CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Heading into the backstretch. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
As we enter Labor Day weekend, we mark the traditional end of summer, of course, and the beginning of an intense new phase in the presidential campaign of 2020. Ten Democrats have made the cut for next month`s debate. That puts the top billing three candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren bunched together at center stage.
And while the summer has brought its share of ups and downs, the shape of the race has remained gelled. On the very first day of summer, for example, June 21st, former Vice President Joe Biden led the pack in the real clear politics average at 32 points, with Senator Bernie Sanders at 15, Senator Warren at 12, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg tied at 7.
Today, Biden continues to hold a double-digit lead with 29 percent followed by Sanders and Warren at 17 percent together. Warren has steadily climbed in the polls, however, over the summer, gaining 5 points in the past three months.
Former senator Kamala Harris made a high jump following the first debate, but has since fallen back to where she was in late June.
Meanwhile, Biden is again facing scrutiny after a garbled comment in New Hampshire. He has been hit with a Washington Post story today detailing inaccuracies from his account of visiting Afghanistan to honor the heroism of a Navy captain.
As for Warren, Politico reports her steady rise could make for a tougher road ahead. Quote, fellow liberal icon Bernie Sanders and Warren have long had a non-aggression pact, and various polls have shown overlap between backers of Kamala Harris and Warren. But one campaign adviser added, if Warren attacks someone else`s record on the debate stage, she will get it back in return.
Well, I`m joined by former Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, who`s is also a Washington Post Contributing Columnist, Ginger Gibson is a Reuters Political Correspondent, Adrienne Elrod is a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton campaign and Jon Ralston, there you are, is Editor of the Nevada Independent.
So I want to ask you -- we`ll start with this first thing. Who won this summer, Donna Edwards? Anybody?
FMR. REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD): Well, I think Democratic voters won, because they got to see the diversity of the candidates that reflected by the voters. They got to see all of them on stage at various times, and now they`re starting to make choices. This is what Democrats have wanted and they want to choose somebody who is going to beat Donald Trump. And they have a range of candidates who can do that.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jon Ralston. The odds-making city of the world, what do you think? Do you think the Democrats look better at the end of the summer as a pack than they did going in?
JON RALSTON, EDITOR, NEVADA INDEPENDENT: Well, I don`t really think that that`s necessarily the case, Chris. And, of course, all the caveats apply and that it`s just about to turn September of the year before the election.
But I think Elizabeth Warren, as you mentioned, six months ago, even three months ago, wasn`t looking as strong as she is now. But there is, as you also mentioned, a consequence to that. Whatever non-aggression pacts existed in this race are about to evaporate, maybe starting as early as next week.
MATTHEWS: Well, Ginger, she has -- Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren has been -- my term, has been loving Bernie to death. I love his Medicare for life thing. It`s all great. Everything he says I like, because she is younger and she may think a better, more attractive candidate, more appealing candidate for next year.
GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: It`s not Bernie Sanders` voters that Elizabeth Warren needs to get first. It`s Joe Biden`s. She`s embracing Sanders, his ideas, his opinions. His voters aren`t going to simply be won over, even if she attacked him. In fact, she`ll probably repel his supporters even more by going on the attack against Bernie Sanders.
If she starts to show that she can build even more consensus, that she can be the really close competitor to Biden, that she can take Biden`s voters away, that`s how she wins.
MATTHEWS: How does she move right while she stays left?
GIBSON: Maybe she doesn`t have to move right. We have to remember that there are a lot of voters who are looking at more than just where their policies line up on the political spectrum. They`re looking at their viability. They`re looking at their ability to run against Trump. They`re looking at their personalities. Voters look at all of these factors.
So she could win some of those voters who might not love her policies but still see her as a better candidate.
MATTHEWS: How does she out-schmooze Joe Biden?
GIBSON: That`s the tough part. I mean, he is a quintessential campaigner. We talk about all of his flaws, but at his core, he is a man who can connect with voters. And it`s a ground game in Iowa, it`s about getting out there and shaking hands and kissing babies, which Iowa still is, that does favor Biden on the ground.
MATTHEWS: Adrienne, you`ve been through these national campaigns. You know how they turn. We`ll get to that in a moment. But they do turn, even in the early January, they flip.
ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean, it`s early but it`s not early. And what we`re seeing, Chris, of course, is the frontrunner of that field is really starting to gel. Poll after poll, real clear politics average says Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are really the top three to beat.
But I would sort of say this is Joe Biden`s summer that he won. I mean, Elizabeth Warren, of course, has made incremental movement in the polls and that`s been good for her. But Joe Biden has had a number of situations that might normally sink a candidate, but he has risen above. His poll numbers are still outstanding.
MATTHEWS: Do you like his press strategy?
ELROD: Yes, I do.
MATTHEWS: It`s basically peek-a-boo, do once in a while, do an interview and then go back into not doing interviews.
ELROD: Well, it`s working for him right now. I think what they`re also reminding everybody, and I think for those of us who are on television, the media, is a good reminder too, that this campaign is not going to be fought and won on Twitter. And that`s something they have been focusing on time and time again.
His support among African-Americans and older white men and women, which were the two most heavily voting constituencies in the Democratic Party, still remains exceptionally strong. So I still think this is his race to lose. But the debates are going to be everything, and they`re going to tell us a lot.
MATTHEWS: I`ll get it back to you and the African-American vote, Donna. It seems to me that voters in the minority community have to spend their lives voting for people in the majority, ethnic majority.
EDWARDS: Well, they do. But I --
MATTHEWS: They get to know people. They get to decide who they trust, it seems to me, my gut.
EDWARDS: And that`s what they`ve decided, I think, at this stage about Joe Biden. And, you know, I get all of my information from my hair salon. And the ladies in the hair salon tell me that they like Joe Biden because they trust him, because they know him, and because they feel comfortable with him. And as long as that holds, it`s going to be tough for any of these other candidates to break into that vote.
MATTHEWS: It may well be chemistry, because he`s had a large African- American constituency for his whole career. Try drive through Wilmington. It`s a minority town, and it`s on the Amtrak. You drive through it and that`s his people. And I think I`ve seen him in action. I think he does know how to talk to people.
GIBSON: I was with him. I worked at the news journal in Wilmington. I was with him the day he boarded the train with Barack Obama to come to D.C. for the inauguration. That crowd was quite diverse. I mean, those were the people that were there to see Obama and Biden. And he is beloved in Delaware. And I think that`s really what those memories are what`s helping drive that.
MATTHEWS: Well, now to the other side of Joe Biden. Here is how former Vice President Biden and former Vice President Biden told that war story last week up in New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Young Navy captain, Navy, Navy up in the mountains in the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan.
One of his buddies got shot, fell down a ravine about 60 feet. A four-star general asked me would I go up into the fob. And everybody got concerned a vice president going up in the middle of this. But we can lose a vice president. We can`t lose many more of these kids.
And I went to pin him. I said, sir, I don`t want a damn thing. Do not pin it on me, sir, please, sir. Do not do that. He died. He died.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in The Washington Post today, based on interviews with more than a dozen troops and commanders, quote, it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.
In an interview with Washington Post Columnist Jonathan Capehart afterwards, Biden tried to argue away the relevance of the details of his story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: What is the gaffe when I said there was a young man I tried to pin a medal on, he said I don`t want it sir, he died, he died, he died. I was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we`ve lost. And so that, I don`t know what the Problem is. I mean, what is it did I said wrong?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Biden was also asked by Capehart if he is hurting himself with these ongoing mistakes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN CAPEHART, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It feeds into the narrative that Joe Biden makes things up, Joe Biden is too old, Joe Biden isn`t all there. How do you keep the narrative, the too old narrative from damaging your campaign? How do you break out of this narrative? Can you?
BIDEN: Well, I can only break out of it when I win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jon Ralston, he never seems to hurt anybody really with these gaffes. This was really kind of -- I`ve told this story a thousand times and I`ve congealed it into one story rather than three different stories. I don`t know whether -- the trouble is you don`t know whether there ever was a conversation with the former vice president and the four-star general where he said we can lose a vice president. We don`t know if that ever happened. I mean, he`s not Ernest Hemingway. You don`t get to make it up based upon facts. You have to have the facts.
RALSTON: Well, the problem is, Chris, that this is the kind of thing, this last thing, The Washington Post story, I mean, if it were Joe Biden analyzing that story said the whole thing is a bunch of malarkey, right? A guy made up, conflated three different stories. It`s different than saying you were in Vermont when you were in New Hampshire or having a slip of the tongue. Sometimes I walk into a room and I can`t remember what I walked into the room for. Those are things that everybody does.
But Jonathan Capehart is right, as it feeds into that narrative that Biden maybe is too old for yet another campaign. And the real problem, I think, Chris, is if this gets up to the decibel level or keeps happening where he is seen as a fabulous, as someone who makes things up, think about who the Democrats are running against. They are running against a guy who has been proven to make things up, to be a pathological liar. They don`t want that issue diluted in a general election.
MATTHEWS: What`s the role of a staff? If you`re walking around, male or female, Democrat or Republican, socialist or whatever, you got a bunch of people around you, the corner guy in the boxing match. Aren`t they supposed to say, put your arms and get it straight? Aren`t they supposed to give you advice? Mr. Vice President, that story is not accurate. Well, you`ve got to start telling it accurately or you`re going to get nailed on this, which is -- are the staff people told Biden don`t interrupt me in my storytelling, because there is a real problem here. Why have a staff if they don`t help you get it straight?
ELROD: No. I think they are, Chris. But you`ve got to remember, he has run for president three times.
ELROD: And he`s lost the first three times.
MATTHEWS: Because of this stuff.
ELROD: This is the first time he has ever been the frontrunner so he is being more scrutinized rightfully so because he is the frontrunner. And it`s different this time. But, look, I think we`ve got to keep in mind, take a couple of steps back. He was trying to describe a story. He was coming from a place of passion, from a place of compassion about veterans and soldiers who have put their selves in harm`s way for our country. He was trying to use this as a moment to show positivity. He wasn`t coming from a bad place.
MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he describe it as it happens?
ELROD: Well, I mean, he should have. And I hope he learns from this because I do think there will be some problems for him going forward. But I think we are also maybe overly analyzing this because --
MATTHEWS: No. I thought it was a beautiful story in The Washington Post. I don`t know this guy, but the reporting was really good in The Post. It went through point by point by point all these totally different events and how they got them all botched in together.
GIBSON: And he took real life events and mixed them up and took pieces.
MATTHEWS: A reporter would be fired over this stuff.
GIBSON: I agree with you. And let`s be clear though, that was a great story. Joe Biden is not a journalist. He is a politician. And voters --
MATTHEWS: Remember Janet in The Washington Post? Remember Janet? They made up a story, putting together all the pieces?
GIBSON: Absolutely. We would get fired for that. Let`s be clear though, the measure that voters are using are not journalism ethics that they`re applying to these candidates. And we should look back at 2016 and say we told voters the times that President Trump wasn`t truthful or the times he wouldn`t answer questions or the things he wouldn`t tell the voters, and they didn`t care. They still elected him.
MATTHEWS: Let`s get to this. Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren, of course, from Massachusetts, has a steady climb this summer, a very good summer for her. Apparently, people are going to start challenging her now, according to Politico, which reported, the Democrats are already opening up new lines of attack against Warren, calling her celebrated policy proposals, quote, a fraud, that`s the word used, challenging her to say how she would pay for the massive healthcare plan, highlighting a lack of diversity in her supporters, that`s another attack on her, and dropping reminders of Warren`s long span as a Republican.
Anyway, the report adds that aides of three rivals privately complain she has gotten fawning treatment in the media as she unveiled a litany of ambitious plans without being pressed on where the money would come from, boy, I tried to get that out of her, Donna. I asked the question three times. You can only ask the question three times. How much money will your Medicare taxes go up to pay for Medicare for life? It`s going to go up. Tell us an estimate. And people say, well, why should she tell you that? It`s going to hurt her. It`s a good question. I don`t like the answer. Your thoughts.
EDWARDS: Well, look, I think that what Elizabeth Warren is going to face in this next round of debates is that everybody is going to be on this stage, and you`ve got people in the second and third poll positions. In order for some of those below to leap forward, they`re going to have to go on the attack. They`re going to have to knock away either number two or number three. And they`ve seen what happens when they go after number one. It doesn`t actually seem to really matter. So I think we`re going to see, and I think that her plans are going to be put to the test.
The one thing that they can`t do is they can`t go after her in a way Donald Trump goes after her. But they will legitimately question those proposals.
MATTHEWS: Jon, last night -- I had Amy Klobuchar on last night, a very impressive legislator. And I say, who is the better legislator, you or Warren? And she said I`m the best legislator there is. Basically, she didn`t want to get personal. Is that what we`re going watch in two weeks, people saying, I`m better than her, but I`m not knocking her, or what, on Warren?
RALSTON: I just don`t think that`s going to work anymore, Chris. I just don`t think that these non-aggression pacts are going to stick. These other candidates who are below the top three have to try to distinguish themselves. You`re certainly going to see Senator Harris do that again. It seems like forever ago now, right, when she went after Biden. And Biden survived that and Harris went down afterwards. So I just -- I don`t think you`re going to see these candidates playing nice with each other.
But Warren`s problem, I think, in becoming a frontrunner is that she doesn`t want to explain certain things. You mention when you asked her how to pay for it, she was at a forum here in Las Vegas, and I asked her the question about, okay, you`re for Medicare for all. There are a lot of people worried what the transition looks like. How are you going to reassure people? She doesn`t have a good answer for that.
You know who`s benefit inures to, I think, Chris, is Biden. Biden likes talking about healthcare. He likes talking about Obamacare. He likes it, mend it, don`t end it. And then he thinks that as long as they talk about healthcare, that`s going help him, and he may be right.
MATTHEWS: He may be right. He has got a family history of needing healthcare.
Thank you, Donna Edwards. My other guests are sticking with me. Donna, thank you., only one act tonight, but you`re always great. Thank you.
We`ve got an active candidate coming on. They were the sleepers at this point in the 1976 election cycle, few people had ever heard of Jimmy Carter. A year later, he won presidency -- in fact, a few months later. Is there a chance that one of the candidates currently polling, one polling at 1 or 2 percent, can actually win this baby? And that`s really happened a lot. We`re going to show you some numbers that show Dukakis, Kerry, all these guys. They all came from nowhere in the fall or actually January of election year.
And Trump`s politics a disaster. he tries to show empathy when disaster strikes in swing states, like Florida, but brings out his usual venom when bad things happen where they can`t vote for a president, like Puerto Rico, where he is throwing bounty picker upper bags.
And we`ve got much more coming on that. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re still more than 150 days away from the first contest of the 2020 election, the Iowa caucuses. And right now, former Vice President Joe Biden is in the clear front-runner position in the polls, leading most candidates by double digits.
But history shows that polling this early doesn`t always spot the winner. Candidates who follow -- who poll early on sometimes do go on to win the party`s nomination and the election.
As we know, Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976. But in January of 1976, Carter was polling at 4 percent, while Hubert Humphrey was at 29 percent, George Wallace at 20. In 1988, Democrats -- also in January, Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis. But in January that year, Dukakis was polling at 10 percent, behind Gary Hart, who was at 25 percent. Jesse Jackson was at 19 percent.
In 2004, John Kelly won the nomination, but in January of that year, he was only polling at 9 percent, while Howard Dean was at 26 percent. In December, by the way, of 2007, right before 2008, Hillary Clinton was beating Barack Obama by 18 points. Clinton was at 45 percent, Obama just 27. We know how that turned out.
In the current race, Joe Biden himself is rejecting the idea that he is the only one that can win this time because he is an old white guy, as he put it. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the assertion is made that, well, the reason -- the only person that can beat Trump is -- quote -- "an old white guy," I just think that -- I mean, I think there is other people in the race who can beat Trump.
BIDEN: Well, I think almost anybody. They`d all make a better president than Trump, no matter who is left in the race.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, still with me are Ginger Gibson, Adrienne Elrod, and Jon Ralston out in Nevada.
But joining me right now is presidential candidate and former Maryland U.S. Congressman John Delaney.
Mr. Delaney, Congressman.
JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris.
MATTHEWS: You`re one of them sleepers, at best.
Tell me how you win now. How does a guy down in the numbers that hasn`t been able to make the third debate win this baby?
DELANEY: Well, as you said, I think we have got a long way to go. There is still a lot of candidates in this race.
And the only polls that really matter and the only thing that really matters is what happens in Iowa, in my opinion. And I just think there`s a lot of issues to talk about.
MATTHEWS: You`re living out there, aren`t you?
DELANEY: I`m spending a lot of time out there. I have done 35 trips. I have been to all 99 counties. We got a good operation on the ground there.
MATTHEWS: Can you retail the state?
DELANEY: Yes, you can.
Now I think what`s happened for most of this election, so far, we have kind of had the social media primary. But now I think it`s going to shift. And I think the focus is going to be on Iowa. And I think Iowa is looking for solutions.
We`re in the middle of a trade war right now. And it`s destroying Iowa and their economy. And I`m the only one who -- for example, who supported President Obama`s effort to get us in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would make every acre....
DELANEY: Yes, it would make every acre of ground in Iowa more valuable.
And these are the kind of things that have to be discussed. We don`t have an alternative vision, at least what I`m not -- what I`m hearing from the front-runners. There is no new vision about how we exist in the world.
MATTHEWS: What`s your favorite city in Iowa?
DELANEY: I`m not going to pick any favorites.
MATTHEWS: OK, just kidding.
Let me go to Ginger.
Let me go to Nevada on this one. I want to go to Jon Ralston on this.
This idea that anybody can win these things at this point is true by history. It is a fact that these people -- even John Kerry seemed like Mr. Establishment. They were nowhere in the race. Howard Dean had it locked, it looked like.
Jimmy Carter was Jimmy who. And this is in January. Now, we`re speeding up this process now. But one thing that strikes me, nothing`s moved since last June. And that`s my question to everybody here.
How come, if anything can happen, nothing`s happened, except Warren has moved up a bit? Nothing`s happened.
I think it`s interesting, Chris, in the sense that Biden has taken some blows, and he still has a sizable lead, except for that one outlier Monmouth poll, over everybody else.
And so I don`t think that`s insignificant. But as much of a Nevada partisan as I am, I have to say of that John Delaney is right.
In the way the presidential campaigns are covered, everything will come, will crystallize in Iowa, and then it will either be, OK, it looks like everything is the same and the top three are the top three, or we will be saying on the night of the Iowa caucus, oh, my God, candidate X, whether it`s Mayor Pete or Castro or someone we never thought could do it, suddenly did well in Iowa.
Then that momentum carries on to New Hampshire, and then back to the most important state, where I`m sitting right now. And, by the way, Chris, I have no favorite city in Nevada.
Let me ask Ginger here. And then we will get to Adrienne here.
It seems to me that, when you have 10 candidates up on the stage, or 20, as we have had, it`s very hard for people to focus on any particular candidate and make a big leap of judgment.
GIBSON: I think the thing that`s important to know about Iowa is that those are voters who are paying attention.
And they have been engaged very early in this process. They were showing up to candidate events in January, before candidates were even announced.
We are not in 1991 anymore. People don`t have to wait for Bill Clinton to show up in Iowa to figure out who he is. They can look them up online. They can watch them...
GIBSON: ... on television. That makes it a lot harder to build support after you have had six months of exposure.
Even if you have got a favorite pork chop in Iowa or a favorite city, you got to have -- it has to happen earlier.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Delaney just made the case you win in Iowa, you can win the whole thing.
But what follows? Does Iowa follow the country, or does the country follow Iowa?
ELROD: Well, that`s left to be determined.
MATTHEWS: I want you to tell me.
MATTHEWS: If you can win nationally, should you come out nationally just as well out of Iowa? Or can you go in there and all of a sudden pop goes the weasel, you have won out of Iowa, and not winning any other poll until then?
ELROD: I think it honestly depends on who wins Iowa this time around.
I think if it`s somebody like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren...
MATTHEWS: Would it be a surprise, though, or is it the national polls will tell us?
ELROD: I think it depends on how close the race is, and it frankly depends on how many people are still in the race.
Now, I was on Hillary Clinton`s campaign in 2008, and we were surprised that Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008. Our polls showed us that it was going to be close, but we didn`t think we were going to lose. That`s why the ground game is so important. That`s why organizers on the ground who know how to organize a caucus, it`s so critically important.
And, by the way, Cory Booker, as you probably know, has a very strong ground game in Iowa. I think he is somebody who is polling right now in Iowa around 5 percent, but he is somebody who could perform much better in the caucuses because of his strong ground game.
MATTHEWS: How do you, as a moderate Democrat, win in Iowa, which is definitely more left than the rest of the country?
DELANEY: I win on trade, really simple.
I`m going to win Iowa or do really well in Iowa on trade, because trade is going to become, in my judgment, the number one issue facing this economy. And, quite frankly, it is the number one issue facing Iowa right now.
I mean, if you look what`s happened to Iowa farmers with the trade war we`re in -- which, by the way, is one of the reasons the Amazon is burning.
MATTHEWS: So you should call up George Stephanopoulos and tell him to raise the trade issue all through the three-hour debate.
DELANEY: But it`s also -- it relates to everything, because there is a reason we have fires in the Amazon, because people from Iowa are not able to sell their soybeans to China.
So that creates an opportunity for the biggest buyer of soybeans to buy those soybeans somewhere else, and those farmers in Brazil are burning the ground, so they can grow soybeans. And my point here is, this trade issue affects everything we care about.
MATTHEWS: Do you order soy milk when you go to Starbucks?
DELANEY: Sometimes, I do.
MATTHEWS: Do you?
MATTHEWS: Did you start ordering soy milk in this primary fight?
DELANEY: But it ties to everything, because if you look at what`s gone on with rural health care in this country...
MATTHEWS: I have never...
MATTHEWS: ... had the word soy heard -- spoken so many times on this show.
DELANEY: I said soybeans, not soy milk.
DELANEY: If you look what`s going on in health care in public schools in rural America, this is all related.
And I believe trade is going to be a huge issue with Iowa. I, unfortunately, think this trade issue is going to get worse, and it`s going to continue to disrupt our economy and disrupt the global economy.
And I think it`s going to become the centerpiece. And I think President Obama was right on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
MATTHEWS: Is this guy too intellectual for politics, or what?
GIBSON: Absolutely not. There`s no such thing as too intellectual for politics.
But I do think, to your point earlier of is this a national win in Iowa or not, I mean, if you were in the West Des Moines high school of Barack Obama the night before the 2008 Iowa caucus, you would have had a good sense he was going to win. I was there. And he had enthusiasm, I mean, packed to the rafters of that high school gymnasium.
It was quite clear that night that he was winning. And I think that`s what matters, that enthusiasm.
MATTHEWS: I tried to tell that to people, how electric those days were. He worked a room of a couple hundred people better than anything I have ever seen. It was electric. It was chilling.
Thank you, Ginger Gibson. Thank you, Adrienne Elrod. Thank you, Jon Ralston. And, thank you, presidential candidate John Delaney. Thank you, sir, for coming in.
Up next -- showing up is everything.
Up next: an escalation in the 13th straight week of pro-democracy protests -- protests over in Hong Kong, as authorities there start arresting -- I worry it`s another Tiananmen Square. It`s just a matter of days now. I don`t know.
President Trump has been hands off so far. Is that the right American approach? We`re going to talk about that. What should we be doing?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
Leaders in Hong Kong are bracing for another weekend of potential violence, with protests expected for the 13th straight weekend. Demonstrators have been protesting what they see as China trying to exert stricter controls over the semiautonomous territory of Hong Kong.
Today, police arrested and later released prominent pro-democracy activists. The protesters say it won`t stop their movement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AGNES CHOW, PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST LEADER: The regime and Hong Kong government is trying to create a wide terror to try to scare Hong Kong people to not to participate in the social movement and in the democratic movement in the future.
But we Hong Kong people won`t give up and won`t be scared by these wide terror and injustice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, under pressure from police, however, protest organizers officially canceled their demonstrations this weekend.
But protesters are expected to turn out anyway, possibly leading to further violent clashes with the police there. Millions, by the way, of protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks, at one point overtaking Hong Kong`s airport, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
For more, I`m joined by Michael Fuchs, former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, and Chris Livesay, NBC News correspondent in Hong Kong.
I want to go to Chris first.
Sir, what is happening? What`s going to happen this weekend?
CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Chris.
Well, that`s the big question that`s on everyone`s mind. This weekend, there was a massive protest that was scheduled here, very highly anticipated. However, the government here decided to ban it virtually at the last minute.
Now, this comes after an escalation in clashes between protesters and police, in which we saw protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks and things that frankly could have killed somebody at the police.
And the police, on their part, fired a water cannon. They fired warning shots in the air, at least on one occasion, and they pointed their weapons directly at protesters.
Now, despite this ban that they have imposed, protesters are saying they`re turning out into the streets regardless. So, everyone in Hong Kong right now is on edge. And they`re bracing for what could be a very violent showdown.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the interpretive question. What is the strategy, not the goal, the strategy of the protesters, and what is the strategy of the government?
LIVESAY: Well, as you have seen, the strategy of the protesters has been to overwhelm the local government with hundreds of thousands of people.
And, by their count, sometimes over one million protesters have taken to the streets. When you have this critical mass of people, which -- you know, it`s a city of just about seven million people. And some of these protests have had close to two million people.
How are you supposed to manage something like that? It`s also a largely leaderless movement. So even if the authorities here are to ban a protest, like they have done this weekend, there`s nothing they can do to keep people from coming out under their own volition.
In fact, the very interesting sort of caveat to their strategy has been to rebrand what they`re doing. So even though this protest has been banned recently, they have come up with ways to get around that by labeling it a religious gathering, because the city can`t stop a religious gathering.
So the plan for them now is to come out under the auspices of a prayer meeting. And then, if they`re still sticking around for a large protest afterwards, well, that`s open to interpretation, I suppose, on their part.
The government, they`re still trying to figure out exactly how to handle these types of mass protests. As we have seen in their tactics, they have been -- sometimes been rather disorganized in dealing with them, using tear gas, using the water cannon, but not always coordinating very well and very effectively.
And we have seen many instances in which the police have been outnumbered and, frankly, a little confused.
MATTHEWS: Well, within the past hour, President Trump was leaving for Camp David, and he credited himself with helping to prevent violence in Hong Kong.
Let`s listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the Hong Kong thing is in a very tough situation. It`s very tough.
I think, if it weren`t for the trade talks, Hong Kong would be in much bigger trouble. I think it would have been much more violent. I do believe that, because of what I`m doing with trade, that`s very much keeping down the temperature in Hong Kong. I think it`s by really a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Michael on this question.
I get the feeling that Peking, or Beijing, is waiting for the protesters to break out, start destroying property, start doing things that look like -- that would threaten the culture of China, the stability of China, and then they will do what they have to do, which is crack down.
Are they playing that game, let them go wild as possible, then use that as an excuse to crush them?
MICHAEL FUCHS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think that they would certainly like to have that kind of a provocation, from their perspective, in order to crack down a lot tougher on the protesters.
I think we`re all watching and waiting for that unfortunate possibility that they could come in.
MATTHEWS: So, on the other hand, what are the protesters hoping to get done against a communist dictatorial government?
FUCHS: Well, I think the thing is, is that they don`t see that it way, right, because they see the government that they are trying to influence first and foremost as the government of Hong Kong themselves.
China gave them special rights when they were handed over from the British in 1997 and said, for 50 years, you can basically have your democracy. And so what the protesters are asking for right now to Beijing is, give us the rights that you promised you would give us.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, that`s the right argument, that they deserve it because that was the deal.
But China wants to have the right to extradite people into the mainland to punish anybody who even talks like that.
And that`s one of the latest examples, right? And I think what you`re seeing right now a reaction to, which is over the years that they have been now controlled by Beijing, there has been an increasing amount of oppression.
MATTHEWS: Predict the ending. Is it Tiananmen Square? Is it a disaster in the end?
FUCHS: That is absolutely a distinct possibility we all need to watch out for.
I think that what`s more likely is a slow, but steady ramping up of the pressure, that they try to suffocate these protests, arrests of the leaders of the movement, more harsher tactics from the police there, canceling protests.
I think you`re going to see more of those kinds of tactics in an attempt to prevent a Tiananmen type outcome.
MATTHEWS: They don`t want to look like the bad guys worldwide.
Thank you, Michael Fuchs.
Thank you, Chris Livesay over in Hong Kong.
Up next: the latest on the now Category 3 hurricane heading toward Florida and how this president has responded to natural disasters. He does it on the basis of politics. States he cares about, he cares about. States he`s not going to win, or Puerto Rico, he doesn`t care.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Hurricane Dorian has been upgraded to a Category 3 coming into the -- heading towards the coast of Florida. It`s currently heading towards the Bahamas and is projected to approach the Florida coast late Monday. There is the map and where the projection is headed. We see it somewhere in the middle of Florida there hitting landfall.
NBC`s meteorologist Bill Karins is with us with the latest.
Bill, what -- how big -- based upon your experience, does this look like it`s going to be a 3 or a 4 when it hits Florida?
BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST: I would be surprised if it was a 3.
It would be most likely a 4. And I think has a good chance of going Category 5 sometime in the next 48 hours, Chris. I mean, we have seen a lot of changes in about the last 12 hours or so.
This is the eye. You can see how symmetrical it`s gotten. It`s undergoing what we call rapid intensification right now. It is likely a Category 4 already. We think these stats will be upgraded considerably when we get the new advisory at 11:00 Eastern time.
And we knew that this was going to be a big, intense storm. The Hurricane Center had been predicting that anyways. The biggest question was, where is it going to go?
The positive trend today is the cone of uncertainty, the white line -- that`s kind of the air forecast -- half of it is now off the coast of Florida. The other half is either over Florida or even into the Western Gulf.
Yesterday, almost all of it was almost kind of right down the middle. So the odds of maybe saying this could come close, scare and then go out to sea, there is at least a better chance of that today than there was yesterday.
So let me get into a little bit just some of the technicalities on the forecast. We watch these computer models. We`re going to continue. We still have about 72 hours at least until we get the storm near us.
And you can see the trend. It`s a little bit away from Miami. It`s also curving away from the Tampa area too. So, we have had some good trends here the last 12 to 24 hours, Chris.
If we can continue this off the coast, it would be better for Florida, but we still have to watch out Georgia, South Carolina, and even North Carolina.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about climate and weather.
MATTHEWS: Anybody who goes to Miami these days can drive around in a boat, if you`re lucky to get a boat, and you ride around. And you look at it, and you realize it`s like Venice. There is no sea level.
It`s like four or five feet. It`s right there. What happens when a hurricane hits a land mass that`s just barely above sea level?
KARINS: I will give you these stats, Chris.
In the last 30 years, the water level in Miami has risen an estimated about five to six inches in the last 30 years. Because of climate change, scientists say, in the next 15 years, it going to take this only -- it could rise in six inches.
So that rate of rising water is increasing. So when a storm does finally come and hit, which eventually some year it will, that storm surge will be even higher than it should it have been if it wasn`t for what we were doing to our planet`s climate.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Bill Karins. Thank you for weather and climate.
Still ahead: Unlike Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico or the California wildfires, this potential disaster is targeting an actual political swing state that also happens to be home to one of Trump`s premier properties.
A look at some of President Trump`s, well, reactions to natural disasters. They tend to vary on a political basis -- next on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Yesterday, President Trump canceled his Poland trip this weekend to monitor the hurricane down in Florida, telling the country it was important for him to be there for the people of Florida.
It`s a shift, of course, from how he treated Puerto Rico a few days ago, when the storm was projected to hit the island hard. He called the U.S. territory "one of the most corrupt places on Earth," attacked the San Juan mayor as incompetent, and lamented that: "Yet another big storm is heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end?"
Like it`s their fault.
MATTHEWS: The president has a mixed record, of course, when it comes to addressing natural disasters, sometimes showing more empathy to states that voted for him.
Here he was expressing his support for the people of Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will be going to Texas tomorrow. I look very much forward to it. Things are being handled really well. The spirit is incredible of the people.
You`re going to get your funding. It`s a terrible tragedy.
I just want to tell you, we are there for you 100 percent. I will be back here numerous times. This is a state that I know very well, as you understand. And these are special, special people, and we love them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But in the wake of Hurricane Maria, he attacked the Puerto Rican government itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We`re closely coordinated with the territorial and local governments, which are totally and unfortunately unable to handle this catastrophic crisis on their own, just totally unable to.
I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you have thrown our budget a little out of whack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He also blamed the state of California for the devastating wildfires there last year, tweeting that: "There is no reason for these massive deadly and costly forest fires in California, except that forest management is so poor. Remedy now, or no more fed payments."
That`s Trump warning the fires not to happen.
I`m joined right now by Eli Stokols, White House reporter for the "L.A. Times." Jennifer Rubin is opinion writer, of course, for "The Washington Post."
It`s like his tax policy. Get the big tax states because they voted against him. Don`t worry about places that he can`t win, like California, or Puerto Rico, where they don`t get to vote for president, but love Florida. Don`t even go to Poland, which loves us. Don`t go there, and don`t go to -- and don`t mess up on Texas.
It is so obviously political, his empathy.
ELI STOKOLS, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, he has for three years shown and been explicit about the fact that he believes that everything is about his self-interests, and it`s about, what am I getting back from something?
Now, we don`t know -- we have to take him at his word about canceling the trip to Poland. Maybe he just didn`t want to go to Europe for the second time in five days. But he is saying the things about taking the storm seriously.
But, you know, it`s interesting. I mean, he was just -- he left the White House an hour-and-a-half ago for Camp David. And, as he was talking, he was talking about the storm as if he was a guy in a barbershop just talking about it, saying, it looks like it`s going to be really bad, got to be honest with you.
That`s not normally what a president does. Wherever the storm is going to be, typically, they would be talking to people in the storm`s path, saying, you know, really got to think twice about staying put.
STOKOLS: There are going to be resources there.
And he also said, we will make the decision on Sunday about whether to force an evacuation.
That`s a decision that is made at the local level. It`s not a top-down decision. There is just not a full grasp of how to be the commander in chief, how to be the president in these sorts of moments, regardless of where they are.
MATTHEWS: I talked to somebody down there today, down there in Florida. They`re all getting together. They`re out there getting water. They`re doing all the stuff you do.
JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right.
MATTHEWS: It`s a real situation. And he treats it like crowd sizes: This is going to be a big one.
RUBIN: He does. He does.
He cheers the sizes of these disasters, as if it`s good for him that the bigger the disaster help -- happened under his command. Why? Because he gets to be the bigger hero cleaning up the mess? I never quite understood that. But he does.
MATTHEWS: Why? Come on. We need some psychological analysis here. Why does this president love big hurricanes?
Because everything is more important and bigger, and he is the best, and he has to do the most for all these people.
MATTHEWS: To make your point, here he was yesterday talking about Hurricane Dorian as an absolute monster.
And earlier this month, he tweeted it: "It will be a very big hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest." He`s like Don King.
This isn`t the first time the president -- I`m talking like him -- appeared to be awed by the severity of national disasters -- natural disasters.
Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Nobody`s ever seen anything like it. I have heard the words epic. I have heard historic.
It`s the biggest ever. They`re saying it`s the biggest. It`s historic. It is a historic amount of water in particular. There has never been anything like it.
It`s incredible what`s going on, and burned beyond recognition. They can`t even see the bodies. It`s incredible.
It was a Category 5. I never even knew a Category 5 existed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He is like a film promoter out of L.A. promoting the next big blockbuster.
STOKOLS: Well, hyperbole is his vernacular, and that`s just all he knows.
And he also doesn`t really know how to speak seriously about these things. So, that`s just sort of what he does when he is in this situation. And he doesn`t talk about climate.
STOKOLS: He said in Puerto Rico again, once again, as if it`s like so annoying.
And he does -- and he refuses to sort of connect the very obvious dots...
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
STOKOLS: ... why the oceans are warming, why the storms are getting more extreme.
MATTHEWS: If you read "The New York Times," a good newspaper, right, top of the fold almost every day, they have got something from the Third World of people suffering from climate change.
MATTHEWS: They`re all moving north, because it`s hot down there. And it`s happening in Africa. It`s happening in South America, Central America. All of this is connected.
And his whole government reports that this is a huge, not only national security issue for us, but for the world.
We are going to have -- we have now a huge migration problem because of wars. We`re going have it because of natural disasters.
MATTHEWS: And wars because of climate change.
RUBIN: Climate change, exactly.
The other thing that is so telling is that he never talks about people. He is so lacking in human empathy and understanding that this is real people, real people`s lives. He hypes the storm, but doesn`t talk about the suffering or the plight or the fear of the individual people.
And it`s so like him. This is a guy who...
MATTHEWS: Well, how about this one? Throwing the Bounty Picker Uppers?
It was like these people are underwater and he is throwing out paper towels like he is Santa Claus or something. Look at this. He is really into this. Look, throwing the long ball here. Look at it, the big long ball. Look.
STOKOLS: Well, and I remember that trip to Puerto Rico.
MATTHEWS: Look at it.
STOKOLS: He went to this place that was enclosed. He didn`t go actually tour some of the hardest-hit areas, because it`s not just empathy, but he really struggles to even face suffering and to deal with tragedy in a...
MATTHEWS: Well, I bet you any money he is down in Florida next week, though. There`s votes down there.
And they matter. He needs that state.
Eli Stokols, great reporting and great analysis. Jennifer, as always, great analysis.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: That`s HARDBALL for the week. Have a nice three-day weekend.
Up next, a special edition of "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" in front of a live studio audience.
That starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END