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

Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/16/17 It's decision time for Republicans

Guests: Karen Bass, Leonard Lance, Ric Anderson, Susan Page, Lecia Brooks, Brian Levin, Ayesha Rascoe, John Feehery

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 16, 2017 Guest: Karen Bass, Leonard Lance, Ric Anderson, Susan Page, Lecia Brooks, Brian Levin, Ayesha Rascoe, John Feehery


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Let`s talk Nazis. We have a president of the United States defending people who march with Nazis, if they`re not Nazis themselves. And we have a movie now in the theaters, "Dunkirk," about fighting the Nazis in World War II. The SS units, by the way, closing in on that French beach, the Deaths` Head units, were executing the British soldiers who had fought to their last round of ammunition to protect their fellow troops. Those SS units were the same monsters that later ran Dachau and the other killing camps that exterminated six million Jews.

We have a president who is now saluting the "fine people," he said, who descended in Charlottesville last weekend with torch lights amidst swastikas and Nazi salutes. He`s now on record, Trump is, and he hasn`t taken a word of it back. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people -- on both sides. There were people in that rally -- and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest.


MATTHEWS: Well, what the president apparently fails to understand is that a fine person wouldn`t march alongside the Nazi ranks shouting Nazi slogans, as we saw on Friday night. Fine people do not choose to engage in a torchlight parade that echoes the rallies held by the Third Reich in Nuremberg.

Anyway, today in the headlines and editorials across the country, we`re seeing the outcry and indignation over the president`s comments. As "The "Washington Post" editorial board described it, quote, "Tuesday was a great day for David Duke and racists everywhere. The president of the United States all but declared he" was -- well, he "has their backs."

The cover of "The New York Daily News" reads, "Sympathy for the devils. Trump defends very fine people at Nazi rally." Even the usually pro-Trump "New York Post" mocked the president`s own words saying, "They weren`t all Nazis."

Well, the editorial board of "The Las Vegas Sun" labeled Trump the first un-American president, saying, quote, "There`s no rectifying this with an apology or another statement. He`s clearly too cowardly to fight groups that Americans will not tolerate, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacists among them. That alone has made him the first un-American president because this nation stands for fighting those hate groups, not coddling them."

Well, joining me right now is Rick Anderson, editorial page director -- editor, rather, of "The Las Vegas Sun, who had that editorial, Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist and an MSNBC contributor, U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, and Congressman Leonard Lance. He`s a Republican from New Jersey. Thank you all for joining.

I want to go right now to Mr. Anderson, Rick Anderson. Tell me about coming out with an editorial basically labeling the president of the United States un-American.

RIC ANDERSON, "LAS VEGAS SUN": Well, Chris, this was a pretty uncomplicated issue for us. I mean, this is an ideology that Americans have been fighting this 70 years. There`s nothing easier in America than saying no to this ideology, and you really have to wonder about somebody who`s hedging on it.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think the president meant when he said "fine people," fine people in the ranks amid those swastikas, the Nazi saluters, and of course, the Nazi slogans that they were slinging out there?

ANDERSON: I`m mystified. You know, I think that for a person who during the campaign speeches was often dropping names of World War II generals, you know, it makes no sense to me. And you know, you have to think about this from the standpoint of, what if you`re a Holocaust survivor? What if you lost a family member in World War II, one of the 400,000-plus servicemen and women who died fighting Nazi ideology? You know, what if you were one of those soldiers yourself? I`m just mystified by it.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman Bass. What do you make of the president? He seems to be in cement on this. He`s with -- at least in spirit, he`s with what he calls the "fine people" among the ranks of the Nazis.

REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, right. Exactly. I mean, you know, I just think of my father who I know turning over in his grave right now, who fought during World War II.

But you know, there`s the things that he says that sound so outrageous, but I`m way more concerned about his policies that, frankly, are consistent with that. If you just think about, you know, his attack on Affirmative Action, rolling back the consent decrees...

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute! Wait a minute!

BASS: ... the voter suppression...

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. Are you...

BASS: Yes?

MATTHEWS: Are you saying opposition to Affirmative Action, which is a statutory police of the United States right now, in some cases -- you`re saying that that is the same as going along with people who are with Nazis?

BASS: No. What I am saying is...

MATTHEWS: You just did!

BASS: ... is that the racism that he displayed yesterday in his press conference, he has policies that are consistent with that.


BASS: That is what I`m saying. And so it is one thing to be upset about his words, but I am far more concerned about the direction of his administration and the policies that he`s putting forward -- voter suppression, the commission that he has, essentially him saying that it`s OK to be brutal, to police. He is sending a signal...


BASS: ... to the white supremacists that it`s OK to attack demonstrators. And he`s been consistent with that.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Steve Schmidt. I think you disagree with that, but go ahead. Your thoughts, Steve. I think we can argue about Affirmative Action, where it`s appropriate and where it`s not, but we can`t argue about Nazism. And whether you associate with it or not is to me a principled question, not a political one. Your thoughts.

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is the most important inflection point in politics in my lifetime. It`s an extraordinary moment. Nazism, this evil regime, the most evil in all of humanity, killed 60 million people in Europe, nearly annihilated the Jews of Europe. 400,000 Americans died fighting it.

The young men who were marching under torch light chanting those anti- Semitic slogans -- they venerate Adolf Hitler. They venerate the evil regime. And it requires not just a condemnation of Nazism and white supremacy and extremism, but political leaders are required now to reprimand Donald Trump publicly for his false equivalency to legitimize them.

Let`s be clear. These groups are in celebration tonight. They think that they`ve been validated by the president of the United States, that they`ve been mainstreamed, that they`ve been given a license to operate.

MATTHEWS: Well, have they?

SCHMIDT: And the silence of Republican leaders...

MATTHEWS: Has -- has he -- objectively -- objectively...

SCHMIDT: Oh, of course...


MATTHEWS: Has the president given his blessing to them?

SCHMIDT: Yes. Yes. He has inspired them. Let`s look at what they say and let`s take what they say seriously. Let`s not try to interpret it.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re right.

SCHMIDT: Let`s take it at face value in the English language. They are thrilled beyond words. And so this issue for -- for -- for Republican leaders in particular is an existential one. The Republican Party cannot exist in a coalition with extremist groups, whether they`re alt-right, neo- Nazi, Ku Klux Klan. There must be severability. There is no place for this in American politics.

And the lack of Republican leaders who are coming out and calling out the false equivalency is chilling.

MATTHEWS: Let me to go Congressman Lance, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, sir, because I remember Trump rather horridly once said that he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and his people would still be with him. Is this -- it seems like he`s getting close to that standard now. He can say anything, whether it`s what he said to Billy Bush on that bus or what he says now about Nazism, which is a whole exponential difference from what he talked about before about treatment of women.

Here he goes talking -- he`s saluting these people who he says are fine people who are marching along with swastikas and talking about "blood and soil" and using the -- some of them using the Nazi salute, and he`s defending them in spirit.

Is this equivalent to shooting somebody on 5th Avenue? How far can you go with this guy?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I was very critical yesterday in my tweet, Chris, and there should be no place in America for neo-Nazis or anti-Semites or white supremacists or members of the KKK.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at the strong reaction -- there`s been some -- to his statements. A leaked talking points memo, by the way, shows that the White House is officially doubling down on the president`s position.

Catch this. This is what they`re told to parrot. "The president was entirely correct," says the talking points. "Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately and bear some responsibility."

Well, Politico further reports, quote, "The president felt the news conference went much better than his statement on Monday." So he`s happy with who he is now. And according the Vice News, the president has yet to even call the mayor of Charlottesville to talk to them.

Let me go back to Ric Anderson in this. It seems like the president is happy with who he was yesterday, not happy when he was reading the lines written for him on Monday.

ANDERSON: Yes. I can`t explain that. It`s another mystifying element in this. You know, I don`t understand why there was any need to come back from the statement on Monday, which was strong. You know, you can argue that it was kind of woodenly delivered.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I`d say.

ANDERSON: But I think it said the things that needed to be said, and I really don`t understand, you know, except for maybe somebody having a bit of a lack of self-control and self-discipline, why you would come off of that statement.

MATTHEWS: Well, he did, didn`t he. He broke out of that straitjacket.

Anyway, some Republicans were ready to correct the president about the participants in that rally. Let`s watch attempts to deal with that honestly. Let`s watch here.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think about what you have seen. You know, as one of the reporters said, reminiscent of what we saw in Germany in the 1930s. The president has to totally condemn this.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: If you`re showing up to a Klan rally, you`re probably a racist or a bigot. And saying that, saying anything other -- the images I saw were skinheads and neo-Nazis beating up women and trying to poke people with -- with -- with flagpoles.

ERIC CANTOR (R), FMR. VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: Very sensitive for me. I`m from Virginia and as someone of the Jewish faith. Then when you go in and say there`s blame on both sides -- no. There`s not equivalent blame.


MATTHEWS: Well, others issued very pointed rebukes of the president himself on Twitter. Mitt Romney corrected the president, saying, "No, not the same. One side`s racist, bigoted, Nazi. And the other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes."

Ohio congressman Steve Stiver said of the president, "I don`t understand what`s so hard about this. White supremacists and neo-Nazis are evil and shouldn`t be defended." And good, old Lindsey Graham said to the president, "Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them."

However, many in the Republican Party, including Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, took a more muted approach and did not admonish the president directly. Senator McConnell said, "We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo- Nazis." However, he didn`t say anything about Trump.

And Speaker Ryan, as well, said, "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. The bigotry is counter to all this country stands for and there can be no moral ambiguity."

Congresswoman Bass, it seems to me that the Republicans are playing -- to use a high school (INAUDIBLE) grade school term -- playing chicken here. Instead of challenging the president for what he said, which is the issue - - we`re not arguing about Nazis, we settled that 70, 80 years ago, what we think of them -- but about the president`s inability to separate himself from the spirit of what went on in Charlottesville.

It seems like your Republican colleagues -- not that you hang around with them too much -- have a real problem with saying, You`re off base, Mr. President. I can`t stand with you on this one.

BASS: Well, I think that`s absolutely right. I think they need to call him by name. But I also think that when we get back in session, that it`s time for action. They need to act. They need to definitely push him on a number of various policies. And they made -- should not shy away from it at all. It looks very cowardly.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me to go to -- let me go to Congressman Lance on that. Do you expect anybody to come forward and going after the president? I mean, he was supposed to have an agenda this week. He was supposed to be doing things like tax reform. And everybody agrees we can do something on tax reform. And almost everybody I know on this planet believes in infrastructure. And yet he booted it and started talking about the Nazis.

LANCE: I think we will have a very busy September, Chris. We have to...

MATTHEWS: You`ll have to.

LANCE: ... pass appropriations bills and deal with the debt crisis, the debt ceiling. And I think that this will be a very challenging and I hope productive time in September.

And I have a suggestion to make. When we get back. Maybe we should pass a new Voting Rights Act. And I think that that would be a good thing to do. And I think that that would show that we`re all working in a bipartisan capacity.

As you know, yesterday, Chris, I mentioned the president. I said, Mr. President -- I used his title, and I`m not afraid to criticize the president where I think he`s wrong.

But let`s work in a bipartisan capacity in September on these important national issues, and I`m certainly willing to work with my colleague, Congresswoman Bass.

BASS: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I hope you spend some time -- I hope you guys spend some time working on encouraging people to vote and not going after voters.

Anyway, Trump also announced that he`s disbanding two of the presidential advisory councils he created -- they`re business groups -- after multiple business leaders on the Manufacturing Council resigned over his handling of Charlottesville. The president made the announcement in a tweet saying, "Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, I`m ending both. Thank you all."

Steve, you`re the political professional here, so let me ask you this. He`s basically amputated his relationship with the business community because he can`t get them to go along with what he said on these -- this social question, really values question about what happened in Charlottesville.

This is to me a real problem because if there -- if you believed in Trumpism, if not in Trump, you believed there was a chance to push economic growth, there`s a chance to restore our manufacturing base, to do infrastructure. And that seems to be something he`s willing to amputate now, to get rid of, the good stuff.

SCHMIDT: The business community writ large in wholesale has amputated Trumpism.

MATTHEWS: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) you`re right.

SCHMIDT: And if you look at the president`s rhetoric on policy, these policy issues materially, most of them, if they were to be implemented would be in the business interests of those companies that all got off of the -- got off of the council.

The reason that they got out of the council is because of the moral dimensions of this issue. And the business community is far ahead of the political leadership. And of course, the political leadership has not reconciled itself to what their obligation fundamentally is here.

It`s the duty of each generation to bear witness to the magnitude of Nazi crimes, which is why it is so important that this false equivalency be rejected for the generations who don`t understand what Nazism was because they haven`t read history books or they didn`t know grandparents who fought it. They must know through our testimony of what the magnitude of these crimes were and the most horrible period of human suffering in the history of the world.

And so this is such a moral failure...

MATTHEWS: I agree.

SCHMIDT: ... on the part of leaders in the House. And they should not be approaching this as an issue, calculating about the mid-term. They should be dealing with this through the prism of its effect on the fabric of America. Nazism is not just an affront to all of our American ideals and all the values of human dignity. It`s an affront to the face of God.

And I would say to Paul Ryan in the words of John Paul II, Be not afraid. Do not be afraid. Do the right thing here. This is important for the institution of the Republican Party. This is the moment in your career where you have been called to make a moral leadership decision.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. So well said. Steve Schmidt, Ric Anderson of "The Las Vegas Sun" and thank U.S. Congresswoman Bass of California and Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey.

Coming up, reaction from inside the White House. Steve Bannon is reportedly thrilled with what Trump said yesterday. But will any members of president -- any of them resign in protest? There`s some people in there very sensitive about this Nazi stuff, very sensitive, and they don`t like it one bit. We`ll see if they quit.

Plus, Trump blames the so-called "alt left," the protesters confronting the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Tonight, a closer look at those groups, who they are and why extremism experts say there can be no moral equivalence between the two sides.

And when will enough be enough for the Republican Party? That`s our question of the night. It`s been asked before during the Trump era, but the events of the past few days may well mark a turning point -- we`ll see -- for this president and the party that still support him.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." It`s a doozy.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, a memorial service was held today for Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed during last Saturday`s violence in Charlottesville. Heyer`s mother was among those that spoke at today`s service, calling on the crowd to honor her daughter`s legacy by fighting injustice. How appropriate. Let`s listen.


SUSAN BRO, MOTHER: Remember in your heart if you`re not outraged, you`re not paying attention. And I want to you pay attention, find what`s wrong, don`t ignore it, don`t look the other way. You make a point to look at it and say to yourself, what can do I to make a difference? And that`s how you`re going to make my child`s death worthwhile. I`d rather have my child, but by golly, if I got to give her up, we`re going to make it count.



MATTHEWS: Boy, is that sad. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Yesterday`s combative and astounding exchange with reporters was pure, unadulterated Donald Trump. Like a tiger who had just been fed from -- freed from its cage, the president finally lashed out against the media, blaming at both sides, as he put it, for the violence down in Charlottesville.

His aides who were present were left -- look at this poor guy -- stunned and uncomfortable. Most notable, there he is, chief of staff, the general, John Kelly, who was caught on camera with his head down in remorse. He was bowed, his arms crossed. Look at him.

Publicly, administration officials refused to address the comments of the president`s. But let`s watch.


QUESTION: Bother either of you to see Nazis supporting this administration?

ELAINE CHAO, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: We`re talking about infrastructure today.


CHAO: I`m talking about infrastructure.

GARY COHN, PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMIC ADVISER: As Secretary Chao said, we`re here to take questions on infrastructure.


MATTHEWS: God, Gary Cohn is a stalwart fellow.

Anyway, privately, according to Politico, it left his aides startled. And specifically Gary Cohn, the man you just saw there, director of national economic policy -- quote -- "was particularly displeased and today there is a distinct feeling of a White House on edge."

But "The New York Times" went further, reporting that while Gary Cohn was reportedly disgusted and deeply upset, Jewish members of President Trump`s administration remained largely silent. I don`t think silence is consent here.

Vice President Pence did not remain silent, however, voicing his support from South America. And here`s the V.P.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy. And the president has been clear on this tragedy and so have I. I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia. And I stand with the president and I stand by those words.


MATTHEWS: Well, I guess he has to.

Anyway, none of Trump`s aides have publicly criticized the president and nobody has quit.

For more, I`m joined by Robert Costa, political reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Susan Page, of course, Washington bureau chief for "USA today."

Robert, you and Susan are good students of this president. I think we all try to be. I`m about the people around him, people, Jewish people especially, but I don`t want to narrow anybody down. Everybody, I would think, would be offended. But they are people that have to go back to their families and explain they work for this guy, back to their friends, their clubs.

They got to hang out with people they have spent their lives with. And they are going to have to explain why do they stay loyal to a guy who seems to have a problem with condemning Nazism and people who like to consort with Nazis.

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is the question right now on the minds of many Trump administration officials.

My reporting backs up what you said, that Mr. Cohn is deeply frustrated with the president`s remarks, also frustrated that his initiatives on tax reform and infrastructure really weren`t the focus of Tuesday`s event at Trump Tower.

I think a lot of them are facing choices right now. But they have seen internally, Chris, for months a president who follows his own cues, who is very aggressive when it comes to these kind of events and these kind of controversies. So they have seen it up close. And they have to all decide now, do they stick with it?

MATTHEWS: You know, I always tell young people, one of the little bits of advice I give people who come to Washington, I say, first of all, bring your values with you, because you`re not going to get them here. You better bring them in the door with you.

Number two, pick your boss. He picks you or she picks you, but make sure you pick the right one, because Roy Cohn once said, not that he was a day at the beach, he said, I will always be known as the guy that worked for Joe McCarthy.

And if you work for Trump now, and especially if you`re Jewish, or you have -- or anybody that has a conscience, you have to go, wait a minute, I can work for that guy the way he talks? I think it is going to be a problem.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": I think there`s probably, undoubtedly a calculation going on with people who now work for Trump.

But I think you can see the effect already on Trump having, the president having difficulty hiring new people. Look at the communications job.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Who is coming knocking on the door?


PAGE: Now today they named Hope Hicks as an interim, as an interim.

But that`s clearly not her particular wheelhouse. She`s got lots of skills. That`s not one of them. They have been unable to find a really credible person to take that job. And I think the experience yesterday at that news conference is going to make it harder to hire good people for all kinds of presidential appointments.

MATTHEWS: What do you think Trump is going through mentally right now? I don`t know morally.

But he probably knows -- he looked happy yesterday. And I know this sounds bizarre and even sick. He looked unhappy on Monday when he was reading the script, the politically correct script, which was morally correct script. Yesterday, in lashing out at the press, he seemed happy.


COSTA: I have asked my sources about that, Chris, and they say, one, he liked being at home at Trump Tower. He was going to be more unbridled as a political persona, a political character because of that comfort.

And, also, he was never comfortable with the state he was given as revised statement for Monday. He wanted to say more. He`s been digesting cable news. He`s been fuming at the coverage of his handling of the tragedy in Charlottesville.

And so it`s unsurprising to many of his confidantes that he lashed out at the press on Tuesday.

MATTHEWS: Is he able to meet -- I know people who go to the White House, even if you have a big job at the White House, an old friend of mine once said, do you have any new friends? Notice any new friends?

You can`t really trust people once you get into a job like the White House, especially if you`re president, because everybody is sucking up to you.

But it seems to me Trump is in a different world right now. People aren`t sucking up to him. I think they kind of get distance from him. Is Trump able to recruit now? Is he able to network and find people to fill all these positions in his government, given this atmosphere?

COSTA: The short answer is no.

In fact, Chris, he is becoming more of an isolated figure. You see corporate America moving away from his business councils today. You see the Republican Party ratcheting up its rhetoric when it comes to criticism of President Trump.

He is someone who is turning on his inner circle, to his longtime communications aide Hope Hicks, making her the interim communications adviser. He has this tight-knit circle. That`s who he is talking to and a circle of friends on the phone, but not many other people.

MATTHEWS: I have noticed over the years, one thing I have noticed is that when political movements atrophy, when they reduce themselves to just the core clique, the clique, they`re dying.

He may be dying politically, because he can`t grow like this.


PAGE: I think that he is less distressed by the criticism he`s getting from Republican officeholders and more distressed by the flight of corporate CEOs from even being willing to serve on an advisory council with him, because what is his argument?

MATTHEWS: Well, Steve Schwarzman couldn`t have been happy. People like him could not have been happy to be on those boards. And probably Steve and others are lucky he disbanded them.

PAGE: Yes. You can`t quit. I fire you. That was Trump`s approach today.

And this goes to the heart of Trump`s appeal, that I`m a business guy who can bring in other business CEOs and we can get things done for the U.S. economy. Now these corporate executives are not even willing to sit down with him.

MATTHEWS: Well, the stunning one was Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.

Robert, when labor was ready for a Republican to come along and build, build, build, even in the Keystone pipeline, build, rebuild Penn Station, rebuild LAX airport, put a train across the country, all those opportunities to put people to work in real hard jobs, good jobs, high- paying jobs.

And now they have quit his council. The labor guys. It`s an astounding loss of what could have been at least a bright side of this administration.

COSTA: There was certainly an appetite, Chris, among labor leaders to work with the administration on infrastructure, certainly an appetite among corporate titans, Wall Street types to work this administration on tax reform.

But when I was talking to Trump advisers today, they described an almost crippled atmosphere politically because of the injection of racism and talk of white nationalism and Nazism into the national political conversation. That draws almost -- that draws to one to your political center.

MATTHEWS: I would blame it on sabotage, but the guy who committed the act was the guy at the top.

Thank you, Robert Costa. Thank you, Susan Page. You guys know what you`re talking about.

Up next: President Trump argues that both sides are to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, OK, that the so-called alt-left bears just as much responsibility for the bloodshed as the neo-Nazis do and the KKK people. We will see.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there`s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don`t have any doubt about it either. And -- and -- and, if you reported it accurately, you would say.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, that`s reported accurately. That was President Trump doubling down on his claim that both sides, that`s his phrase, are to blame for the turmoil down in Charlottesville.

Well, President Trump declared that there were fine people among the protesters, which included white nationalists and alt-right marchers and Nazis, and the counterprotesters included were to blame.

He also singled out members of the so-called alt-left, whatever that is, for escalating the violence. Let`s hear him.


TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you putting what you`re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

TRUMP: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane.

What I`m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible, and it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side.

There was a group on this side -- you can call them the left -- you`ve just called them the left -- that came violently attacking the other group.


MATTHEWS: Well, invoking the term alt-left, the president created, you might say, a moral equivalence, I think, between the neo-Nazis and KKK member in one group and the counterprotesters known as Antifa, or anti- fascists.

While there were self-professed anti-fascists, of course, among the protesters down in Charlottesville on Saturday, some reportedly wielding clubs, as the president noted, it was an alleged Nazi admirer who is now accused of plowing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.

For more, I`m joined by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study and Hate and Extremism, California State University, Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Lecia, educate us to this.

What -- when we`re talking with the Antifa crowd, what are they really? I know their name is anti-fascist. Do they only go after fascists or do they go after anybody, say, in the global economic community they don`t like?


They are strictly principled anti-fascists. And what they see in the Trump administration and what they see happening in this country, they see the neo-fascism that we see.

And they have taken a principled stand to stand against white supremacists and white nationalists wherever they may show up. I like to point out that Antifa at Charlottesville protected peaceful protesters.

I don`t know what President Trump was talking about.

MATTHEWS: Who were waving the clubs on that side? I mean, I looked at pictures that people were jumping in.

BROOKS: They were protecting themselves.

MATTHEWS: There was one group that was jumping in and punching the Nazi types.

I have seen pictures from -- I have seen a lot of pictures, like you have. And I have seen people reaching in and slugging them. Who were those people?

BROOKS: Yes, but they -- they may have been part of Antifa. Antifa is not a nonviolent group. So, let me just say that.

And the Southern Poverty Law Center certainly prefers and promotes nonviolent protests. But I do want to point out that there`s no moral equivalency between white supremacists, white nationalists, and Antifa.

MATTHEWS: Well, I know. I know. I`m with you on that.

Let me ask you about this use of the term fascist. I remember in grad school, way back in the `60s, I first heard to somebody refer to a fascist as a business, anybody working in the administration at the time. Anybody working for Johnson. Anybody in the government. Any businessperson was a fascist.

How loose a term is that for the Antifa people?

BROOKS: They`re very serious about it.


MATTHEWS: I know they`re serious objectively.

But how wide a sweep do they say fascist? Do they mean Mussolini people? Who do they mean? Anybody they don`t like?


BROOKS: No, I believe that they`re referring to anti-democracy and kind of a rabid nationalism that we see that is growing in this country.

MATTHEWS: I thought they were opposed to globalization as well.

BROOKS: I couldn`t say. I`m not an expert on Antifa.


Let me go to Brian.

Brian, let me ask you about Antifa. Anti-fascist is a great word, because we`re against fascism. Is that what they mean? If that is what they mean, fine, if that is what they mean.


But I`m going to diverge here.


MATTHEWS: Well, don`t diverge yet. I want to you explain who Antifa is, because Trump is calling them the moral equivalence of neo-Nazis and KKK members. Put that in perspective. What is their method? What is their cause, Antifa?

LEVIN: There is no moral equivalency.

And their cause is standing up to the bigotry and fascism that they see from white nationalists. And they`re somewhat diverse.

But as someone who had his life at risk and protected a Klansman from a mob of these folks, I can tell that you there is an offshoot that is violent and should be condemned.

However, when we see these protests, most of the counterprotests are peaceful. Most of the Antifa people are peaceful. However, to be sure, there`s a sliver that is violent and is looking to bash heads. And they should be condemned.

But there is no moral equivalency between Nazis and white nationalists and a broad diversity of counterprotesters , which include a sliver of violent people.


BROOKS: Chris, let me also say, because I think it has to be said, that Antifa would not -- they would not be there if it weren`t for the white supremacists calling that rally, calling for the race war.

MATTHEWS: So, Antifa never goes to -- Antifa doesn`t engage in Occupy-type behavior against global meetings, for example, business leaders? They don`t go after institutions that are not fascist?

BROOKS: They were in Charlottesville to stand against white supremacists.

MATTHEWS: No, I mean other cases, in other examples.


BROOKS: But that`s not what we`re talking about, Chris.


MATTHEWS: No, I`m talking about this. I want to know who these people are.


BROOKS: I understand, but when you do that, you feed into the false narrative that there`s some kind of equivalency.


MATTHEWS: How does information work into a false narrative? I`m trying to get the truth here.

BROOKS: We gave you information about who they are and what they believe in.


MATTHEWS: Point of view. Obviously, Nazis are not equivalent to anyone else in terms of cause. They support racism and all the rest of it.

But in terms of method, is there a difference in their methods?

LEVIN: Sure. There`s a difference in their methods.

Many of them are people of goodwill who are outraged at what they`re seeing with the division in our society and the racial hatred within our society. And I understand that.

But I also faced some of these folks who were armed with wooden planks and metal rods and who were going to murder somebody. And I`m going to tell you something.

The fault of this starts with candidate Trump, who lit a fire, and is now complaining that...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

LEVIN: ... the bushes at his house got singed.

So, there`s no moral equivalency with regard to Nazis. But I will say this that this is an reactive type of extremism and what is happening is these violent antifa folks do not see them part of a democratic type of initiative. And they have to be separate from the more peaceful counterprotesters.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: OK. Lecia, your thoughts on that. Comment on what you just heard -- Lecia.

LECIA BROOKS, OUTREACH DIRECTOR, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, I think -- I`d like to keep the conversation to Charlottesville and what happened in Charlottesville. I know that the antifas came there to stand it`s against white supremacists to protect -- I know that they protected -- I heard that from Reverend Barber and from Reverend Blackman and that they protected the clergy from the white supremacists that night.

They said that they saved their lives and so, I don`t want to lose that. I don`t want -- I don`t want the conversation now to about antifa. We need to keep the focus on the white supremacists.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m going to ask the questions. Lecia, I`m going to ask the questions. That`s the way this show works. I`m sorry, but I want to learn from you, your experts, both of you. Then you said you know nothing, you don`t know enough about antifa. I want to learn.

Brian is helping me and you`re challenging -- I think we have to find out who are the violent people because, you know, we can argue about their points. Of course, the Nazis are the worst in terms of values and purpose. But if this other group wants to have trouble, they`re going to find trouble too, Lecia. They`re going to find trouble.

BROOKS: You`re absolutely, you`re absolutely right. They do -- they do use violent tactics. They do. They do.


BROOKS: -- seriously about white supremacy.

MATTHEWS: Lecia, thank you so much. We`re going to find truth.

LEVIN: The white supremacists look for these battles. They fire-storm it. I don`t want to condemn a whole broad range of people which are primarily peaceful. But I will tell you that these antifa people, we do have to look at the violent fringe and say, this is not what Dr. King is about.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

LEVIN: And there is -- there is a thread in the social political movement that says, violent resistance is the way to go. And here in California, we had two dozen instances of violent public demonstrations, and in many of them, antifa was involved.

That being said, there`s a broad set of antifa folks, many of whom are in fact peaceful. But the bottom line is, we had an act of terrorism here. Why aren`t we talking about that?


LEVIN: People armed with clubs is one thing. But like ISIS and white national extremist who represent the biggest extremist threats to the United States should be noted that this is a big deal. This is the big --

MATTHEWS: Brian, we have shown that picture over and over again of that terrible person ramming their car and driving it backwards to kill people. I know that and you`re dead right. That`s the heart of the violence here.

LEVIN: And we live in an era, we live in an era of reactive extremism --

MATTHEWS: We do focus on that. But we also want to learn all the players.

And thank you so much, Brian Levin. You`re great. And so is, Lecia, thank you. Lecia, please come back again.

BROOKS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, when the "Access Hollywood" tape turned up, many thought the Republicans would quit Donald Trump en masse. But they didn`t. What about this time? Will they finally say enough is enough?

Well, the silence is pretty powerful out there. They`re not saying it yet.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Many Republican leaders have come out against, well, some against Trump`s position on the violence in Charlottesville. Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have denounced white nationalist groups without, get that word in there, criticizing the president, or even naming him.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Howard Fineman, of course, global editorial director for "The Huffington Post" and an MSNBC analyst, Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for "Reuters" and John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

Anyway, President Trump has always been confident that his base will not abandon him no matter what, no matter what he does. Remember this big line.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose any voters. OK? It`s incredible.


MATTHEWS: John Feehery, is this the test? Is that what he`s talking about that`s happening right now? Is this the kind where people say, if you`re still with him now, you`re never going to leave him?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It seems to be the test. We`ll see what happens. If you see that the Republican establishment --

MATTHEWS: Where are you?

FEEHERY: -- by and large -- listen, I think what Trump said was stupid. I wish he wouldn`t say --

MATTHEWS: Stupid? What do you mean? Ill-informed?

FEEHERY: Ill-informed, stupid --

MATTHEWS: He doesn`t know about Nazism.

FEEHERY: You know, he should have left -- he had a good statement on Monday. He should have left it alone. The fact that he had to go in --

MATTHEWS: Well, he said he needed information. So, he had all the information on Tuesday and said what he thought.

FEEHERY: See, the good news about this is we now know what`s on the president`s mind. The bad news is what`s --

MATTHEWS: We know his mind.

FEEHERY: The bad news is what is on his mind.

MATTHEWS: I know, it`s terrible.

FEEHERY: But, listen, I think that the Republican establishment by and large has said, you know, this is wrong. They don`t like Trump anyway. We saw John Kasich out there, already trying to position himself for a primary run. But, you know, if you were in the middle of where the Republican base is, I mean, he still has a popularity of 79 percent. So, for Trump, you know, he has a lot of cards to play and he`s got a lot of capital with Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Howard, you know this as well as I do, this political world, let me ask you just the hard political question, will that base of 75 percent of Republican Party stick with him through this hell, this self- identification with this neo-Nazi element?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so. And I think Donald Trump definitely thinks so. His whole theory of politics is not about a big tent. His whole theory of politics is divide and focus. That`s how he won in the Electoral College, and that is his theory here.

MATTHEWS: But he had Hillary to run.

FINEMAN: No, but when he -- he`s got other people to run against. Guess who? Us.

MATTHEWS: Yes, the media.

FINEMAN: Republican leaders. Anybody.

When he went down to the lobby of his tower yesterday, his goal was to troll the press, to inflame the national press corps, far from being outraged by the coverage that he got out of that thing yesterday, he was delighted by the coverage. This is what he wants.

MATTHEWS: Ayesha, he looks like a happy guy. The world is miserable.

FINEMAN: This is what he wants.

MATTHEWS: But he seems to be wallowing in this.

FINEMAN: This is what he wants.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, REUTERS: Well, I mean, I think he felt like he got his statement out. He wasn`t happy about being told you have to say this. He felt lying he was justified in what he said earlier.

MATTHEWS: Was anybody around him saying you`re kissing goodbye to your chance of a full presidential term with this?

RASCOE: Well, I`m sure that there are people who are trying rein him in.


RASCOE: Well, I think that -- I think that people cannot be happy in the White House about having to deal with this when they wanted to deal with infrastructure, tax reform, all the other things.

MATTHEWS: I know. I think he sabotaged his own week.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump`s response to the violence in Charlottesville is now the most liked post, actually is President Obama, in Twitter history. On Saturday evening, President Obama tweeted a Nelson Mandela quote that reads: no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion, close quote. It was accompanied by a picture of the president staring up with a group of diverse children. The post has now been liked more than 3.5 million times. Another record for President Obama.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL.

Howard, tell me something I don`t know.

FINEMAN: Mitch McConnell is not directly criticizing the president on Charlottesville. One reason is he`s being attacked from the right in his own state.

MATTHEWS: Of Kentucky.

FINEMAN: Yes, of Kentucky. Not only by demonstrators, but he governor of the state who is a Tea Party guy is no fan of Mitch McConnell.


OK. Ayesha?

RASCOE: So the Trump administration has called on a program that they got from the Obama administration that allowed Central American minors to come to the U.S. legally and leaving 2,700 minors basically on the hook. They were waiting for approval. So, their immigration strategy is going ahead.

MATTHEWS: Those are the people that face physical threat at home.

RASCOE: Yes, and violence.


FEEHERY: Kevin Brady, House Ways and Means chairman, gave a speech at the Reagan Ranch, at the Reagan desk where he signed the 1986 tax reform bill. Tax reform is not dead.

MATTHEWS: Well, I like that` 86 bill. Tip and Reagan --

FEEHERY: I know you do.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Howard Fineman, Ayesha Rascoe, and John Feehery. Top rate, 28 percent.

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

Politics, if you take it seriously, is about principle, not career. Those who run for office have a duty to honor their core beliefs. Well, opposition to Nazism is one such belief. Again, those who march with Hitler are our foes. So, how do we account for the limp, listless, embarrassing sounds from elected Republicans about what Trump said? Again and again, they were ready to criticize the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, but not ready, even now, to criticize Trump`s defense of those he called the fine people who marched with them.

By our count, only a handful of Senate Republicans out of 52 have even named Trump, excuse me, in their comments since yesterday, only a handful out of 52. Less than one in 10 Republicans in the Senate stood up and challenged the president in his embarrassing, one could say disgusting, defense of this demonstration in Virginia so redolent of Nuremberg in 1930s Germany.

I expect this silence will be held to account by next election time, as it should be. If you can`t stand up for core American beliefs, if you can`t walk away from Nazism, why do you have feet?

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

"ALL IN" starts right now.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.