Show: HARDBALL Date: August 27, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, George Will, Noelle Nikpour, Adrienne Elrod, Shannon Pettypiece
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: John McCain`s final message. This is HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews. We begin a somber week across that nation. From Arizona to Washington, D.C., Americans mourning the passing of A
In Arizona, Rick Davis, he was McCain`s presidential campaign manager, read McCain`s own words in a farewell statement today. It was penned by the senator and released only now, after his death. And between the lines in this statement, you can see clear references to the current president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK DAVIS, PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR JOHN MCCAIN: Fellow Americans. That association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down. When we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.
Do not despair of our present difficulties. We believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, until this afternoon, nearly 48 hours after it was announced, the only words from President Trump about Senator McCain`s death came in the form of a tweet expressing sympathy for the McCain family. The Washington Post reports that initially, quote, "...Trump nixed issuing a statement that praised the heroism and life of Senator John McCain, telling senior aides he preferred to issue a tweet before posting on Saturday night that did not include any kind words for the late Arizona Republican."
The president apparently changed his mind, though. Late today, he released a new statement saying, in part, "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain`s service to our country."
Earlier in the day, the president had ignored questions about McCain at two different events.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain, sir?
MALE AIDE: OK, everybody, let`s go this way.
REPORTER: Mr. President, any thoughts on the legacy of John McCain?
REPORTER: Mr. President, do you have any thoughts on John McCain? Do you have any thoughts at all about John McCain? Do you believe John McCain was a hero, sir? Nothing at all about John McCain?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We are showing you this now, and as we do, just getting word that the president apparently now has spoken publically some words about Senator McCain. We are scrambling to turn those words around to get you to them. As soon as we have them, should be momentarily.
Meanwhile, as we wait for that, though, the president also apparently had a change of heart when it came to that question of lowering the American flag to half staff at the White House. This morning, it was returned to full staff. That was a break of tradition, that of keeping the flag lowered until burial to honor the passing of other sitting senators.
But then, this afternoon as that statement was released, the president ordered the flag returned to half staff. The American flag on Capitol Hill has remained at the half staff position in honor of the man whose willingness to buck his party earned him the nickname "Maverick."
Earlier today, I had a chance to speak to Ohio governor John Kasich. He was a friend of McCain`s. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Governor Kasich, thank you for joining us, and the latest now is that the flag at the White House again flying at half staff, and the president putting out a statement saying, "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain`s service to our country." And in his honor signed a proclamation to fly the flag at half staff until the day of his internment. Of course, that had not been the case until midway - middle of this afternoon. What`s your reaction to that news?
JOHN KASICH, OHIO GOVERNOR: Great, great. I`m glad that the White House has decided to do that. And the president, you know, I`m pleased to see that he said we`re going to put the flags back down, and that he had kind words for John McCain. And I think that`s really good. That`s good. Positive.
KORNACKI: But what do you make of the delay? I mean, practically any other administration I can think of, it wouldn`t have even been an issue.
KASICH: I don`t read people`s minds. I can just say that it`s good that across this country there is an outpouring from everybody to say that we should all honor the life of this great man.
A guy who`s, you know, stood on principle. He was able to laugh at himself. He was able to reach out to people who he didn`t agree with. He was renowned all over the world. I just, I think he was an incredible guy, and I`m so thrilled to see the outpouring. It`s more than what I thought it would be.
And I knew there`d be an outpouring, but boy, it`s international, and people are celebrating the life of somebody who figured out a way to stand on principle and still be able to befriend people, even those he didn`t agree with.
KORNACKI: You say it`s more than you thought it would be. Why do you think that is?
KASICH: It never - you can never really always figure out how human beings are going to react. I certainly didn`t get a, you know, didn`t get my psychology degree in the mail last week.
But I think that people are hungry for a sense of unity. I think they`re hungry for some peace in the valley. Look, people are always attracted to the extremes, on the left or the right. You know, if you`re in a car and you`re driving down the highway, you know, and the traffic slows down, you think, well, there must be a traffic accident. Then, by the time you get to where the slowdown is, it`s on the other side of the road, right?
I mean, it`s like people are always attracted to these things that can have a sort of a negative energy to them. It`s something about human nature. But people don`t want to live in those extremes. People want to live where they can have peace and security and unity.
So, while we may be attracted to the flash and the dash, you know, it`s sort of like, take a walk on the wild side. You might remember that old song by Lou Reed. The fact of the matter is, we like to live where we can have peace, where we can get along, where we can really care about one another. And I think this is a moment where the world is catching its breath and saying, "Thank god for a guy that showed us how to do it."
KORNACKI: Well, so, if John McCain showed the world how to do that, he`s not going to be obviously, unfortunately, a part of the political discourse going forward within your party, within the Republican Party. Give me some names. Who is there to provide that example?
KASICH: No, this is not a time to be thinking about, you know, any of that. This is a time to think about the life of John McCain. And after a while, if people are inspired appropriately, because I think there`s going to probably be more of a series of books and maybe a movie about his life because it`s a compelling life that people would want to see. That even though he`s died, his life ended well. That he had his head high and was surrounded by his family.
And, you know, what comes next, that`s for another day. This is a week to reflect and think about what he has meant.
And it may inspire, not just people who are in public life today, but it may get some of these young people to really be inspired. And we need that. We need people to say that I can make a difference. No matter what I`m doing, I can make a difference in the way the world turns. And that would be, I think, the message of John McCain.
By the way, he was also a faithful man. I called John soon after he was diagnosed, and I was concerned about him. I said, "John, what about you and the big guy?" He said, "Johnny," because he always called me Johnny, "you don`t have to worry about that. I`m all squared away."
And so, a man of faith, a man who loved his country, a man who loved his family and loved his friends. And he could get in the ring and battle with the best of them. But at the end, he shook hands and held his head high.
KORNACKI: All right, Ohio governor John Kasich. Thank you for taking the...
KASICH: Steve, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Senator John McCain was a decorated war veteran, as we said, and an accomplished political maverick. That was his reputation. Certainly, as praise continues to pour in from across the nation and around the world, one man, as we said, until this afternoon and again this evening had remained muted on this. That was the president, Donald Trump.
And, of course, there is a history here. You are probably well aware that the two of them first clashing when the Arizona senator criticized the then-presidential candidate Trump for his characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. That back in 2015. Trump, who, according to the Washington Post, continually said that McCain was not a friend, then hit back at the senator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He`s not a war hero. He`s a war hero - he`s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren`t captured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The background on that, of course, back in the spring of 1968, Donald Trump, son of a wealthy New York state real estate developer received the first in a series of what would turn out to be five deferments from the war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, at the same time, it was a young Captain McCain who was beaten within an inch of his life while in captivity in Vietnam. The Washington Post also reporting the the president continues to believe privately that McCain was not a war hero.
For more, we`re joined by Susan Page, USA Today Washington bureau chief; George F. Will, syndicated columnist and MSNBC contributor. Thanks to both of you for being with us.
And I mentioned again the president had been muted. I said at the top of the broadcast we`re getting word that at this hour, the president, in fact, is hosting some Evangelical leaders at the White House. He just told them, according to our reporting, that, quote, "Our hearts and prayers are going out to the family of Senator John McCain, and we very much appreciate everything Senator McCain has done for our country." So, the president apparently telling that just now to Evangelical leaders in the White House, putting out that statement this afternoon offering his respect for the late senator.
But Susan Page, it is interesting. It was nearly 48 hours after news of John McCain`s passing that the president took this new shift in tone here. There had been a day, basically a day of advance warning from the McCain family that this was happening. I think safe to say, I can`t think of another leader in either party who, in Trump`s position right now as president, would have had this delay. What do you make of it?
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I think it`s inexplicable. It does no damage at all to John McCain. It does damage only to President Trump by having this sort of delay for someone who is, of course, an American hero and someone who served the nation in the military and in the Senate. I think it`s remarkable it took this long to get him to do even the kind of cursory statement that you just read honoring Senator McCain`s service. And I wonder if it was the almost universal outrage, including by the American Legion this afternoon, that finally persuaded the president that he should take this step and also lower the flags to half staff until the burial on Sunday.
KORNACKI: And George Will, in that interview with Governor Kasich, he said he was surprised by the level of the outpouring here at John McCain`s passing. I do wonder, he didn`t offer an opinion on this, but I wonder if you would. Is there an instinct there on the part of some folks who are mourning Senator McCain right now to connect the example of his life, his story we talk about the contrast there in the Vietnam era, to that of the current president?
GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think that`s right. I think the president`s behavior is unadmirable, but I disagree with Susan. I think it`s entirely explicable. Mr. Trump is a man who is desperate and transparent and obvious insecurities. And for a man like that, he is, after all, a weak person`s idea of a strong person.
The life of John McCain is, front to back, a reproach to the kind of life that`s been led by Mr. Trump. So, I think there`s been a tension there, a kind of almost chemical repelling from between the two of them. And it persists, as you would expect, with Mr. Trump into the realm of bad taste.
KORNACKI: Susan Page, that question, too, of going forward, I think it`s safe to say there`s only one John McCain. There only will ever be one John McCain. But that moral authority he was able in some ways, I think, to bring to politics just because of the sacrifice he`d given in his own life for this country. Staying in that prison in Hanoi even when he was given the option of going out. Going into the political arena, that gave him a level of moral authority we`re not used to seeing. Can you think of anybody else out there, Democrat, Republican, right now, who could even begin to approach that?
PAGE: Well, you know, of course the experience that he had as a POW stands alone as a singular thing. And as you see, when the topic came to things like torture, no one had the authority that John McCain had to state his views.
But I do think we make a mistake in thinking that - John McCain didn`t arrive his first day in the Senate and be a figure of enormous influence and respect. That was built over time, and he gained authority over time by how he behaved in the Senate. And it is entirely possible that we`re going to see other senators step up to achieve things, to reach across party lines, to stand on principle. That is not something that is the limited province of John McCain.
It`s hard in these days, because we are so - John McCain`s farewell statement talked about the dangers of falling into tribalism. We have definitely fallen into tribalism here in Washington. But that doesn`t mean that there couldn`t be someone who emerges. It will be people who emerge with moral authority in the future.
KORNACKI: And George Will, I`ve heard some folks moaning that John McCain sort of represented a bygone era of Republicanism. Although if you take Donald Trump off the stage and you go back a couple of years, certainly I`m thinking of the 2000 Republican presidential campaign right here. The Republican Party establishment at that point certainly didn`t seem to have much use for John McCain. Bigger picture, somebody says that if John McCain is Republican, what does that term mean? What`s the legacy of that term?
WILL: Well, what John McCain brought was the traditional Republican values. Remember, he came from Barry Goldwater`s state, and Barry Goldwater really founded in politics the American conservative movement in the postwar period, limited government.
But what Goldwater and McCain had in common was honest passion. Lord knows we`re awash in the synthetic sort that bubbles up all the time. Someone has said that the difference between professional wrestling - and, of course, an arena from which Mr. Trump also comes - the similarity between professional wrestling and American politics is the absence of honest passion.
John McCain had a legendary temper because he felt strongly about all kinds of things. It didn`t feel that he particularly had to suppress the manifestation of his strong feelings, which gave him a certain authenticity and integrity that made people respond to him.
KORNACKI: All right, George Will, Susan Page, thank you both for joining us.
Coming up, President Trump is continuing to lash out at the Justice Department. This weekend, he threatened once again to, quote, "get involved" in an investigation as the New York Times declares he seems to be at war with the law, according to the Times.
Plus, where does Trump`s approval rating stand after a politically harrowing week, even by Trump`s standards? I`m going to head over to the big board. We`ve got some brand-new numbers. They may surprise you, they may not.
And where does the GOP go from here with the passing of Senator John McCain? Arizona governor Doug Ducey needs to name a successor. The big question: Will it be someone in the mold of John McCain, or someone more like Donald Trump?
And finally, let me finish tonight with how Senator McCain got that reputation as a political maverick in the first place. Looking forward to that.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
At the end of a week that featured criminal convictions for Paul Manafort and a guilty plea by Michael Cohen, President Trump over the weekend took aim at the FBI.
The president tweeting out new accusations against Hillary Clinton and the FBI, saying that -- quote -- "At some point, I may have to get involved."
This comes after Trump suggested last week that he could potentially assume control of the Mueller probe, telling Reuters that -- quote -- "I can go in and I could do whatever. I could run it if I want."
"The New York Times" rebuking Trump for these kinds of comments, writing -- quote -- "In his attempt at self-defense amid the swirl of legal cases and investigations involving himself, his aides and his associates, Mr. Trump is directly undermining the people and processes that are the foundation of the nation`s administration of justice. The result is a president at war with the law" -- again, "The New York Times" there.
All of this coming amid new questions on whether Jeff Sessions will remain in his post as attorney general. After standing firmly behind Sessions, Republicans now appear more willing or open at least to replace him.
Joined now by Paul Butler, former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst, and Shannon Pettypiece, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.
Shannon, let me start with you.
So, the president, a lot of different ways, I guess, to look at that tweetstorm, if you want to call it, that he went on over the weekend there. Is he trying to distract from the news of the week? Is he blowing off steam? Is he trying more broadly to simply discredit these agencies that he thinks are going after him?
Are there -- but my question to you is, do we know of tangible, specific things he may be considering to do in line with those things that he`s tweeting?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, there certainly is an effort by him and his lawyers to launch a very clear public relations attack on Mueller, on Mueller`s team of investigators, on the FBI, on anyone who has touched this investigation, on any witness, like Michael Cohen, who might speak out against him.
The president`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani is very clear that he feels he is waging a public relations war, that this is not a closed-door investigation, this is a public investigation. And so they see this as being the only way to prevent impeachment, really, that if the Democrats can take control of the House, the president`s allies feel that impeachment is inevitable, and the only way to stop that is to unleash these continual public relations attacks against this entire investigation.
So, Paul, Shannon describing a political strategy there...
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.
KORNACKI: ... basically saying, hey, anything we are hit with here legally, ultimately, impeachment`s a political question, if you can keep Republicans in line in the House and the Senate, even if Democrats win back the majority this November, probably wouldn`t have a two-thirds majority to get rid of him.
So if that`s the bottom line there, I`m curious. From a prosecutor`s standpoint, if you`re investigating somebody who is employing a very highly public political strategy, does that affect your work as a prosecutor, as an investigator at all?
BUTLER: Normally, it wouldn`t, because at the end of the day the people who would decide the fate of that politician would be a jury of his or her peers.
The president of the United States is the only person who that doesn`t apply to, because the Justice Department will follow its guidelines, not written in the Constitution, an interpretation, that a sitting president can`t be indicted. So in that sense, the strategy is correct. It should be a political strategy, rather than a criminal strategy. That`s good news maybe for President Trump.
But it`s bad news for the rule of law. The president`s view is that he directs, he owns, as it is, the attorney general and the director of the FBI. He thinks that they owe him a pledge of loyalty. He thinks that he should be able to direct political prosecutions against his perceived enemies, like James Comey and Hillary Clinton.
He thinks he should be able to dole out pardons as political favors. That`s not the kind of America or the kind of leader that the framers of the Constitution imagined.
KORNACKI: And, Shannon, what Paul`s mentioning there about the attorney general, about Jeff Sessions, that`s the other thing that`s sort of come into focus again in the last couple of days because of comments from the president and from Sessions, for that matter.
But Jeff Sessions staying on as attorney general, some signals from Republican senators that potentially now maybe they`re open to replacing him. What is his status right now? How do you read it?
The president`s allies in Congress have sent a strong signal, do not do anything before the November midterms. There`s enough distractions the president creates every day. They have said, do not make this an issue before the November midterms.
But after the November midterms, there`s the signal that sort of all bets are off. And Lindsey Graham came out and said that, again, he does not think the president should do anything before November, but afterwards he said that he feels the president has the right to have an attorney general who he trusts.
If the Republicans maintain control of the House, or close control, I think all bets are off for Sessions, that the president could fire him, that he has been given the signal that that would be OK. And if you don`t have Democratic control of the House, I think he will feel there won`t be major repercussions for it.
KORNACKI: All right, there`s also some new reporting tonight that Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was briefly willing to consider a deal with the special counsel aimed at forestalling the next trial Manafort faces in Washington.
"The Wall Street Journal" reporting that -- quote -- "Manafort`s defense team held talks with prosecutors, but they didn`t reach a deal and the two sides are now moving closer to a second trial next month."
One person familiar with the matter telling "The Journal" that -- quote -- "The plea talks on the second set of charges stalled over issues raised by special counsel Robert Mueller. It isn`t clear what those issues were and the proposed terms of the plea deal couldn`t immediately be determined."
Paul, a lot of moving parts here, the trial that completed last week with some convictions, the trial pending later on. What do you make of this report?
BUTLER: What I make is that the loyalty pledge that Comey wouldn`t take, Manafort apparently has taken. Very solid evidence in the second case. In the first case, he was convicted on eight charges, eight times over, a convicted felon right now, jury 11-1 for conviction on the other charges.
Why is he going to trial here if he could buy himself with a deal some time off? Maybe he`s having these conversations in part about pleading, possibly all about the Benjamins, really expensive to go to trial.
And that shouldn`t be a factor, but for most people it is. He`s got a legal defense fund. Don`t know how well it`s doing, since, again, he`s probably going to lose the second trial.
KORNACKI: Well, Shannon, the other piece, though, is also, at the end of last week, we -- certainly, we were reporting what sounded like some pretty strong, pretty clear signals from the Trump side to Manafort about a potential pardon down the road.
So to hear those signals, and then get reporting of a possible plea deal breaking down for some reason -- we`re not exactly sure what happened there -- in terms of that possibility of a pardon, what are you hearing out of the White House?
PETTYPIECE: Well, I mean, the president signaled very strongly his sympathy toward Manafort. He called him a good man. He felt what has happened to him had been very unfair. These are similar words that he has used against other people he has pardoned, talking about the unfairness of their trial.
Pardons are sort of like the P-word around Trump`s legal team and his inner circle. Nobody wants to go there, even sort of on background, as a person familiar with the situation. But they would -- you know, they would give a wink and a nod to think, yes, that there certainly could be a pardon for Paul Manafort weigh in at some point.
But also, with the November elections, people have cautioned, I know close to the president, not to do this before the November elections because of how it could be politicized by the Democrats.
BUTLER: Really quickly, I do think that Trump -- that Manafort is counting on a pardon from Trump. That explains some of his actions. But can anybody trust Donald Trump?
KORNACKI: Well, it`s interesting too. As Shannon`s saying, the president apparently being told a couple of big things he`s warned not to do before November. We will see if he hews to that advice.
Paul Butler, Shannon Pettypiece, thank you both for joining us.
And up next, going to take a field trip over to the Big Board. We have got brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll numbers. We are going to get our first look at how Americans are reacting to that even-by-Trump`s- standards stormy week we just went through politically.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: All right, if you`re watching this show, if you`re watching this network, if you`re watching cable news anywhere, I probably don`t need to recap what happened last week.
But just in case you have forgotten by now, the president`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, he was found guilty in federal court last week at the same -- on the same day and practically at the same time that Michael Cohen was pleading guilty and saying in court that the president directed him to commit a crime aimed at concealing, covering up a politically damaging extramarital affair in the 2016 campaign.
And so the question becomes, well, wow, that is -- even by the standards of this era, that`s a big news day, that`s a big news week. How are people reacting to it?
Well, funny, we have got a new poll. We can take you through it. We got our first readout.
So, this is the interesting thing. NBC News/"Wall Street Journal," they were taking their normal poll about 10 days ago, just before all of this happened. And here`s what the readout looked like, Donald Trump`s approval rating sitting at 46 percent. By the way, 46 percent, that`s not great historically. There`s more who disapprove certainly.
But that number would have been and was the highest that NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal" have measured since Trump became president. But you see the dates on that, the 18th to 22nd of August. That was before everything I just mentioned happened.
So they kept the poll out there for a few more days. Let`s see what happens here. Let`s let the news sink in. Let`s let people process it. Is there going to be a big change in the president`s approval rating as they process these bombshell developments, really, is what this was?
Take a look. The answer, not to a major degree -- 46 went down to 44, 51 went up to 52. Again, you look at Trump`s poll numbers, they have been as low as mid-30s, this president. He`s sitting at 44 after this.
Now, we will see. There will be more polls taken. Maybe the numbers will go down further. Maybe they will steady out here. Maybe even somehow they will go up, they will bounce back up a little bit, but early on not a lot of immediate political damage in terms of the president`s approval rating.
And if that reminds you of anything, well, one thing is, you can think back 20 years ago. Bill Clinton, he was accused of committing a crime to cover up a politically damaging extramarital affair. The crime he was accused of was perjury. It led Republicans to impeach him.
But Bill Clinton, he was saved in 1998. You saw some similar headlines there. Why was Bill Clinton saved in 1998? He was saved because at every major plot point in that story, from the accusation of the affair, to having to admit it, to being accused of perjury, his approval rating kept going up.
There was a backlash against that push to impeach him. That is a big difference right here. Bill Clinton was already popular in 1998 when these stories broke. That approval rating kept going up. Trump, his number is not dropping yet, but it`s starting off a lot lower than Bill Clinton`s.
And is it does raise a possibility, if you get to the November midterms, if Republicans take it on the chin in November -- we will see if they do, but if they do, Republicans in Congress will be in a different position than Democrats ever were with Bill Clinton.
They would have to look at these stories and they would have to say, hmm, maybe there is a public turning against the president here. How would they respond to that? That might be the big what-if here.
But, again, for now, his numbers, at least initially in our polling, not collapsing -- the headline from that poll.
Up next: Senator John McCain has left some big shoes to fill in the U.S. Senate. It`s up to one man, the Republican governor of Arizona, to decide who will now take that seat.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters-of-a-century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last, best hope of Earth, for the sake of some half- baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MCCAIN: ... is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Senator John McCain last year accepting the Liberty Medal award for his lifetime of sacrifice and service.
It will now be up to Arizona`s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, to choose who will fill McCain`s Senate seat until the elections of 2020. Some names already being floated include Senator McCain`s widow, Cindy, Cindy McCain, former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. He served with McCain from 1995 to 2013.
Former seven-term Arizona Congressman John Shadegg, former Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon, who retired from Congress last year, and Governor Ducey`s chief of staff, Kirk Adams.
For more, I`m joined by our roundtable, Noelle Nikpour, a Republican strategist, Adrienne Elrod, former director of strategic communications for Hillary for America, and Eddie Glaude, a Princeton professor and MSNBC contributor.
NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN FUND-RAISER: Yes.
KORNACKI: Look at that list.
KORNACKI: And that question everybody is asking about, is it more of another McCain or is another -- the mold of McCain, somebody willing to break with the party a little bit versus somebody who`s more in the mold of alliance with d/Donald Trump? When you look at that list, what do you see?
NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Gosh. I`ve got to be honest with you. This is a very hard spot for Ducey to be in because you`ve got to basically pick somebody to replace John McCain, great John McCain, that is going to stay true to his seat and his thoughts and his mannerisms versus what`s going on with the Trump party pretty much. So, it`s a very hard place. I don`t envy his position.
I think the best choice in my opinion as a Republican strategist would be Cindy McCain. And the reason why I say that is because nobody is going to be upset. She is not only his widow and believes the same things he does, but you`ve also got to look that she was on the stump with him.
She knows his donors. She knows his constituents. She has been around with him as his partner and she already can fit into that position quite well. That would be my choice.
KORNACKI: It`s interesting the question of the spouse succeeding the other spouse who passes away. Haven`t had one in a long time. I went back and looked. Yes, `92, 1992 was the last time we had a senator who died. It was Quinton Burdock from North Dakota. I think the most famous example was Muriel Humphrey, the widow of Hubert Humphrey, all the way back in `70.
But it`s been a long time. How would that go over? Cindy McCain being appointed for John McCain?
ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER DIRECTOR OF STRATE COMMS, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, I think it would feel go over very well. But when you`re Governor Ducey, number one, he`s in re-election, right? He`s in cycle right now.
So, he`s got a very tough decision politically for him because on the one hand, I think as a conservative who is very aligned with the Trump effort and the Trump movement he`s going to anger the moderates who want to see someone who has the stature of John McCain, right, who want to see a Cindy McCain type. Of course, if you appoint Cindy McCain or somebody of that stature, then he`s going to anger the Trump people. So, he`s got a really difficult problem op his hands in that situation.
I actually think I`ve heard from some Arizona insiders that Jon Kyl might be the safe bet, right? Because number one, he is a senior statesman. He`s held the seat before. Number two, this person will have to run effectively for re-election. Unless they just simply decide to serve out the term in to 2020, and then step down and let there be an open seat.
KORNACKI: Yes, the idea that Kyl maybe gets a little bit into each camp and has the stature. I`ve been hearing that name a lot, too. We`ll see.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee, news on this interesting front too. They voted this weekend to dramatically reduce the power and influence of superdelegates in the party`s presidential nomination process. That overcame objections from a vocal minority of the DNC`s membership. The change will prohibit superdelegates from voting for a nominee at the Democratic convention unless the process becomes deadlocked. In other words, they don`t vote on the first ballot.
DNC chairman Tom Perez called it a historic day for the Democratic Party saying, quote, we passed major reforms that will not only put our next presidential nominee in the strongest position possible but will help us elect Democrats up and down the ballot across the country.
Eddie, let me ask you about this. I`m fascinated by this. The superdelegates started in 1984. Every time you`ve started to get a close Democratic race, which has happened a few times since then, you hear the complaints about the loft people is going to be subverted by the superdelegates. We`ve never actually had the deadlock scenario in the superdelegate era. I`m looking at this Democratic field for 20 saying if there`s 20 people out there, it doesn`t seem crazy, 20 Democrats out there running, is this going to be the one cycle when you actually need the superdelegates, you need somebody to break a tie?
EDDIE GLAUDE, PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, I`m not sure. What I do know is this. In the 2016 election, there was grumbling that the process was rigged because most folks say that Hillary Clinton was way ahead because many of the superdelegates had already committed before one vote was cast.
The second thing we would say is this -- I would say is this, is that young voters, young Democratic voters, the folks who are out there in Virginia, who are out there in Alabama, the folks who are organizing, knocking on doors, there was at least a deep suspicion and skepticism about the superdelegates. If they did not make a change, that skepticism would have deepened even more. And they need those foot soldiers.
They need them to turn out --
KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, it`s hard from like -- arguing for the idea of everybody`s got a stake in democracy, everybody`s got a role, everybody`s got to vote, it`s a hard thing to sell from that angle. But again, I`m looking at it. You could always say you`ll go broke betting on the brokered convention. It never actually happens.
And I`m actually looking ahead to 2020 --
ELROD: Two possible candidates, right?
KORNACKI: Then you`ll need it, right?
ELROD: Exactly, exactly. Look, these were huge reforms. Tom Perez, you know, I condemned him for his leadership on this. There was obviously a lot of resistance.
But this was a way to unify the party here and make it clear to all the Democratic voters out there, even those who are not part of the Democratic Party but who were hoping to pull in, independents, college-educated Republican women, going into 2020 to say you know what, the party activists, the party stalwarts are not going to be the one -- are not going to be the ones making this decision now.
We know again in 2016, superdelegates did not make the decision of course. But there was a perception out there, a misperception, but still a perception out there that they had undue influence. This is completely ridding our party --
KORNACKI: But if you got -- if you have a scenario here where candidate A has got 1,600 delegates, candidate B`s got 1,550, and the magic number`s 2,000 and nobody wins it on the first ballot, and then suddenly now they introduce this flood of superdelegates and the winning margin, would that - - in this day and age, would that outcome be accepted as --
ELROD: Well, it could. It could. I was on Hillary Clinton`s 2008 campaign and part of my job in the last few months of the campaign was to corral superdelegates to support her. So, again, in this scenario, we`ve not had a scenario like this in God knows how long, that we may have a -- what the GOP primary went through in 2016, with that many candidates.
So, but again, at the same time, that is irrelevant to me. What matters is Tom Perez is showing that he is bringing the party together, he is unifying. This is very important to get Bernie Sanders supporters to come back into the field and to support Tom Perez as chairman and also to feel that they are an inclusive part of the Democratic Party.
KORNACKI: I do feel there`s a bit of a lesson on the Republican side. They don`t have superdelegates but we talked so much in 2016. Remember the unpledged delegates. And there was that idea for a while the Republican establishment, if they could keep Trump just below that magic number, they could override it with that.
It seemed like there was a lesson there of Republicans theoretically having some power to at least make it difficult for Trump but resisting because they said they feared the idea that their voters wouldn`t accept it.
NIKPOUR: Oh, yes. And it`s a culture of corruption. I mean, with these delegates it is -- to your point, the schmoozing, the things you have to do, it`s almost like one is trying to bribe more and trying to do this. It is really a corrupt I think process.
ELROD: An outdated process.
NIKPOUR: It really is. Hats off to you that you had to do that. It`s tough. It really is.
I just think it breeds -- it`s just a slimy part of the election process if you ask me.
KORNACKI: Eddie, does this -- you talk about those Bernie voters, those young folks in particular, that was where the noise was coming from in 2016. But does this -- does this bring peace to the Democratic Party?
GLAUDE: Well, it certainly is one huge step towards peace, right? The idea that the superdelegates, these folks who are politicians, folks who are perceived to be in the pocket of Wall Street, these folks who behind closed doors who were making decisions before one vote is cast, right? These folks are objects of skepticism. They`re the Republican light folks, as some of the activists believe.
And if these folks are going to be on the ground, that is, the young folk. If they`re going to be on the ground working hard for the Democratic Party, working hard for a progressive agenda, they need to believe that the DNC is actually --
ELROD: Every single vote counts and is not influenced by party --
KORNACKI: All right. The round table is staying with us.
Up next these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: As I mentioned, President Trump paid tribute tonight to John McCain during a dinner with evangelical leaders. Let`s watch what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Also hearts and prayers are going to the family of Senator John McCain. There`s going to be a lot of activity over the next number of days. And we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country. So thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: Back with the HARDBALL round table.
Noelle, tell me something I don`t know.
NIKPOUR: I`m going to give you a prediction. I think the solid blue state of Connecticut for the first time is going to turn red.
They had a huge primary. Bob Stefanowski killed it. He trounced it. He`s a businessman. He`s a moderate. And I think you`re going to see that state flip from blue to red.
KORNACKI: Governor`s race there, Dan Malloy not running again. Low popularity. We`ll see.
ELROD: Still focusing on John McCain. Everybody knows Hillary Clinton and John McCain took vodka shots together and worked together in the Senate. But a lot of people don`t know they both have this huge mutual respect for each other because they both have grit and determination. They worked together quietly behind the scenes for years in the senate.
She actually has a signed photo behind her desk of her and John McCain in her current office in New York City. And they just had a really special bond.
GLAUDE: I`m just thinking about 50 years ago, 1968, the year I was born, that it was a time of tremendous turmoil. Russia, the Soviet Union invading Czechoslovakia. Students striking in France in May. The murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But all across the world, everyday ordinary folk were striking back against the powers that be. Here we are 50 years later, there`s a deep disquiet at the heart of the country, at the heart of the world. We might see some of that tumult again.
KORNACKI: Interesting. 1968, probably the most eventful year in modern history certainly. I think it`s crazy now.
Thank you, Noelle Nikpour, Adrienne Elrod, and Eddie Glaude. And when we return, let me finish tonight with Senator McCain`s origin story as a maverick.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Let me finish tonight with the death of John McCain. He is being rightly remembered as a war hero, a patriot, a man who loved his country, a man who believed in service. But in politics, there`s another word that has been synonymous with the name John McCain, and that is "maverick". Where did that reputation come from?
Well, it`s on my mind because I just wrote about it. It`s part of my new book "The Red and the Blue," which will hit bookstores in a month. It can be reordered now if you`re interested.
The story of McCain the political maverick, though, it really takes shape in the year 1999. A goliath is looming over the Republican presidential field, George W. Bush and his machine, obliterating fund-raising records, monopolizing endorsements, practically every big name governor is on board the Bush machine. Bush intimidating one candidate after another out of that race. Never in either party has a candidate built such a massive machine so early in the process.
But there is someone who is not intimidated by it. Somebody who steps forward happily, eagerly, almost like he enjoys this kind of thing to try to play the role of David. And it is John McCain. He is 63 years old at the time.
He has been in Washington for nearly two decades. But it`s the late 1990s and early 2000 that most Americans find out what he`s really all about as a politician. His biggest issue is campaign finance reform.
No one really cares about the details. But the symbolism is powerful. Here`s Bush hauling in huge sums of cash, and here`s McCain refusing to play the same game, thumbing his nose at the system, even though it means he`ll have just a fraction of the money.
And people start to take note. They start to see a politician who maybe seems to have some principles. McCain talks about things that no one else is talking about. He talks about honor, about service, about the idea of being part of a cause greater than yourself.
He connects his own political mission to his sacrifice in Vietnam. And for one magical moment, it all comes together. February 1st, 2000, when the unbeatable Bush machine is stopped dead in its tracks in New Hampshire, crushed by John McCain and his shoestring budget by 20 points.
In that moment, it actually feels like McCain might run away with the whole thing -- the Republican nomination, the presidency. It wasn`t to be, though. Some ugly stuff in South Carolina may have played a role there.
Years later, John McCain, of course, finally did win the Republican nomination. But politically, I`m not sure he had a finer moment than that night in New Hampshire in 2000 when McCain the maverick was born and when everything seemed possible.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
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