Washington Post releases audio tape. TRANSCRIPT: 9/4/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Chris Coons, Robert Costa, Jennifer Rubin, Elliot Williams, John Brabender

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 4, 2018 Guest: Chris Coons, Robert Costa, Jennifer Rubin, Elliot Williams, John Brabender

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Nervous breakdown. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. For a year and a half, this American presidency has been accused of nepotism, lying, vulgarity, racism, corruption, and treating with the enemy. And now, from the country`s top investigative reporter, comes the charge that the U.S. Presidency is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. These are explosive new details about the Trump White House today uncovered by veteran journalist Bob Woodward, in his upcoming book, entitled Fear.

According to "The Washington Post," the book describes a "nervous breakdown" of the executive branch under this president, and it portrays a White House consumed by the Mueller probe. Quote, "Woodward depicts Trump`s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days."

Former Trump lawyer John Dowd, quote, "was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he (even) talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller." So he, quote, "staged a practice session to try to make his point" last January. Quote, "Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions, and lies until the president eventually lost his cool." Quote, "`This thing`s a goddamn hoax!` Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, `I don`t really want to testify.`"

Well, Woodward`s account also reveals that Trump`s lawyers argued to Mueller that their client`s testimony was a bad idea because it would make the the president look like an idiot. That was their defense! John Dowd reportedly told Mueller last March, quote, "I`m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, `I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?`"

Well, separately Dowd warned the president, quote, "Don`t testify. It`s either that or an orange jumpsuit." Do you believe this stuff?

Revealing that he, in fact, responded to the revelations in an interview with a conservative news site, President Trump attacked the book, of course, and it`s author, saying, "It`s just another bad book. He`s had a lot of creditability problems." Well, Trump, talk about creditability problems.

Anyway, Trump added, "I probably would have preferred to speak to him, but maybe not...I think it probably wouldn`t have made a difference in the book. He wanted to write the book in a certain way."

Well, Woodward`s book comes as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that Democratic candidates for Congress this fall have a big lead in the generic poll, just two months out from the November election. Fifty-two percent of Americans, registered voters, say if the election were held today, they favored a Democratic Congress candidate for the United States House of Representatives, while just 38 percent said they`d favor a Republican. That`s a 14-point Democratic advantage. What do you think this book`s going to do to juice that?

Joining me right now is Robert Costa, who authored that report on the book in the Washington Post; Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post opinion writer; and , a former deputy assistant attorney general. Thank you for this. A great panel to look at this.

Robert, tell me about this book. When you read it, and you are a Trump whisperer, you know this guy, you covered him as well as any daily reporter is out there and in there. What did you make of what Woodward was able to get about Trump? This idea of a nervous breakdown, an operation going haywire under pressure?

ROBERT COSTA, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Chris, working with my colleague, Phil Rucker, we went page by page throughout this book. And you see so many advisers around this president pulling him back from different decisions on trade, on national security, on foreign policy. Expressing alarm to each other in private, if not publicly, but privately, about how they think the president is going in the wrong direction.

MATTHEWS: The crazy stuff like not understanding why it`s important that we get an early warning on a possible nuclear attack from North Korea. The common sense notion that a seven-second warning, rather than 15-minute warning, it just seems the idea that we want to know immediately what happened, not 15 minutes after the launch! And this guy not seeming to understand the importance of that - acute importance of time.

COSTA: There are jarring scenes in the beginning of the book where the president`s arguing against the South Korean trade agreement. And then you have, pages later, Secretary of Defense Mattis warning the president, "If you try to disrupt the South Korean relationship with the United States, you could risk World War III from unfolding before our eyes if you try to unwrap some of those alliances that have been preserved for so long. On trade, on foreign policy, you see Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, Gary Cohn, the former economic advisor, trying to - they even pulled documents off of the president`s desk so he forgets about them and moves on.

MATTHEWS: This reminds me of that "Twilight Zone" episode where that little kid, that evil little kid, had powers to destroy anybody, and they`re all scared to death of him. That`s what it sounds like, Jennifer.

JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST OPINION WRITER: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: A president with ultimate power and minimal intelligence.

RUBIN: Exactly. And, you know, this is all well and good that these guys are trying to leap around him and steal - take documents away from him and kind of patch things up. But no one elected them president. We have a president, who was elected, who is incapable of serving in the role, and that`s a real problem. It`s a problem for democracy, it`s a problem for -

MATTHEWS: Yeah, I agree (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS), yeah. Anyway, according to the Washington Post that`s coming out tomorrow, the book reveals that those close to the president are constantly unnerved by Trump`s behavior and are routinely trying to prevent him from creating, as you say, Jennifer, new disasters. Former White House aide Rob Porter, who left amid allegations of domestic violence in his life, is quoted as saying, "This was no longer a presidency. This is no longer a White House. This is a man being who he is."

Well, former economic advisor Gary Cohn came to regard Trump as "a professional liar." That`s a quote, by the way.

And Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly called Trump unhinged. That`s Omarosa`s word, unhinged! Saying that the president (INAUDIBLE), quote, "He`s an idiot. It`s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He`s gone off the rails. We`re in Crazytown."

I mean, this is John Kelly. Look at that, the general says we`re in Crazytown! "I don`t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I`ve ever had."

Well, John Kelly later said the book is an attempt to smear people close to the president. OK, here we go, this is cover-up time. I go back to my favorite quote from the Profumo film, "Scandal": "He would say that." Everybody says this after they get caught. Your thoughts, Elliot?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right. Well, the problem is -

MATTHEWS: Is this actionable? Can you take away somebody`s car like this, if they had this kind of crazy stuff going on?

WILLIAMS: I don`t think you can do that. I wish you could take away the presidency from someone who`s got this kind of crazy stuff going on.

The problem, and let`s go big picture here, is that you have the White House Chief of Staff and two of the four people in line for the presidency thinking that the President of the United States is an idiot, and saying it to other staff members and saying it amongst each other and so on. So, it`s - who`s in charge there? And there seems like there`s no faith in the heavy organization. That`s no way, frankly, to run a small business, and frankly it`s no way to run the executive branch of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Robert, I know you`re careful on this, and I respect you a lot for this, but let`s talk about this. When the first word got out that Sarah Palin was actually going to be the nominee for vice president of a major political party, people began to talk to her. And one of the great lines that came out of it, I forget whether it was Steve Schmidt or was Nicole or somebody, said, "She doesn`t know anything." I mean, that was a profound statement. It was almost funny. In fact, it was funny, the fact that somebody could reach that level and not know literally anything about American history, American government, anything that you might need to bring to the office.

What`s your view of Trump and the question of idiocy? What is - how is the word idiocy used here? Is it used hyperbolically? Is it used in anger, or just in dismay after a bad incident?

When these people, they throw these words around and Bob Woodward picks them up in his reporting, what do you make of it? Idiot. Idiot! Crazytown. Your thoughts.

COSTA: One of the most revealing parts of this book is when the generals bring the president to the Pentagon, they bring him across the river, to try to teach him about world affairs. And you see this throughout Woodward`s book. Generals, top advisers to the president, trying to teach him about world order, about U.S. alliances, about the importance of institutions. And regardless of what you think of the president`s intelligence, Woodward`s reporting shows a president who does not regard these relationships or alliances as important. And disregarding so much of the counsel that`s given to him by the top military officials. That comes through throughout the book.

MATTHEWS: Well, Woodward said he requested an interview with the president through six different people at the White House, but was ultimately unsuccessful at getting the president to participate in the book at all. However, in a conversation last month with President Trump, after the book was finished and gone to the publisher, the president said he did not receive any requests and said he would have liked to have been interviewed. Here`s some audio excerpts from that call between Bob Woodward, the great investigative reporter who really broke the Watergate story, and the President of the United States, which were released, by the way today by the Washington Post. Let`s listen to that conversation.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, WASHINGTON POST INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: I`m sorry we missed the opportunity to talk for the book.

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Well, I just spoke with Kellyanne and she asked me if I got a call. I never got a call. I never got a message. Who did you ask about speaking to me?

WOODWARD: Well, about six people.

TRUMP: They don`t tell me.

WOODWARD: A senator. I talked to Kellyanne after about it two and a half months ago. I would have liked to have done that, and I maximized my effort, and somehow it didn`t get to you or -

TRUMP: It`s really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would have loved to have spoken to you. You know I`m very open to you. I think you`ve always been fair, but we`ll see what happens.

WOODWARD: You know, it`s a tough look at the world and your administration and you.

TRUMP: Right. Well, I assume that means it`s going to be a negative book. But, you know, I`m sort of 50 percent used to that. That`s all right. Some are good and some are bad. Sounds like this is going to be a bad one.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Jennifer, what do you make of that? I mean, why did the president - this calls for some analysis. Why would the president call if he knows he`s ignored all these requests through his staff to meet with Bob Woodward, who is dangerous?

RUBIN: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: We know it. He`ll take a tape recorder into the room with you. He will ask you tough questions. He`ll have them on tape when he walks out. And you will be under his control at that point.

RUBIN: Well, I mean the fact that he taped this conversation tells you that. I mean, this - you played just a small portion of that. You couldn`t possibly play the whole thing, it would take up the whole show. It`s long, it`s rambling, at times he seems to contradict himself. He says, you know, he talked to Kellyanne. Well, Kellyanne was one of the people he asked, so he gets Kellyanne on the phone.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and then Kellyanne tries to blame it all on Hope.

RUBIN: Right. Exactly. (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS). So, I mean, it`s a little bit of "Keystone Kops," but this is kind of the chaos that surrounds him.

MATTHEWS: Let me tell you: I`ve been through this. I worked on both sides. I`ve been a politician. This, Robert, is called the run-around. Trump is giving Woodward the run-around.

He`s saying, you talked to who? It was like - it`s like a Vaudeville act. You talked to who? You talked to him? You didn`t talk to me. How come you went to them? Why didn`t you make a call?

I mean, the question the president kept putting to him, why didn`t you call me personally and talk to my secretaries? That`s not how you get through to the White House these days. Or any president that I know of. You never call the president. You call the press office and then, can I have some time with him?

COSTA: And the most revealing part of that conversation between the president and Bob Woodward is when it`s clear the president acknowledges that Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina did bring up the topic with him. Woodward says he brought it up with Graham. And so, there was an opportunity on multiple occasions for the president to, in some way, whether through Senator Graham or Miss Conway or other White House aides, to sit down for the interview. It was the president`s choice to not sit with Bob Woodward. And now you`re sitting there with the book, if you`re at the White House, that doesn`t have the president`s voice in it, but certainly has a lot of people with first-hand accounts.

MATTHEWS: And one of the old rules of press relations, I can tell you: if you think the book`s going to be negative, don`t do the interview because you`ll just be looking like you`re part of your own dissembling and destruction.

Anyway, according to the Post, Washington Post, Bob Woodward writes that the president told an aide Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a "traitor" for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. Quote, "Mocking Sessions` accent, Trump added, `This guy is mentally retarded. He`s this dumb Southerner...he couldn`t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.`"

Well, additionally NBC News today revealed the president`s also taking aim at FBI director Christopher Wray. Quote, "Trump has criticized Wray as another figure in the Justice Department who is not protecting his interests - and is possibly out to undermine his presidency, these people said." Elliot, I don`t think he understands the role of the Attorney General of the United States.

WILLIAMS: He does not.

MATTHEWS: Because he thinks the number one goal is, how come he went after those two crooked Republican congresspeople?

WILLIAMS: Right.

MATTHEWS: Oh, no. That`s not his job. He`s supposed to leave them alone, right?

WILLIAMS: Right. But, you know, I think the even bigger thing here is this whole Southern accent, and I think he`s -

MATTHEWS: Why would he make fun of his base? His votes come from the white South. And he`s making fun of Southern accents.

WILLIAMS: And to take it further, he`s making fun of - at times, he`s criticized Jeff Sessions not having an Ivy League degree or whatever. And what you`re seeing here is a Yankee making fun of -

MATTHEWS: Most voters who vote for anybody don`t have an Ivy League degree. Most voters who did not vote for Trump don`t have Ivy League degrees. (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS). I know, of course they don`t.

RUBIN: You can sense the contempt -

MATTHEWS: That`s why he phrased it that way.

RUBIN: Yeah. The contempt he has for his own voters, you know, he`ll tell people (INAUDIBLE) I can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. You know, they`re all morons. You know -

MATTHEWS: Making fun of accents when you`re head of state of this country, you don`t make fun of dialects, not just (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS).

RUBIN: He makes fun of everybody!

WILLIAMS: He`s making fun of the very people who are in the core of his support. (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS).

MATTHEWS: And that`s true. Nobody tell him that one.

Anyway, meanwhile, the New York Times was first to report late tonight that Robert Mueller told Trump lawyers in a letter sent Friday that he will accept - oh, this is so cute. He will accept written answers from the president on questions of potential collusion, but did not ask for a written response to questions on obstruction. This is a mistake on the part of Mueller.

According to the Times, "Mr. Mueller did not say that he was giving up on an interview altogether." However, the tone of the letter "prompted some Trump allies to conclude that if an interview takes place, its scope will be more limited than Mr. Trump`s legal team" - why is he buckling?

By the way, NBC News has confirmed that reporting, adding that the offer includes a possible follow-up with the president on issues of collusion. Excuse me, why is Trump - I know why Trump`s playing this game. He doesn`t want to sit down with Mueller. Why is Mueller agreeing to any -

RUBIN: Because it doesn`t matter. He -

MATTHEWS: Can I get this other lawyer over here? (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS) you`re a lawyer, too.

WILLIAMS: I don`t think it`s buckling, though. These negotiations take time. Sometimes they give these questions -

MATTHEWS: But Trump will say he`s participated now. He`ll say, I answered the take-home.

WILLIAMS: He can say all kinds of things. The president can say all kinds of things, but at the end of the day, they`re still getting testimony from the President of the United States. They may not even need it. The discipline of Mueller and his team, they have a (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS). They`ve been disciplined.

MATTHEWS: You`re wincing about it. You think it`s OK to go with this written take-home -

RUBIN: Because he finally gets Trump in the seat! Trump is going to say all kinds of goofy things. (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS). Well, that`s why he`s doing this, he is establishing a pattern. We tried to be reasonable with the president, we gave him all kinds of options -

MATTHEWS: One thing that`s come out of this book by - let me ask you, Robert. It seems that one thing that`s come out of this book is Trump will never sit down for a live interview. They don`t trust him to do it.

COSTA: Yeah. Well, remember what we reported back in the spring. Mueller always has the subpoena sitting there on the shelf. So, you could see what Mueller`s doing here is exploring all options, pushing the president`s legal team to the brink, and saying, we`re working with you on all levels here. If you`re not going to cooperate - remember, Mueller told them about the subpoena then, and he could bring it up now.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. Of course, the trouble is he`s learning all the questions as well as he`s giving the written answers. And what - he will find a way, like most prisoners, you don`t want to give them a lot of time. You want to grab them right after the crime and as fast as you can. Get them in that room, Mirandize them, and get the questions to them quick, and don`t give them a lot of chance to figure out their lies. Anyway, thank you, Robert Costa. Thank you, Jennifer Rubin and Elliot Williams.

Coming up, there were fireworks today at the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. Wait until you see - well, here`s a bit of it. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS COONS, U.S. SENATOR: I believe you`ve repeatedly and enthusiastically embraced an interpretation of presidential power so expansive it could result in a dangerously unaccountable president at the very time in which we are most in need of checks and balances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There`s a lot more noise there than that. But anyway, Chris Coons joins us next in about a minute, live.

Plus, the HARDBALL Ten, the top Senate races - seats. The top Senate seats to watch this November to determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate come December.

And much more on Bob Woodward`s explosive new book about the Trump presidency,. What does the president think about his cabinet and his staff? Not much. And what do they think about him? Not much.

Finally, let me finish tonight with what so many of us witnessed on Saturday at Senator John McCain`s funeral. I saw an underground religion, and an underground politics, that looked very good.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There were fireworks today at that confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. According to the Associated Press, the nominee had spent hours in mock hearings preparing for issues that might come up.

But the focus today was on the strong objections by the Democrats on the committee. They accused the Republicans of rushing the hearing, especially after the last-minute release of 42,000 pages of documents.

That`s 42,000 pages of documents about the nominee related to his time working in George W. Bush`s White House. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), Iowa: Brett Kavanaugh to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court to the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. Chairman, I would like to be recognized for a question before we proceed.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to be recognized and ask a question before we proceed.

The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago, 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to review or read or analyze.

GRASSLEY: You`re out of order. I will proceed.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, we have been denied -- we have been denied real access to the documents we need to advise and consent, which turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norms.

GRASSLEY: Well...

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, I therefore move to adjourn this hearing.

GRASSLEY: OK.

(SHOUTING)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: What is with the rush? What are we hiding by not letting those documents come out? Sir, this committee is a violation of the values that we as a committee have striven for, transparency.

We are rushing through this process in a way that is unnecessary.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: We should not be proceeding until we have the full documents that allow us to review the judge`s records.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, if confirmed, Kavanaugh would solidify a hard-right majority on the Supreme Court and would rule on pivotal issues, like, of course, abortion rights, gun rights, and whether or not a president can be investigated -- or, indicted, rather.

And another unexpected moment, this image of Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was murdered during the Parkland shooting, reaching out to shake the judge`s hand as he turned away.

Well, that doesn`t look good. There it is. Watch this. He looks at the guy, and then he just walks away from him.

Well, the White House issue this response to that image -- quote -- "As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him. Before the judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened."

For more, I`m joined by Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware. He`s on the Judiciary.

What did you make of that incident? Is it important or not that the nominee for the Supreme Court wouldn`t give time to a guy who happened to be the father of one of the victims of Parkland High?

COONS: Well, he came over and spoke with me and a number of other senators just a few minutes later, Chris. He was very disappointed and upset that Judge Kavanaugh wouldn`t shake his hand, wouldn`t speak to him for even a moment.

He just wanted to convey the heartbreak, the loss of a father whose daughter had been murdered in the Parkland shootings, and wanted to emphasize to Judge Kavanaugh the ways in which Americans all over the country are watching this hearing, this confirmation process, eager to know what his views are on important issues, including gun control, the Second Amendment, and whether or not he should give up all hope of responsible gun legislation should Judge Kavanaugh become Justice Kavanaugh.

MATTHEWS: Is -- do you think Kavanaugh is one of those people that would have believed -- gone along with the Heller decision, who believed completely in the right to bear arms at any point, it has nothing to do with having a militia back in the colonial times or the federal period times, it`s just some absolute right?

Do you think he`s one of those?

COONS: Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of that in terms of a nominee?

COONS: Well...

MATTHEWS: Should somebody be on the court who believes in the absolute right to a gun?

COONS: I mean, my concern, Chris, across a lot of different topics that Judge Kavanaugh has written about, spoken about where he`s issued decisions on the D.C. Circuit is that he is significantly outside the mainstream of American judicial thinking.

He`s got views on a whole bunch of issues. As you mentioned a few moments ago, the one that concerns me most is his views on presidential power. We may never see President Trump interviewed by special counsel Mueller if Judge Kavanaugh`s views end up dominating a future Supreme Court, because he has both written and spoken to the point that he doesn`t think a president should be subject to a subpoena for evidence or for testimony.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s another Robert Bork?

COONS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Explain.

COONS: If by that, you mean a very intelligent, very well grounded in his view of the law, but holding a view of the law that is significantly outside the mainstream of current American thinking.

I think a new majority on the court, with Judge Kavanaugh added to it, would be significantly more conservative than the majority of the American people.

MATTHEWS: What I`m getting at is, Bork was the one who went along with the Saturday Night Massacre.

COONS: Right.

MATTHEWS: He thought the president had a right to fire anybody he wanted to fire right down the line, to get what he wanted to protect him from prosecution.

COONS: And we see in Judge Kavanaugh`s decisions and speeches as recently as this year a view of the president`s power. It`s called the unitary executive theory, to give it a fancy name, but it`s rooted in a dissent by Scalia that`s now, I think, more than 20 years old.

And just this year, Judge Kavanaugh, differing with the Supreme Court majority, differing with the majority in his own circuit court, keeps citing this Scalia dissent as the way the law should go.

In a recent speech, he said, of all the decisions, all the decisions that he thinks deserve to be overturned, it`s that decision where a majority of the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for there to be an independent counsel investigating the president.

MATTHEWS: Last point.

That`s to say that President Trump, as president, is the country`s chief law enforcement official.

COONS: That`s right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You say it so quietly.

COONS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: But to most Americans hearing that today think, you mean he`s in charge of his own prosecution and justice in terms of himself?

COONS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That he is, the president.

COONS: That makes no sense. That makes absolutely no sense, in my view.

I think that`s exactly why this is so concerning to me, just days after President Trump has once again launched a Twitter attack on the attorney general, on the special counsel, and now, alarmingly, is demanding that his own political allies not be prosecuted by the independent professional career prosecutors of the Department of Justice.

We have got a president, I am afraid, who is looking for a justice who will give him a pass.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like the Il Duce theory.

Thank you so much, Chris Coons. Thank you, Congressman -- United States senator from the state of Delaware.

COONS: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Up next: As we enter the final stretch before the midterms, it`s the Senate races, where there are 10 hot ones, that are generating the most suspense.

When we return, I`m going to inaugurate the HARDBALL 10, breaking down the -- there they are -- the 10 seats that the Democrats -- including Democrats, the seats they got to hold and the ones that want to pick up, if they`re going to get control in November. This is it.

We`re going to write in what you will look for the next several weeks between now and Election Day, the HARDBALL 10.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Sixty-two days from now, the country will completely repopulate the United States House of Representatives. All 435 seats will be emptied, then refilled by the voters, either by an incumbent or a newcomer.

All evidence suggests that voters will elect a majority of Democrats to fill those 435 seats. I say that based on the national polls, which show them with a double-digit advantage in which party people say they will support.

Add to this the large number of seats now held by Republicans that are vulnerable to a takeover by the Democrats. Even flipping a coin on each of those races would yield a flip of the entire House to the Democrats.

So, bet on a Democratic House come next January, with Democrats controlling the schedule of legislation there, the chairmanships of all the committees, each of those chairs armed with the power of the subpoena, able to call any witness, able to schedule any measure, including impeachment of the president.

It`s the Senate side that I expect to be the arena of suspense this election night. The Senate is now controlled narrowly by the Republicans. They have got 51 senators. The Democrats have 49. If the Dems pick up two seats this November, therefore, they win control, which means they can stop any Trump nominee to the Supreme Court.

If they play it right, they can use this narrow majority to force the selection of a nominee for the court that would end, perhaps even reverse, the high court`s current lurch to the right.

There are 10 Senate races that I will be watching closely for the next 62 days. I`m calling them the HARDBALL 10.

Let`s start with the seats the Democrats need to hold on to, incumbents.

Senator Bill Nelson, down in Florida, Senator Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Senator Heidi Heitkamp out in North Dakota, Senator Bob Tester in Montana.

So, now the pickup opportunities, Representative Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, former Governor Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, Representative Jacky Rosen out in Nevada, and, last but not least, not at all least, Congressmen Beto O`Rourke, who is challenging Senator Ted Cruz in Texas.

To win control the United States Senate, the Democrats may need to win only a majority of these 10 contests. That`s the good news.

The bad news is that all but one of these races are in red states, states President Trump won rather convincingly in 2016. Bottom line, I believe 2018 is going to be an election driven by geography. A blue wave, I believe, is going to roll through the suburbs of this country`s big liberal cities.

Men and women who held back in supporting Hillary Clinton, for example, in 2016, this time are going to be unrestrained in voting Democrat. They will throw control the House of Representatives and all that power that rides with it to the Democrats.

Out in the red states, the results of November lies in question. There, in the country`s wider geography, the blue wave will be checked by continued support for President Trump. It is there, beyond the coastal suburbs, where the final battle of 2018 will be fought. It is there that the future of the U.S. Senate will be decided.

And, for this reason, HARDBALL will spend the weeks between now and election night focusing on the HARDBALL 10, the big 10 battles for the U.S. Senate.

Stay with us, and you will be ahead of the crowd.

Up next: What, if any impact will Bob Woodward`s new book have on the fast-approaching midterm elections? Will Woodward`s description of the so- called nervous breakdown of Trump`s presidency fuel the anti-Trump vote, fire -- or will it fire up his defenders?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There are new polls out tonight for two of the HARDBALL 10 we just mentioned, Senate races showing the candidates locked in dead heats as we head into the final weeks of the midterms.

In Missouri -- look at this number -- Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill always has to fight it out there. She`s tied with her Republican challenge, Josh Hawley, 47 even. This must be maddening to an incumbent.

In Florida -- catch this -- Democratic Senator Bill Nelson also tied with the governor down there, 47. This is why I make it -- I really -- this is the Alfred Hitchcock of this election season, these Senate races.

With Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the Senate, each of these races could determine control the Senate.

In the House of Representatives, it`s easier there. It`s easier. There are also two new polls out showing voters prefer Democrats to Republicans by double digits in that generic poll. In other words, they ask, are you voting Democrat or Republican this time?

Let`s bring in tonight`s Roundtable, Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post," MSNBC contributor. Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster and MSNBC analyst. We`re going to explain the difference there in a minute. And John Brabender is a Republican strategist.

Analyst, strategist, and whatever.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let me -- I think it`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, I think -- I think, on this question of the Senate races, it`s personality. It`s not the British Labor Party or the British Conservative Party. You actually don`t vote party in a lot of cases.

You look at the person you like. McCaskill, does she seem local enough, Missourian enough, you know, that kind of thing?

RUTH MARCUS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The way I think about the Senate, the Democrats just have to really pull an inside straight, and everything needs to go their way.

Even though the margin is razor-thin, it`s going to be really hard to pull that off.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I -- look, I think if you were --

MATTHEWS: Winning six of those ten, it`s going to be tough. I`m telling you they`re almost all but Nevada red states.

BELCHER: But -- well, in Nevada`s back of that --

MATTHEWS: Don`t say Nevada, don`t do that.

BELCHER: But if you look at the map, look, this is supposed to be a really good Republican year for the Senate race but if you look at the polling out right now, and a lot of these states that are teetering where they`re supposed to be doing well, it`s a toss-up, right? I think a lot of --

MATTHEWS: Right, they`re saying that tonight.

BELCHER: And a lot of that is has to do with quite frankly, it`s a national referendum on Trump, right? And you get into the polling, you have a majority of Americans want to put a check on Trump and Congress that certainly doesn`t help Republicans nationally and I think there is an opportunity in Tennessee or Republican out spend money, in Texas where they never have to spend money.

MATTHEWS: I disagree. I just -- I think geography has and I think that if you`re surrounded by a lot of pro-Trump people, you`re going to vote Trump. But if you get into suburbs where you may have been the odd woman out or the odd man out and voting for Trump last time, this time, you`re not voting for him. You`re not going to stick your neck out for Trump this time in the suburbs.

BELCHER: But the suburbs are on fire and that`s the problem.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But here`s where Senate races are different. First of all, the House is definitely -- look, at the generic ballot, look at President Trump`s numbers, that`s going to affect the House. Senate races are a little bit more like governor races. They`re choice elections. This person versus that person, so that`s number one.

Number two is when you put a poll showing an incumbent and a challenger both at 47, it goes towards the challenger because incumbents pick up very few undecideds the closer we get to the election. So, in some of these races where Republicans are tied at this point, that`s actually good. And like I said --

MATTHEWS: By the way, you`re right.

Let`s move on. Meanwhile, as we discussed earlier --

(LAUGHTER)

MARCUS: Wow.

BELCHER: Could you -- could you repeat that?

MATTHEWS: You`re right because I believe if you don`t have 50 percent and you`re incumbent, they know you`re pretty well. If they didn`t like you yet, they`re not going to like you next month.

Anyway, a book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward paints it -- unless you end up being one of the rape candidates, then you`re out of the business like Murdoch or Aiken.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: But that`s not true, go to this former speaker Harry Reid, he was always dead man walking. He`d never gotten a 50 percent but he always pulled out. Claire McCaskill.

MATTHEWS: He had an organization. How many have organization --

BELCHER: Yes, but (INAUDIBLE).

Well, Claire McCaskill certainly has her organization. We keep painting her --

MATTHEWS: Have you ever admitted Republicans have an advantage?

BELCHER: Have I, say what?

MATTHEWS: Ever admitted Republican has an advantage?

BELCHER: I admit they have advantage all the time. This is a good year. I started off by saying this is should be a very good year for them.

MATTHEWS: Who`s going to win the Senate?

BELCHER: I think Democrats will edged out one seat.

MATTHEWS: I got to win two.

BELCHER: I think there`s going to pick up -- certainly, they`re going to win all the seats.

BRABENDER: Do they lose any?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- nervous breakdown in Trump`s presidency. According to "Washington Post", the book by Woodward was coming out next week says the president Trump referred to his former chief of staff Reince Priebus as like a little rat, nice guy President Trump. He often mocked his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back. He told his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, you`re past your prime.

And in one exchange during a National Security Council meeting, Trump asks why the U.S. military is in the Korean peninsula at all. His Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him, we`re doing this in order to prevent World War III.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like and had the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.

In the last hour, Trump responded to the book and a tweet saying that stories were made up and he questioned whether Woodward is a Dem operative.

OK. One thing about Bob Woodward, I have never detected in years of meeting him and all kinds of events ever since he was a liberal Democrat, even slightly.

MARCUS: I will let bob discuss his political views whatever they are for himself. I think it`s fair to say if you look at the array of his work, Dem operatives are not the first words that come to mind. America`s foremost investigative reporter a little bit more of a accurate description.

MATTHEWS: Cornell, what do you think the voter? I mean, I keep thinking these moment -- look, I think Saturday was a spiritual I`m going to talk about the other show. I think this country covered something of its soul this Saturday with the burial of and they`re honoring of John McCain, the center, whatever. But it`s not just decided the spirit of the country.

But this knowledge that the president of the United States is surrounded by people that think he`s an idiot, they think he`s in ignorant they just have the knowledge of a 12th grader on issues that he should understand --

MARCUS: Fifth grader.

MATTEHWS: -- strategic stuff like why we have like why we have --

BELCHER: Sixth grader.

MATTEHWS: -- why we have information, why we had all kinds of stuff to prevent nuclear war, does that going to affect any voter you know?

BELCHER: Well, I think it`s already baked in, right? I think so many -- is already baked in. I think not all the all the voters who are up in arms right now, they never thought that Trump was the sharpest tool in any way and I think what over the last two years you`ve seen that drip.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but there`s an abyss though. When Sarah Palin was an unmasked as somebody who -- not she`s a bad person but didn`t know anything, that hurt. That hurt John McCain.

BELCHER: But this isn`t new news for Trump like -- Americans have never thought he was great on foreign policy. They never thought he was the sharpest tool. They did think he was a tribal warrior and that`s what he continues to be.

MATTHEWS: John Brabender, you`re in here. What do you think of this book?

BRABENDER: Look, first of all, you got to remember how Trump got here. The left voted for Hillary, the right voted for Trump, and a lot of blue collars did not like Hillary and saw Trump as an agent of change and so they`re not surprised by all this that his actions are counterculture to the Washington scene as we would typically know it.

I think the thing about this particular book -- first of all, I agree with you. I think Woodward is, you know, the Republicans should not be out there saying let`s destroy him we can`t trust them. I think his reputation precedes them.

But I will say this it still is unnamed sources. You still have the people who he has claimed like Kelly and others coming out to this afternoon saying, wait a minute, I never said these things.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they have to say that.

BRABENDER: Chris, so, if you like the president, you`re going to think the book doesn`t matter. If you don`t like the president, gives you more --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTEHWS: -- he`s going to wonder about all these people around and ratting him out, what`s he going to think about Kelly being coy? Because no matter what he says publicly, he suspects that Kelly did say it.

MARCUS: Of course, he did.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: What are the suburban moms going to say? Now, suburban women voters --

BRABENDER: Yes, the same ones that Hillary ran a whole campaign again for and they didn`t win.

MATTHEWS: Hillary is not in this race.

Let go ask Cornell, real quick.

BELCHER: I disagree with -- the left was split going into 2016, you`re not going to see them split going into next presidential. You`re not going to see him split going into the midterm.

MATTHEWS: It`s easier to vote against Trump than vote for Hillary?

BELCHER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I think so. I`m just saying is it easier effect, I`m not knocking her.

The round table is sticking with us.

And up next, the governor of Arizona has picked a successor for the late Senator John McCain. How that pick affect the Supreme Court nomination of, well, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh because we now have another vote probably for Kavanaugh? Probably.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R), ARIZONA: As I contemplated who could best serve our state in the U.S. Senate, I kept coming back to one name and one person, Jon Kyl, with nearly two decades experience in the Senate serving alongside John McCain. Senator Kyl is prepared to hit the ground running.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was Arizona Governor Doug Ducey this morning, announcing his choice of former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl to fill the late Senator John McCain`s seat through 2020, until they have an election. Kyl has been on the Hill in recent months acting as the Sherpa, the guide if you will, for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by guiding him through the confirmation process.

While former Senator Kyl will be a dependable vote for Trump Supreme Court nominee, he has had chart choice words for the man in the White House. Let`s watch Kyl on Trump.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: I don`t like his style. Much of it is boorish. I think he`s his own worst enemy. He could be much more effective if he were more politic, more diplomatic. Of course, that`s one of the things that people liked about him, the fact that he isn`t that way. But I think there`s a happy medium.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Senator Kyl impact on life on this planet.

MARCUS: Placeholder, status quo --

MATTHEWS: For senator to be Ducey I would bet. I`m sorry, call me a cynic.

MARCUS: You are a cynic, Chris, but you`ve been around for a while.

MATTHEWS: Because he said he was going to pick somebody, Cornell, who was going to have run for election in two years. He picked somebody who was promised he won`t run for election two years, leaving that opportunity open to Governor Ducey.

BELCHER: Opportunity, right, and counts as safe pick.

I think Arizona is a changing state though. I think the more interesting I think -- no, we would rather talk about this is it is the dead heat that the Arizona Senate races right now and that`s been a solidly Republican state but demographic shifts are changing that.

MATTHEWS: Sinema versus McSally.

BRABENDER: Yes, but there is some significance with Kyl. Number one, he not only checks the box, he`s not McCain and going to put his finger in the eye of this president. Ideologically, he agrees with this president on things like health care where they couldn`t get John McCain to vote.

MARCUS: You`re not going to see him go like that.

BRABENDER: Right, he`s a trusted vote that they`re going to have. With that said --

MARCUS: He was a stupid war guy. He was all for the hawkish wars. He`s totally getting in line with the haws.

BRABENDER: But his style is contrary to the president. He`s respected on both sides of the aisle. His tone and tenor is not the same way that the president`s is, and I think that for the Senate, for Mitch McConnell, he`s probably dancing --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you like this guy?

BRABENDER: Yes, if you know John McCain, I have -- Jon Kyl, I haven`t talked to him in years but he`s a wonderful guy and I think see the first thing the first person to tweet out what a great pick was Cindy McCain.

MATTHEWS: Really?

BRABENDER: So, you know, that tells you something.

MATTHEWS: She`s a Republican but and she`s a hawk and I like her but she`s a hawk, I disagree with her.

MARCUS: Well, you`re not going to get -- you`re not going to get another McCain. So, from Cindy McCain`s point of view this is probably as good as you could get towards the status quo ante losing the --

MATTHEWS: What do you think of our new ally in the Middle East, Hafez Assad, you know the new guy, Bashar Assad, the son, the guy that the president said kill him, kill him, kill him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The president of the United States, you imagine picking up the paper and go, Mr. President, your highness, Mr. Assad, it sounds like Trump wanted to kill you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He wants to meet me with you tomorrow, by the way. Anyway --

MARCUS: I think we got laws about that.

MATTHEWS: I think we got laws against assassination, I noticed.

Anyway, thank you, Ruth Marcus. Thank you, Cornell Belcher. I think you`re wrong and most of that stuff. John Brabender, thank you.

When we return, let me finish tonight with what so many of us witnessed on Saturday at Senator John McCain`s funeral. I thought it was a rare spiritual moment in the city. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTEHWS: Let me finish tonight with what so many of us felt and certainly witnessed on Saturday. I was honored when I received the call to anchor our coverage of John McCain`s funeral. All of us who covered the man cheered him, experienced his withering contempt, laughed with him, or inspired by him, wanted to be part of it. I did.

I did it for the reason I love being at the Brandenburg Gate when it was about to open in 1989. I loved being in South Africa for its first all- race election. Being in Belfast during the Good Friday Accords in Rome when John Paul II lay there in the Vatican, because it was important to our times, just as being and spending the era with John McCain was important.

I`m a romantic in my politics. Senator McCain made fun of it at once, how I`d gone from rooting for him in 2000, TO rooting even more devoutly for Barack Obama in 2008. I can do maverick, he told a big room when I was there, I can`t do messiah.

The senator was more of course to the maverick. He was a classic U.S. senator, the kind we find in great political novels, the kind John F. Kennedy saluted in his book "Profiles in Courage", the kind willing to stand out in the crowd that show guts when no one else will. McCain was a conservative. I wish we had a progressive like him.

Fortunately, his spirit isn`t going. I saw and heard -- I saw that spirit in the voice of his daughter Meghan on Saturday. There was a Celtic pride in that voice, the defiance against the powerful. She reminded me of the movie "Heroine" and "Million Dollar Baby" who went into the ring even against dirty fighters, carrying the colors of her father on a day he could not.

I have a feeling about what happened Saturday. It was a feeling I had in the church in East Germany before the wall came down. Like in 1989, it was of a religious service, religious service but something more of an underground movement.

A statement was being made this Saturday by Meghan McCain and many others that this darkness we`re going through right now is going to pass, that America will return again to the values of truth and courage an individual spirit that the lying and the gutlessness and the bullying will have seen their day.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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