Bannon campaigns for far-right candidate in Arizona Transcript 10/24/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Annie Linskey, Geoff Bennett, Jennifer Duffy, Matt Schlapp, Eugene Scott, Dan Nowicki, Peter Baker; Susan Page, David Cay Johnston

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 24, 2017 Guest: Annie Linskey, Geoff Bennett, Jennifer Duffy, Matt Schlapp, Eugene Scott, Dan Nowicki, Peter Baker; Susan Page, David Cay Johnston

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: He`s not going to change.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. It is a rare political -- rare in the political world when you witness a moment straight from a great novel of movie. Today I saw the junior senator from Arizona stand in that chamber and deliver an indictment of Donald Trump worthy of "Advise and Consent" or "Mr. Smith goes to Washington."

He accused the president of coarsening the country`s democracy to the extent it endangers or democracy. He said that Donald Trump is not only hurting the country by his presence in the White House, but that he will continue to do so as long as he is there, that it`s now clear he will never change.

Republicans have to decide, therefore, to fight their leader, serve him of leave altogether, and that`s finally what Jeff Flake of Arizona announced today. In a moving speech on the Senate floor, the Arizona senator told his colleagues he didn`t think there was for him in the current Republican Party, Donald Trump`s part.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.

When the next generation asks us, Why didn`t you do something, why didn`t you speak up, what are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say enough. Were the shoe on the other foot, we Republicans -- would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course we wouldn`t.

I am aware that there`s a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect. If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so. I have children and grandchildren to answer to.

And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Flake`s speech came shortly after President Trump visited the Capitol and met with Republican senators for nearly an hour. According to Politico, Trump outlined at length his accomplishments since taking office and then asked for Senate Republicans to help him push through a major tax reform package. The assembled GOP senators responded to Trump with three standing ovations.

But there`s little peace in the Republican Party tonight, not between Senator John McCain and Trump, not between Senator Bob Corker and Trump. Corker began the day escalating his fight with President Trump, a man he previously warned might be leading us toward World War III. After Corker appeared on warnings criticizing the president, Trump responded by mocking him on Twitter. Corker fired back. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president of the United States a liar?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Let`s just put it this way. I would not do that again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he a role model to children in the United States?

CORKER: Absolutely not. It`s obvious his political model and governing model is to divide. And he has not risen to the occasion. The worst of it is going to be just to hold the base.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think the president is debasing the nation?

CORKER: I don`t think it`s any question. Just the way he conducts himself and e he goes to such a low level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Those are not New York accents you`re hearing. It`s a Southern guy going after the president. A spokesman for the president, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said he dismissed the criticism from Corker and Flake. She called their words petty. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this president, and I don`t think that their numbers are in the favor of either of those senators and their states. So I think this is probably the right decision. I certainly think history is going to look at this president as somebody that helped defeat ISIS, built an economy stronger than it`s been in several decades, brought unemployment to a 16-year low. He`s created...

I think those are the things that people actually care about, not some petty comments from Senator Corker and Senator Flake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Amazing how you can take credit for something without having done anything.

Anyway, Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief. Peter Baker is chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Peter, tell me right now, do you think this is a tipping point? I`m looking at three senators, Senator McCain, Flake and Corker, all stating the objection they have with the president, basically it is this. It`s like a divorce proceeding. This person is not going to change, and the way they are now is unacceptable in the office of the presidency. And we`re not going to say anything else but that until he leaves.

PETER BAKER, "NEW YORK TIMES": It`s pretty interesting. This is the third really interesting speech we`ve heard from a major Republican in the last week. You have President Bush last week, you had Senator McCain last week, you have Senator Flake today all more or less saying similar things about their concerns about the direction of their own party and the country under President Trump.

The tipping point, it`s hard to know None of those three Republicans now faces another election in the future. And that`s, you know, an important point, that the other 40-some Republican senators gathered for lunch today with the president. And the president says in his tweets that they gave him standing ovations. And certainly, while I think a lot of them probably gave Jeff Flake some nice words and patted him on the back, very few of them were willing to come out and say the things that he said because most of them do plan to run again for reelection.

And that`s sort of the schism in the party right now, is how willing is the party to be -- to voice what it thinks, what people think at a time when they`re being threatened with primary challenges back home?

MATTHEWS: Well, it seems to me, fellow colleagues here, that the Republican Party has two choices now if you`re a member of it. You can be a sycophant and act like you`re a member of the cabinet, and we all saw those obnoxious pictures of the people sort of bowing to the president, apparently, the members of the Senate felt they needed to do. By the way, Mitch McConnell does act more and more like a toady. He`s the -- I always respected him, but now he`s getting to be just a sheer today. He walks around next to the president like he`s serving him, Michael, your party.

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

MATTHEWS: And then, of course, now the other way is to walk. It`s like -- remember one of the toughest lines I ever heard in my life was Napoleon said the only victory in love is to walk away. If you really love the Republican Party now, it seems like that`s what you do, you quit.

STEELE: You know...

MATTHEWS: It`s so ironic and sick.

STEELE: I get that, but I think there`s a third option. And I think it`s you stand and fight.

MATTHEWS: Who`s doing that?

STEELE: Well, this is my point. No one is doing that right now without the exit standing right next to it.

MATTHEWS: Charlie Dent walks. They`re all walking.

STEELE: So we will see here from this point going forward whether or not there is that space for them to do that. How much do you value reelection? Is it the most important thing in your life, or is it really about your country and your party and the service that`s required to govern the nation? If that`s not your standard, then, yes, OK, then take the exit or just go there and lick the boot. That`s it.

Four out of five Republicans, Susan, support this president, which puts most Republican senators and congresspeople in a bind. They have to either support the guy or walk. It seems like -- you say there`s a third choice, but they haven`t exercised that yet.

STEELE: Yes, but it`s still there.

PAGE: It`s -- it`s -- but you know, they`re not doing either thing. They`re neither standing up to criticize Trump, but they are also not standing up to criticize Corker and Flake.

MATTHEWS: It was interesting today when Flake gave that dramatic and powerful speech today, right afterwards, Mitch McConnell said that was a very fine speech by a fine man.

PAGE: No one is saying you shouldn`t have said that.

No one is saying stop with the criticism of Trump. Now, that`s not exactly a profile in courage, if you`re not saying it to join them in criticism, but it seems to me this is unbelievable. This is remarkable. Have you ever seen anything like this...

MATTHEWS: No!

PAGE: ... not only where you have a war between a president and the senators from his own party, but where the whole rest of the party is standing on the sidelines, doing their best to stare at the ground in hopes that no one will notice that they`re there?

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Flake said he didn`t think he could win another election. Let`s watch what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: I don`t see a path forward for a traditional Republican like me, a traditional conservative like me in the current Republican Party. The path to victory in a Republican primary these days is to agree with the president, not just his policies, but the behavior, as well, and not to speak out. And I can`t do that. I don`t think that we as a party should do that. If we do, we`ll learn soon enough that resentment is not a governing philosophy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe not, Peter, but let me tell you. One thing that strikes me is when somebody speaks in a ghoulish fashion. And we know what that means, grave-robbing. When someone like Kelli Ward down in Arizona talks openly about how John McCain should step aside, give up the seat so she can have it because he`s in ill health, most people would say that was indecent conversation in public. But today, it seems to be OK in the Republican Party in the states where they`re very red.

Is this OK now in a Republican conversation to say, I think that guy`s guys got a terminal disease. He should get out of the way so I can have his seat fast, like right now. And it doesn`t seem to have hurt her standing down there in Arizona in the Republican quarters at all.

BAKER: Well, there`s no question that the kinds of things we`ve heard this year in -- from the White House and last year on the presidential campaign trail are things we never would have heard in previous campaigns, or at least certainly not without political consequences.

And so I think that this is a different atmosphere, a different environment, a different era in which at least for some politicians, that kind of sort of blunt talk, maybe crass at times talk is if not rewarded, certainly tolerated and accepted and sometimes cheered on by people who are looking for fighters. You know, with Sarah (INAUDIBLE) Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today is, This is a president who will fight back and voters wanted him because they wanted him to be strong and not weak. And that`s the way they see things.

MATTHEWS: Well, Susan, what do you think of that? Because I listened to Flake`s speech today, and what impressed me was that he was so concerned about language, coarseness, bullying in the school yard, treating everybody as your fellow member of the Senate like they were the head of North Korea. Even that`s kind of strange. Just -- it`s always bullying. It`s always getting up at 6:30 in the morning and polluting the atmosphere with some personal assault on somebody you`re fighting with that day.

PAGE: You know, what strikes me was that it was totally -- it was not ideological. There was no debate over the Vietnam war. There was no divide over the Civil Rights struggle.

MATTHEWS: It`s over character.

PAGE: It was over character. It was over tone. It was over tactics. And so this party is being ripped apart just over those things, not over what the party stands for.

MATTHEWS: They are pretty important in a president. Anyway, as I mentioned, Senator Corker criticized the president this morning on a number of networks, including NBC. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And let me put it bluntly. Left to his own devices, do you think the president is a threat to national security?

CORKER: I think that there are people around him that work in an effort to contain him. When you kneecap your secretary of state, whose diplomacy you have to depend upon to really bring China to the table to do the things that need to be done -- when you kneecap that effort, you really move our country into a binary choice, which could lead to a world war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump attacked Corker, of course, in a series of tweets this morning. Trump said Corker, quote "couldn`t get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee." He said Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when he refused to endorse him and is now only negative on anything Trump. He called him a lightweight and the "incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee." Trump tweeted, people like little -- he actually spelled it out,"L-I-D-D-L-E Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back.

You know, the president of the United States sitting on his little phone, typing out "LIDDLE," L-I -- it`s one thing to have a slur in the school yard, but to actually take your time that you have been elected to be president to write down `LIDDLE," like this heightism nonsense he`s into, like, Oh, I`m taller than him. Let`s make fun of the -- he`s president!

STEELE: Yes. He`s president with time on his hands because that`s the only way you can explain that behavior. But this...

MATTHEWS: He is taller than Corker. I guess he had a perfect right to call him "liddle." It`s ridiculous.

STEELE: Well, yes, he`s taller than him. But the fact...

MATTHEWS: That was sarcasm.

STEELE: The fact of the matter I think still remains with what now our Senate leaders and House leaders prepared to do as they deal with big issues that you mentioned before Susan with the budget and DACA and all these other things that are standing there between now and the end of the year.

My bet, and what I`m hearing, is that there`s going to be a lot of capitulation towards this president. So the very folks that I helped get elected in 2010 who came to Washington to shut down the government because we spend too much and because we need to get our deficits under control will probably pass a budget with a $1.5 trillion hole in it. And I don`t know how they go back to those voters...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: ... and say to them, Oh, I just spent a trillion-and-a-half dollars that your kids and grandkids are going to have to pay for. Work it out, folks. Tell me how you have that conversation.

MATTHEWS: Well, why are the Freedom Caucus guys going to go along with that? Why are they?

STEELE: Because their concern is that they`re going to get primaried by Bannon. They`re going to get pressure from the president.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Susan Page. This is a very dramatic day, and I think it might be near a tipping point, although I`ve thought that before, but I am very impressed with what Flake had to say today. He almost -- we`ll have more of it on the show tonight. He did almost say it here but pulled back. I think he didn`t want to be caught by his Republican primary voters out in Arizona back then talking on a show like mine against his own party. But he has now elevated himself to exactly that point. He went after the party today.

Thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Peter Baker. And thank you, Susan Page always.

Coming up, nine months into the Trump presidency and one thing is clear. Nothing is changing. I think that was the message today from Flake. This guy ain`t going to change. Trump`s sticking with the schoolyard bully act he` learned years ago, picking fights with senators and war widows alike. That`s ahead.

Plus, Trump versus the Republicans. Today`s spat with Bob Corker is the just latest in a string of battles the president has had his own political party. Maybe it`s not his party. We`ve got the lowlights of that coming up.

And raising Arizona. Jeff Flake`s historic speech on the Senate floor tonight -- oh, today, actually -- could open the door for Democrats in a state they`ve long wanted to win. We`re going to be back with their chances out there now that Flake`s calling it quits.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump watch." It`s pretty important tonight, I believe.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: We have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was more of Senator Jeff Sessions (sic) historic speech this afternoon on the Senate floor, where he told colleagues that they`ve waited too long for President Trump`s behavior to change.

I`m joined right now by DailyBeast columnist David Cay Johnston, who wrote "The Making of Donald Trump." David thank you for joining us. This is a very important night to have you on. I`m glad we do.

Can you tell us if Trump ever changes? Because we don`t like -- most people don`t like the way he`s been behaving, the schoolyard bully that he`s been for all these months now.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, DAILYBEAST: No. And why would Donald change? His whole life of misbehavior, swindling people, evading law enforcement, behaving irresponsibly -- look where it`s gotten him. I mean, to Donald`s perspective, hey, this is pretty good. And it`s unfortunate that we don`t have more Republicans. Where`s Mitt Romney? Where`s Colin Powell? Where are other elders of the party saying this has to stop?

MATTHEWS: They`re in the tall grass. The tall grass.

JOHNSTON: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Now, let me ask you, Why do all the people that had to deal with him beforehand -- I mean, I can`t tell you the number of people that come up to me, Oh, he never paid his bills. If somebody tried to get some money from him, he`d sue them until they gave up. I mean, he just always was aggressive, never paid bills, was not honorable in business. And yet he`s rich as hell. I just want to know how. How`s he get away wit it? Why do people do business with a guy that won`t pay his bills?

JOHNSTON: Well, because he would move on to the next party. I mean, what you`re seeing in Washington now is Donald, and he talked about this in "The Art of the Deal." He would cheat you and cheat someone else, and then you won`t do business with him. Well, he just moves on and finds another sucker. And there`s a sucker born every minute.

And now he`s in a position where he can`t change the other people in office, so he`s trying to get rid of those people, especially the principled people in his own party and he`s trying to promote the most craven politicians around, the people who will do what Omarosa said. Everyone will bend their knee to Donald.

MATTHEWS: Oh, my God. Well, let me ask you about this problem. It`s not like putting a building up. He could always walk away -- I don`t know the business of real estate at that level, but he can always away from a deal and say, It`s not a good enough deal. I`m not going to sign.

But now he needs 50 votes to get anything passed in the Senate, at least 50 when he has reconciliation, which means to get this tax reform bill, he needs all but two U.S. senators from the Republican Party. He has just peed on three of them. The math is pretty simple. He doesn`t have 50 anymore. And no Democrat is going to leapfrog those three Republicans to join him. You`ll look like a complete prostitute if you did that.

So what`s going on here? How can he get a tax bill if he doesn`t have his 50 votes?

JOHNSTON: I don`t think he can. And I think you will see the people on the right who are fiscal hawks find that they`re unable to swallow a $1.5 trillion hole, particularly if the distribution tables come out because there`s one study showing 67 percent of all the tax cuts are going to go to 1 percent.

MATTHEWS: Of course.

JOHNSTON: And if you make -- if you`re in the middle class, you`ll save 8 bucks a week under the Trump plan.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t think the estate tax, getting rid of that`s going to save the average guy and woman.

Anyway, thank you, David Cay Johnston. You`re a prophet, sir.

Up next, the Republican president versus his own party. Today was just the latest chapter in the tortured relationship between Donald Trump and his fellow GOPers. We`re going to take a look at the lowlights, because that`s the word for it, next.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we`re going to do some absolutely spectacular things for the American people.

We look forward to starting, because, truthfully, we can`t get started fast enough, and whether it`s health care or immigration, so many different things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been nearly a year now since the election for president last year that gave Republicans control of the House, the Senate, and, of course, the White House.

But nine months into the president`s term, we are now, they have got zero legislative accomplishments in terms of bills passed, and the party is dominated by infighting. Let`s face it.

Let`s take a look at this situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Our new president, who has not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened, in my opinion, last week is unacceptable. People have been talking about repeal and replace for seven years, long before I ever decided to be doing what I`m doing. I was not impressed.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president`s subordinates. We are his equal.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I just don`t think that we can be a governing majority much longer if we continue down this path.

TRUMP: And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, whose weak on borders, weak on crime. So, I won`t talk about him.

(BOOING)

TRUMP: Nobody wants me to talk about him. Nobody knows who the hell he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, today`s scathing criticism by both Senator Flake and Senator Corker have left many wondering, just what does the Republican Party stand for right now?

Here`s Senator Flake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems. And giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle -- the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people.

In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Bret Stephens, columnist "The New York Times" an MSNBC contributor, and Matt Schlapp, chair of the Republican Conservative Union.

I want to -- you`re the home team, Matt, so I want you to go over this. It seems to me that we`re getting a pretty impressive set. It`s a small set of Republicans, McCain, Corker, and Flake, now saying that they don`t like this president. They don`t like his character. They think he`s an embarrassment to the country. They think he`s coarse and is bringing us down.

It`s pretty existential, if you will, cosmic, even, metaphysical. They don`t like this guy. They want him out of there. But they can`t get rid of him.

MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Usually, these fights are more quiet.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

And on the other side, you have people who are very grassroots, evangelical. I would say that they are still back era of the moral majority, meaning I want prayer in school and that kind of thing.

And that would be the guy down from -- Roy -- Roy, what`s his name from...

SCHLAPP: Moore. Judge Moore.

MATTHEWS: Roy Moore, Judge Moore from Alabama.

And so the question is, where do these people all fit together, or do they fit together? And how do you put together a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate of 50 to get anything done on the economic issues that Trump has to win on, has to win?

SCHLAPP: Right.

Let`s take the tax bill, first of all. Most people are fairly confident that Flake and Corker will vote for the tax bill. But I agree with you. Getting into a fistfight with them sure puts some more questions about where they will vote.

MATTHEWS: Despite the deficit that`s going to result, a $1.5 trillion deficit?

SCHLAPP: Yes, $1.5 trillion. I think we actually pay for too much of this tax bill.

I actually think that what I would like to see is that we have seen eight to 10 years of where working Americans have not had their incomes increased. And I would like them be able to have their economic prospects improved.

MATTHEWS: You want a bigger tax cut?

SCHLAPP: I want the president to continue to freeze regulations. They passed 12 of these through Congress. Cut taxes and make it possible for business to...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: ... in America.

MATTHEWS: Bret Stephens, Bret Stephens, we know there are a lot of people out there, and they`re Freedom Caucus people. They`re Tea Party people, if you will. That`s the old phrase for them.

And we also have people out there who just want to -- they just don`t want to be with Trump. And I would put John McCain on that list. They just don`t want to vote with this guy. They don`t want be the 50th Republican for Trump. They don`t want that role in history. They would much rather be mavericks against him because they don`t like him. They don`t want him there.

BRET STEPHENS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you have to ask yourself what Trump`s gratuitous comments about McCain in 2015-2016 meant for his vote on health care.

The president lives to alienate and belittle members of his own party. And that has legislative consequences.

On the other hand, Chris, failure -- legislative failure may be in a sense at the heart of the president`s strategy, because I`m not quite sure he`s interested in governing the United States, so much as he`s interested in taking the reins, the cultural and ideological reins of the Republican Party, much like Steve Bannon is.

Steve Bannon once described himself as a Leninist. And the first thing a Leninist has to do is gain control of the left. The first thing that Trump and Bannon are doing is gaining control of the right by purging the Republican Party of its best and most decent elements as the first order of business.

MATTHEWS: Let me suggest an alternative.

I think he`s into bread and circuses. I do believe the circuses part. The cultural part is big. I accept that community, Bret.

But if he can`t deliver a tax cut this year, or early next year, then all the market stuff, all the Dow Jones going up all those points I think is all based upon the expectations he will cut taxes, especially the corporate rate.

SCHLAPP: I agree.

MATTHEWS: And if he can`t, can he take that readjustment where it goes down and the unemployment rate start to go up and all the bad stuff happens between now and the next election? Can he take that? Will his people still love him, because he hates the elite?

SCHLAPP: There`s two pieces to getting the economy rolling as far as Republicans are concerned and grassroots conservatives are concerned.

Stop the regulatory state that Obama just went hog wild over and cut these taxes, so that people have economic prospects again. And as far as the idea that Trump is purging people, you have to remember Jeff Flake is at 18 percent amongst Republicans in Arizona.

Susan Collins wouldn`t have won the primary for governor in Maine. John McCain would have trouble if he were to run again. These people are in problems -- they have political problems in their own state.

MATTHEWS: They`re pro-immigration.

SCHLAPP: That`s not why.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh, it isn`t? In Arizona, that is not a problem?

SCHLAPP: No, I would say in the general election, that might even cut to their advantage.

The problem is this, Chris, is conservatives want a fighting president. And these senators don`t realize that that`s what they want.

MATTHEWS: They want better economic times.

Back to you on that question. You really think that this Republican president can survive politically through 2020 and get -- potentially get reelected if he doesn`t deliver on the economy, deliver, not just sail along on expectations, but actually deliver?

STEPHENS: This is not a president who operates according to normal political rules of delivering legislative successes that translate into better policies.

This is a president who, as McCain and Flake and others have pointed out, lives by scapegoating. And what we know just historically, Chris, is that`s a very successful form of politics.

And if you can continue to say the reason I didn`t get health care was that the Republicans were weak, they failed to deliver, the reason I didn`t get the border wall was the same reason, that that may be just as effective among his base as actually having policy victories.

MATTHEWS: For who has demagoguery been a good career path?

I know it works in the short run. I accept that. But can you build a political career and the presidency, a two-term presidency, on just demagoguery, just running against the people you don`t like?

SCHLAPP: I think you`re only looking at politics in the American sense.

Think of Erdogan in Turkey. Think of Peron in Argentina. Actually, demagoguery has been very successful. And Trump is taking us out of the era of normal American politics.

SCHLAPP: Look, I think the fact is, if he doesn`t get results on these key issues, it`s a problem for all of them politically.

But it`s fair. John McCain says the legislative branch is a separate and equal branch of government. They have got to do their duty. He promised the people of Arizona he would be for repeal and replace, but he didn`t vote that way.

MATTHEWS: Republican corporate leaders want one thing, lower corporate taxes.

SCHLAPP: I agree with that.

MATTHEWS: You know why? Because it feeds the stockholders, cash.

SCHLAPP: By the way, there`s a lot of CEOs who are Democrats.

MATTHEWS: And they don`t need the cash. They need more cash to give it to the stockholders to keep everybody happy.

Thank you, Bret Stephens.

And thank you, Matt Schlapp, although I think you`re too much the party guy.

Up next: the senator, man retiring, he`s retiring at the end of his term. Do Democrats stand a chance of winning that seat in Arizona? I don`t really think that`s the most important question on earth, but we`re going to take a look at it. I think Arizona is a red state. But we will see.

I do worry about Kelli Ward winning out there. She`s ghoulish. Ghoulish, look it up.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

In his speech announcing he will not seek another term as senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona said that remaining in the Senate would force him to compromise his principles.

Flake further told "The Arizona Republic," which first broke the news of his decision, that -- quote -- "There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party."

That`s strong stuff.

But it`s clear that this was a decision that the senator wrestled with for some time.

Despite publishing a book that dealt several hard-hitting blows against President Trump this summer, Flake still seemed apprehensive about criticizing the president directly.

Here`s Senator Flake on this show, HARDBALL, while he was promoting the book. Watch him hold back when I tried to get him to deliver on what he said in the book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you owe Donald Trump in terms of loyalty as a party?

FLAKE: Well, obviously, I`m a Republican. The president is a Republican.

MATTHEWS: Is he?

FLAKE: Yes, he`s a Republican. He won as a Republican.

MATTHEWS: Is he the leader of the Republican Party?

FLAKE: He`s the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Is he the leader of the Republican Party?

FLAKE: Well, he`s the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: You`re not answering my question.

Is he the leader of the conservative movement?

FLAKE: The president of the United States, from whatever party, is usually the leader of that party.

MATTHEWS: Do you accept him as the leader of the Republican Party?

FLAKE: Well, yes, as the leader of the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

FLAKE: But that doesn`t mean that I agree with everything he does.

MATTHEWS: Is Trump a demagogue?

FLAKE: I think that all of us at times as politicians demagogue. And he does some of it too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he was tiptoeing there.

I`m joined right now by Dan Nowicki, who broke the story of Flake`s decision in "The Arizona Today," in the paper today. And Eugene Scott is a reporter with "The Washington Post" who was formerly with "The Arizona Republic."

So, we have two experts here on Arizona.

Let me go to Dan about this thing.

Why is he quitting the Senate at the end of his term? DAN NOWICKI, "THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC": rMD-BO_Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me on.

He doesn`t want to quit. He says he still loves the Senate and he loves the institution, but he just sees no path for him to get reelected in the current spell, as he put it. He doesn`t think the spell is going to last forever in the GOP. But he doesn`t think it`s going to break by next year.

And he said he looked it over, he looked at the numbers in the polls and he just saw that narrow path getting narrower and narrower.

MATTHEWS: Well, can he join the line of sycophants and just line up behind Trump on everything? Would that have gotten him reelected, renominated, or not?

NOWICKI: Well, he said that was kind of the path he would have had to take. He would have had to compromise on immigration. He supports immigration for years. But he would have to, I guess, kind of transform himself into a no-amnesty type of a guy and support the border wall.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

NOWICKI: He would have -- he`s a free trader. He doesn`t want to embrace those protectionist policies that Trumps espouses.

So, yes, he just like took a long look at it. And I think, initially, like, probably back when he was talking to you in that clip, he probably thought he could maybe finesse it, but I think he finally figured out that it just wasn`t going to happen.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he wrote the book. He wrote the book, Gene, and he really trashed Trump.

EUGENE SCOTT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.

MATTHEWS: And it`s all on the paper.

And I`m looking at the book. And he comes. He sits where you`re sitting, and I said, basically, read the book to me. And he wasn`t -- I think he was willing to put it in the book, but he wasn`t willing to say it on this show. He didn`t want to -- because -- his enemy -- look what he said on HARDBALL. He trashed our president on HARDBALL.

SCOTT: Well, also, back then, he wasn`t doing as poorly as he is now with Arizona voters.

As Dan mentioned, like, I believe three times as many people don`t support him as do. And so, at this point, he didn`t have as much to risk.

MATTHEWS: Well, even as an incumbent, Flake faced a tough primary fight, we`re saying, against Republican opponent Kelli Ward.

A poll last month showed that among Republican primary voters, Ward led Flake by 27 percentage points, 58-31. Flake also trailed Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema by seven points in a hypothetical general election matchup.

Dan, can a Democrat win a general out there against somebody like Kelli Ward if she`s the nominee?

NOWICKI: Yes, a Democrat can win statewide in Arizona. It doesn`t happen very often.

But if a Democrat runs kind of conservatively, runs to the right, runs as a centrist, a Democrat can win. Janet Napolitano won as governor. Everybody remembers her.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but senator is harder on the ideological problem.

NOWICKI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Even Utah liked a Democratic governor once in a while, and Massachusetts will elect a Republican now and then.

But when it comes to the Senate, it`s ideological.

NOWICKI: Right. Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I don`t know. You think Arizona is liberal enough to pick a Democrat of any kind for the Senate?

NOWICKI: It`s been -- 1988 was the last time a Democrat won a Senate seat in Arizona, Dennis DeConcini, if the old-timers can remember him, yes.

MATTHEWS: I remember him. I remember him. I just bumped into him at some event a couple weeks ago. Yes, he`s here.

NOWICKI: Right.

Yes. Yes. So, since then, it hasn`t happened. But I think it can happen. Kyrsten Sinema is formidable, in the sense that she raises a lot of money. She`s a fund-raising machine. And she has a centrist record.

In the House, she`s been voting pretty centristly, racking up...

MATTHEWS: I like her name.

NOWICKI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s a great name.

NOWICKI: I think she`s about -- around 50 percent of the time, she votes with Trump, which is, for a Democrat, a very high percentage.

MATTHEWS: We will see.

Thank you so much for your expertise, Dan Nowicki of "The Arizona Republic" and Eugene Scott of "The Washington Post."

Up next: Republican senators like Jeff Flake may be fed up with the president, but Trump`s base is still holding strong. What did they make of today`s news? We`re going to get that with HARDBALL Roundtable tonight.

By the way, he`s still running four out of five Republicans backing Trump. They are with him, solid.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says President Trump has more support than Republican Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and I guess also John McCain, who broke sharply with the president this week. The latest Gallup Poll shows the president`s job approval at 80 percent, four out of five.

The president`s outrider, Steve Bannon, campaigned for Flake`s primary challenger in Arizona last week. Here`s what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, BREITBART NEWS: The last couple days Mitch has been saying this big thing. You got to win. Winners make policy. Losers go home.

Hey, Mitch, note to self, Mitch -- Big Luther Strange and Little Bobby Corker are both going home.

(APPLAUSE)

These people, Mitch, it`s 2-0. They hold you in total and complete contempt. They think that you are a group of morons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Flake now makes that three. A source close to Bannon told NBC News his reaction to Flake`s retirement today, his statement, was simply, quote: another day, another scalp. That`s Steve Bannon.

That`s Steve Bannon.

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable. Annie Linskey with "The Boston Globe", Geoff Bennett who`s with NPR, and Jennifer Duffy with "The Cook Political Report".

You know, I wonder -- let me start with Jennifer on this. Republican voters are sticking with Trump. Some of these leaders who have come to respect are not. They seem to be offended by his coarseness, his bad language, his bullying, all the character flaws that our parents and the nuns and everybody we knew tried to talk out of us when we`re growing up. But they seemed to like it, his peeps.

JENNIFER DUFFY, REPORTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Well, sure. I mean I think there are voters out there still looking for a vehicle for their anger. Trump is that vehicle. He`s doing a good job doing that.

But, really, you know, when you see people like McCain and Corker and Flake go after Trump, it`s really sort of a reaction to the fact that Trump has effectively done is driven a wedge between the Trump Republicans in the establishment by constantly calling Republicans out. He`s made their lives much more difficult than they have to be.

MATTHEWS: Well, some have laid down for him though. Mitch McConnell leading the band, they`re all laying down for him, Geoff. You saw them trooping along next to him today like he was Sancho Panza, you know? I mean --

GEOFF BENNETT, REPORTER, NPR: And, reportedly, three standing ovations at that Senate lunch today.

MATTHEWS: Just like at the cabinet meetings.

BENNETT: Well, yes.

Well, you know, the danger -- and you hear Steve Bannon say Flake makes three scalps. The danger for President Trump is if this is a tipping point and more Republican senators align themselves with Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, then the president can find himself being a president without a party. It`s a really dangerous thing in these polarized times for Trump to end up that way because he then would be irrelevant.

MATTHEWS: Who -- to follow up on Jeff`s point -- who has shown the cojones to say, I`m sticking, I`m going to run for reelection, I`m also going to take on Trump and the Republicans? Anybody?

ANNIE LINSKEY, REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I mean, well, to some extent, McCain, right? I mean, McCain is somebody I realize is very ill. But he is somebody who has just decided to go all in.

I will say Trump also faces something to your point about being sort of a president without a party. He might soon be a president without a majority because the senators he`s taking on are going to be in play now in the general election that we`re not in play before.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go back to my point, which I keep trying to get to. I agree he sells bread and circuses. I believe a big part of Trump is the anti-establishment, anti-cultural lead stuff. He`s really good at it.

But at what point does he have to deliver the bread, Jennifer? At what point does he have to deliver tax cut that makes enough Republicans happy and zips up the economy enough that the market stays up, unemployment stays down and he looks good. Doesn`t he have to deliver the bread?

DUFFY: Of course, he does. But the Trump M.O. --

MATTHEWS: Schlapp here said he doesn`t basically.

(LAUGHTER)

DUFFY: But the Trump M.O. is he has put that onus on Senate Republicans. What he`s saying is if I fail, if I don`t deliver these things, it`s not my fault, it`s their fault.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And you think that will sell with Republican voters.

DUFFY: It`s so far selling. That`s the wedge that he`s driven, you know, that`s the schism he`s creating in the party.

MATTHEWS: How do you vote against Mitch Mitchell if you`re a Republican and you live in a different state of Kentucky. You just root for Trump, right?

DUFFY: Well, exactly. I mean, you know, it`s funny that, you know, until this cycle, not many people really knew who McConnell was. But in a lot of the Senate polls I`ve been looking at, McDonnell`s numbers are upside down and by a lot.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BENNETT: For all the talk about the Trump agenda, I don`t think the Trump agenda is as much a policy agenda, as much as it is a remaking the Republican Party in the image of Donald Trump. And I think we`re seeing that happen real time.

LINSKEY: Yes. But I also think when you look at the agenda, I mean, I -- and tax cuts are certainly on that agenda, I think tax cuts -- the tax cuts is bigger than Donald Trump. I mean, this is something that every wing of this party really wants. And I think there`s -- to me the amount of pressure to get that done is insurmountable and I think it will happen.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of the image of this Steve Bannon? I mean, he makes Trump seem like a nice guy. I mean, he`s bullying, scalps, you know? He walks around like thuggish man, he looked like he patrols that stage. He definitely wants to look thuggish and he acts that way. I mean, do voters like that?

LINSKEY: He has a shtick, and so far, Republican primary voters seem to like it. He -- that aggrievement, the anger, he`s able to sell.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LINSKEY: So --

MATTHEWS: He seems like he`d be sitting at the main bar seat daring anybody to challenge.

LINSKEY: Harvard Business School --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And all may be true, he doesn`t look that way.

DUFFY: The scalps may become useless. I mean, if he puts seats in play that shouldn`t be in play because he`s collected these scalp, then, what good are they?

MATTHEWS: Yes, interesting use of the term scalps.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me -- well, they`re going to give me some scoops.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that the Clinton campaign and the DNC partially funded that opposition research that ultimately produced the now famous dossier on Donald Trump.

According to "The Post", quote: a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the search. Fusion GPS had already hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to look into Trump for a still unknown Republican opponent. But Steele`s work continued under their new client, the Democrats.

The revelation is sure to fuel new criticism from Republicans hoping to discredit Steele`s finding.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Annie, tell me something I don`t know.

LINSKEY: Chris -- I saw Steve Bannon who we were talking about earlier just yesterday. He was talking about his latest attack on athletes, which is the foreign policy athletes and he would like to as he put it take the top 100 foreign policy experts in the United States government and replace them with the first 100 people who go to the next Roy Moore rally in Alabama. So --

MATTHEWS: He`s going to do that.

LINSKEY: That is what he wants to do.

MATTHEWS: It will help.

LINSKEY: Yes. Well --

BENNETT: There is an overshadowed story out today first reported --

MATTHEWS: Let me get the next top 100 heart surgeons in the country, replaced him with who have hearts.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK, go ahead.

BENNETT: There was a story in "The Washington Post" about a small Montana company, a relatively new company that until up until had two employees that got a $300 million contract to help restore the power grid in Puerto Rico, leading to all sorts of questions. At least one senator is calling for congressional investigation about the spending and about how this company --

MATTHEWS: You know more about Puerto Rico than the president does.

Go ahead, Jennifer.

DUFFY: Well, you know what? If the Tennessee Senate race becomes competitive, then it becomes possible for the Democrats to take the majority. However, that means they need to hold all of their own seats. That is not impossible. Last time the party did that was in 2014.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Annie Linskey and Geoff Bennett and Jennifer Duffy. We`ll have Jennifer back again to tell us who is going to win next year in all of the races.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". He`s definitely not going to like tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Tuesday, October 24th, 2017.

Quote: We have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to stability and civility behind it. We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.

With those words today, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, announced that he could not seek renomination in the party now dominated by Trump.

I knew when I heard the young senator`s words that I was hearing an echo. It was from another time of personal epiphany, when a distinguished journalist, Walter Cronkite, realized after reporting trip to South Vietnam that things were not going to change, that what we faced in that war was what we would be facing for years on end. We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds, for it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.

A stalemate is a perfect term for this country`s current political condition. Trump dominates the Republican Party but cannot get anything done with it. Nothing is getting passed, nothing is changing. We awake each morning as if in the movie "Groundhog Day". We learned that Trump has once again marked the morning with another tweet, another personal insult at a foreign leader, at a fellow Republican, at a woman or minority. The targets differ, but not the nature.

What the senator from Arizona announced in his retirement speech today, the coarseness of our leadership, the compromise of our moral authority as the stability of the entire world is routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters. And it`s not going to change. Senator John McCain has seen it, Senator Corker has seen that, U.S. Congresswoman Charlie Dent has seen that, Senator Flake is now seeing that.

We have a man in the White House controlling the levers of power, including the nuclear power, that these intelligent, patriotic lawmakers do not see fit to be there.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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