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Racial resentment as campaign strategy. TRANSCRIPT: 7/18/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Philip Bump, Maya Wiley; Charlie Sykes; Ro Khanna, Tara Dowdell,Nicholas Kristof

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  A dangerous rallying cry.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.  President Trump spent most of his day today trying to disavow that repugnant chant from the crowd at his rally in Greenville, North Carolina last night, that chant of send her back.  Days after the President Tweeted that four minority congresswomen should go back to their countries, even all four of them are U.S. citizens, the audience erupted when he singled out Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who emigrated from Somalia as a child.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.

CROWD:  Send her back.  Send her back.  Send her back.  Send her back.  Send her back.  Send her back.  Send her back.


KORNACKI:  Today, the President claimed he wasn`t happy about that ugly refrain.


REPORTER:  When your supporters last night were chanting, send her back, why didn`t you stop them?  Why didn`t you ask them to stop saying that?

TRUMP:  Number one, I think I did.  I started speaking very quickly.  It really was a loud -- I disagree with it, by the way.  But it was quite a chant, and I felt a little bit badly about it.  But I will say this. I did, and I started speaking very quickly.  But it started up rather fast, as you probably noticed.

REPORTER:  So you`ll tell your supporters never to --

TRUMP:  Well, I would say that I was not happy with it.  I disagree with it.  I disagree with it.  But, again, I didn`t say -- I didn`t say that.  They did.


KORNACKI:  And that was the President today.  As you saw though, we showed you the clip from the rally last night.  The President, there was no outward effort to stop that chant.  He paused for roughly 13 seconds.  And you could hear he didn`t start speaking again until the chants had pretty much died out.  And just over ten minutes after that chant, he reiterated his position about the four congresswomen.


TRUMP:  And tonight, I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down.  They never, ever have anything good to say.  That`s why I say, hey, if they don`t like it, let them leave.  Let them leave.  Let them leave.

They`re always telling us how to run it, how to do this.  You know what?  If they don`t love it, tell them to leave it.


KORNACKI:  And in a second event today, the President again tried to distance himself from the chant, but defended his supporters and took another swipe at the congresswomen.


TRUMP:  These are people that love our country.  I want them to keep loving our country.  And I think the congresswomen, by the way, should be more positive than they are.

I`m not happy about when I hear a chant like that.  And I have said that, and I`ve said it very strongly.  But I will tell you, the congressmen and women also have a big obligation in this country, and in every country, frankly, but they have a big obligation, and the obligation is to love your country.  There`s such hatred.  They have such hatred.


KORNACKI:  Why the sudden mix signals here from the President?  Well, according to The New York Times, quote, Mr. Trump`s effort to disassociate himself from his own supporters reflected the misgivings of his allies who have flooded the upper echelons of his team with expressions of concern.  They warned privately that the President was on dangerous ground.

At the Capitol today, Congresswoman Omar responded to last night`s chant and the President`s ongoing attacks.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN):  I want to remind people that this is what this president and his supporters have turned our country that is supposed to be a country where we allow democratic debate and dissent to take place.  And so this is not about me.  This is about us fighting for what this country truly should be and what it deserves to be.


KORNACKI:  For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California, Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice at The New School, and Charlie Sykes, Editor-in-Chief of the Bulwark.

Maya, let me just start with you.  I`m curious what you make of this.  We played the tape last night.  The crowd got going.  The crowd is chanting something that he himself started on Twitter a couple of days earlier.  The crowd dies out and he continues.

Today, he says he was conflicted up there on stage.

MAYA WILEY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, THE NEW SCHOOL:  So it`s a lie, Steve.  It`s a flat-out lie.  The video shows it`s a lie.  More importantly, he himself started the chant.  He started it on Sunday with his Tweeting when he told them to go back to where they came from.  A few days later, he doubled down on the message when he would not retract it, when he would not apologize for it.  And he said people love it, and he doubled down and said, get out now.

So that was the lead up to the rally.  He essentially was the messenger who brought the message, and then as we saw in the videotape, straight-out contradicts the statement he made today.  It was more like he got the talking points and decided to follow them after he had heard so many concerns, including from republicans who met with Vice President Pence to say, hey, this is not cool.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  Charlie Sykes, let me pick up on that point with you.  What do you make of that?  Because this is a president who -- this wasn`t an apology today, but this is a different course in public than he has been taking the last few days.  You have that reporting there from The New York Times.  Republicans are often concerned, we hear privately, about things he says and does.  But, rarely, do you see him change his behavior at all?  What do you make of the President`s new posture today and what`s going on there?

CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE BULWARK:  Well, first of all, it is ridiculous to say that he was unhappy about it.  I mean, he basically -- he lays a bonfire with sticks of dynamite, pours kerosene on it, lights a match and goes, whoa, I didn`t expect that to happen.

But, obviously, despite the fact that he thinks that he`s winning, and he has said -- Maya is absolutely right.  He thinks -- and he knows exactly what he is doing, and he thinks that this has been a big success.  But I think you had a lot of republicans who were sickened by it.  And they know that it was morally wrong, but even more important from their point of view, politically toxic.  But interestingly enough, they wouldn`t want to - - they didn`t go public, but they did express their concerns to Vice President Pence.

And even though the polls would suggest that most republicans are completely happy with what the President is saying, or at least they`re willing to say they`re happy about it, I think that there`s real anxiety among republicans.  This is kind of a worst case scenario for a president who hemorrhaging support among women and the independents.

KORNACKI:  Yes, more on that anxiety from republicans.  North Carolina Congressman Mark Walker, he is a member of the GOP leadership.  He was also at that rally last night.  He Tweeted that he struggled, he said, with hearing the send her back chants, but instead of denouncing it on the spot, he went on to criticize Congresswoman Omar.

And Congressman Ro Khanna, let be bring you in on this.  Yesterday, before that rally, there was a vote in the House on considering a resolution to impeach the President over these Tweets in part, over his racial rhetoric of the past several years, and specifically, instigating that vote.  It was offered by Al Green, one of your colleagues, these Tweets from a few days ago about your four colleagues there.  You voted to kill that impeachment resolution.  Why?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA):  Well, I don`t think we should be focused on an inquiry like that on the Tweets.  I think we need to be focused on Bob Mueller and the serious charges of obstruction when it comes to that.

But let me tell you about this, Steve.  The President is miscalculating on the politics.  Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, he voted to condemn the President`s remarks on this.  This is misfiring with suburban voters.  It`s misfiring with independent voters.  And he is underestimating the sophistication of those voters.

They can assume that the President is wrong in his rhetoric against people like Representative Omar.  That doesn`t mean that they assume that the Democratic Party agrees with everything Representative Omar believes in.  So he`s overplayed his hand here.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  Charlie, let me just follow up with that, because I was talking to you a couple days ago, and I know you had the -- you believe that there was a strategic aspect to this on the President`s part, bringing it up.  But let me just ask you how you feel than now and how that strategy looks now.  Because one way of reading this is what Congressman Khanna was just suggesting there that, hey, okay, if the President`s goal was to make these four women the face of the Democratic Party, to elevate them, maybe he can help achieve that here, but at what cost?  At what political cost?

SYKES:  Well -- and I think he is absolutely right about that.  I think the miscalculation was he pushed it too far.  Look, this is a president that wants to run against, you know, radical socialist democrats.  He wants to make the squad the face of the Democratic Party.

Interestingly enough, he`s not leading chants about Bernie Sanders.  He`s not leading chants about Elizabeth Warren.  He has selected these four minority women as his targets.  So there is no question about his cynicism feeds the ugliness of his strategy.

But I think what happened is he got out ahead of his skis on this.  You know, when you have a that kind of a chant, it offends the conscience of Americans.  And it was interesting last night, even people who have been willing to carry water for Donald Trump just saw the ugliness of it.

Now, of course, it doesn`t apply to Lindsey Graham who apparently has no limits, whatsoever, but I do think that he pushed it too far and that was the message he got from republicans today.

KORNACKI:  And, again, those chants last night, the send her back chants, they were certainly reminiscent of the lock her up chants you heard at Trump rallies during the 2016 campaign, referring, of course, back then to Hillary Clinton.

Here is then candidate Trump when confronted with those chants at the republican convention back then.


CROWD:  Lock her up.  Lock her up.  Lock her up.

TRUMP:  Let`s defeat her in November.


KORNACKI:  And just as the President said today that he didn`t like last night`s chants, he said the same thing back in 2016 after those cries of lock her up started.


REPORTER:  What about the lock her up that was repeated over and over again at the convention in Cleveland?  Do you agree with that?

TRUMP:  Well, they also screamed that, as you know, during the speech I made, the big speech.  And I said don`t do that.  Now, I didn`t do that for any reason.  I really -- I didn`t like it.  And they stopped.  Not one reporter said that I said that.  They all said that they started screaming, lock her up, lock her up.  I said don`t do that.

So I think it`s a shame that they said it, but a lot of people would say that should happen.


KORNACKI:  So there was Trump saying he did not like those chants.  But then only two days later, he seemed to embrace them.


CROWD:  Lock her up.  Lock her up.  Lock her up.  Lock her up.

TRUMP:  You know what?  I`ve been saying -- I`ve been saying, let`s just beat her on November 8th.  But you know what?  You know what?  I`m starting to agree with you, I`ll tell you.


KORNACKI:  Maya, it didn`t take much in 2016 for the President to warm back up to those chants is the same thing that happened here?

WILEY:  Well, I think he was always warm to those kind of chants that we heard in North Carolina.  Remember, this is the candidate Trump who called Mexicans rapists, who promised a Muslim ban by virtue of people`s religion.  This isn`t new.  And he frankly has a long history with the black community in particular from housing discrimination.  There were, you know, employees who had overheard him making comments about a black employee he had that were quite racist.  It`s not as if Donald Trump ran for the presidency and pretended that he didn`t espouse stereotypes and say very offensive and racist things against people of color.

So all we`re really seeing here is a continuation.  Donald Trump blew up the southern strategy when he ran for president.  Remember, the southern strategy, which Richard Nixon perfected, which was sort of wink, wink, nod, nod, we`ll use coded language, but we`ll be very polite because we don`t think racism is okay to say aloud.  So we`ll wink and we`ll nod.  He threw the wink and the nod out already in 2016.  He is not going to stop.  And if his strategy is to stick to a strategy that says I will just win my base to win election, there is a debate amongst republican strategists about whether that can work, I will say that I think that the test for this country is whether or not we are the country that Abraham Lincoln fought to preserve or not.

KORNACKI:  Well, it`s interesting too because this point has been made in the last couple of days, and Congressman, I`ll ask you about this, that Trump, we talk so much about the base and the base that he had certainly was a big part of his success in 2016.  There were also those voters who didn`t like either candidate.  They didn`t like Donald Trump, didn`t like Hillary Clinton, and broke -- I think it was a two to one margin, about a 30-point margin, they broke for Donald Trump.

The question it raises I guess in part is any democrat who runs against Trump in this era just automatically getting into this sort of atmosphere and going to end up as unpopular as Hillary Clinton was or is that something more specific to her in that campaign?

KHANNA:  I don`t think so.  I think people are sick of the President`s tactics and divisiveness.  You know, I remember, I went to the President`s inauguration out of respect for the process, and I was horrified that you actually had republican members of Congress at that inauguration chanting lock her up when Secretary Clinton walked on to the platform.  That`s what this country is fed up about.

And I think the President is going to be in for a rude awakening when we have our nominee, because the nominee is going to talk about jobs, about healthcare, about bringing this country together.  He is going to talk about the squad and our nominee is going to say, look, I don`t agree with everything that the squad says, but I believe every American ought to be treated with respect and racism has no place in this country.

And I think the President is going to say, wow, I`m not running against the squad.  I`m running against someone much more reasonable in the middle of the country.  And he is going to have a big problem.

KORNACKI:  All right, Congressman Ro Khanna, Maya Wiley, Charlie Sykes, thank you all for being here.

And coming up, damage control, what the newly unsealed documents from the Michael Cohen case tell us about then candidate Trump`s role in hiding hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Plus, top republicans continue to defend the President`s racial language.  What about the voters?  Will any of this turn Trump supporters against him?  We will have fresh reaction from voters in New Hampshire, Iowa and elsewhere.  There is much more ahead.  Stay with us.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There is big news today out of the Southern District of New York.  Newly released documents show the FBI believes that Donald Trump was closely involved in that payoff scheme to silence Stormy Daniels back during the 2016 campaign.

That said, the Associated Press is also reporting that according to two people familiar with the matter, quote, federal prosecutors decided not to file any additional charges in their investigation, which has now concluded.  Yet the unsealed documents still paint a damning picture, suggesting Trump and his campaign had prior knowledge of the hush money that Michael Cohen paid to cover up allegations of an affair.

Unredacted search warrants revealed that Cohen had five phone conversations with the President while he was simultaneously negotiating the payoff to Daniels, including calls the day before and the day after the payoff was made.  And during that time, Cohen was also in touch with Hope Hicks, as well as the lawyer representing Stormy Daniels and two executives from the company that published the National Enquirer.

Last year, President Trump denied having any knowledge for the payments to Daniels, payments that he reimbursed to Cohen.


REPORTER:  Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?



KORNACKI:  Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws in connection with that payoff, which he says Trump directed.  Today, he released a statement from prison saying, quote, the conclusion of the investigation exonerating the Trump organization`s role should be of great concern to the American people and investigated by Congress and the Department of Justice."

I`m joined now by Philip Bump, "Washington Post" political reporter, and Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI. 

Frank, let me just start with you. 

Legally, looking at everything we just kind of laid out there, everything we`re learning today from these new documents, is the reason this case is apparently closed with no more charges to come, that everything we just described there is ultimately circumstantial?  Is that legally why this looks like it`s going no further? 

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR:  Steve, there are some unanswered questions about the decision to not prosecute that. 

And by that, I mean we don`t know whether this was done as a matter of policy, the infamous DOJ policy that says you shouldn`t be indicting a sitting president, or whether they believe there is a lack of evidence, and whether all of the he said/she said and circumstances just don`t add up to something worth pursuing. 

We don`t know that.  But we do know this.  From the outside looking in, what we`re seeing is a very accurate description of potentially chargeable criminal conspiracy amongst multiple people, including five conversations with the president, his attorney, AMI executives and Hope Hicks.

And we know this.  The president has been lying to us when he says:  I don`t know anything about those payments.

So here`s the question.  Is it possible that there is enough evidence, but they`re going to table this until the president leaves office and perhaps consider charging him later?  We simply don`t know. 

KORNACKI:  Philip, is there a murkiness there too, just when you get into that world of campaign finance and what exactly constitutes a campaign expenditure? 


KORNACKI:  Because I imagine a defense you could mount here -- I have certainly heard them start to suggest this -- is, this wasn`t for the campaign.  This was to keep my wife from finding out, to keep my family from embarrassment, to keep my name from embarrassment, that sort of thing. 

BUMP:  Right. 

KORNACKI:  Is there a murkiness there that adds to this at all? 

BUMP:  Well, there is, generally speaking. 

And we heard that argument raised both by Trump and by Rudy Giuliani, who was very active in this last year.  We heard them say, well, this was -- you can have multiple reasons you do this.  It was to prevent the embarrassment from Melania Trump, so on and so forth. 

The challenge with that particular challenge at this point is we have so many of the actors who are also involved in this saying, no, this was campaign-related, the most notable, obviously, being Michael Cohen, who stood up in court and said:  I was directed to do this to influence the campaign. 

We had AMI, which is the publishing company, which reached a non- prosecution agreement with the federal government, in which they too said, yes, we had worked with them on this, and it was part of the campaign. 

There was so much evidence from other actors who`ve already admitted, this is why we did this thing, that that particular argument, I think, probably wouldn`t hold water. 

KORNACKI:  Frank, you put out the possibility there that something being deferred until after Donald Trump`s presidency is over.

I guess there is a precedent there a bit with Bill Clinton.  In the final days of his presidency, there was unresolved business from his perjury, from the Whitewater matter.  He ended up giving up, I think, his law license voluntarily, I think to ride out a -- he cut a deal, though, with federal prosecutors on his way out office. 

If there were something -- I know this is a speculative thing here, but since you raised it, if there were something to that, what kinds of penalties would we be talking about here? 

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, the campaign finance violations are the least of his worries.

Quite frankly, he`s got money laundering.  Look, again, let`s remember, people seem to characterize this as though he paid some women to not talk about an affair. 

They had to establish fake bank accounts.  They had to move money under false pretenses.  And those are all chargeable offenses as well.  So what he could be facing is fairly significant. 

KORNACKI:  All right, well, the first conversation detailed in the warrant between Cohen and Trump was actually a three-way call that included campaign aide Hope Hicks.

However, in her testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last month, Hicks was asked -- quote -- "Were you ever president when Trump and Cohen discussed Stormy Daniels?"  She said no.

Philip, what do you make of that? 

BUMP:  Well, I think there were -- a lot of these sorts of assessments are -- Hope Hicks is sitting there in this Judiciary Committee hearing.

She`s got a lawyer by her side.  I`m sure that she is pretty familiar with the boundaries of what the verbiage of these questions -- so there`s another question later on in that hearing, for example, where she`s asked if she knew about the Stormy Daniels payment.  She says she didn`t.

I find it hard to believe that she would have lied under oath with an attorney sitting by her side, unless she had some sort of escape clause through the verbiage. 

I think there`s a fascinating part to the documents that were released today in which, in a footnote, it`s mentioned that the person who was -- who was submitting the search warrant, the federal official, says that he`d spoken with someone from the FBI who said that Hope Hicks had testified that she didn`t know about this until early November 2016. 

Now, that runs contrary to both the new call records that we have today from October 8, which were mentioned on the screen earlier, but also on October 28, after the payment was made, she had a call with Michael Cohen.

The idea that she would have told the FBI that she didn`t know until November, when it seems pretty clear that she`d been part of these conversations in October, I think that`s hugely problematic as well. 

KORNACKI:  Cohen is saying too -- we put that up there -- he says Congress should be taking a look at this. 

BUMP:  Right. 

KORNACKI:  It seems like, in every one of these instances, Congress does end up -- the Democrats control the House.  Now they end up taking an interest.  Is that going to happen here?  What would that look like? 

BUMP:  It wouldn`t surprise me at all. 

But the thing we have seen repeatedly when Democrats take an interest...

KORNACKI:  Is the stonewalling.

BUMP:  ... is the stonewalling.

And I don`t think the stone walls are going to break down in this particular circumstance.

KORNACKI:  So, Frank, you mentioned the possibility of a post-presidential move.  And then there`s -- as Philip Bump is saying, if Congress were to take some kind of action here, presumably we`d see what we have seen with every other one of these instances. 

Is there any other outlet here, any other form that a further investigation here could take? 

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, I think, clearly, we need to tighten up this whole issue of referring things to Congress. 

So I`m troubled by the fact that a prosecutive entity, in this case SDNY, would just throw up their hands and say, we can`t prosecute a president, and therefore we`re done, we will sit it out until perhaps he leaves office. 

There should be a systematic referral for impeachment consideration when you`re facing these rare circumstances.  And I think he is going -- Trump is going to face the possibility that they will -- Congress will add these facts disclosed in this affidavit to their impeachment deliberations. 

KORNACKI:  Meanwhile, a federal judge today denied bail for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who will now be held in jail until his trial.

The judge said Epstein poses a danger to the community and sided with prosecutors who argued he is a flight risk.  It comes after a search of a safe and Epstein`s home found a fake passport and piles of cash.  Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. 

And, Philip, we saw that just this intersecting with politics, obviously with Acosta last week.  We had -- on this network, they dug up the old footage of Trump back in the `90s with Epstein. 

And this is just one of those stories.  I think this is another reminder it`s going to linger there in the news, and a lot of very powerful people and a lot of very powerful names in some way, maybe even tangentially, are going to keep being connected this.

BUMP:  Yes, that`s exactly right. 

I mean, I think that they`re probably a lot of awfully nervous people out there.  I mean, it`s hard to say how many and who they might be. 

I think -- I think the Trump angle is interesting, because I think that this is also going to be one of those things that sort of gets grouped into the general sense of malfeasance around the president, which a lot of his detractors feel. 

I don`t know -- we don`t know what is to come and so on and so forth, so it would be premature to speculate.  But it does seem as though Jeffrey Epstein is also not going to be the thing that particularly hangs around Donald Trump indefinitely as this unremovable taint, simply because we have seen so many of these things emerge in the past which haven`t had that effect. 

KORNACKI:  Right. 

Politically, we were all talking about Epstein a few days ago, and look at how the last couple of days have gone.

Philip Bump, Frank Figliuzzi, thank you both for joining us.

And coming up, going to head over to the Big Board.  We`re going to take a look at Joe Biden`s support.  He`s the front-runner nationally, but what about those early states?  The answer could surprise you. 

That is next on HARDBALL. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, look, we have been spending a lot of time the last couple weeks trying to figure out the fallout from that first Democratic debate.  Remember, Joe Biden went into that thing a pretty big front-runner, came out of it still the front-runner on the Democratic side, still in first place, but maybe a little shaky, or maybe a little bit more tenuous than before in terms of being the front-runner. 

And now all the questions about what will happen in the next Democratic debate.  That is coming up awfully soon.  Is that going to shake up the field even further?  Or is that going to solidify Biden`s standing atop the field? 

So we thought we would assess where exactly the Democratic field is, but, really, it`s more Biden.  And here`s the interesting thing about Biden.  We say he`s the front-runner, but he`s not the same kind of front-runner everywhere. 

Here`s what I mean by that.  This is national.  This is the latest Morning Consult weekly Democratic tracking poll.  They do this every single week.  You got Biden.  He`s been pretty stable now after this debate.  He`s 32 percent, a double-digit lead.  You see Bernie Sanders.  Elizabeth Warren, she`s down, 18 points behind Biden.  You see the rest of the field there, Biden pretty solidly in first place nationally. 

But, remember, we don`t have a national primary.  Not everybody in every state goes to the polls on the same day.  Look, we have early states, early states that winnow the field, that get candidates out of the race and that cause voters in later states to change their minds.

And in the early states, Joe Biden doesn`t look necessarily like this kind of front-runner.  Here`s what I mean.  Take a look at the latest poll out of Iowa, Biden not in the 30s anymore.  Now we`re talking only 24 percent.  Kamala Harris, you see moving into second place.  This was taken just after that first Democratic debate, single-digit Biden lead in the leadoff caucus state, only eight points right now, a little close there. 

How about New Hampshire?  Remember, they go Iowa.  Then they go to New Hampshire eight days later.  And in New Hampshire, even tighter.  Biden`s advantage right now, just five points in New Hampshire.  Sanders, Warren both tied for second place, both five points behind Biden.

And, remember, Sanders and Warren, they`re both neighbors.  New Hampshire - - excuse me.  New Hampshire borders Massachusetts.  New Hampshire borders Vermont.  Sanders won this state last time around big over Hillary Clinton.  The border state senators usually do well in these New Hampshire primaries.

The risk there for Biden, not hard to see, does it tighten even further in Iowa?  Does he get caught in Iowa?  If he doesn`t win Iowa, does it cascade into New Hampshire?  If he`s 0-2 in those first two primaries, all bets are certainly going to be off when it comes to Biden. 

So, those first two a little shaky for Biden.  Also, we can show you this in New Hampshire.  Look what`s happened.  This new UNH poll out, back in February, when they asked the question, who would you not vote for under any circumstances, early in the year, only 3 percent were saying Biden.  Double digits were saying Warren.

That`s changed.  Now 14 percent say wouldn`t vote for Biden under any circumstance.  Only 8 percent say that about Warren, so reassessment happening there of the candidates as well. 

Then I say you go to the later primaries, Nevada, the Nevada caucuses, the third one up.  Now, this poll was before the debate.  Biden doing stronger here.  Why?  Strong non-white support, large Hispanic electorate in Nevada.  Biden before the debate was strong in Nevada, and then after the debate, in South Carolina, Biden again with more than a 20-point lead in South Carolina. 

You see Sanders there in second place.  Why?  Again, we have been talking about this.  Among white voters, Biden at 25 percent, but African-American voters, a clear majority of the electorate in South Carolina, and still Biden well in front among black voters in South Carolina. 

It`s why Biden leads by double digits in South Carolina right now.  Black voters, strong support from non-white voters is why Joe Biden still has a healthy lead nationally, as we showed you.  But a real risk there for Biden, you`re starting to see it take shape, Iowa and New Hampshire, those first two states. 

So, here`s how the polling looks right now.  Let`s see what happens after that next round of Democratic debates.  That is coming up soon.

Up next, Republican congressional leaders seem perfectly OK with Trump`s racially charged campaign strategy.  Has the party as a whole decided to embrace that approach?  If so, how effective is it? 

We have got some fresh interviews with voters across the country.

HARDBALL is back after this.  Don`t go anywhere. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

While President Trump`s tweets were condemned by the House as racist, and while those chants at his rally last night received immediate condemnation from Democrats, we wanted to figure out how all of this was playing with voters. 

Here`s what some of them told us today. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I`m disgusted in America for allowing this to happen. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  His comments are hurtful.  They are demeaning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Obviously, if you`re here, you have to enjoy being here and you have to want to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  As an immigrant, I feel that`s very, very disrespectful and very, very hurtful.  This is really our home.  A lot of us call this home.  So where can we go back if we call United States as our home?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There`s certain things about America that aren`t lovable.  People are entitled to an opinion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He`s got the election to lose.  And if he keeps up this way, he`s going to give it to the socialists. 


KORNACKI:  Meanwhile, newspapers across the country have sharply criticized the president`s rhetoric, many of their editorial pages characterizing the remarks as a cynical ploy to divide the country and mobilize his base in New Hampshire. 

The editorial board of "The Concord Monitor" writes -- quote -- "Trump is attempting to make the four women the face of the Democratic Party to equate Democrats with socialists.  In doing so, he runs the risk of making Republicans the party of racism and white supremacy. 

"The Denver Post" called on members of that state`s Republican delegation to speak out, writing, quote, we unabashedly say that Trump`s tweets expressed a xenophobic sentiment that was clearly based on nothing more than the race of these women.  We would hope that members of the Republican Colorado delegation would step forward and condemn the remarks. 

But few Republican lawmakers have been eager to do that, including the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell`s defense of the president?  We`ll have that after the break. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s congressional allies were defending him today after his supporters chanted "send her back" last night, referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.  Take a look. 


SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC):  Any time you get into a crowd like that, you`ve got a lot of supporters, they`re going to say what they want to say. 

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  From the places that he moved on in the speech, he never joined in it.  And you want to try to hold him accountable for what something in a big audience?  Are you going to hold him accountable, too, for whatever any protesters or something else?  I think that`s an unfair position. 

REPORTER:  Isn`t it racist, though, to say "send her back"? 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  No.  I don`t think it`s racist to say.  Was it race turquoise say love it or leave it?  I don`t think a Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back.  If you`re racist, you want everybody from Somalia to go back because they`re black or they`re Muslim. 


KORNACKI:  And according to "The New York Times," quote, congressional Republicans have struggled all week to respond to Mr. Trump`s attacks on Ms. Omar.  Now, they must contend with the nativist fervor of his supporters as captured in a frenzied moment in North Carolina with a rageful refrain that they worry could further damage their party`s brand. 

Trying to pivot, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged both sides to tone down the rhetoric, but added that President Trump might be on to something when it comes to highlights the four congresswomen.  Let`s watch. 


INTERVIEWER:  Your reaction to some of the president`s commentary. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Well, look, he is right about the squad wanting to turn us into a socialist country.  I think the president is on to something.  We`re having a big debate now and next year about what we want America to be like. 


KORNACKI:  And for more, I`m joined by Republican strategist Susan del Percio, Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell, and Nicholas Kristof, columnist for "The New York Times."

Susan, let me start with you.  This is what I`ve been observing in the last few days.  You hear McConnell there, you hear Lindsey Graham, listen to conservative talk radio, and you hear Trump`s allies trying to sort of reformulate what he put in those tweets into something that maybe they think is more palatable, more salable.  I mean, we can debate the line "love it or leave it" but it`s probably easier to argue that "love it or leave it" applies to all Americans than taking four nonwhite females and say "send her back."

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  The president`s comments on Saturday or Sunday were very clear.  They were racist.  They were bigoted.  They were wrong. 

You want to tone down the rhetoric to Mitch McConnell`s point?  Acknowledge that, and then start having a conversation.  But until you recognize the problem, this is going to continue. 

And a lot of Republicans better remember is as Donald Trump says, I`m president and you`re not.  What maybe Donald Trump can get away with, which I don`t believe he will, but perhaps these elected officials will not be able to get away.  And they are not up for reelection in 2020, some of the senators, they`re going to have to deal with it when Trump is gone in 2022 or 2024, and they will live to regret this. 

There are a lot of Republicans like myself who stay in the party just to remind people of acts like this by other elected officials. 

KORNACKI:  Tara, you have a sense of Trump a little bit here.  I`m curious what you make of what we heard from him today.  Are we watching somebody there in suddenly distancing himself from that crowd who is scared of what he`s got himself into?  Or is this something that`s just going to vanish in six hours and it`s going to be back to the same message and the same sort of chance? 

TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  He`ll be back to the same message.  He started his campaign by saying Mexicans were rapists.  This is pattern of behavior.  Trump saw the writing on the wall in the Republican Party. 

A lot of people are saying that Trump has sort of brought the party to this place.  No, the party was already in this place.  Trump saw the writing on the wall.  He tapped into it, and that`s why he has been so successful. 

Part of why the 94 percent of the party supports him is because they agree with him.  They would not be supporting him otherwise.  The rhetoric he has said, this racially divisive hateful rhetoric is rhetoric that they want to hear.  And he`s just merely reflecting back.  He is a reflection of what the party has become and the direction it has been going. 

KORNACKI:  And there is a -- there is a bigger picture question, Nick.  Certainly, Trump has shown he can bring the Republican Party along with him as the 90 percent plus approval rating with Republicans shows, as the reactions were showing you from Republican leaders would indicate. 

There is going to come a time when Donald Trump is not on the political stage anymore.  And that seems to be one of the bigger questions looping over all of this.  Do our politics go back at all to what they were before?  Or is this style the new normal?  Is there somebody else who will come along and do the same thing Trump is doing, or is only Trump really capable of all of that? 

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, you look back at America`s history.  In one sense, McConnell is right.  Trump is on to something.  He is on to this nativist streak that goes back to the 1790s and goes back to the anti-Catholic riots of 1844, to the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, to the internment of Japanese Americans in 1941, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

But we`ve seen that they go in waves and that we enact these things.  We are vulnerable to them when we`re afraid.  And then we look back with shame.  And those who supported those measures become discredited by the political system. 

And, look, there may be some advantage.  President Trump seems to think so in having people look through politics through the prism of their identity.  But I am enough of an optimist about this country and the system to think that this will not at a time of increasingly diverse electorate, younger electorate, that this will pay off in the longer run. 

In fact, I think it will tarnish a Republican Party that, you know, I remember when it actually stood for something and had an ideology, and now has become a personality cult around a man who incites mobs to shout demagogic racist taunts. 

KORNACKI:  I`m curious what you make, Susan, the fact that the president today seemed for whatever reason -- I`m trying to ask you, the reason behind distancing himself from the crowd after obviously passing up the opportunity to last night.  You hear so often about Republicans behind the scenes in Washington being uncomfortable with what he is saying, feeling it`s going to destroy them electorally, not wanting them to do it.  And it doesn`t change his behavior publicly at all. 

The fact that they even got him today -- and again, this could be fleeting.  This might last hours.  The fact they could get him to do that, that is something he almost never does. 

What`s going on behind the scenes here?  What`s your sense of it? 

DEL PERCIO:  Well, there`s a -- there were definitely a lot of significant Republicans that went to Vice President Pence to voice their concerns.  They were the Republicans that the president tends to listen to.  And from some of the reporting out there, his daughter was also saying this is too far. 

The thing about Donald Trump is he may say that today, but you get him in front of another rally, what do you think is going to happen when he starts doing that?  Do you really think he is going to say, no, don`t do that? 

DOWDELL:  He did the same thing with Charlottesville.  He did the same things with Charlottesville. 

DEL PERCIO: But here`s the difference with Charlottesville, and actually even when he came out with the Muslim ban when he was a candidate.  That ban, people called it out as racist, Republicans alike.  Charlottesville, you heard Republicans coming out. 

Today, we`re not really hearing much from Republicans.  And that`s what concerns me the most.  I mean, we have a president who is going further than anybody else in our country`s history to divide us as a nation.  And when you have division and hatred, it`s a recipe for disaster. 

KORNACKI:  Well, the impression I get or the sense I get is Republicans are looking at what the president said this morning, and now kind of crossing their fingers and saying please, please, I hope this is the end of it.  That seems to be the reaction there.

DOWDELL:  Well, some Republicans have defended Donald Trump, though.  Since this has happened, some Republicans have come to his defense, immediately went on the attack rather than addressing the core issues.

So, I disagree with the notion that Trump is somehow inciting the party.  The party has always for a very long and in recent history has engaged in dog whistle racial politics.  It was polite racial politics.  But it was racial politics nonetheless. 

The only difference is that Donald Trump saw what incited the base, and he tapped into it and said, I`m going to speak it forcefully.  I`m not going to hide.  I`m going say exactly what it is. 

That crowd chanted that because that crowd wanted to chant it.  They`re supporting him because they want to support him.  And I think this notion somehow that Trump, that this is going to -- I don`t believe it`s going to go away. 

When -- we`ve had racial fault lines in this country forever.  And Trump is just tapping into it and exploiting them more.  But these are not new dynamics, not new to the party, and not new to this country. 

O`DONNELL:  And you mentioned in front of that crowd.  We showed that earlier.  In 2016, he seemed to swear off the "lock her up" chants.  Got in front of a crowd two days later, they started chanting, and he said, ah, guys I`ll go along with it.  And it was back and it was back.

All right.  Susan Del Percio, Tara Dowdell and Nicholas Kristof, thank you all for joining us. 

Up next, Trump`s divisive rhetoric and how he is ignoring the lessons perhaps of the last two elections.  We`ll talk about that next. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The question is asked again this week, whether Donald Trump is executing a strategy here.  And if so, whether willfully fanning the flames of racial and ethnic resentment could actually help him win reelection? 

The logic for this?  Well, you know it by now.  Trump has a large and loyal base.  He caters to that base.  He worries about it.  He obsesses over it some say.  He wants to keep it happy, yes. 

But he is also motivated.  He also wants it filled with a sense of panic, a sense of urgency heading into the 2020 election. 

And under this theory, his behavior this week may serve that purpose.  But I`m not sure that`s really the lesson from Trump`s political success, or from his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 that he or anyone should take.  Think back to the final days of that campaign, the home stretch. 

Trump, of course, had been trailing in just about every poll.  He had just endured the "Access Hollywood" tape.  It looked like he lost the debates to Hillary Clinton.  It looked like he lost them handily, and it was all on top of months and months of polarizing and often racially charged flare-ups before Judge Curiel, the Khan family and so on.

All of this happened and it looked like Trump was going to lose.  What was keeping him in it, though, was that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, also had extremely high negative numbers.  A lot of people just didn`t want to vote for her. 

And then, of course, at the end of October, those people found a big new reason not to vote for her.  That`s when James Comey, the FBI director, suddenly announced that the email investigation was back on. 

And handed this new opportunity at the last minute, this unexpected stroke of fortune, what did Trump do?  Did he amp up the culture war rhetoric to fire up his base even more?  Did he blast out his most inflammatory impulses to the world?  No.  He didn`t do that at all. 

For the first and really the only time we`ve seen with him, he did the opposite.  In those final days of 2016, he was off of Twitter, and he was on message.  He was standing at podiums.  He was reading from scripts.  He was delivering pretty standard political messages. 

From "The New York Times" back on those final days, quote: Aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away that Twitter account that he used to colorfully and often counterproductively savage his rivals.  This was the closest Trump as a candidate ever came to seeming presidential, at least in the traditional sense of the word, and it worked. 

We haven`t seen that Trump, that Trump from the final days of that campaign since then.  We definitely see it in the closing days of last year`s midterm campaign when he went hard after that base and played up the migrant caravan and then lost 40 seats.  The base can get Trump far, but he needed something more to become president in 2016, and it probably wasn`t what he is offering up this week. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.