasn`t the guy going through Harvard law. He really wasn`t the guy at Columbia, Hawaiian high school. Nobody knew him.

What was that about? That he was some mysterious pretender.

PAGE: Well, it was about...

MATTHEWS: Who (INAUDIBLE)

PAGE: ... about raising a cloud of dust about Barack Obama, and not based in fact, and in fact, saying things that were just -- were -- were shown to be disproven, like things that you could prove were not true, and these suggestions maybe his birth certificate said he was a Muslim. That wasn`t true. Nobody knew who he was until he got into high school or college -- that`s also not true. It`s -- it`s a rhetorical technique and that is dangerous and that journalists have an obligation to call out.

MATTHEWS: You know, when you go to a criminal trial, or watch them -- you know, somebody once stole my car and I learned how it was done -- you just make up completely different stories that have nothing to do with reality just so the jury thinks there`s, you know, plausible deniability -- what do you call it -- probable -- not probable -- not probable guilt, you can`t prove it, shadow of a doubt. Just make up a story because that might be true, too. It might be true that this guy`s a phantom. He doesn`t even exist as Barack Obama. It worked for some people.

PRZYBYLA: This is bringing back flashbacks to the campaign trail, actually, right after the primaries in New Hampshire and Bill Clinton was telling voters to be careful because a lot of this is going to happen during this campaign. And it`s not about facts anymore, it`s simply about raising the suggestion out there and letting it multiply.

And we`re seeing that not only by Trump, but by some of the people who are some of the leading conspiracy theorists, quite frankly, who have been now brought on, like Michael Flynn.

If you look at some of the things that he was tweeting just days before the election about Hillary Clinton and child pornography and money laundering, it`s really crazy stuff.

FINEMAN: And can I say we`re beating around the bush here a little bit? Donald Trump goes for the perceived weaknesses of any public figure or anybody that stands in his way. With his voters and a lot of other people, we need to talk about race, we need to talk about religion, and we need to talk about ethnicity.

He was going after a black -- the first black president, the first African- American president. He was going after the notion that he was a Muslim, which was somehow supposed to be a mark against him in this society. And he was going against Latinos and Mexicans in particular.

And in this rough marketplace of politics, he was willing to go, he was willing to touch buttons that other people have not been willing to do. As a matter of fact, not only gingerly do it, but to do it aggressively.

Anything that smacked of criticism of him, he brushed off as political correctness. He was attacking the entire culture of the last 20 or 30 years of the supposed consensus that we had, that you don`t speak that way about other people.

MATTHEWS: To make that point, by the way, sort of like he`s the only one to ever to shoot the moon, to use a hearts game thing.

FINEMAN: Yes. He picked up all the cards.

MATTHEWS: Yes, anyway, in May, Donald Trump accused a federal judge, Gonzalo Curiel, who presided over a class action lawsuit against Trump University out in California, he called him incapable of hearing the case fairly because of his Mexican heritage.

Let`s watch him here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have had horrible rulings, I`ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I`m building a wall, OK? I`m building a wall. I`m going to do very well with the Hispanics.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you invoke his race as a reason why he can`t do his job.

TRUMP: I think that`s why he`s doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So you talk about building the wall, make the Mexicans pay for it, then make the Mexican-American judge pay for it. He`s like, he can`t give me a fair hearing.

PRZYBYLA: Yes, they are saying now they`re going to make Mexican restaurants pay for it, because everybody knows nobody`s paying for that wall.

But just back to Howard`s point, he crossed over those kind of racial and gender barriers that up until now have been completely off-limits in our civil discourse.

(CROSSTALK)

PRZYBYLA: Yes. And now.

MATTHEWS: So why did he get away with it? Or did he just do what he wanted to do?

(CROSSTALK)

PRZYBYLA: Well, I think it has enabled a certain segment that we didn`t realize kind of how large that segment in our society is.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`ve got 4 percent.

STEELE: I think it`s a lot larger than people like to admit.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: The reality of it is, he injected race in a way in which a lot of people said, finally, someone is saying what I`m thinking. And that may say a lot about how we have not dealt with race in this country.

But he understood that well enough to be able to pick that particular scab off the civil rights movement and off of...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Or immigration, for that matter. And there were legitimate questions about immigration, but he took it in the most extreme fashion.

PAGE: He got 29 percent of the Hispanic vote. He got more of the Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney did.

MATTHEWS: We`ll talk about that over time. When we come back -- that is an interesting -- we had better know more about the Hispanic community than the generalizations. They`re not all liberal Democrats.

Anyway, Trump`s over-the-top attacks on his opponents are coming up, from petty name-calling like "liddle Marco" and "lyin` Ted" and "crooked Hillary," to telling Hillary that she ought to be in jail.

Trump used degrading personal attacks against opponents. Did it work? Well, you tell me. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You have to brand people a certain way when they`re your opponents, like Jeb Bush, we call him low energy, low energy.

Jeb Bush is a low-energy person.

So low energy that every time you watch him you fall asleep.

You have lyin` Ted Cruz. I call him -- I nicknamed him lyin`. I say lyin`. How would you spell that. Lyin` Ted, L-Y-I-N with an apostrophe. You know, we call him lyin` Ted.

Liddle Marco, by the way, is a choke artist. He`s "liddle." L-I-D-D-L-E. Liddle. Liddle. Liddle Marco.

Don`t worry about it liddle Marco.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX ANCHOR: Gentleman, gentleman.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: You`ve got to do better than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That is high school and a bad high school. Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. That was a look back at how Donald Trump resorted to name- calling during the primaries.

While it was clear Trump relished hurling insults at his Republican proponents, he took a more degrading approach to his campaign against Hillary Clinton, attacking her ethics, her experiences, even her health.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Crooked Hillary Clinton, oh, she`s crooked, folks, she`s crooked as a $3 bill.

In fact, she`s the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States of America.

Her international donors control her every move.

She is a dangerous liar.

She`s the devil. He made a deal with the devil.

Unstable Hillary.

She`s really pretty close to unhinged.

Honestly, I don`t think she`s also there.

She also lacks the mental and physical stamina.

You see all the days off that Hillary takes? Day off. Day off.

She gives a short speech, then she goes home and goes to sleep and she shows up two days later.

You ever see her 18-minute speech? Bomb, bomb, bomb, see you! And then she can`t even make it to her car. Isn`t it tough?

I think we should take a drug test prior to the debate.

No one is more corrupt than crooked Hillary Clinton, nobody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Does this all make you feel good? Anyway, we`re back with our panel. I`m amazed at putting -- looking in the rearview mirror is pretty staggering.

Susan, anyway, the name-calling, is this going to teach our young daughters and grandkids and all, if you want to get ahead, sticks and stones will break their bones.

PAGE: Well, we actually see signs that kids are learning this lesson, right? We have these incidents -- scattered incidents, anecdotes about kids being abusive, including in neighborhoods where you would think that wasn`t going to happen.

Here`s a question in politics. Can you put the toothpaste back in the tube? Is it going to be possible for someone who follows the traditional rules, the normative rules of courteous behavior and rhetoric?

MATTHEWS: Let`s ask the gentleman from the RNC. Is anything going to put this -- because trash-talking is working?

STEELE: No, I think this genie is out. I think it`s out. I think you have elections to look forward to in the future, particularly in primary settings, in which candidates take it to another level. I really do.

I think that door has kind of opened, simply because it sort of draws people further into the conversation. He was defining his opponents, because he knew that that would resonate with the audience. And that would be something that would stick with them.

So no matter what else she said or did after that, they would always look at Jeb Bush as low energy.

PRZYBYLA: We were all amused by this and frankly thought, oh, look how off-message he is, look how off-script he is, can you believe he said that? And yet at every point, there was a strategic reason why Donald Trump would want to say, look over there, because there were some news stories that weren`t very flattering because it actually got to.

MATTHEWS: So he lost the.

(CROSSTALK)

PRZYBYLA: . for example, his taxes. And he`s even doing it now, now that he has, you know, become president-elect, tweeting about "Hamilton" and et cetera.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. We`re going to get back to that very soon.

But let me ask Howard about this, what you said earlier, because it seems to me everything we`ve talked about in this program, and that`s why we designed it this way, is to show the kinds of things we would point to if he lost. We would say, well, he lost because of the way he treats women, the way he talked about minorities, the way he talked about his opponents, it was unacceptable to the American people.

And all of that we were wrong about.

FINEMAN: Well, of such votes is history made. I mean, it is what it is, he won, as he said. He was asked, I think after the election, if he regretted anything that he had said. He said, no, I won.

To him that`s the only reason, the only rationale, the only justification. I would say that, as somebody who`s in digital media, who`s in social media, I think the personalization of politics, the fact that it has gone from programs and agendas more and more to the personality and the intimate relationship that social media allows between the person, the candidate, and the voter, editing everything else out of the way, Chris, when you`re talking to Donald Trump via Twitter or Facebook, you`re talking directly to him.

Barack Obama was the first to use this with Facebook. He had 20 million Facebook friends. He used it in what we would generally regard as an uplifting, hope-filled way. That was the good side of the growth of social media.

Donald Trump is the combative side. The side that knows that a car wreck, as it sells on TV, a train wreck, a confrontation, and name-calling is going to sell on social media.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I just want to get moving here, because we have more pictures to look at.

In an unprecedented move last summer, Trump also called on Russia, which was behind the cyber-attacks on political organizations in this country, to find Hillary Clinton`s emails. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will tell you this, Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So there`s another no-no. Making a coalition with a government that for years was our -- not the government, but a nation which was our enemy in the Cold War, but not our enemy like that, but to go against a rival in the world as your ally.

STEELE: Yes, you know, I have a different interpretation of that. I mean, I kind of get some of his sarcasm sometimes. I saw that more as sarcasm than any alliance between him.

MATTHEWS: Did the Russians hear it that way?

STEELE: I think they probably did as well. I don`t know how they heard it, but I know how he meant, and I think he meant that more as sarcasm. But, of course, it was not played out that way.

But that`s the thing about trump. You know, he`s like, all right, fine, if the Russians are doing this, hey, guys, while you`re in there, find these emails and turn them over because our press would love it.

FINEMAN: Also he was pushing on an open door as far as Russia is concerned.

Chris, you and I, and maybe Michael, certainly not the ladies here, grew up in the era of the Cold War when Russia was the number one enemy. We were fighting the Cold War against the evil empire. A whole generation of people has grown up without that in their thinking whatsoever. And I think Trump was very shrewd.

MATTHEWS: Don`t they teach history anymore?

FINEMAN: No. Trump was very shrewd to pull on that.

PAGE: But the critical word in that -- in his statement was not Russia, the critical word was email, because any time he could talk about Hillary.

FINEMAN: No, no, but that`s part.

PAGE: Yes. But any time he could talk about Hillary Clinton`s emails was a bad day for Hillary.

FINEMAN: Well, I understand that, but he wouldn`t have been so light- handed about talking about Russia and emails had they still been the evil empire.

MATTHEWS: And someday somebody is going to have to explain to me why email was a killer for Hillary. I had never gotten it, the evil of that word. There were emails.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: As Susan says.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know, I know. But it`s not the worst thing that has ever been done in American history and it has been treated like that.

Anyway, up next, she`s secretive. Let me just stipulate that, as lawyers say, just stipulate, Howard`s a lawyer, let`s stipulate Hillary is secretive. Anyway, the moment Trump says women who have abortions, we`re going to talk about that, when he said they should be punished, that was a moment.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

One of the more memorable moments for our HARDBALL "College Tour" this year, and some might call it a highlight of the campaign, or lowlight, was an interview I did with Donald Trump in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a few days before the state`s Republican primary.

It came over a question I asked Trump about the issue of abortion. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Should the woman be punished for having an abortion?

TRUMP: Look.

MATTHEWS: This is not something you can dodge.

TRUMP: It`s a.

MATTHEWS: If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law. Should abortion be punished?

TRUMP: Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say, yes, they should be punished.

MATTHEWS: How about you?

TRUMP: I would say that it`s a very serious problem. And it`s a problem that we have to decide on. It`s very.

MATTHEWS: But you`re for banning it.

TRUMP: Are you going to say -- well, wait, are you going to say, put them in jail? Is that the punishment that you`re talking about?

MATTHEWS: Well, no, but I`m asking you. Because you say you want to ban it. What does that mean?

TRUMP: I am against -- I am pro-life, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What does ban -- how do you ban abortion? How do you actually do it?

TRUMP: Well, you know, you`ll go back to a position like they had, where people will perhaps go to illegal places.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TRUMP: . but you have to ban it.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no, as a principle?

TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman?

TRUMP: Yes. There has to be some form.

MATTHEWS: Ten cents, 10 years, what?

TRUMP: That I don`t know. That I don`t know. That I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Well, why not?

TRUMP: I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: You take positions on everything else.

TRUMP: Frankly, I do take positions on everything else, it`s a very complicated position.

MATTHEWS: What about the guy that gets her pregnant, is he responsible under the law for these abortions or is he not responsible for an abortion decision?

TRUMP: Well, it hasn`t -- it hasn`t -- different feelings, different people, I would say no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He did have an answer on that baby, didn`t he?

PAGE: You know what, we heard him figuring out his position on abortion while you were talking to him, right?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But he had a position on the man`s responsibility rather quickly. That was a much quicker answer.

PAGE: That was quicker on whether you should punish --

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? Was he trying to find his way in an uncomfortable, blind way, find his orientation with the pro-life people? They must be for some kind of abortion, punishment. What does that law mean?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The giveaway on that point, Chris, was what he said there are some inside the GOP who would, you know, say, yes, punish the woman.

So, once you then begin to probe that, and say, well, what`s your position? Because you want to ban it, then all of a sudden, to your point, he was like, okay, let me do the math. One plus one equals -- and tried to find his way.

I thought that was one of the more profound moments in the campaign for a lot of reasons. Because it really was a touchstone inside the GOP, for those who do believe that. And they had to reconcile that view with the family members who have a different point of view.

But more importantly for Trump, I think he realized, these things are complicated. He kept saying it, but I don`t think he really appreciated how complicated it really was in that moment, until you pushed him on it.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, USA TODAY: I think it`s a poignant moment, because I think it`s a moment that when Trump makes his first Supreme Court pick, we`re going to look back on, because I don`t know that Trump himself, the way he was flailing around, he didn`t want to really say what he personally --

MATTHEWS: What`s he mean by pro-life?

PRZYBYLA: But it shows how far he may be willing to go in terms of appealing to that wing of the party. And you see that already in some of his rhetoric, after the election, in that he says that he`s okay with the court`s decision on gay marriage. Separate standard for Roe v. Wade, should go back to the states. So, I think that women are going to remember that moment --

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t know what he was thinking when he was sitting there, Chris. He was thinking, why did I agree to do this interview?

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: And you -- I think -- not to butter you up anymore than I --

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Now, wait a second, wait a second. That was probably the most sustained questioning on any one point that he got during the entire campaign. So when I say, he was regretting that he sat down for the interview, he managed to avoid that kind of thing, that kind of situation, almost exclusively, and it showed that he hadn`t really thought through what he was doing. He was making it up on the spot, right there.

MATTHEWS: Well, there was another piece of that.

FINEMAN: And he went to the right of most of the pro-life community on that.

MATTHEWS: The irony of the whole thing is, and I don`t knock the journalists, I`m not a media critic, but I don`t dislike him personally. I get along with him personally. So, when I was going at him, there wasn`t any viciousness about it. I was just trying to get the answer.

Maybe that`s why he was honest. If he saw the blood coming out of my eyes, he probably would have said, stop this interview. I don`t know what he would have said.

FINEMAN: The first part of what you said is why he came on the air. But once he`s live on the air, that`s different from what a print reporter is going to have a chance to do.

MATTHEWS: I know. I`ve been interviewing him since the `90s, so I`ve gotten -- it is something else. I think there`s an area, where we all know. Ask me about the penguins. There`s a lot of areas I know nothing about. Or even the penguins, I know nothing about.

Anyway, there are areas of vast ignorance, and that was one area where he was vastly ignorant, except for the guy. He knew that part.

When we come back, Trump`s response to terrorism and his promise to ban Muslims from entering this country. What -- that was supposed to kill him, that`s an area that still scares people to this day.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

In response to a terror attack in San Bernardino, California, last December, Trump made what is considered one of the most controversial statements and policy proposals of the 2016 campaign -- an announcement that continues to haunt him and his detractors alike. A ban on Muslims entering the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our country`s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Heidi, let me ask you about that. I think there`s still a live concern to a lot of Americans, there`s going to be some sort of religious test on coming in the country, even if it`s based on geography, there`s still going to end up being Islamic people. There are a lot of Islamic Americans who are quite rightfully scared about that.

PRZYBYLA: When he said that, the first reaction would be, well, that would be unconstitutional by the elite, I guess that would be us, or anyone who`s floor, frankly, with the constitution.

But the concept itself of stopping people who may have bad intentions, who may be Muslim from attacking us, that had broad support, because then you started to read the poll numbers. And then you started to see that it was actually a significant number of Republicans who agreed with it. And as he began to caveat it a bit, and now we`re at the point where it is just people from certain countries, it`s becoming more accepted.

MATTHEWS: And now the Democrats may pick as their DNC Chair Keith Ellison, a guy whose religious faith is Islam.

STEELE: Yes, and I think that`s the point, counterpoint, in the political word, but I think Heidi`s really touched on how there are two evolutions that have occurred here. One is among the American people, themselves, who in polls near the end of the campaign showed some 50-some percent thought that Islam was incompatible with the values of this country.

Trump understood that and spoke to it long before that poll resonated, more broadly. But now, as he`s sort of assuming the reins over the government and getting that daily full-throated briefing on what the real stakes are, you`ve heard Reince recently and others around the campaign sort of back that down. So, yes, we still want to make sure we protect the borders, but. And that`s going to be something he`ll have to navigate over the next few months, I think, because the expectation is, you`re going to protect us from these attacks.

FINEMAN: The problem is, having dipped into that to fuel his campaign, all right?

STEELE: Yes.

FINEMAN: Having done that, he`s going to have trouble putting that back in the bottle, as well. Assuming he even wants to. And we don`t know that.

And by the way, it`s not unconstitutional. People -- there`s no constitutional right to immigrate to the United States. But we have an understanding in this country that diversity and immigration is our strength. Donald Trump has questioned that entire premise.

MATTHEWS: And this is where Trump bragged that if he was elected, America would start winning again and that would mean defeating ISIS, though Trump attacked Hillary Clinton`s hawkish tendencies when it comes to foreign interventions. Trump`s proposed strategy to eradicate ISIS was aggressive to say the least.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I would knock the hell out of the oil areas because they`re rich as can be.

I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.

I`d blow up the pipes. I`d blow up the -- I`d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.

We`re going to declare war against ISIS. We have to wipe out ISIS. These are people that --

INTERVIEWERS: With troops on the ground?

TRUMP: I`m going to -- very few troops on the ground. We`re going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need, which right now we don`t have.

Now, you have ISIS and others, but you have ISIS cutting off Christians` heads, and others. They cut off anybody`s head. They`re drowning them. They`re cutting off their heads. We have to go in with force. We have to take the oil.

INTERVIEWER: How are we going to take the oil? How are we going to do that?

TRUMP: You`d leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now, Matt`s question was very interesting because it`s the biggest question in the world. Of course, you always want the biggest part of the country, the oil part. But somehow, you protect the wells with aircraft. You`ve got to AAA fire, you have to have all kinds of stuff to prevent it being bombed. How do you defend a certain portion of Syria or Iraq with oil? How do you do that?

PAGE: He has a secret plan. It`s smarter than the generals.

MATTHEWS: Without a war?

PAGE: Here`s -- the problem is he outlines extremely aggressive steps, I`m going to bomb the hell out of them, but without the commitment of U.S. troops. That`s the problem that President Obama has had in trying to devise a strategy toward that region that works because Americans, believe me, are not ready to have a big deployment of U.S. troops.

MATTHEWS: Is he a hawk or a dove?

PAGE: Yes, is he a hawk or a dove?

MATTHEWS: What is he? Do we know?

PAGE: Yes, I don`t think we know. He`s both.

PRZYBYLA: His appointments to try and figure out. He`s got everyone from Tulsi Gabbard, who was like staunchly against the war, to hawks like John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani.

FINEMAN: You have to read "The Art of the Deal," Chris. He`s not anything in particular.

STEELE: Right.

FINEMAN: He`s strictly transactional, deal by deal.

MATTHEWS: OK, Iraq was a bad deal. We shouldn`t have gone to Iraq. But we should go into --

FINEMAN: The Iran deal wasn`t a good deal, et cetera, et cetera.

MATTHEWS: But we`re getting these retroactively, Howard. Unfortunately, we`re finding out what a bad deal was after a deal, because when we went into Iraq, he didn`t say anything against that.

FINEMAN: You have to deal with a lot of deals, they`re big deals.

STEELE: Let`s deal with the bad deals that have already been done, but then he`s going to come up with some deals of his own, and that`s going to be --

FINEMAN: His whole philosophy is keep your options open.

MATTHEWS: OK, I`ve got a minute left. I`m going to go one big philosophical challenge to all of you. If you basically tell Islamic people that their religion is questionable and they shouldn`t let their people, their relatives come into the country, how do you expect them to rat out the cousin that`s causing trouble? Because Trump is saying somebody should have dropped the dime on those people out in San Bernardino because they were very suspicious out there. Who`s going to drop the dime on somebody living next door if they themselves feel under assault?

PAGE: And it`s going to be very hard to do. And why should she hold an allegiance to the values that we hold so dear in this country if that is the attitude that the American government is taking toward them.

PRZYBYLA: Can I just say? I grew up in the area of this country that has the highest concentration of Muslims in the U.S., just outside of Detroit, in Dearborn. And after 9/11, those people were the first person to have their American flags outside of their restaurants, their gas stations, in part because of patriotism and in part because they were scared of exactly this type of scenario.

And these people -- a lot of them are my friends. They`re my friends on Facebook, my friends from high school. And they`re deeply, deeply distraught.

I know Muslim people who are legitimately wanting to move to Canada. It`s not that hard because of that population.

FINEMAN: I wouldn`t limit it to that. I wouldn`t end here on Muslims. I would say that every American has an obligation, including Donald Trump, to understand and appreciate the virtues of diversity and tolerance in the country. And however he ran, I think he has to do that now for the good of the country.

And by the way, if there`s a Muslim registry, I`m signing up.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me tell you, I did this show in the spirit of black humor, meaning like this is really gallows humor, but there`s a lot of information that we`re getting in this last hour that makes you really shaking, I think.

We`ll be right back with Michael to start with, when we get back with some final thoughts about where we`re headed from here.

You are watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, this has been weirdly unsettling, in fact, weirdly, almost comic in its absurdity. Anyway, Michael, Susan, Heidi and Howard, all of you. I`ll start with Michael right around the room here.

What did happen? I mean, everything that was considered off base, out of line, wrong, and he got past it and somehow exploited it.

STEELE: I think for the first time in the longest time that I can remember, the American people said to the political establishment and the media, we got this. We`ll decide this election, not you. And they wanted a nuclear option in this campaign and they got it in Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: And half the people disagree.

STEELE: Yeah.

PAGE: I don`t think this is what elected him. I think it failed to not make it impossible for him to get elected. He got elected because the number one reason people gave in exit polls for voting for a candidate was ability to bring about change. And the voters who said "I want change" vote for him by 6-1.

MATTHEWS: You don`t think it was the way he said the word "change"?

PAGE: This is -- you know, it might have worked with some voters, but when you talk about the voters that we didn`t think he was going to get that he got, it was the change message. It wasn`t all of this.

PRZYBYLA: I call it a Hail Mary for change, combined with the fact that the Democrats have failed to hold on to those white working class voters who were so strongly behind Bill Clinton. I don`t know how many times I went out into the field and talked to people who had voted for Bill Clinton, a guy in coal country who used to have a job in a mill on the back of a porch now cleaning houses. It`s because of people like him who felt they`d been abandoned by the Democrats and that Hillary Clinton was trying to build on and not completely -- she wasn`t completely genuine about rejecting the parts of Bill`s agenda like NAFTA that they felt that really hurt him.

FINEMAN: Having begun my career in Kentucky and spent five years there, I wasn`t surprised that Donald Trump won. But what I`ll say is that the conversation that is the country, the argument that is the country goes on and it will continue.

And as Barack Obama said, hey, you know, this is an ongoing conversation here. Progress is made in zigzag, not in a straight line. There may be some good things and some strong issues that Donald Trump puts on the table that do need to be discussed. Let`s hope they can be discussed civilly in his administration.

MATTHEWS: I`m with that.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Susan Page, Heidi Przybyla and Howard Fineman.

I`ll be back with another edition of HARDBALL. See you then.

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