Show: HARDBALL Date: October 10, 2017 Guest: Phil Rucker, Michelle Goldberg, Jonathan Capehart, Ryan Costello, Sabrina Siddiqui, Jonathan Swan CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Wild days at the White House.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
President Trump continued lashing out at Senator Bob Corker and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, today, leading to further questions about the president`s erratic behavior. Senator Corker told "The New York Times" this weekend that the president`s behavior concerns him. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Sometimes I feel like he`s on a reality show of some kind, you know, when he`s talking about these big foreign policy issues and...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CORKER: And you know, he doesn`t realize that -- you know, that we could be heading towards World War III with those kinds of comments that he`s making.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Never heard anything like it. And today, President Trump tweeted "The failing "New York Times" set little Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. Was made to sound a fool. And that`s what I`m dealing with here."
Well, according to "The New York Times," it was Corker who asked for the conversation he had with "The Times" to be recorded.
Meanwhile, in a new interview, the president was asked about the NBC report that Secretary of State Tillerson called him a moron. The president told "Forbes" magazine, "I think it`s fake news. But if he did that, I guess we`ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win." That`s the president of the United States.
The president was asked about that comment earlier today. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Did you ever undercut the secretary of state today with the IQ comment?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I didn`t undercut anybody. I don`t believe in undercutting people. Thank you very much, everybody.
QUESTION: Do you still have confidence in Secretary of State Tillerson?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, according to White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president was only making a joke.
In all these outbursts and feuds, "the "Washington Post" reports, White House staffers are scrambling to manage their boss through them. One Trump confidante likened the president to a whistling teapot saying that when he does blow off steam, he can turn into a -- if he doesn`t blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. "I think we are in pressure cooker territory," said this person, who spoke on the condition, of course, of anonymity to talk candidly.
Phil Rucker, who was one of the writers of the piece -- he joins me right now. Also joining me is "Washington Post" opinion writer Jonathan Capehart. He`s with me here. And "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg and Bret Stephens, as well.
Phil, give me a sense of this extraordinarily wacky situation where the president of the United States is compared to a teapot. You know, I think of the Mad Hatter`s tea party here. And he might blow up if you don`t let him regularly blow off steam, then he`ll build up so much steam, something worse will happen.
PHILIP RUCKER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, look, Chris, this has been his nature over many years, of course, and we`ve documented over the course of this nine-month presidency various moments where he`s been enraged and mad.
And my colleagues and I spent yesterday really trying to understand the president`s state of mind over the last few days, and found from sources that he`s been very upset with his cabinet, with Tillerson in particular. He`s also been upset because he feels like he doesn`t get the credit that he deserves from the media and from the public generally with his management of the response to the three successive hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
He`s just in a foul mood. And you have his aides, including John Kelly, General Kelly, the chief of staff, trying to manage him, trying to calm the waters, trying to prevent any bad things from happening policy-wise that would affect the country and the government.
MATTHEWS: I just wonder about who`s in charge sometimes with his basic outfits, the weird thing with the big white bib he wore going down to Puerto Rico. I just wonder who`s watching the guy? I think they`re afraid to talk to him.
Michelle, you know, I`m -- when I listen to this description by top reporters like Phil and I hear about this wacky, erratic behavior, the president described by top pretty sober people like Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of Foreign Relations, I begin to sound -- hear the sounds that Oliver Stone would have given to the script of the Nixon movie, the latter days, the very last days of the Nixon presidency, when he was drinking too much, a little crazy, in fact, isolated in his room, and just angry at the world.
It sounds like near-edge (ph) impeachment territory that`s being described here. Your thoughts.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think that if we had a sane and rational and decent Congress, it would be near-edge impeachment territory. And even Nixon, I think, in his darkest days was not as erratic, unstable and didn`t pose as much of a danger to his country as Trump poses. It`s breath-taking what we`ve become accustomed to, the level of dysfunction we`ve become accustomed to.
And every single -- I mean, good for Bob Corker for speaking out. But every congressman, you know, senator or congressman who agrees with him who thinks that the president cannot be trusted with a Blackberry should be doing everything that they can to get between him and the nuclear codes. And instead, we just see this unbelievable cowardice.
MATTHEWS: Well, I want to ask -- go back to Jonathan on that. You`re a Washington expert. And I have to tell you that we are familiar with Alexander Haig and the rest of them trying to protect the codes from Nixon at the end because he was drinking too much. I didn`t think so at the time, when I was growing up watching all this, but I got to tell you he was, and he was acting dangerously. Is this president on that nuclear edge right now, that he has to be watched? Because you hear about guardrails. What are guardrails for a president?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, that`s exactly a good question. What are guardrails for a president?
MATTHEWS: It`s not a bowling alley where you have somebody along the side to make sure the ball doesn`t gutter.
CAPEHART: Right. No, what we`re dealing with here is a president who`s not normal. And by that I mean a normal president would not be having battles with world leaders and senior members of his own party on Capitol Hill on Twitter. Normal presidents would not be fuming about the fact that he`s not getting enough credit. If you want credit, do a good job.
For President Trump, good press and getting credit means fawning press. It means, Oh, Mr. President, you`ve done an excellent job, when your eyes tell you something completely different.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s Senator Corker I was mentioning here, Senate Foreign Relations chairman. He said to "The New York Times" this weekend White House staffers work every day to try to -- here`s the phrase -- contain the president. And today, Politico seemed to back that up. Quote, "Interviews with 10 current and former administration officials, advisers, long-time business associates and others close to Trump describe a process in which they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling, and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.
Brett Stephens, let me ask you about this. You know, I just -- I don`t know what to say except to ask the question. What do we make of it? What do we make of what we`re watching and hearing about -- pretty good close-up witnessing.
BRETT STEPHENS, "NY TIMES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t think there`s a mystery here. We have a president who is morally, psychologically and intellectually unfit to be president.
You know, I`m reminded of something that Margaret Thatcher said many years ago. She said something like, Having power or being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to say you are, you aren`t. It reminds me of Trump insisting on how smart he is, which by the way, is a theme of his. He`s constantly telling us how high his IQ is.
MATTHEWS: Why? Why is he doing this?
STEPHENS: It just goes to the sort of psychological heart of an insecure man with a gigantic ego trying to stumble his way through the most important office in the world.
MATTHEWS: You know, Brett -- I`ll start -- I`ll go back to Phil on this. You know, an order (ph) here, you know, we`ve learned from history that the best of our presidents -- I mean the best of them, people like FDR -- would make a point of surrendering themselves with greater minds. I mean, you can always get a greater mind. It doesn`t take much imagination, get the word out there, check it out, do a little networking, and you find somebody smarter than you on any particular issue. It`s very easy do that. And you take pride in the fact that you surround yourself with greater minds.
I used to say of FDR he had a first-rate temperament, not a first-rate mind. This guy does not have a first-rate temperament and claims to have a first-rate mind, which makes you wonder about the whole set of capabilities. Why does he want to be the smartest guy in the room? Most presidents do not want that to be the goal because they can always have someone smarter than them by appointment in the room with them.
RUCKER: Well, this is a president, Donald Trump, who during the campaign liked to pride himself as being his own chief strategist. He didn`t like anybody thinking he was taking direction or advice from people who may know something about the subject more than he does.
And as president, you know, he listens to his advisers. He hears what they have to say. But he overrules them, and he makes the decisions and he likes to call the shots. And he likes to also put his advisers in their place, which you saw with the statement -- whether it was a joke or not, it was an extraordinary statement to suggest an IQ test with your secretary of state.
And that`s what this president has done. And he`s just constantly trying to put people in their place. The attorney general -- we saw this with Jeff Sessions a few months ago. And now Rex Tillerson, a former corporate titan, the CEO of the biggest company in the world, Exxonmobil, is now being challenged in this way over the IQ test from Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: Someone just e-mailed me. I get some interesting e-mails. And one of them was a couple of moments ago before we started here tonight. And he said, "Why don`t we have some big charity group offer a million dollars to a charity if President Trump will actually take an IQ test and we`ll see how he does." I mean, it`s gotten to the -- it`s High School Harry stuff.
Anyway, bragging about his own intelligence is nothing new for Donald Trump. Let`s watch him here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So here I am, great schools, great brain, great success.
I went to an Ivy League school. I`m very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words.
I was a good student. I always hear about the elite, you know, the elite. They`re elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were.
Now, I know a lot about West Point. And took me one year -- it`s -- I`m a person that very strongly believes in academics. And then they say, Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I`m, like, a smart person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Michelle, maybe you`re not. A lot of my friends are "Godfather" experts. This is Fredo talking. I`m smart, Michael, I`m smart! I mean, it`s pathetic. Why does he do it?
GOLDBERG: I mean, he does it because he`s a weak, broken person who has no business being president. And that should be obvious to all of us at every moment.
MATTHEWS: You`re going to write this in "The New York Times" as a regular -- how do you -- how do you come back from that comment? You write he has to be out of the office. He`s a crazy person. What do you write next?
GOLDBERG: I mean, one of the reasons that I am so honored to have this position is...
MATTHEWS: Yes, you should be.
GOLDBERG: ... so that I can say every single week what I think so many people are thinking, which is that this is an obscenity.
MATTHEWS: Well, the thing is -- OK, let me go to Brett on this. I`ll go - - (INAUDIBLE) I finish the show tonight by asking what would it be like to work in the White House, a regular man or woman, say 35, 40 years old, trying to do their best for the country. It may be a clerical job, it may be a professional and intellectual policy job or a press job or whatever. And every day, you`re surrounded by this Romper Room of behavior, this craziness running around. All the time you`ve got the Romanoffs you got to worry about offending, the Uday and Qusay crowd of Jared and his wife and all. And you don`t want to offend anybody. And you got these true full- mooners like Kellyanne who will buy anything the guy says, you know, like Sarah.
How do you live in that environment -- it`s like playing Bobby Riggs with chairs all around you. You`re playing tennis. How do you exist? Just a thought.
STEPHENS: I think we should be grateful for people like General Kelly and General Mattis. I mean, they`re engaged in a form of extreme baby-sitting that very few of us would like to spend our lives on.
And I think that in a moment when you have such an unstable person in charge of such a large nuclear arsenal, along with all the other armaments in the United States, you want stable people at the helm.
On the other hand, to all of you who do not have essential jobs who are in the administration because you want to get ahead in your careers, I`m saying to you I think this will stain you forever to be associated with this presidency. Buyer beware.
MATTHEWS: You believe that people who sit in the White House, even at any level are enablers, Brett?
STEPHENS: Well, as I said, I think General Kelly is helping the country by being a responsible adult in the vicinity of a very irresponsible president. And I`d rather have him there than, say, Stephen Miller in his job. On the other hand, for the people who are nonessential, flee this ship.
MATTHEWS: Anybody -- OK...
CAPEHART: Chris, here`s a sobering reality, though. This is why there`s so much extreme baby-sitting, as Brett just said. The NBC News Survey Monkey poll last month had a statistic in it that has haunted me since I`ve seen it. The poll pulled out Trump supporters versus GOP supporters. The president`s approval rating among GOP supporters -- this is just last month -- 84 percent. The president`s approval rating among his supporters, 99 percent. For a president who lives for applause, who lives for applause from the people who support him, that is the number to keep in mind and that`s why...
MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. 99 percent of the people who like him, like him?
CAPEHART: They approve of his job performance.
MATTHEWS: Oh, so far.
CAPEHART: They approve of his job performance.
MATTHEWS: So How do you get that perfect identity between the people who liked him when he went in and like him now? Why is that an identity? Why is that the same number pretty much?
CAPEHART: You know, it beats me.
MATTHEWS: It`s like North Korea. I`m not saying they`re left-wing or crazy ideologically, it`s that sense of regimentation, of, Ye, sir, I smile when you smile, I cry when you cry, you know?
CAPEHART: But these are the -- but -- well, it`s because they are the people who are his hard-core base. And again, for a person who loves the applause, that`s the number that he`s going to focus on.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`ll tell you, I would never think to compare Republican conservatives with North Koreans because they`re not ideologically at all synonymous. But that behavior, that lockstep, Yes, sir, look at me, I agree with everything you say -- it`s like the dittoheads from the days of Rushbo. The trouble is we still live in the days of Rushbo.
Thank you, Phil Rucker. Thank you, Jonathan Capehart. Congratulations, Michelle Goldberg.
GOLDBERG: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: It`s a wonderful position to be in. I`ll be reading you assiduously. And Brett, as always, sir, wherever you are, I will read you.
Coming up -- where are the Republicans? If other Republicans are thinking what Bob Corker is saying, why are they staying quiet? We`re going to talk to a Republican congressman about the silence in his party.
Plus, how Russia weaponized the anger and rage of American voters to sow discord during the 2016 election. A new investigation by "The New York Times" shows the sophistication of what the Russians were up to.
And when Trump wants attention, he often teases us with the same phrase.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, I`ll tell you about that maybe some time in the very near future.
We`re going see what happens.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what did you mean by calm before the storm yesterday? What did you mean by that?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. You`ll find out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You`ll see. It`s like he is hosting a reality show and wants the audience to stay tuned.
Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump watch."
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Former vice president Joe Biden will campaign this weekend with Ralph Northam, the Democrat running for Virginia governor. The two will hold a roundtable in the D.C. suburbs this coming Saturday. That same day, Vice President Pence will campaign with the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, Ed Gillespie.
It remains to be seen if President Trump will appear with Gillespie, although he did offer his endorsement last week on Twitter. Gillespie downplayed that news saying it`s not surprising that a Republican president would endorse a Republican candidate.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, highly credible descriptions of President Trump`s erratic behavior put congressional Republicans in a tricky situation. Do they side with the criticism down here in Washington or with Trump`s base back home? Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I got more important things to do doing my job than to go tell Corker to keep his mouth shut or to tell the president something.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I would rather have everybody put aside the squabbles and concentrate on the issues at hand right now. I just wish everybody would concentrate on the enormous challenges facing this nation. We`d be far better off.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is a business, and most Americans probably don`t know who Bob Corker is. Most Americans don`t care what he thinks of you. And quite frankly, most Americans probably don`t care what you think of him. They do care about their family`s security, their economic wellbeing. And I don`t think it helps any of us to continue this. I like them both. I respect bob Corker.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Senate Corker is a valued member of the Republican Congress in the Senate, a key player on the budget. We`re going to be turning to the budget next week, and he`ll be a big help in helping us get it passed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there he said absolutely nothing. That`s why Mitch McConnell survives all these years.
Anyway, according to "The Washington Post," the tepid reactions from Capitol Hill Republicans seem to highlight a strategy they`ve adopted when it comes to the president. Quote, "Don`t engage in public, no matter how anxious you may be in private."
Well, the public brawl has exposed some troubling divisions within the Republican Party that many would prefer to keep behind closed doors.
For more, I`m joined by an expert, Republican Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Costello, so, if you can, as candidly as possible, describe what it`s like to be in this sort of cauldron, where you have to respond to the people in your district who are wild for Trump -- and the numbers show most Republicans are -- and a president who seems to be doing things that most normal political leaders in this country, fortunately, do not do.
Or maybe you`re a Trumpite.
REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I mean, it`s a balancing act.
I was going to say, I will say what they said.
MATTHEWS: Well, Mitch McConnell said absolutely nothing. And that`s why he has survives all these years. He doesn`t say anything.
COSTELLO: I think most constituents want to know that you can at times take issue with what gets tweeted, and they want to know that you`re focused on issues.
And so you kind of separate yourself from some of the sideshows that happened, unless you`re part of the sideshow, which I think can happen if you do get -- if you do walk too far into it.
MATTHEWS: Well, this president ran on very powerful issues. He said we`re going to stop stupid wars. We`re going to stop -- do something about illegal immigration. We`re going to create jobs at home, restore the industrial base of the country.
All three made sense to me. I don`t think he has been coherent in pursuing those goals. I don`t think he has a rational plan for dealing with stopping illegal immigration, dealing with the Democrats, cutting a deal that actually works.
I don`t see him actually getting anywhere with this.
COSTELLO: If you did DACA, border reform security, visa reform, and packaged that, you could potentially get a bipartisan deal, if both...
MATTHEWS: Well, why didn`t he do it?
COSTELLO: Well, the question is, will both sides come together?
MATTHEWS: He had a deal two weeks ago. Then he just put a kibosh on it.
MATTHEWS: He had a deal with Nancy and Chuck over Chinese. They had it all figured out.
COSTELLO: Did they?
MATTHEWS: DACA in exchange for some border enforcement. Next thing you know, he is talking about the wall again.
COSTELLO: Well, that`s -- look, that`s a piece of it.
I do think that border security has to be a part of DACA and visa reform. But if you were to pivot now, which is what I think members like myself want to do, in very competitive districts, but even in and around the country, is, let`s do tax reform.
Let`s give the working-class families a tax cut, and let`s make sure we lower rates on businesses, lift wage stagnation, get back to hiring more people.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but that sounds great. That sounds like...
COSTELLO: It does sound great. That`s what we want to do.
MATTHEWS: That`s not what Trump is talking about. He is talking about getting rid of the estate tax, which only affects people who have more than $11 million to give their kids. That`s only for rich people. I`m sorry.
He wants to lower the corporate tax rate. He can argue about that. But that`s for people with money. He wants to lower the top rate from about 40 down to 35.
Why are -- that`s not for regular working people in Pennsylvania, where you live and represent.
COSTELLO: Well, look, I...
MATTHEWS: It`s not for them. It`s not what you just have said. It`s not Republican. It`s Trumpite.
COSTELLO: A tax reduction for middle-income families is part of the tax plan. That`s number one.
MATTHEWS: That`s in there.
COSTELLO: Number two, if you`re looking at S-corp and LLC pass-throughs, you`re talking a lot of times about middle-income Americans that are going to make a decision between starting a business or not starting a business.
And, look, the C-corp rate, I mean, we`re still talking about employees. We`re still talking -- I think more than anything else, if you look at bringing jobs back...
MATTHEWS: So, you say Trump is out for the little guy? Trump is out for the little guy? You really can -- can really say that with a straight face?
COSTELLO: No, what I`m saying is that the tax reform package which I want to see more details on, but which we are rolling out, unified Republican framework, is something that I think that middle-income, middle-class America is -- can get behind.
MATTHEWS: Where do you stand on this Bannon threat, this sort of on the alt-right, they say will knock you out of your district and your congressional seat, like you...
MATTHEWS: ... Mr. Costello?
If you don`t play ball with Trump, we`re going to knock you out of the game you. Are you worried about that?
COSTELLO: No, because I represent 705,000 constituents. I think I need to do what is best for my constituents and what is best for this country. And that`s why I`m coming on your program to...
MATTHEWS: Do you think Bannon has any influence on people like you?
COSTELLO: Not on me. I mean, maybe on...
MATTHEWS: You afraid of him?
COSTELLO: No, I`m not afraid of anybody.
MATTHEWS: Are you afraid of...
COSTELLO: Maybe some of the offensive linemen.
MATTHEWS: Are you afraid of Steve Bannon?
MATTHEWS: Really? You`re willing to say that?
COSTELLO: I just did on television.
MATTHEWS: So, just tell Steve -- tell Steve Bannon you`re not afraid of him.
COSTELLO: I`m not afraid of Steve Bannon. I`m not afraid of -- I mean, I`m here to serve my district.
Well, last night on FOX, Steve had a warning for Republicans who did not fall in line with the president`s agenda. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda that Donald Trump ran on. It`s a new game in town. We`re going cut off the oxygen to Mitch McConnell.
Mitch McConnell`s biggest asset is the money. We`re going to make it the biggest liability, because we`re going after these guys tooth and nail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He looks tough.
COSTELLO: I wasn`t watching that program last night.
MATTHEWS: Well, you just saw it. What do you think of this guy? He looks like Steve Bannon. He looks like himself. He looks rough. You`re not afraid of him?
COSTELLO: I think he -- well, I answered -- I said that. I looked right in the camera and did it.
MATTHEWS: You have been very clear. I like it. We got the tape.
COSTELLO: Well, I`m sure it will be played.
I think, more than anything, he probably likes that you view him as the villain.
COSTELLO: I don`t know him. I don`t know him.
MATTHEWS: I never met the guy. I`m not that interested.
I congratulate you for not being interested.
Are we ever going to find something? There are some things I liked about Trump. I liked the fact no more stupid wars, although he is out trying to start a war with Iran again. I like the infrastructure part, because I look at this...
COSTELLO: So did I.
MATTHEWS: I look at the railroad we travel, and it`s so rickety and old.
COSTELLO: I agree with you.
MATTHEWS: Just not what we as Americans should have.
When are we going to see something done like that, just the railroads?
COSTELLO: I was hoping that we would see it by now.
Look, you combine railroads, roads and bridges, rural broadband.
COSTELLO: Electricity grid as well.
Well, we`re looking for it. It`s supposed to be a trillion-dollar package. Subsequent to that, we heard it can`t be a trillion. It would be a couple hundred billion, coupled with incentivizing the private sector and regulatory permitting reform.
I think that`s something that you can get a big bulk of Congress behind, Republicans and Democrats, because there is something in there for everyone.
MATTHEWS: What year?
COSTELLO: Well, I was hoping it would have happened by now.
MATTHEWS: I do too.
I just hope if the Republicans get aboard for something like that, they can make sure the money is not wasted. Democrats, it will be easier to spend the money.
But you guys are a little slow to spend the money. At least, if you do get aboard, you can keep your eye on the money, because I think this -- I don`t want to see the money just peed away. I want stuff built.
COSTELLO: So do I.
MATTHEWS: I want to see New York`s Penn Station rebuilt.
I want to see us having trains like the rest of the world has. I want to see us acting like we can compete in the world with the Chinese, the Japanese and the Germans.
COSTELLO: I agree. It`s a global economy.
MATTHEWS: We have got to start catching up with them.
COSTELLO: Immigration reform, tax reform.
MATTHEWS: OK. I just wish you guys in Congress...
MATTHEWS: ... would have the -- be the watchdogs and make Trump be the Trump that ran on pretty good issues. He did.
But he has been crazy.
COSTELLO: I think that we`re...
MATTHEWS: You know he has been crazy, right? Are you proud of the way he`s been? Are you proud of his behavior in the White House?
COSTELLO: I would prefer that he tweet less.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, U.S. Congressman Ryan Costello, Reading, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
COSTELLO: Chester County.
MATTHEWS: ... even, nice places, really nice places.
MATTHEWS: Up next: A new investigation by "The New York Times" reveals how Russian agents sowed division ahead of the 2016 election, often promoting the misinformation and anger that real Americans were posting on social media. They were piggybacking on the crap some of the right-wing Americans were putting out.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Deadly brushfires burning across California are now blamed for at least 15 deaths.
NBC News correspondent Joe Fryer has a live update from Santa Rosa -- Joe.
JOE FRYER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Milissa, the damage here in Santa Rosa in the Coffey Park neighborhood is really widespread.
Everywhere you look behind me, first of all, you see burned-out cars, including this one, which somehow ended out upside-down. But beyond the cars is the homes.
From where I`m standing right now, when you look out into this neighborhood, you don`t see a single house still left standing here. Right now, about 2,000 houses and businesses have been destroyed in these fires here in Northern California that started Sunday night.
And the death toll has now risen to 15, including a couple whole lived in Napa County. He was 100 years old. His wife was 98 years old.
The winds have died down a little bit today. That slowed the pace of the fire. But not that long ago, we still heard reports of fire encroaching on a community just a little bit from here, and more mandatory evacuations were issued. In all, about 20,000 people have been evacuated since these fires.
Add it up across Northern California, across the state, 17 large wildfires are burning right now, and they have scorched more than 115,000 acres. And it`s not going to get any better this week. Red flag warnings are still in effect for Wednesday into Thursday. These gusty winds that pushed the fire through starting Sunday night will continue into the rest of the week -- Milissa.
REHBERGER: Well, that is something else.
NBC`s Joe Fryer, reporting from California, thank you -- now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, "The New York Times" today reported that Russian operatives used front groups on Facebook to amplify content from American Web sites, often using material from fringe groups here and conspiracy theorists here to further their influence campaign.
Nick Confessore writes that "One of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion, and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms."
For instance, one video barred from a conservative pro-Trump Web site falsely claimed that Muslim men who emigrated to Michigan were allowed to collect welfare checks to benefit their four wives.
At least one was aimed at President Obama`s family -- quote -- "Another YouTube video claiming that Michelle Obama had 214 personal assistants and had purchased four yachts, yachts, with taxpayer money had close the a million views."
Even when the content was outright not false, it still served to widen existing political divisions in American society.
In fact, one Russian group posted content highlighting discrimination against Muslims, and another appears to have specialized in passionate denunciation of the criminal justice system and viral videos of police violence.
I`m joined right now by the author of that story, MSNBC political analyst Nicholas Confessore of "The New York Times."
Nick, they know their stuff, if they know how to rattle the cage of the right, rattle the cage, if you will, of the left. They know what angers Americans. It`s usually the racial stuff. They know how to get to our negative erogenous zones so effectively.
Do they need the help of American spotters, or are they doing this over in Moscow?
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Chris, I think it`s pretty clear that the Russians behind this, whoever they were, if it was the Internet Research Agency or other people, had a very good sense of the divides and polarization in American society.
And the truth is, just kind of watch the news and see what people are angry about. What I saw in looking at the texts of hundreds of these posts and following those bread crumbs back to their sources was, the Russians were looking at the same things that -- the same Americans were looking and engaging with on social media.
MATTHEWS: So, is this like a four or five bookies like when they do when they bet -- get the spreads for a football game, sitting together, figuring out, four or five people sitting around saying, well, what are we going to do on race this week, and what are we going to do about gender, and what are we going to do about whatever ideology?
And they seem to know, for example, the beliefs that we would have about Sharia. We believed that there would actually be some welfare payments actually are being paid to some Muslim fellow because he`s got four wives.
You can`t have four wives in this country. And you don`t get welfare payments for four of them and that. But it`s just sort of believable to those on the wacky ends of things.
CONFESSORE: Well, look, conspiracy theories spread widely on social media.
And there are American source conspiracy theories, like the one you referenced earlier about Michelle Obama. Look, people make these things up for fun and profit, and the Russians just grabbed a lot of them and threw them back.
Or take police violence. Every time there is a viral video of police video in America, there is actually a pretty good chance it would show up in some form on Facebook group controlled by this operation in Russia.
A beating or a shooting or a death, these guys were harvesting the things that are making Americans most angry, and holding a mirror back at us to show us the things that were worst about our own country.
MATTHEWS: You know, my wife was in local news for a year. And she would tell me when she came home at night that you hear that the Czech TV and the Russian TV showed up because there was an eviction in D.C.
Every time there is any socially bad news that could make us look bad on the racial front, the communist in those days were there to exploit it. And it seems like that game began a long time ago, the Russians looking for our weak side.
The strategy of the Russians around the world, including the U.S., is to sow division by finding divisions that already exist and trying to widen the cracks a little bit, trying to throw some seeds or throw some fuel on the fire, take your metaphor, and to make it worse, to make us a little angrier and more energized and more divided.
But it wasn`t stuff that they made up out of whole cloth. That`s what is so amazing about it. They took things that were already out there from Americans and threw them back in our face.
MATTHEWS: Did they do anything to help Hillary?
CONFESSORE: Well, look, it depends what you think helps. If escalating polarization was going to help Hillary, there was certainly a lot of escalating polarization.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think so.
CONFESSORE: But I think really what they did was send messages aimed at black audiences that was meant to depress them and demoralize them and make them feel that the country was not fair, that political institutions in this country were flawed and racist.
And, certainly, there is some truth in that. But they were not trying to get black people out to vote. They were trying to get black people to be mad at their country and feel demoralized about their country.
MATTHEWS: And not to vote.
Anyway, thank you, Nick Confessore.
They are very sophisticated enemies.
Anyway, thank you, Nick Confessore. Great reporting for "The New York Times."
Up next: Bob Corker says Trump treats the presidency like a reality show.
One thing is for sure. The president loves leaving us with cliffhangers. It seems like he is always teasing his big decisions by saying, "You will find out."
It is true.
Anyway, you`re watching HARDBALL.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, this Thursday night, the Ireland Poet Patriots concert will be held here in Washington at the National Cathedral. Sixty musicians from Ireland and the U.S. will celebrate the history and culture of Ireland to the words of Ireland`s Great Poet Patriots. And I`ll be reciting some of the words myself.
For more information on the concert, go to www.cathedral.org/irish.
Be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys know what this represents?
REPORTER: Tell us, sir.
TRUMP: I don`t know, maybe it`s the calm before the storm.
REPORTER: What`s the storm?
TRUMP: Could be the calm -- the calm before the storm.
REPORTER: You talking about Iran? Or ISIS? Or what? What storm, Mr. President?
TRUMP: We have the world`s great military people in this room. I will tell you that. And we`re going to have a great evening. Thank you all for coming. Thank you.
REPORTER: What storm, Mr. President?
TRUMP: You`ll find out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You`ll find out.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was a tagline you`ll hear forever. That was Donald Trump issuing a cryptic warning just last week.
Well, Senator Bob Corker says Trump treats his office like a reality show. The president, former "Apprentice" host, frequently draws upon his TV reality experience to stoke drama in one specific way, with a cliff-hanger. Let`s listen to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: His grandmother in Kenya said, oh, no, he was born in Kenya. And I was there, and I witnessed the birth. Now, she`s on tape. And I think that tape is going to be produced fairly soon. Somebody is coming without a book in about two weeks. It`s going to be very interesting.
And then they had oh, but he`ll never put in his financials. Because maybe he is not as rich as people think. Not that it matter, but I`m much richer. And you`ll see that next week.
REPORTER: Do tapes exist of your conversations with him?
TRUMP: Well, I`ll tell you than maybe some time in the very near future.
REPORTER: Mr. President, what did you mean by calm before the storm yesterday? What did you mean by that?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. You`ll find out.
REPORTER: On North Korea, what`s the one thin that`s going to work?
TRUMP: Well, we`re going see what happens.
REPORTER: Will you decertify the Iran deal?
TRUMP: You`re going to see very soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you get the point. Trump`s flare for the dramatic doesn`t end there. The pres also claimed credit for Mike Pence`s performance at Sunday`s Colts game, ensuring his made for reality TV feud with the NFL would also garner ratings for another week.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Sabrina Siddiqui is political reporter for "The Guardian". Jonathan Swan is national political reporter at "Axios", and Sam Stein`s politics editor at "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC contributor.
Well, this is a free fire discussion because producers all day have been telling me about, if you go through the reality tape, which I don`t watch, tremendous familiarity with the stuff he does, with the feuds he is setting up. It`s cliffhangers he is setting up or name -- nicknaming people. It`s all familiar shtick.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, he is the reality show president. And he is obsessive about ensuring that he is the center of attention, that no one in his administration is given more importance than he is, that he is constantly a fixture within the news cycle. That`s how he was able to, in part, propel himself to a Republican nomination.
I can just tell you that the calm before the storm comments, though, did set off a lot of discontent within the national security community. I spoke to military professionals who said at a time when there are troops overseas dealing with a threat from North Korea, you can`t be making vague comments when you`re the commander in chief about what your plans are. You have toto be a lot more clear.
MATTHEWS: Yes, what does that clown in Pyongyang thinking it means? The generals come in to him and say, he said the calm before the storm. What should we do, leader, dear leader? Anyway, what do you make of that?
JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: He thinks about announcements as TV programming decisions. And he actually said publicly when he announced the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he said this publicly. I`ve got the quote. He said announced his pardon of Sheriff Arpaio as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas because, quote, he assumed the ratings would be far higher. But he literally thinks about decisions in terms of how they will rate on cable programming.
MATTHEWS: But the purpose of reality TV is ratings. I mean, you understand it. You get paid by sponsors. The more eyeballs you have, Sam, the more successful you are.
What`s his goal? What is the coherent purpose of this administration? Getting eyeballs? Getting attention? Is that it?
SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Do you think there is a coherent purpose?
MATTHEWS: What is the purpose of all that shtick, all this stuff he is doing? The cliff hanging stuff, the nicknaming, the showing off, the bragging about his IQ? What`s the whole purpose of it?
STEIN: If I had to divine one -- first of all, he has a history obviously in reality TV. He was the host of a reality TV show that was very successful.
STEIN: So, he knows all the machinations and what not. But even if you go before that period in his life, he was obsessed with coverage of himself and finding himself on the front pages of the tabloids.
And if there is a common denominator through all of this, is that he is most satisfied when people are talking about him. And so, that`s why you have these continuous cliffhangers. That`s why you have these announcements that come about who is up and who is down in the administration, who will be fired.
The only problem is he is not deciding who is going to be fire who will get the rose. In the rose in this case is, will we drop a nuclear bomb on North Korea? And it`s super real.
MATTHEWS: So, the reality is real here.
STEIN: Well, yes. He is the president. This is not "The Apprentice."
MATTHEWS: I think the disturbing game in itself. But there are consequences. This guy does have the button.
SIDDIQUI: There are. He`s --
MATTHEWS: He has it.
SIDDIQUI: He is an impulsive person. And we`ve seen that manifest time and again. It`s not just these comments, the way he dragged out the decision over DACA. I mean, we`re talking about, you know, nearly 800,000 young undocumented kids and their future.
Now, it doesn`t mean that he is not sometimes really delivering to the last minute. That`s another component of this --
SIDDIQUI: -- is that you never know anything is final until he says it`s final. And then he has a tendency to potentially change positions.
MATTHEWS: In an end game figured out. For example, the fight with the NFL and taking a knee.
You know, we can argue back and forth whether it was appropriate at a time during the national anthem or whether you do it after six weeks, that`s enough you made your point and let`s move on. But he is not going to move on.
So, what`s Trump want the end game to be in that fight? Does he envision a fight where he and Pence win the argument and the players stop doing it? Or what? Or he gets more votes in 2020 because he took a different position on the players on the taking the knee. Where`s the end of all -- I`m sorry, does this sound odd? Is there a purpose to what he does?
SWAN: It`s not that you`re asking it, but like the notion that there is some long-range strategic vision behind this day to day impulsive behavior is absurd.
MATTHEWS: Ha! I mean, asking if the president of the United States has a purpose is absurd.
SWAN: No, it`s legitimate to ask it, but it`s absurd to suggest that one exists.
STEIN: I think a better question is not where does it end, but how does it begin? And a lot of the times, what happen is that he sees things, usually on "Fox & Friends" that tickle his fancy and he decides to tweet about. And suddenly, these things snowball into something much larger than that. And now, you have this large cultural backlash intention.
MATTHEWS: Did you see the numbers we just reported? The numbers are unbelievable.
MATTHEWS: They`re on his 99 support of the people that were with him day one are now with him on day whatever, almost 200. They`re with him now. They don`t change. It`s working. It`s in his world.
SWAN: It works with his base. But it`s also the advice he receives. So, the obsession with TV is not just him and the set and how he talks. He sees the people on TV as advisers. I mean, in the early days of the administration, Madeline, who is his secretary, get me Lou Dobbs, you know? And Lou Dobbs would be on the phone. And Lou would tell him it was --
MATTHEWS: OK, speaking of Lou Dobbs, another right of the spectrum, Jon Stewart. Last night, comedian Jon Stewart took on Trump`s calm before the storm comment. And let`s watch him here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: You`ll find out. You`ll -- a cliff-hanger surrounded by military people. You`ll find out. Ooh, will Trump give humanity the rose? Will civilization make to it the fantasy suite? And calm before the storm? Is that what he was saying? Calm before the storm.
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Positive --
STEWART: Calm before the storm. How is all this not the storm? This is all the storm. And what kind of a sociopath, what kind of a sociopath would use that terminology, while people are still literally cleaning up from storms?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Again, you guys are younger, I live lived through the Nixon thing, nothing like this. The commentary wasn`t this wild. I mean, that`s an amazing statement. To call the president a sociopath and have nobody challenge it on the show, they`re all cheering. They want to go further.
SIDDIQUI: I think that we`re this an unprecedented moment here. And to some degree, the tone is also set from the top, because the president doesn`t hold back how he talks about other people in terms of the language he uses. Obviously, he doesn`t give the office the same level of respect as his predecessor, so I don`t think that it --
STEIN: But it`s not just late-night hosts, right? Like late hosts are one thing and sure, they`re edgy and comedic by nature. But like when you have the Senate, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in your own party talking about you as if you`re an infant --
MATTHEWS: Bob Corker, whatever he is, is not a hot dogger.
STEIN: No. He knows what he`s doing.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, there`s the roundtable sticking with us.
And up next, these three are going to give some scoops tomorrow, they`re already doing that, some things we should be talking about, hopefully.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Sabrina, tell me something I don`t know.
SIDDIQUI: Throughout this feud between the president and Rex Tillerson, I`ve heard from people who work at the State Department, there`s still very little if any communication between the secretary of state`s office and the broader staff there. When Rex Tillerson went out to give that speech last week, many of the staffers were sitting there not even knowing if he`s going to resign, that`s how great the dissonance is.
MATTHEWS: The White House staff doesn`t know?
SIDDIQUI: No, the State Department staff did not know if the secretary of state was about to resign. That`s how little communication there is.
SWAN: Chris, you know this because you know everything.
MATTHEWS: A good start.
SWAN: A lot of people forget, Donald Trump has been in a feud with the NFL for 33 years. It started in 1994 when he bought the New Jersey Generals.
SWAN: United States Football League.
MATTHEWS: U.S. Football League.
SWAN: Tried to go head to head with the NFL, failed abysmally. It was a really low point in his career. But this is --
MATTHEWS: Pretty hard to fail at pro football. He got me --
STEIN: He didn`t.
STEIN: Well, I got two. One of another Trump sports one, he once did a Tour de Trump in New York. That was a bicycle Tour de France version in New York, that failed, too.
MATTHEWS: Was he on any special help for that?
STEIN: No, not that I know of. Then the second, more important, is that CHIP, the children`s health care program was left -- the reauthorization failed in September, they`re frantically searching for a solution, 9 million kids` health care at stake and there`s no clear understanding between the House and the Senate right now.
MATTHEWS: That`s reality compared to reality TV.
Thank you, Sabrina Siddiqui, Jonathan Swan and Sam Stein.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." It`s really something tonight, I think. You`re watching HARDBALL. It is something, reality something.
MADDOW: "Trump Watch", Tuesday, October 10th, 2017.
Did you ever wonder what it`s like inside Trump world? I mean really inside? You know, the hallways and offices of the West Wing, the White House, and national security staff sitting at the big table in the White House mess, driving home together after work, meeting at bars.
Did you ever wonder what it`s like up close and personal with Donald Trump and the Romanovs, Jared and Ivanka, and the true believers like Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What`s it like having to be careful not to say something about the president and having it get back to him?
Meanwhile, talking to the press whenever you`re safely on background and won`t get quoted? And how about leaving in the world and hearing by the hour the crazy things the country`s chief executive and commander-in-chief just said or tweeted or joked about his IQ or what school he went to or other wacky things that grown-ups usually leave to the high school kids? Or all the time having to keep in your head that this is important stuff you`re dealing with every day, the fate of the country, really?
And then here the vice president, presumably one of the grownups, is out in the Midwest peek-a-booing in a football game that makes some oblique point you know will end up looking cheap. A decade, a year, a week, a day from now, we`re sorry, already has.
How to you keep faith in our form of government when you find yourself working at the very top of it and knowing you`re in some crazy grade school recess yard where the big kid sticks the other kids with nicknames, brags about himself like some dangerous clown, and you having to take it every day, every minute?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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.