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Trump now defending "send her back" chants. TRANSCRIPT: 7/19/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Basil Smikle, John Podhoretz, Natasha Bertrand, Tim Alberta,Barbara McQuade; Jonathan Lemire; Noelle Nikpour; Ibram Kendi

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Trump`s latest about-face.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.  Another day, another President Trump.  Just one day after claiming he was not happy with his supporters chanting, send her back, at that rally in Greenville, North Carolina on Wednesday.  President Trump today seems to be walking back that attempt to disavow.

Now, yesterday, he said he, quote, felt badly about the chant that was directed at Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born U.S. citizen.  Today, though, the President came to the defense of the crowd.


REPORTER:  President Trump, you said you were unhappy about the chants.  However, the chant was just repeating --

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  No.  You know what I`m unhappy with -- you know what I`m unhappy with?  I`m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can hate our country.  I`m unhappy with the fact that a congresswoman can say anti-Semitic things.  That`s what I`m unhappy with.  Those people in North Carolina -- that stadium was packed.  It was a record crowd.  And I could have filled it ten times, as you know.  Those are incredible people.  Those are incredible patriots.  But I`m unhappy when a congresswoman goes and said, I`m going to be the President`s nightmare.  He`s going the President`s nightmare.  She is lucky to be where she is.  Let me tell you.


KORNACKI:  The President was referring to comments Congresswoman Omar made last night after returning home to Minneapolis where she got a hero`s welcome from supporters.


CROWD:  Welcome home, Ilhan.  Welcome home, Ilhan.  Welcome home, Ilhan.  Welcome home, Ilhan.  Welcome home, Ilhan.  Welcome home, Ilhan.  Welcome home, Ilhan.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN):  And when I said I was the President`s nightmare, well, you`re watching it now.  Because his nightmare is seeing a Somali immigrant refugee rise to Congress.


KORNACKI:  In Tweets this morning, the President blasted the media for its coverage of Omar`s homecoming in the ongoing dispute.  He wrote this, quote, it is amazing how the fake news media became crazed over the chant, send her back, by a packed arena.  He later added, they even covered a tiny staged crowd as they greeted foul-mouthed Omar in Minnesota.

In meantime, The New York Times report, quote, nervous republicans from senior members of Congress, to his own daughter, Ivanka, urged to repudiate the send her back chant amid widespread fears that the rally had veered into territory that could hurt their party in 2020.

Late today, the President was asked if the fight was good or bad politics.


TRUMP:  I don`t know if it`s good or bad politically.  I don`t care.  But when people are speaking so badly, when they call our country garbage, think of that.  That`s worse than deplorable.

Many people say it`s good.  I don`t know if it`s good or bad.  I can tell you this.  You can`t talk that way about our country, not when I`m the President.

These women have said horrible things about our country and the people of our country.  Nobody should be able to do that.  And if they want to do that, that`s up to them.


KORNACKI:  And for more, I`m joined by Ibram Kendi, Policy Director at the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, also author of, How to be an Anti-Racist, republican strategist Noelle Nikpour, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and Joy Reid, Host of A.M. Joy and the author of The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story.

Joy, let me start with you.  We were talking 24 hours ago about Trump, and he had this chant in 2016 when he was a candidate, lock her up, at those rallies.  And there was one point in that campaign where he sort of told the crowd to stop.  He said the next day to the press, see, I don`t want this.  And then two days later, he was back in front of another crowd and he basically said, yes, have at it.  I didn`t really mean it.  It seems like we might be seeing a repeat to that here.

JOY REID, HOST, A.M. JOY:  Well, I mean, the reality is that Donald Trump, I think, you could see in his response envy that he saw Ilhan Omar get greeted as a champion, greeted with cheers, greeted with the love that he craves, this sort of black hole inside of him reared back up again.

He`s actually -- just from seeing in the coverage, he is able to restrain himself and do what his advisers say for 30, 40 minutes.  He`ll say what they tell him to say.  But then he sees her get that hero`s welcome, the hero`s welcome he wants, that he craves and he cannot get, the love he cannot get, and he just responds.  And he goes back to what he really wants to say, which is the same thing he did with Charlottesville.  Those are my people.  They`re my fans.  All he cares about is his fans love him, and he needs it so badly, that he can`t stand to see her get it.

So he`s going to go back to what he really wants, which is he did love -- you saw him do a sort of Mussolini face when the crowd started to do the chant.  It`s what he wanted.  It`s what he is looking for.  It`s filling that black hole of need, and he cannot stay to any talking points that say otherwise.

KORNACKI:  So, Jonathan, all the talk this time yesterday was about republicans who were very nervous, very upset, got to Mike Pence.  Mike Pence got Trump to walk it back a little bit yesterday.  What now?  If he is lurching back towards just doing this all over again towards potentially making this a staple of future rallies, what are those republicans going to do now?  Anything?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  They`ll probably quietly offer their disapproval, and nothing will change.  The President -- we`ve seen this pattern before, that lock her up moment, as you mentioned, but also Charlottesville.  I was with the press for those couple of days, the day when it happened and he spoke at the golf club.

And he sort of -- that`s when he said the first time there was blame on both sides.  A day or two later, he cleaned it up with a statement at the White House.  And then the day after that, he went back to his original position.  He reversed himself again.  He had that Trump Tower press conference and reiterated that he thought that both sides were to blame.

We see this time and time again because as much as -- yes, there are moments where he`ll listen to republican lawmakers, there are moments where he`ll listen to staff, and that includes the Ivanka Trump thing, which, of course, is a beltway trope at this point, that she will leap to the press that she disapproved something the President said, even though it seems to have little to no impact.

But what he really listens to, two things, what his base wants, and he very -- you can tell, very upset, the idea that he was perceived as chastising his own base, those fans in the rally in North Carolina.  And the second thing is the media coverage.  And he watched in the last 24 hours, (INAUDIBLE) reporting, that the coverage of the reversal of this about- face.  He didn`t like it.  So today, he chose to double down.

KORNACKI:  So, Noelle, for republicans, again the folks who were getting in touch with Pence and saying make Trump stop doing this, do they have to be ready now for the possibility Trump`s going to keep doing these rallies, he wants to run against these four congresswomen in particular, make them the face of the Democratic Party?  If the crowd start chanting again, send her back, send them back, and the President is not going to stop, is this going to be a feature of Trump rallies from here through 2020?

NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, nobody can get a handle on Trump.  I think you guys have been watching Trump long enough, along with us, along with the Republican Party.  This is what Trump is.  We are continually having to, as pundits, as people that represent the RNC, as people that have candidates that work in the business, we are constantly having to tiptoe around what Donald Trump says and separate it from the GOP.  We`ve never been involved in anything like this.

We sure have had, you know, presidents that have done things, presidents that have said things, but this is a continual wheel.  Last week, it is something else.  Six months ago, it`s little rocket man.

KORNACKI:  What I`m asking you though is like this one has the potential to repeat itself.  Because he`s going to be doing these rallies, he`s going to be going after these four congresswomen.  So what is the response from the type of republican you`re describing here?  Is it going to look any different than what we`ve seen in the last few years or is it just going to be some form of acquiescence?

NIKPOUR:  This is going to be rallies, rallies, rallies.  This is all about that base.  It is about the base for Donald Trump.  So pundits can say, shame on you, Donald Trump, you shouldn`t have said that.  Nothing is going to change.  When you said your points, this is business as usual.  This is Donald Trump-style Republican Party.

Donald Trump has taken the Republican Party over.  He has branded the Republican Party.  It has not been opposite.  The Republican Party has not changed Donald Trump.  He has changed the Republican Party.  So this is business as usual.  This is why every week, we have a breaking news on his --

KORNACKI:  But, I mean, it sounds like you`re saying then if Trump decides, and maybe if the crowds decide for Trump, that this is going to be a thing to say at rallies, that`s what republicans have to live with.

NIKPOUR:  I don`t think this is going to be a norm, every rally with send her back, send her back.  Lock her up was against Hillary Clinton and they were involved in a race.  He is not running against all four of these.

REID:  Oh, yes, he is.  He absolutely is.  The problem is that Hillary Clinton was 40-year branded character.  The republicans spent 40 plus years demonizing and turning her into the devil, right?  And so they were able to easily click in and have the rest of the Republican Party join in, right?  People who now are never Trumpers were hating on Hillary Clinton as much as Donald Trump was, and so it was easy for them to kick in.

Donald Trump has decided to brand these four women as the enemy, because they are immigrants.  They are brown.  Donald Trump is racist.  It`s an easy trope for him.  He is not going to stop.  And what the Republican Party now has the face is that Donald Trump is going to run an openly white nationalist re-election campaign, full stop.  That is the plan.

He is going to run on essentially saying this is a white country.  These four women represent the thing I hate, the thing that we all want gone, right?  We want it gone.  He is going to run against them, and he has now made the huge mistake politically of making whatever it is these women believe secondary.  All that he is -- but he is trying to rebrand it.  He is now trying to backpedal into what they believe.  But it`s too late.  He`s already made their race, their nationality, their color the point.

And so the Republican Party has no choice because there is not a lot of courage out there.  They`re going to now have to -- they all have -- you own it all now.  You`ll own it.  This is going to be a white nationalist re-election campaign, full stop.  Donald Trump has said we`re doing it.  I don`t know of anyone but Justin Amash who has the courage and the guts to say hell no to that.  Maybe a couple, maybe three or four of them have the courage to say I`m not doing that.

But the majority of them will call us on background, call reporters and murmur they didn`t do it.  Ivanka Trump will try to save her later brand by trying to pretend that she said something about it.  They`ll try to save their long-term brand by saying anything.  No one will stop him.  He`s going to make them all do it.  And they`re all going to do it.

KORNACKI:  And, Noelle, I see you shaking your head.  I`m going to come back to you.  But I do want to bring in -- we have another guest here, unfortunately, not on the table with us, but it takes us to this.  The President`s latest attacks this week, his supporters` reaction, they have led some democratic candidates to compare the President`s rhetoric to a presidential candidate from 1968.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ):  I felt like I was watching what my parents watched in black and white.  I mean, literally, the same language of Governor Wallace, of people who believe that they could use and race and bigotry as a sword to try to not only cut down their political enemies but also a sword to advance their political agendas.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  When the crowd started yelling, send them back, send them back, send them back, when has that ever happened other than the last time you remembered anything about George Wallace?


KORNACKI:  1968, George Wallace, he was the former Alabama Governor at that point.  He had been a segregationist.  He ran as a law and order independent candidate that year.  He won five southern states.


FMR. GOV. GEORGE WALLACE (I-AL):  You know, the biggest bigots in the world, they are the folks that call other folks bigots.  You remember that.  They are the biggest bigots in the world.


WALLCE:  Oh, yes, you know what you are?  You`re a little punk.  That`s all you are.


KORNACKI:  Ibram Kendi, I`ll bring you in on this.  For folks, I mean, George Wallace`s name, some folks are very familiar with, remembered the story, lived the story very well.  Some folks maybe, it`s just a name in the history books.  I`m curious if you could flesh out that comparison and what you make of it, Trump, George Wallace.  There is the George Wallace we mentioned, `68 and in the `70s who wasn`t necessarily at that point running on segregation, but he was running on a form of cultural politics that people are saying has a lot of parallels with Trump today.  What do you make of it?

IBRAM KENDI, ANTI-RACIST RESEARCH AND POLICY DIRECTOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY:  Yes.  I think the parallels are apt.  I mean, by 1968, George Wallace had presented himself as the face, as the leader of the resistance, the resistance against civil rights activism, the resistance against black power activism, the resistance against all form of activism that were essentially trying to create equality, trying to create equal opportunity in this country, trying to create a nation of immigrants, trying to create an inclusive place.

And I think Trump, of course, has presented himself as the leader, as the face of the resistance, the resistance against changing demographics, the resistance against those who are challenging racist policies at the highest levels of the government, as these four women of color truly are.  And so he`s, of course, in many ways, tapping into George Wallace, that, no, the problem are these people of color, no, the problem is not policies.  And I think, you know, there is a truly direct parallel between these two politicians.

KORNACKI:  And, Jonathan, we showed that clip there from `68.  Those Wallace rallies, you had that one protester who would show up, and Wallace would turn the crowd on the protester.  I mean, it is something theatrically we`ve seen, I think, in recent times.  But, again, just in terms of the republican response here, you`re not expecting too much from this.  If there is going to be any public movement against it, where would it come from?

LEMIRE:  I mean, I think there have been a few senators who have at times spoken out against him.  Mitt Romney was not particularly strong on this issue, but there were other times where he has.

But I think we`ve seen time and time again, the republicans in Congress who speak out against President Trump tend not to be in Congress much longer.  There are republicans who are either on the way out the door already because they`ve decided to retire, or those who are going to get primaried, or those who have just chosen not to run for whatever reason.

And I think that there is still a fear in this party that it is Trump -- President Trump`s Republican Party.  And there`s a fear of whether it is, you know, the Twitter attack or he`s throwing his support to a primary opponent, or he shows up and holds a rally in your backyard, and that there`s a real reluctance to do that.  His approval rating is -- I mean, Steve, you know better than anybody, among Republican Party is sky-high.  They`re in the 80s.

And I think there`s a real reluctance for republicans to speak out against him, even if they do find this personally distasteful.  And there was a little bit here in the last day or two from this chant.  Let`s be clear.  There was basically silence from the Tweets on Sunday.  There were some republicans who pushed back in the last 48 hours, but very few.  And I don`t know there has been any -- I haven`t seen any tonight on his --

KORNACKI:  Yes.  And that`s why I think the question is let`s see the next rally.

LEMIRE:  Right.

KORNACKI:  Let`s see if this chant starts again.  Let`s see if the President reacts at all, and let`s see if republicans react if he does.

Anyway, Ibram Kendi, Noelle Nikpour, Jonathan Lemire and Joy Reid, thank you all for joining us.

And coming up, brand new NBC poll, which shows Joe Biden is maintaining his lead in the democratic race, although perhaps a bit of a tenuous lead.  I`m going to head over to the big board, explain how one critically important demographic group right now is the reason Joe Biden can still call himself the frontrunner.

Plus, the stage is set for round two of the democratic debates.  What can we expect in the rematch of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first head-to- head matchup as well between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders?

We are also now just five days away from Robert Mueller`s testimony before Congress.  One democrat says the hearings are for people who, quote, didn`t read the book, but will watch the movie, a look inside their strategy.

Much more ahead.  Please stay with us.


KORNACKI:  And welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, we are bracing for a heat wave this weekend.  Spring feels like it`s a long time ago. 

Spring also feels like a long time ago because of the polls in the Democratic race and how they have changed.  Remember when Joe Biden got in the Democratic race in the spring and he pulled ahead, high 30s, even into the low 40s?  He was doubling up his nearest rival.  He looked like maybe a strong front-runner at that point. 

Well, he has been on the trail for a few months.  They had that first debate, NBC debate, a couple of weeks ago. 

And now state of the Democratic race in the middle of the summer, we got a brand-new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, Democratic race nationally.

Well, Joe Biden is still ahead.  Joe Biden is still in first place.  You can still call him the front-runner, but his lead is single digits.  His support -- again, remember, there were days when you had polls with Biden in the 40s.  Now it`s 25, 16 for Sanders, 16 for Warren, Kamala Harris right there as well, 14 percent. 

That`s the state of the Democratic race nationally, Biden a front-runner, but he is a reduced front-runner, compared to what he was in the spring.  Sets the stage for that debate coming up less than two weeks from now.  Can he regain his footing and perhaps reinforce that position he has?

Why Joe Biden is still the front-runner and why he hasn`t fallen farther?  One particular group of voters he has to thank for that.  Let me show you.  If you break this down by race, among white voters, Joe Biden right now has fallen into second place in the Democratic race.  Elizabeth Warren is actually in first, 22-21. 

Among African-American voters, however, it is a different story, Joe Biden in first place, in first place by far, 37 percent.  Nearest competitor, Sanders, Harris, tied 14 percent, more than 20 points behind him. 

Remember, one out of four votes next year cast in Democratic primaries across the country are going to come from African-American voters.  Right now, Biden enjoying -- you see it in this national poll -- strong support from black voters. 

Also, we took here as part of this poll a regional poll.  We took a look at the South.  Some of these are going to vote in Super Tuesday, early March next year, some of these states.  You got, again, Biden with a very, very slight, statistically insignificant lead among white voters.  But among black voters, there it is again, a 20-plus-point lead. 

And you can look at his support among black voters in some of these big Southern states, in Georgia, near 40 percent among black voters.  In Alabama -- that`s a Super Tuesday state -- over 40 percent for Biden among black voters.  In Mississippi, over 50 percent among black voters for Joe Biden. 

So that right now, his strong support from black voters, the reason Joe Biden can still call himself the front-runner in the Democratic race.  Let`s see if he can still call himself the front-runner after the next debate.  That`s the next big event on the horizon. 

We will see. 

Up next:  The lineups are set for that second presidential debate.  We are looking at one rematch of a pairing that generated sparks and plenty of headlines the last time around, and a potentially winner-take-all face-off of progressives. 

More details straight ahead on HARDBALL. 



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. 

And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.  And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day.  And that little girl was me. 


KORNACKI:  Remember that moment. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The lineup for the Democrats` second debate was announced last night.  It features a rematch between Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris.  Their face-off will come on the second night of the debate.  The first night will pit two top progressive contenders against each other, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

And a new face is going to join them, Montana Governor Steve Bullock.  He did not make the first debate.  He said he is trying to pull the party back toward the center.  He will be in the second debate. 

For now -- for more now, I`m joined by John Podhoretz, editor of "Commentary" magazine, and Basil Smikle, Democratic strategist. 

Basil, we were just showing those numbers in the segment before.  Biden`s strength, particularly with black voters right now, that exchange with Kamala Harris, I do notice her support with black voters has ticked up somewhat right since that first debate.


KORNACKI:  But, still there is Biden 3-1 leading her in these polls still among black voters.  What`s the source of that strength? 

SMIKLE:  Part of it, I think, is just the history that African-American voters have had with the Democratic Party. 

And Biden is a party person.  His relationship with Barack Obama, which, after the debate, he started to touch on a lot more, I think, certainly reminds African-American voters about the relationship, that Joe Biden did defend Barack Obama when he was often attacked while in office.  So I think that, in and of itself, is appreciated. 

KORNACKI:  Can that last -- can that last through the primary?  Or is there an expiration date on that? 

SMIKLE:  You know what?  My gut feeling is there is an expiration date on it, particularly as we get closer to Iowa and New Hampshire, because if somebody else wins any one of those states, it kind of rewrites that narrative. 

And I would also say that, if you`re an older voter with good memory of the party, you have seen this as a vehicle for political, economic power.  So you`re not going to be so quick to sort of run away from that and take a chance on somebody else. 

There is still time.  But I do think this lasts a little longer. 

KORNACKI:  John, we showed also Biden`s support, just overall, it has been ticking down.  I think it`s about five or six points down from that debate. 

It was not a good debate for him.  The reason it wasn`t a good debate for him is debated itself, but there is the question, I think, his performance.  Did he have a bad night?  Was this a guy who just hadn`t debated in seven years, he is a little rusty, and he will be ready for the next one?  Or is this the new normal with Biden? 

What`s your sense there? 

JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, "COMMENTARY":  Well, clearly, he had a bad night.  I wasn`t sure that he had a bad night that night.  So you have got to take that -- take what I`m about to say with a grain of salt. 

But since then, you can see his numbers are down, Harris` numbers are up.  That`s the ball game, right? 

So here is the issue.  Clearly, that`s the matchup that everyone`s going to be watching, right?  So, does he get aggressive, or does he remain -- try to remain above the fray, congenial, friendly, doesn`t want to attack other Democrats?

And the key there is the name Bob Filner, right?  That`s Kamala Harris as attorney general in California.  A lot of stories this week about how she gave a sweetheart deal to the Democratic mayor of San Diego, who was -- who had a plea deal for battery and kidnapping, kind of. 


KORNACKI:  ... congressman, yes.

PODHORETZ:  Yes, while he was congressman. 

And he could have gone to jail, but he was allowed sort of house arrest and stuff like that. 

If Biden goes there, if Biden says, look, you know, you`re standing here going after me about issues 40 years ago.  Well, I`m here to ask you, what the hell happened?  Why did you let this mayor, this white Democratic mayor, skate, that -- that`s when you will know if Biden wants to go in for the kill or doesn`t. 

KORNACKI:  And thinks he needs to. 

SMIKLE:  Which is an interesting point, because when you look at maybe some of the softness among her African-American support, it`s because of her time as attorney general. 

So it is a touchy point for her, and it will be interesting to see, if that happens, how she responds. 

KORNACKI:  Well, what about the other candidates?  We`re going to focus on Harris vs. Biden, for obvious reasons.

But Cory Booker...

SMIKLE:  Right. 

KORNACKI:  ... he needs some kind of breakout moment.  He saw what Harris was able to pull off last time around.  Julian Castro, he had sort of a breakout moment trying to take down Beto O`Rourke.  Seems to have hurt Beto. 

Could he do that to one of them?  Is it open season on Biden in this debate?  

PODHORETZ:  So, here`s what is interesting. 

I think Julian Castro has been good both on immigration, but also on policing.  And what is going to be interesting is, Bill de Blasio is on the stage that night as well.  I`m curious to see if Bill de Blasio, with his breakout moment talking about his mixed-raced son and policing, is he going to get challenged on firing the officer involved in the Eric Garner -- Eric Garner`s death?

Because he is not so far fired, this officer.

KORNACKI:  And that was just the news this week, that there`s not going to be charges pressed.


SMIKLE:  Right.  They`re not going to be federal charges. 

KORNACKI:  Federal charges pressed, right.

SMIKLE:  So, there have been activists and many others who have been saying that the mayor should fire this police officer. 

I will be curious to see if he gets that question, and if others, particularly if Cory Booker actually challenge him on it on the debate stage. 

PODHORETZ:  But there is a larger issue here, which is, are the Democrats - - they`re running to -- one of them to win, right? 

But do the Democrats really want to go here?  Do they want to spend six months ripping each other`s throats out, while Trump -- they had a unifying moment this week against Trump.  Right?  So, do they stick with that?  Biden clearly wants to be a unifying figure, doesn`t want to tear them, wants to be everybody -- the second choice of everybody who is not the first choice -- whom he is not the first choice of. 

But the logic of this could force him into getting aggressive.  If they get overly aggressive, if they start attacking each other on who`s more progressive on policing and who is more progressive on health care and all of that, I don`t know.  Maybe it`s a good strategy.  Maybe that`s what you have to do to break out. 

It`s going to make the party look like it is struggling, not like it is on a triumphant course to beating Trump in 2020. 

SMIKLE:  Though I would argue, because there was a report that Jonathan martin was saying in his report that Democratic governors are questioning how far candidates are going and whether the party is going too far to the left, but I would say that a lot of those governors use progressive policy to actually defend against the policies of Donald Trump. 

And when you look back at the fact that those progressive policies have also motivated our base, so we`re actually flipping congressional seats in some of these states.  We`re flipping legislatures in some of these states because of that kind of lawmaking and policy. 

So, even if some want to run away from that, it`s actually a mobilizing force for the party. 


KORNACKI:  I`m also thinking back -- I`m thinking back to 2016 as well, and some of those Republican candidates who wanted to be the second choice of Trump`s voters when he faded.  And guess what?  Didn`t fade. 

SMIKLE:  Yes. 


KORNACKI:  So, there`s always that example.  We will see.

John Podhoretz, Basil Smikle, thank you both for joining us. 

And up next, we`re going to look ahead to next week`s highly anticipated Mueller testimony, quite possibly the Democrats` last chance if they`re ever going to build a case for President Trump`s impeachment.  What is their strategy?

Stick around.  You`re watching HARDBALL. 



ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL:  We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. 

And the report is my testimony.  I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

While former special counsel Robert Mueller has made clear his apprehension about testifying before Congress, he is set to appear before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees next Wednesday. 

NBC News reports that Democrats on those committees intend to showcase evidence of Trump`s misconduct for those who haven`t read Mueller`s report. 

As one aide said, they are betting that -- quote -- "Not everybody is reading the book, but people will watch the movie."

According to a Democratic staffer -- quote -- "We have never prepared from a hearing the way that we have prepared for this."

Last night, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler was asked how his committee is going to make the most of its time with Mueller, considering his reluctance to testify. 


CHRIS HAYES, HOST, "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES":  How do you approach it, given your knowledge that he doesn`t want to be there? 

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY):  We will ask questions designed to elicit the information, designed to get the information out there that we want, designed to show what his report found that is at odds with what the administration and the attorney general have been saying. 

HAYES:  So you want him to tell you the report in front of the cameras and the American people? 

NADLER:  To a large extent.  Hopefully, we will go a little further, but yes. 


KORNACKI:  And I`m joined now by Natasha Bertrand, national security reporter at Politico, and Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor. 

Barbara, let me just start with you. 

We played what I think everybody heard, everybody watching this certainly heard Robert Mueller say at his only public statement there, now a number of weeks ago.  Is there any reason to think this committee will get anything further out of him? 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, I do think that there are some opportunities. 

But even if all they get is for him to summarize some of the things that`s in that report, it could be really explosive.  There is a lot of detail in there that I think has escaped the attention of the American people, like sharing polling data with Russia and communicating directly with WikiLeaks. 

I think there`s a lot of information there that could be interesting to elicit. 

But, in addition, I think they could go a little further and ask about how Russia attacked our elections and what we should do to protect ourselves in 2020. 

KORNACKI:  So, Natasha, we have that line from a Democratic staffer saying they have prepared for this, in the staffer`s words, this Mueller testimony, more aggressively than they have prepared for anything else that they have done up there. 

What`s that going to look like?  What is the Democratic approach going to look like in these hearings? 

NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICO:  Yes, it`s really interesting, Steve. 

So what we`re seeing is that they have done mock questioning, and so have the Republicans, actually, and they have really meticulously prepared for any possibility that might come up, to the extent that even certain staffers on the committee are pretending to be Mueller himself and preparing for the possible answers that he might give, and how Democrats can actually then rebut those or press him further or elicit more information out of that. 

But it`s important to remember that Mueller is also going to be very prepared, and he has kind of a sherpa who is guiding him through this process named Jonathan Yarowsky.  And he is a very experienced hand on the Hill and on -- and this kind of liaison between the Hill and DOJ. 

He was top counsel on the Judiciary Committee for a long time.  He knows everyone in Congress.  He has been in negotiations with the Hill for a number of weeks now, if not months, about kind of the limits of Mueller`s testimony. 

So, depending on what has been agreed upon, we could see kind of a limited -- a more limited line of questioning coming from the Democrats, especially because the Democrats also cautioned reporters yesterday during a briefing that we might not have any bombshells here. 

But, also, the Republicans are going to be coming out swinging and focusing on things that don`t even really necessarily have to do with the report.  So Democrats will have to contend with pushing back on that as well. 

KORNACKI:  Yes, and, Barbara, what`s your sense of how Mueller himself -- obviously, this is a veteran of the ways of Washington, not going to be his first time in a situation before Congress like this , certainly. 

What`s your sense of how he`s going to approach this? 

MCQUADE:  Well, he is somebody who has testified more than 50 times before.  He is very experienced.  I think he will answer factually what`s in his report. 

I think he will decline to engage in hypotheticals, and I think that to the extent that Republicans try to paint him as some sort of conflicted hatchet man engaged in a witch-hunt, I don`t think he will have tolerance for that. 

And so it might be a good opportunity for some pushback about that narrative.  And so I would like to see him defend the honor of the FBI.  I would even like to see the Democrats go on the proactive approach there and ask him if he saw anything to indicate that there was anything improper about the predication of the investigation, so that maybe he could shut down some of that speculation. 

KORNACKI:  Natasha, there has been so much speculation and talk, just outright talk, of impeachment, of Democrats ultimately pursuing impeachment. 

The latest polling on that, ABC/"Washington Post" poll asking Americans, do you think the president should be impeached, do you think impeachment should begin now, 37 percent saying yes, 59 percent saying no. 

So you can see where public opinion is there.  If this doesn`t move it, if this Mueller testimony -- I know Congress is due for its big August recess almost as soon as it`s over.  If Mueller`s testimony next week doesn`t move the needle on that number, does that realistically end impeachment as a prospect for Democrats? 

BERTRAND:  Well, that was one of the big complaints about delaying this testimony for a week, because some of the Democrats wanted more time to question him, even more focused questioning by experienced counsel on the committee probably would have been more helpful, is that, when Mueller testifies, they`re going right off to August recess. 

A lot of the momentum, a lot of the headlines that might be generated from that will kind of fade into the background as they go back to their districts and as these things aren`t really talked about much over the month of August, when everyone kind of goes on vacation.  Right?

So if there is nothing massive that might move the needle on impeachment, then at least -- the thinking is it could help them at least going into 2020, right?  By outlining all of the examples of the president`s alleged obstruction of justice, the ties between the campaign and Russia, then at least then the American public will be more informed about, you know, the president`s allegedly illicit Congress in 2016. 

And that, I think, is the minimum that they`re hoping for at this point. 


Natasha Bertrand, Barbara McQuade, thank you both for joining us.  appreciate that. 

And still ahead:  Which came first?  Is Donald Trump dragging the Republican Party into dark, divisive spaces, or was the party`s deterioration -- was it the party`s deterioration, the deterioration of its establishment, that led to the rise of Trump? 

The author of a fascinating new book with a ton of answers to the question everybody is asking, how did we get here?  The book is "American Carnage."  The author joins us next on HARDBALL. 



QUESTION:  Were the president`s tweets that said go back racist, yes or no? 


SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC):  I don`t think the president is a racist.  I don`t think he is a xenophobe.  I think he is frustrated with people shifting the discussion away from real problems he`s trying to solve. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  I think the president`s onto something.  We`re having a big debate now and next year about what we want America to be like. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump`s transformation of the Republican Party was on full display this week, as most Republicans either defended the president or remained silent in the aftermath of his continued attacks on those four Democratic congresswomen. 

In his new book, "American Carnage," Tim Alberta describes Trump`s ascension to the White House as a result of a decade-long deterioration of the Republican Party that included a rise in anger and discontent among Republican voters at what they saw as the party establishment. 

Alberta writes -- quote -- "The country was hurting.  People were scared.  What they wanted, Trump realized, was someone to channel their indignation, to hear their grievances, to fight for their way of life.  What they got instead was George W. Bush bailing out banks, John McCain vouching for Barack Obama`s character, and Mitt Romney teaching graduate seminars on macroeconomics."

Joining me now is Tim Alberta.  He is the author of "American Carnage" and the chief political correspondent for Politico. 

Tim, thank you for joining us.  I have really been looking forward to this one. 

Everybody has been asking and many have been trying to attempt to answer the question, how did we get here?  You have an answer that has a lot to do with what was happening in the Republican Party for the decade before Trump.  Tell us about it. 

TIM ALBERTA, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN CARNAGE":  Yes, that`s right, Steve.  Thanks for having me. 

You know, obviously, we have an instinct, many of us, I believe, these days to think that Donald Trump just materialized out of thin air, that everything we`re seeing in today`s Republican Party is a revelation, and that none of us could have possibly predicted that this was coming, when, in fact, if you were to good back 10 years -- and obviously some would argue go back even further -- you could go back to Wallace. 

You could back to Pat Buchanan taking on George H.W. Bush.  You could look at any number things.

But I chose to focus on this 10-year period, specifically starting in 2008, because I think what you had then, in that year, George W. Bush leaving office with record unpopularity, John McCain picking Sarah Palin, and -- as his vice presidential running mate, and obviously Palin exposing this enormous gulf between the Republican governing class and many of the conservative voters around the country, who felt that they had been ignored and sort of trampled under and taken for granted. 

And then you have the economic collapse that fall in 2008 and the bank bailout, which only exacerbated that divide, and obviously made many Americans of all political stripe believe that the system was rigged against them, that Washington and Wall Street were playing by one set of rules, and that everybody else was playing by a different set of rules. 

And then, ultimately, of course, you had the election of Barack Obama, the country`s first black president, all of the cultural implications therein.

And when you layer all this on top of itself, the socioeconomic dislocation, the cultural displeasure, the political disruption, and you move it forward, and you connect the dots to the 2010 election, `12, `14, I think we saw, Steve, that there was a powder keg here, and that this was all building towards something. 

And when you go back, with the benefit of hindsight, of course, and connect those dots, Donald Trump`s ascendancy really makes all the sense in the would. 

KORNACKI:  Well, yes, speaking of that, here is the moment, I think, that you`re talking about, with all that backstory and the benefit of hindsight, looks huge now, in hindsight.

This was shortly after Trump launched his campaign in 2015.  At the time, many predicted this was going to quickly end Trump`s campaign.  It was his criticism of John McCain`s status as a war hero.  Remember this? 



QUESTION:  He`s a war hero, 5.5. years...


TRUMP:  He`s a war hero because he was captured.  I like people that weren`t captured, OK, I hate to tell you. 


KORNACKI:  There you go.  That`s almost exactly four years ago today.

Despite President Trump refusing to apologize for that comment, his standing in the polls continued to rise. 

Tim, I guess, listening to you talk about that deterioration of the Republican Party, a lot of people reacted in that moment and said, John McCain is a war hero.  Obviously, Trump`s going to pay a price. 

But to the Republican base, that was Trump standing up to their enemy. 

ALBERTA:  Not only that, Steve, which is right, because McCain, of course, had really been sort of persona non grata to the conservative movement. 

Remember, he picked Sarah Palin because his campaign needed a shot in the arm.  They needed to mobilize the base.  They knew that to even have a prayer against Barack Obama, they needed conservatives to turn out in big numbers.  And so that`s why he chose Sarah Palin, ultimately. 

But you just said something, Steve.  You said that, despite Trump not apologizing, his poll numbers kept rising after that McCain comment. 

And, in fact, I think it`s actually because he didn`t apologize that his poll numbers kept on rising. 

What Trump tapped into -- and it`s very intangible.  It`s really difficult to quantify, obviously, but Trump saw in the Republican Party this sort of inherent weakness.  He saw it in McCain in `08, who, as you read in that clip a moment ago, sort of spent critical moments in the campaign vouching for Obama`s character, rather than getting in the mud with him. 

Romney, in 2012, who had been brutally defined by the Obama reelection campaign, Romney never really swung back.  And Trump accurately felt as though a lot of Republican voters felt like, why are we represented by all of these pansies?  Why don`t we have anybody who wants to treat politics as a blood sport? 

And when Trump surveyed the 2016 field, Steve, he sees Jeb Bush, and he says, this guy, he`s got poor posture.  He can`t even stand up straight.  He is a wimp.  He looks at Marco Rubio.  This guy is 5`8`` and he sweats all the time on TV.  I can`t take him seriously, up and down the line.

Trump respects strength.  And there was really only one person in the field he did respect.  And that was Ted Cruz, who was willing to take shots and throw some haymakers. 

But, ultimately, Steve, as we know now, nobody in that Republican field in 2016 was willing to do and say the types of things that Donald Trump was willing to do and say.  And, more importantly, I think, Trump never backed down from any of them. 

And even when people disagreed with some of those things, voters did not like some of those things, a lot of them really respected the fact that he never bowed to the pressure from the political establishment and from the media to back off of them. 

KORNACKI:  All right. 

Tim Alberta, great insight there, great insight, great reporting in this book, "American Carnage."

Thanks for taking a few minutes.  Really appreciate it. 

ALBERTA:  Thanks, Steve. 

KORNACKI:  All right. 

And up next: why the next Democratic debate could be the last chance for a lot of the candidates on that stage. 

Stick around.  You`re watching HARDBALL. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are now less than two weeks away from the next mega debate event, 20 Democratic presidential candidates, two nights, 10 candidates per night.  We have never had debates like these before.  And guess what?  We might not have debates like them after this next one. 

That is because the bar is about to be raised.  After this next debate, the Democratic National Committee is changing the qualifying criteria.  In order to qualify for the debates that are going to take place this fall, candidates will need to hit 2 percent in at least four officially recognized polls. 

And that sounds easy enough, didn`t it?  Two percent? 

Actually, though, it`s not.  Our new NBC/SurveyMonkey poll I was showing you earlier, it`s actually good example of why.  Remember, there are two dozen Democratic candidates for president right now. 

And out of those two dozen Democratic presidential candidates, a grand total of nine of them actually hit 2 percent in our new poll.  In other words, the vast majority of Democratic candidates fail to hit the bare minimum they need to be hitting in the poll to make the next debate -- the fall debate -- excuse me.

And 13 of them in our new poll are actually at zero percent.  In other words, more than half the Democratic field is registering absolutely no support in our new poll. 

So, by our back-of-the-envelope math, right now, only six of the Democratic candidates are already qualified for the fall round of debates.  That means 18 aren`t. 

Now, obviously, there are going to be many more polls to come this summer.  There`s going to be many more chances for the candidates to hit the threshold and to make the stage in the fall. 

And this next debate in less than two weeks is an obvious opportunity for all of them to somehow get noticed and to somehow break through. 

But this may also be their last opportunity.  As we know, those stages are crowded.  They are chaotic.  The time passes quickly.  Everyone is going to show up with a plan to get noticed.  Few, though, will actually succeed. 

So, enjoy this giant two-night 20-candidate debate, because the next one after it may end up looking like -- well, it may end up looking like a normal debate. 

That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

Chris Matthews will be back on Monday.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.