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GOP Lawmakers push back on Trump. TRANSCRIPT: 11/21/18, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Jim Himes, Karen Attiah, John Podhoretz, Michelle Goldberg, Noelle Nikpour, Basil Smikle, Philip Bump

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  We will be waiting and watching when the new Congress convenes. 

I want to wish you all a happy thanksgiving and tell you this Friday we have a special Thanksgiving edition of our show and a very special for Black Friday, while be joined by the members of the new edition in a new interview.  Very excited about that. 

"HARDBALL" is up next. 

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Supreme rebuke.  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews. 

In a rare statement chief justice John Roberts from the Supreme Court today issued a stunning rebuke of the President for challenging the integrity of a federal judge.  It began yesterday when the President questioned the independence of the judiciary saying that a ruling against his asylum policy in the ninth circuit was due to quote "an Obama judge."  Here`s Trump. 



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, you go to the ninth circuit and it`s a disgrace.  And I`m going to put in a major complaint.  Because you cannot win if you are us a case in the ninth circuit.  This was an Obama judge.  And I`ll tell you what, it`s not going to happen like this anymore. 


KORNACKI:  Chief justice John Roberts then took the unusual step of correcting the President saying in a statement we do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.  What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.  That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for. 

According to NBC News quote "it`s the first time the Republican appointed leader of the federal judiciary has offered even a hint of criticism of Trump." 

Late today, the President responded to the chief justice say quote "sorry chief justice John Roberts but you do indeed have Obama judge and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with our safety of our country, adding that quote "we need protection and security.  These rulings are making our country unsafe.  Very dangerous and unwise." 

Joining me now is Democratic congressman Jim Himes who sits on the intelligence committee, Kim Weihle is a former federal prosecutor, Tim O`Brien is executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion and Susan del Percio is a Republican Strategist. 

And Kim, let me just start with you, from a legal standpoint here, a couple of pieces here.  The President yesterday going after the ninth circuit, and we have heard him do this before.  The chief justice, though, then stepping in as we just heard there from John Roberts and the President choosing in public to go back at the chief justice.  What do you make of that? 

KIM WEIHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, it`s astonishing.  And I would say probably unprecedented for the chief justice to step out in to the political this way.  But I think he said what needed to be said.  And the framers of the constitution understood that the judiciary is not supposed to be politicized.  And I think what Trump is doing is trying to attack any critics, that is the federal courts that`s holding him accountable to capture the referees.  And the way this is setup are these people have life tenure and they have salary protection for a reason. 

But we all as Americans also need to keep our eye on this issue because it really matters who has confirmed to the federal bench.  That being said and knowing that justice Kavanaugh, my guess is that neither justice Gorsuch nor justice Kavanaugh would agree with President Trump here, and they would stand in line with chief justice Roberts, which is quite interesting.  Because if this were ever to go to impeachment, this particular presidency and if it were tried in the Senate, the chief justice would preside over that preceding.  And of course, we are teeing up and potentially in other areas with this presidency in an all-out constitutional battle about whether perhaps he could be subpoenaed by Robert Mueller, whether he could be indicted.  And to poke at these human beings about their independents at this stage probably, I think it`s going to motivate them to be as judicious as possible.  And I say judicious, calling balls and strikes based on facts and law and not politics.  So I`m 100 percent behind what chief justice Roberts did as a constitutional law professor in addition to a former DOJ attorney.  I`m happy to see it. 


And congressman, to have the President go back at the chief justice like this, be as blunt as Donald Trump is here, I mean, we are in uncharted territory.  At the same time, I guess I would ask you a question to take a step back there, this idea that Trump is putting out there that, hey, yes, these aren`t necessarily independent judges.  They should be viewed as Democrat judges in his word, Republican judges. 

Is there something to be said for our idea our entire political system the last I would say two decades or so since that 5-4 Bush-Gore ruling in 2000 that there is a degree in which we have been treating it that way.  That we have all these confirmation fights that are partisan where the Democratic judge gets opposed by all the Republicans, the Republican by all the Democrats be the appointment from a Democratic president or Republican president.  We haven`t way been talking about it that way.  Haven`t we collectively? 

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Well, you know, there have been certainly some high profile confirmations where that has been the case, some high profile decisions.  But you know, look.  I agree.  I think it was important for the chief justice to put the brakes on that notion. 

And the reality is that that`s not actually the experience with the court.  There have been decisions that conservatives disagreed with, certainly the upholding of the affordable care act, which of course the chief justice was really critical to.  Of course. the decision around marriage equality.  So it`s just too simple to say that, you know, the courts are acting in a highly politicized manner, but you do make a good point which is that more and more in an environment of polarization, those confirmation fights have been tougher. 

But look, you got to be precise about this.  There was a difference between the Kavanaugh confirmation battle and the Gorsuch confirmation battle.  But anyway, bottom line is I appreciate the chief justice really blowing the whistle and saying this is a moment where I`m going to stand up in an unprecedented way against the president who is trying to make the entire government look like they are either for Donald Trump or against Donald Trump.  That`s not the way the system works. 

KORNACKI:  And do we know, Tim, that he has been -- Trump, the President here when it comes to particularly the ninth circuit, this has been a point of emphasis of his since the beginning of his presidency.  He is sort of his edicts have come into conflict with the decision of the ninth circuit, but this one particularly has bothered him from the beginning. 

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION:  It has because the ninth circuit is taking on his independence, he is taking on his ability to do what he wants to do at the southern border and assess and determine the rules of engagement there.  He is doing the same thing with Jim Mattis and the military presence at the border. 

And it goes beyond in this case both the military and ninth circuit, I think it goes to Trump`s own profound anti-institutionalism.  He is doing this with a number of U.S. institutions.  He did it with the fed.  He caused the fed chairman Jay Powell to come out and proclaim that he is running an independent organization.  He did it with the Supreme Court, prompting John Roberts to do it. He is doing it with Robert Mueller`s investigation.  He has done it with state and federal judiciaries.  He does it with the media. 

The overall message here is very clear.  He is profoundly authoritarian.  And he doesn`t believe in American institutions that have long-standing, which by the way is a profoundly conservative issue and value is this respect for institutions.  The only force in American society right now that hasn`t taken on Trump full board is the GOP.  They have acquiesced.  And they are acquiescing around issues they should be embracing if they considered themselves to be good conservative. 

KORNACKI:  Susan, the Republican consultant, what do you say to that? 

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I think it`s important to also look at what`s happened today and what we are now not talking about.  And that President Donald Trump picked a fight with the ninth circuit because he was facing some really bad headlines today. 

There was a lot of talk about how he was handling Saudi Arabia after basically saying it`s OK for you kill a "the Washington Post" journalist, we will still stand behind you.  Another story came out that he was going after his political rivals, the talk of impeachment was up.  We are still not sure what`s going on with the testimony with McGahn.  There`s a lot of things coming out there. 

So what does Donald Trump do, he picks a fight with the ninth circuit and he uses that as a way of deflection.  And it`s almost like he welcomed justice Roberts coming out, because now he is having a whole other conversation and this is what we are talking about. 

Now, it was important and I praised, you know, Justice Roberts.  I also use it to say to the Republican leadership that`s what a leader looks like.  This is what you are supposed to be doing.  Republicans should be condemning this President on three fronts today.  And it`s no-brainer stuff, it stinks (ph).  They have believed in all their lives.  But, folks, look at how the justice handled himself. 

But more importantly, let`s not forget the stories that came out today because they are really disturbing, and it`s more important than a fight with the ninth circuit court. 

KORNACKI:  Well, the President going after the ninth circuit, that came out today after that what we were talking about at this hour last night.  That "New York Times" report that Trump said he wanted to order the department of justice to prosecute Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James Comey, who of course is a key witness in the Mueller probe.

  Trump has been making clear in public that he wanted the justice department to pursue an investigation of Hillary Clinton for some time now.  This is Trump late last year. 


TRUMP:  You know, the saddest thing is that because of the President of the United States I am not supposed to be involved with the justice department.  I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI.  I`m not supposed to be doing the kinds of things that I would love to be doing, and I`m very frustrated by it.  I look at what`s happening with the justice department, well, why aren`t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with the dossier? 


KORNACKI:  Trump went further in January saying quote "the deep state justice department should investigate Clinton and then he demanded an investigation of the Obama administration in May."  He then complained in August that Jeff Sessions never took control of the department. 


TRUMP:  The Dems are very strong in the justice department.  I put in an attorney general that never took control of the justice department, Jeff Sessions.  Never took control of the justice department. 

And look at the crimes that Clinton did with the emails and she deletes 33,000 emails after she gets a subpoena from Congress.  And this justice department does nothing about it?  There`s such corruption.  Before I got here -- it`s from before I got here.  It`s the Obama administration. 


KORNACKI:  Then in September Trump suggested he would clean House at the justice department. 


TRUMP:  Just look at what is now being exposed in our department of justice and the FBI.  Look at what`s going on.  There`s a lingering stench, and we are going to get rid of that, too. 


KORNACKI:  After all of those threats Trump replaced Sessions with an unconfirmed acting attorney general who favors prosecuting Clinton, that`s what he said in 2016 and has echoed his criticism of the Mueller probe. 

Congressman Himes, let me ask you Democrats have spent the last two years saying, hey look, give us some power there on Capitol Hill, give us a majority on Capitol Hill, and we will stand up to question, challenge this administration in ways that Republicans are refusing to. 

I ask you looking specifically at this report from the "The New York Times" about the President questioning within his administration, the White House counsel about the possibility of prosecuting Hillary Clinton and James Comey, now that Democrats have a majority in the House, what will that mean in terms of oversight? 

HIMES:  Well, of course the President hoping to use the FBI or the department of justice as his personal police force.  I mean it`s been said ever since the report came out, this is banana republic stuff.  It is completely inconsistent with the rule of law or with the institutions and what we think of as the role of the President of the United States.  So I think this may be an opportunity for the Congress to do what it hasn`t done in the last two years, which is really to get to the bottom how serious this was. 

Now we all know this President says things.  He says things and he contradicts himself.  He tweets things and they walk it back.  So, you know, one of the things we have got to do here as now - now that we will actually have a House, a Congress acting as a check on the President is to begin to investigate the difference between the things that the President just tweets or just explores or just says at a rally and those things where there may actually be a real effort to erode, you know, the underpinnings of our democracy, where they there may be actually be an effort to obstruct justice. 

And you can count on the Democratic House of Representatives to in a judicious way, you know, of course the Republicans are just waiting for that opportunity to point out to an investigation that is like the Republican investigation, Benghazi or what have you, an overstep. 

But in a judicious way this Congress will finally be joining the instinct of the chief justice, the instinct of the media, the instinct of those people who stood up against the President and actually start saying, no, this is not the way the system works, Mr. President.  We are going to hold you accountable. 

KORNACKI:  And Kim, in terms of the special counsel Robert Mueller is out there, a story like this hits "The New York Times" yesterday, how does something like that land in the special counsel`s office? 

WEIHLE:  Well, my guess is they are just have their heads down and they are working diligently to move through what I assume at this point is a mounting amount of facts, and witnesses they have to think about, expansion potentially of the scope of the investigation, all with the noose of Mr. Whitaker around their neck so to speak.  And that the President has sort of - had it check.  It is not a checkmate but he has made a chess move on the board that puts him personally in a lot of power with respect to Mr. Mueller.  And I think all of this is of a piece what happened with chief justice Roberts, what we are talking about with the media, what we are talking about with the justice department and that is we are potentially slipping into a totalitarian state and autocracy. 

The framers of the constitution knew this was a possibility which is why we have three branches of government.  No one branch is the boss.  There is no more kings.  The other two branches need to check the other branch`s papers.  And as was mentioned the Republicans have not done anything.  So we have to hope that through the House and through potential whistleblowers and the criminal justice system and neutral judges and the voting public who need to step up and educate themselves about the implications here and just not be asleep at the wheel because we are a 230-year-old democracy.  There is no guarantee it is going to continue.  And I think we are all seeing it actually unfold before our eyes.  And it is quite serious.  And Mueller is at the -- right at the heart of it.  And we all have to just hope that he hangs in there. 

KORNACKI:  OK.  Kim Weihle, Congressman Jim Himes, Tim O`Brien and Susan Del Percio, thank you all for being with us. 

And coming up President Trump reaffirmed his support for Saudi Arabia, practically dismissing the CIA`s findings that the Saudi crown prince likely ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The President went onto thank the Saudis for low gas prices. 

Also, I`m going to head over to the big board.  We have got another election coming up, Mississippi.  It`s one of the most racially polarized states in the country when it comes to voting.  That runoff there, the key one, less than a week away.  The contest has evolved into what "Politico" calls quote "a bear knuckle brawl infused with ugly racial politics."  We will breakdown what is happening there. 

Plus, Democrats saw some historic numbers in the popular vote for the House of Representatives in the midterms.  Is that a signal for 2020? 

And finally, let me finish tonight with the next record the Democrats may likely break. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 



TRUMP:  It`s all about for me very simple.  It is America first.  Saudi Arabia if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof.  I have kept them down.  They have helped me keep them down.  It`s a very simple equation for me.  I`m about make America great again and I`m about America first. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump yesterday explaining why he is standing by Saudi Arabia despite the CIA reportedly concluding with high confidence that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of a "the Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. 

In a tweet this morning Trump echoed that sentiment and went stepped further writing quote "oil prices getting lower, great, like a big tax cut for America and the world enjoy.  Thank you for Saudi Arabia but let`s go lower." 

In a statement yesterday, Trump dismissed the Saudi government`s alleged role in Khashoggi`s killings saying quote "it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event.  Maybe he did and maybe he didn`t." 

Several of Trump`s Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill slammed his defense of the Saudi regime. 


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE:  I am astounded that the type of response that was put out by the White House.  We have a crown prince that I believe directed the killing of a journalist.  And I just -- the language that was used, it was as if they were writing a press release for Saudi Arabia, not for the United States.  And it was unnecessarily provocative in the way that he did it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  Here`s what I believe.

Saudi Arabia needs us more than we need them.  It`s not too much to ask an ally not to butcher a guy in a consulate.  This is not World War II.  So I`m not going to look away at what MBS did.


KORNACKI:  And joining me now is Karen Attiah, global opinions editor at "The Washington Post."

Karen, thank you for joining us. 

And let me just start with, what is your reaction to -- this is your colleague who was -- who was murdered.  This is the president`s reaction.  What`s your reaction to what the president is saying? 

KAREN ATTIAH, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Again, it`s been a week full of falsehoods and lies.

Even if we`re going to entertain this idea that oil prices are worth the life of a "Washington Post" journalist, first of all, we get more oil from Canada, which produces 40 percent of our imported oil, than we do from Saudi Arabia, which produces 11 percent of our imported oil. 

If anything, I mean, Saudi Arabia has agreed with -- to back a proposal from OPEC to reduce production.  So, all of what Trump is talking about is a fantasy. 

But as far as the relationship, what Trump is talking about, with Saudi Arabia, nobody is calling for an end to the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Canada.

I think, right now, what is on the table and should be on the table is our relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  And even this issue of ordering Jamal`s death, which the CIA has reported with high confidence, and which also other countries have the same intelligence, this is about his wave of repression. 

Are we going to be allies and friends with a man that would butcher journalists, that is bombarding Yemen, bringing it to the brink of famine, with 85,000 children who are starving to death, and someone who would kidnap prime ministers and break off diplomatic relations with Canada? 

This does not sound like a stable path for Saudi Arabia or for the Middle East at all. 

KORNACKI:  Have you or has your newspaper, since this happened, have any have -- have you had any contact, I`m asking here, with the White House? 

ATTIAH:  I think we have been engaging with the White House, I mean, since the very beginning, or at least attempting -- and not just the White House, with also Saudi Arabian officials, Turkish officials, including members of the governments.

We have been vocal in calling for an independent international investigation, and ideally the United Nations, because Saudi Arabia clearly can`t be trusted to investigate itself. 

But I think, for us, we`re calling for the administration and particularly for Congress to take the right steps and investigate, call for sanctions, if necessary.  And I just -- I think that this story isn`t done.  We`re still pushing for justice.

KORNACKI:  All right, Karen Attiah from "The Washington Post," thank you for joining us.

In an interview with CNBC, Saudi Arabia`s foreign minister denied the Saudi government was involved in Khashoggi`s murder.  He also batted down a Reuters report that some in the royal family were considering removing Mohammed bin Salman from the line of succession over the uproar.


ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI ARABIAN FOREIGN MINISTER:  The leadership of Saudi Arabia, represented in the king and the crown prince, is a red line for every Saudi man or woman.  The country is totally supportive of them. 

Every Saudi feels represented by his leadership.  And every Saudi represents his or her leadership. 


KORNACKI:  Joining me now is Michelle Goldberg, columnist for "The New York Times."  And John Podhoretz is editor of "Commentary" magazine. 

John, you Lindsey Graham in that clip we played say, Saudi Arabia needs us more than we need them. 

What could the United States do?  Take the Trump approach and say, if the United States wanted to punish, make an example of, make some kind of statement here against Saudi Arabia, against the crown prince, what could the United States do here? 

JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, "COMMENTARY":  Well, the United States could simply say that we no longer have confidence that we can work with Mohammed bin Salman.  It`s not our business.  He`s not the king.  Salman, his father, is the king. 

We can get a message to the king that we judge that the crown prince is reckless and untrustworthy and is -- he was a -- there was great hope last year that he would be a creative, reforming force and break up some of the sclerotic freeze that is the politics and culture of Saudi Arabia, but that this kind of behavior, we cannot countenance.

And it`s not that we can countenance it morally.  Like, a guy who could do this with one journalist, and have him dismembered -- have him killed and dismembered, is somebody very hard to think that you can then just sit across from him and say, OK, well, what are we going to do about the Israeli-Palestinian situation?

So, we have lost confidence in him.  We can`t deal with him.  You have got to find somebody else for us to deal with.  It`s not our job to tell you who or how or where, but, remember, he is not the king.  He is the crown -- he has been assigned this job by the king.  And we can tell the king that we -- somebody else has got to interface with us. 

KORNACKI:  What do you think of that, Michelle? 

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Well, I think we can do that, but we can do more, right?

And we can also cut off weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.  We can take a much harder line on supporting the war in Yemen.  And you could really make Mohammed bin Salman persona non grata.  You can -- I think one thing that`s already happening is, Congress has triggered the Magnitsky Act again, so that Trump will actually be forced to make a determination as to whether or not Mohammed bin Salman is or isn`t responsible. 

And then, if he -- either he says he`s not responsible, which -- in which case he -- there is a series, potentially, of congressional hearings about why he is ignoring the guidance of the American intelligence agencies and kind of what was the process by which he came to this ludicrous conclusion, or they find out that he is responsible, and then that triggers certain kind of sanctions and repercussions. 

To me, the big question now is that you have Republicans furrowing their brows and saying that they are appalled by this, although I can`t quite imagine why they`re shocked by this.  This was the most Trumpy statement imaginable. 

To me, the question is whether Lindsey Graham, kind of famously sycophantic, will actually stand up to the president.

PODHORETZ:  But we should say that, in six weeks, Democrats are going to take charge of the House.

Eliot Engel from New York will be chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he will go at this.  He is not a fan of Saudi Arabia historically.  And the idea that -- there are two points of contact here, one of which is our policy, ignoring the intelligence findings and all that. 

And then secondly is, what exactly is going on with business connections between the Trump Organization, Saudi Arabia, the Kushner organization, Saudi Arabia?  Democrats are going to want to start getting, burrowing into this question of the intermingling of our foreign policy and the private business interests of the president and his family.

And this controversy is the perfect vehicle to move into that territory. 

GOLDBERG:  Right.  And I think that can`t be emphasized enough, that this is not about putting kind of -- quote, unquote -- "America first," even if you accept the sort of brute, realist version of foreign policy. 

This is very much about Trump using the power of the presidency to enrich himself.  This does not help American interests in any way possible, nor is it true that this mythical $400 billion weapons sales, which is really quite a bit less, is creating a lot of American jobs. 

It`s not true that Saudi Arabia is driving down oil prices.  Oil prices are coming down for a bunch of reasons, including the fact that the economy is slowing down because Trump is mismanaging his trade war so terribly.

But this is about -- Mohammed bin Salman has said that Jared Kushner is in his pocket.  And so we need to know what that means and the extent to which that is -- the extent to which kind of the refinancing of Jared Kushner`s various business schemes is now changing the entire moral complexion of American foreign policy.


KORNACKI:  Quickly, go ahead.

PODHORETZ:  I was just going to say, if you just take the money out of it, Jared Kushner and Trump and the administration have put all their eggs in the basket of Mohammed bin Salman and the idea that we can change up the geopolitics of the Middle East.

That clearly is not going to work.  And the problem is that, if you take -- again, take out the corruption issue, they don`t have a plan B.  The whole thing clearly is based on Saudi Arabia making an implicit alliance with Israel, going Sunnis against Shia, and all of that.

And Mohammed bin Salman`s incredibly reckless and psychopathic behavior has now totally thrown that idea out of the -- and Trump saying, we`re standing by Saudi Arabia, we can`t stand by Saudi Arabia.  He won`t say that two weeks from now.

KORNACKI:  As Karen Attiah, our last guest, said, it is a story that we may not have heard the end of yet. 

Michelle Goldberg, John Podhoretz, thank you both for being with us.

Up next:  Why are Mississippi Republicans suddenly stressing about a Senate race that we all thought would be a cakewalk?  Is it still going to be one for them, or is it actually getting to be a close race?

I`m going to head over to the big board.  We`re going to take a look at the story the numbers tell.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 


KORNACKI:  All right, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, look, we have been talking about those late-arriving votes in the House races all across the country.  Still a few outstanding pieces of business there. 

But also, on the Senate side, there is one biggie.  It is in the state of Mississippi and it`s set up for next Tuesday, the runoff in this race.  This was Election Day in Mississippi.

Remember, there is a special election here.  Thad Cochran left the Senate.  Cindy Hyde-Smith, Republican, got appointed.  Mike Espy, Democrat, ran.  Chris McDaniel, Republican, ran as well.  The top two were going to advance to the runoff.  You see it`s Hyde-Smith vs. Espy. 

The setup in this race is, the Republicans -- or the establishment Republican Party said, look, we will be fine in this race.  We will be fine in this runoff as long as we nominate Cindy Hyde-Smith, and not Chris McDaniel, as long as Cindy Hyde-Smith makes it to the runoff.

Well, she made it to the runoff.  And then she started stepping in it.  She`s made several inflammatory comments there, questions about whether she`s handled them well in the aftermath too as well.

The bottom line, we don`t have much polling here, but we have Democrats getting a little hopeful about this, Republicans getting a little bit nervous about it.

And next Tuesday, of course, that will be the runoff.

A couple things to keep in mind here why Republicans still think they are - - they still hope, I should say, to win this thing.  It`s Mississippi.  The last time that a Democrat won a Senate election in Mississippi, you got to go all the way back to 1982. 

Mississippi is also -- it is, frankly, one of the most, maybe the most polarized states when it comes to racial voting in the country. 

To give you an idea, go back.  Take a look at this.  We don`t have exit polling from Mississippi for 2012 -- for 2016 -- but we do in 2012.  And Barack Obama did about as well as a Democratic presidential candidate these days can do in Mississippi.  He got 44 percent of the vote in Mississippi in 2012. 

We had an exit poll in 2012 of how that broke down.  And check this out.  Among black voters in Mississippi, Obama won -- that should be a nine there -- 96 to 4 percent.  He won among black voters in Mississippi. Among white voters in Mississippi, Mitt Romney won in 2012.

Boy, this pen doesn`t work to well.  Nothing on this thing seems to work too well anymore -- 89 to 10, Mitt Romney won among white voters.  That is one of the biggest gulfs you`re going to see anywhere.

And that is what Democrats, in trying to win this seat, are up against.  You need the high turnout among black voters that Barack Obama got.  You need that kind of level of support among black voters.  But then you got to do something that`s very difficult for Democrats in the Deep South these days.  You got to get 20 percent-plus with white voters as well. 

That is the reason -- the failure of Democrats, the inability of Democrats to do that is one of the reasons Mississippi has become such a staunchly Republican state.  That`s what Democrats need to undo if they`re going to win this thing on Tuesday. 

So, again, final Senate race, control of the chamber not in question here, but, obviously, for Democrats, they`re very happy with how the House ended up.  If they could ever pull off a Senate race in Mississippi too, that would be the -- what do they call it, the cherry -- is it the cherry on the cake, the cherry on the pie? 

Whatever for them, but it would be -- it would be something very exciting for them.

Coming up: what the latest popular vote tallies tell us about the midterms.  And can Democrats maintain these unprecedented levels of political engagement through 2020?

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last night, the Mississippi Senate candidates participated in their only debate before next week`s runoff between Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy.  "The Jackson Free Press" reported that Hyde-Smith`s campaign requested that the candidates receive note pads that they were allowed to bring on stage before the debate. 

Hyde-Smith appeared to be reading off her notepad when she addressed her caught on camera remarks that she would attend a public hanging if invited.  Let`s watch. 


SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize.  There was no ill will, no intent whatsoever in my statement.  I also recognize that this comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent.  That`s the type of politics Mississippians are sick and tired of. 


KORNACKI:  In an interview today with NBC, Espy criticized Hyde-Smith for reading off that notepad. 


MIKE ESPY (D-MS), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE:  When I hear that coming out of her mouth, I looked and she had her head down and she was reading it.  My mother always told me that when you apologize to someone you look them in the eye, you tell them that you`re sorry and you offended them, and you try to make reparations if you can.  So I can`t judge her sincerity. 


KORNACKI:  Smart move taking off the sunglasses before he talked about looking in the eye there. 

Let`s bring tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable.  Noelle Nikpour is a Republican strategist.  Basil Smikle is a former executive director of the New York state Democratic Party and Philip Bump is a political reporter for "The Washington Post".

Let me just go around and take the temperature of the table here.  I look at this race, Basil, and I say, well, the Republicans have made this more complicated than you would normally say it is.  On the other hand, to compare Mississippi to Alabama and I say Roy Moore which is about as catastrophic as if gets still got 49 percent.  If that`s -- how do you look at this? 

BASIL SMIKLE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NY STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY:  It`s Mississippi.  And that sticks in my head no matter what I see.  But I do see positive things, number one, between McDaniel and Hyde-Smith got only 58 percent of the vote combined.  So, there is room for Espy, number one. 

Number two, what I didn`t know, there are 80 black mayors in Mississippi.  I don`t even know if they got many in New York state, but there are 80 black mayors in Mississippi, including Chokwe Lumumba, who is the mayor of Jackson, the most populous city. 

So, if we can build off the statements that were made about hanging and so on and build off the momentum that has existed probably until the mid-terms and subsequent to that, then I think he has a shot.  I feel good about his chances, but, you know, again in the back of my mind, it`s Mississippi. 

KORNACKI:  Do either of you think this is losable for Republicans on Tuesday? 



NIKPOUR:  Ii think it`s going to be a winnable seat no matter what.  I think what Republicans probably don`t like to see is the fact it`s probably this close.  But I think if you want to blame anyone, you can blame the candidate and what you said earlier about stepping in it, this is very careless and reckless statement she said. 

And one thing, you know, I`m pro northwest Arkansas, I was proud that Walmart asked for their contribution back.  You know, this should send a signal to everybody, if you`re running for public office or doing anything, come on, think about what you say.  This was extremely inappropriate, but will she ultimately win?  Yes.  Look at what Wicker won by. 

So, if you look at -- if you look at who is in the state and the dynamics in the state as far as the different sectors, it`s going to go Republican.  I just don`t like the fact it`s this close. 

KORNACKI:  What do you think, Phil?

BUMP:  I think that`s right.  I mean, this is -- to be fair, we don`t really know how close it is.  There haven`t really been polls to show what the effects of this have been. 

What we`re looking at is sort of a classic bad candidate.  I don`t want to say terrible candidate, it`s probably a little unfair at this point, but just making a lot of little mistakes and seeming unsure of herself during the debate, which is not what you want to see.  And normally that`s totally fine, right, because the Republicans have such an advantage in the state. 

The only reason ware talking about this are the dual tail winds of, A, her comments and, B, the midterm elections.  But to your point about Roy Moore, I mean, the guy was accused essentially child molestation and came within a hairs breath a seat in the Senate in the adjacent state.  So, it`s really hard to see how the Democrats pull this off.  It would be -- I mean it would be far more shocking than the dramatic wins of the Democrats on the House if they were able to win this. 

KORNACKI:  Speaking of those wins for Democrats on the House side, as of earlier today Democrats led Republicans in the cumulative House popular vote nationally by about 8.69 million votes.  Of course there are votes still coming in.  The previous record for the largest lead was back in 1974, the Watergate year.  Democrats led Republicans by 8.71 million votes there. 

And, of course, the big sort of factor in getting an advantage that big in the popular vote it`s not just winning, it`s getting the giant turnout that we saw this year, 110 million counting on that side. 

BUMP:  Right, exactly.  According to Michael McDonald from U.S. Elections Project, the turnout was almost at 50 percent this higher, which is far higher than anything we`ve seen essentially in the midterm elections.  And I think the fascinating thing about this, and the real warning sign I think for the Republican Party is what the result of that was. 

Not only in the House seats, obviously the Democrats won a lot of House seats.  But if you look at the demography of who won those races, the Republican caucus going into the next congress, it`s going to be 90 percent white males.  On Democratic side, it`s only about a third are white males.  But if you were to run into a person of color on Capitol Hill on the House side next year, ten to one odds that person is going to be a Democrat. 

I mean, it`s simply is -- when you a surge in people turning out, it`s the highest turnout we`ve seen in -- it`s higher than any presidential election prior in 2004, and the result is a really demographically diverse and democratically leaning Congress, that`s a big red flag. 

NIKPOUR:  And also, the Republicans want to thank Donald Trump for anything, even the people that don`t like Donald Trump, you`ve got to look at the fact of the voter turnout.  This is historic.  Midterms are normally sleepers.  We`re not doing election coverage on midterms very much where everything is shutting down. 

These people were turning out in record forms.  Look at Florida -- you know, Brenda Snipes, the reason she said she couldn`t handle everything was because of the influx of voters. 

KORNACKI:  Florida is the bright spot for Republicans.  Florida and Ohio are the two big bright spots for them on the map.

I`m curious, you know, look, what Trump will say or what the folks who are supporting Trump will say is that Clinton and Obama recovered from bad midterms and say, look, in 2020, Trump voters come back out.  Do you think there`s anything to it? 

NIKPOUR:  Well, I do.  And I also look at, you know, we`re already gearing up and looking at house seats we`re going to target to try to flip it back, to try to flip the House back in two years to be back Republican now.  And I think that -- and Republicans I don`t feel like were asleep at the wheel, or took it granted, that we`re going to win.  I think that we just had a lot of issues rolling on, you`re on the news business.  We have breaking news and different topics and different issues to focus on 24/7. 

KORNACKI:  And probably won`t change.  As a Democrat, let me flip the question around, though, you look black at Clinton.  He recovered from `94.  Obama recovered from a brutal 2010.  Do you have any fear that Trump in the next two years is able to turn it around similarly? 

SMIKLE:  I`ve always felt that as much as happy as I am about the midterm results, it still is tenuous.  As you said `92 and 2008, I would say -- but let me talk about Obama for a second because remember he ran around the party.  He didn`t use the party to get elected, and we lost about, almost a thousand votes in the years he was president. 

So, what encourages me about these results is it seems like the party`s infrastructure is being rebuilt.  That`s because we have a depth of the electorate.  I think we have really qualified candidates that ran, and they ran not to be managerial, which is typically what you see in an election.  They actually had vision and articulated that very, very well.  And I think that`s the form moving forward. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, how to survive Thanksgiving with the family in a country that is growing more divided.  And don`t miss the HARDBALL holiday special with Chris Matthews and his guests, and look at the personalities and candidates emerging for 2020, this Friday at 7:00 p.m. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A new CBS poll asked Americans how they feel about discussing politics at Thanksgiving, 15 percent said they were looking forward to it, 40 percent said they hope to avoid it.  And 45 percent said they don`t care either way. 

We`re back with the round table -- Noelle, Basil, Philip.

Put me in the hoping to avoid it category.  I`d rather talk about something else.  Anybody eager to talk politics with the family tomorrow? 

SMIKLE:  I will always get the question in my household.  But you know what, your political brain encourages you to fight your point.  In fact, you should do the opposite.  Don`t say anything and actually ask more questions, because when you put people in a safe space where they have the ability to probe their own sort of thinking and ideology, they feel more comfortable listening to other points of view. 

KORNACKI:  Ask questions, can you please pass the cranberry sauce. 

NIKPOUR:  I do not think so.  I think the biggest thing that you can do is get like a plastic bag and some to go containers and get the heck out of there if it goes south.  Because some of these things could pretty -- get pretty heated, because you`ve got, you know, anti this, anti that, and they come together and they might like kind of start off kind of nice and then all the sudden a couple glasses of wine, a couple of beers and it`s like -- it`s like division city. 

So I don`t know.  I think the best thing is, be ready to hit the door. 

KORNACKI:  How about you, Philip, are you printing out how to talk to your family members guides? 

BUMP:  I mean, me and my wife and my 2-year-old, I think we can handle it.  I`m sort of fascinated by how many families don`t share a unified political vision at this point in time.  You know, one of the things we`ve seen is this sort of bifurcation in America. 

I mean, if you look at the last election, 25 percent of Trump supporters all said they knew some Clinton supporters, 19 percent of Clinton supporters knew some Trump supporters.  I`m curious how many families there are where you actually have sort of different sides of the political aisle that come together and sit down.  Yes, my recommendation would -- like everyone else. 

Look, if your family can`t survive arguing over Thanksgiving, you should see therapy anyway. 

KORNACKI:  If you`re lucky enough to get your whole family together for Thanksgiving, enjoy it and don`t let this stuff get in the way. 

Noelle Nikpour, Basil Smikle, Philip Bump, thank you for being with us. 

When we return, let me finish tonight with the record Democrats may break in 2020.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI:  Let me finish tonight with the record Democrats may break in 2020. 

Remember those crowded debate stages Republicans had back in 2016?  Ten candidates standing side by side.  And those ten were the lucky ones.  There were also six more candidates who didn`t make it onto the stage. 

They ended up getting their own debate before the main event.  They called that one the kids` table debate.  No one wanted to be in that. 

At their peak, Republicans had 16 major candidates running for president at the same time, the biggest simultaneous field ever. 

But records, of course, were made to be broken and this one may not last for long.  The midterms are now over and Democrats are starting to step forward for 2020. 

Here was Sherrod Brown the Ohio senator today taking the temperature on Twitter.  He`s looking to run for president. 

We all know that Joe Biden is looking too.  And probably wishes he`d done it the last time.  His decision, supposedly coming at the end of the year. 

Cory Booker, we learned today, is talking strategy with consultants in Iowa, home, of course, to the leadoff caucuses. 

And speaking of Iowa, Kamala Harris was there just a few weeks ago. 

And Kirsten Gillibrand isn`t in Iowa now, but she was on Stephen Colbert`s show two weeks ago.  She told him she`s giving, quote, long hard thought to running.  This is just scratching the surface here. 

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they are teasing runs too.  Maybe Deval Patrick as well, and Michael Bloomberg, and another billionaire, Tom Steyer, and Julian Castro, and on and on.  Heck, Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania this week said he might even take a look at it too. 

Even candidates who lost this year, they might turn around and run.  That`s what Richard Ojeda who fell short in a congressional race in West Virginia is already doing and who knows about Beto O`Rourke. 

Donald Trump who is president by virtue of 77,000 votes spread across three critical states, he is a tempting target.  Certainly for would-be candidates, they think they could beat him if they got a shot at him.  But he may also be an inspiration to them as well.  If he can pull it off, Democrats may be saying to themselves, who`s to say I can`t. 

In a few months, we`ll have the first Democratic debates of 2020, and when it comes to logistics, I`m thinking the Democrats might have a tougher challenge than the Republicans did the last time around. 

That is all for HARDBALL now.  Happy Thanksgiving. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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