Show: HARDBALL Date: September 6, 2019 Guest: Annie Karni; Eugene Robinson; Noah Rothman, Bill Weld, Steve
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: President Sharpie. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
Today marks the end of a confounding week in the Trump presidency. It began after the president abruptly canceled his trip to Poland so that he said he could monitor the looming threat of Hurricane Dorian at Camp David. And yet he spent the better part of that three-day weekend at his resort outside of Washington playing golf.
Then there was the firestorm over Vice President Mike Pence`s trip to Ireland. Pence stayed at a Trump resort in the town of Doonbeg. That is about 175 miles from Dublin, where the vice president`s official meetings were actually being held. And pence`s aide said he stayed there at, quote, the suggestion of the president. That has now prompted congressional Democrats to investigate the administration`s expenditure of taxpayer money at Trump-owned properties.
Then it was the president`s seeming fixation, a fixation that is in full force at this hour on a claim he made Sunday about Hurricane Dorian. That was when Trump on Twitter stated that Alabama would, quote, most likely be hit much, in parenthesis, harder than anticipated. That prompted a clarification from the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
But the story was far from over with the president seemingly riled up by the news coverage of the matter. In the Oval Office on Tuesday, he unveiled a map of potential storm affected areas that appeared to be doctored with a sharpie to include Alabama. At the time, Trump said he didn`t know about the edits to the map.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: That map that you showed us today looked like it almost had a sharpie.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don`t know. I don`t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: However, The Washington Post now reports that according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, quote, it was Trump who used a black sharpie to mark up an official map, though NBC News has not matched that reporting.
Throughout this week, Trump has posted 11 tweets and multiple maps in an attempt to justify his original claim, even enlisting a government official to defend him.
The Washington Post notes that, quote, in effect, Trump was attempting to bend time, claiming at a projection that was several days out of date was accurate at the time he warned Alabama of a dire threat that didn`t exist.
And now this saga appears to be continuing as we speak. Late tonight, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an unattributed statement saying that the information provided to the president through Monday demonstrated that at least, quote, tropical storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.
I`m joined now by Annie Karni, White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Eugene Robinson is a Columnist at The Washington Post, and Noah Rothman is Associate Editor at Commentary Magazine. Thank you all for being with us.
Annie, let me start with you. We just ended that introduction on the NOAA statement that came out within the last hour or two. No name on it, unattributed. It seems an unusual statement in this matter itself is unusual. Any sense where that statement came from, what prompted it?
ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, we don`t know yet whether NOAA decided to put this out on its own accord or that whether there was some direction from the White House that they would like them to do this. But it matches what we saw yesterday, which is that the president had a rear admiral come out and put out a statement saying he had briefed the president and told him that Alabama was in the path of the storm.
So it matches a path of Trump looking for official agencies or people of rank to back him up on this story going into day six, and now this is Friday night. This is going to get covered. I assume this will only prolong this news cycle into the weekend, which is an odd move for the president who has prolonged a non-story into six now, potentially seven, eight days.
KORNACKI: That`s my other question for you. And I know, obviously, look, you cover the White House, you have a sense of what`s going on there. It seems that when news of Dorian started emerging, Dorian making its way towards the Atlantic Coast last week, late last week, there was a move in the White House to get Trump to cancel that trip overseas to project this image of presidential leadership in a time of potential crisis.
Now, as you say, at the end of this week, as the storm has continued all week, we`re talking about a sharpie. What is the sense of folks around Trump in the White House? Do they think he is achieving something here or are they saying this is not something he should be doing, in their view?
KARNI: Well, this is -- he is turning this story into really a roundabout way to attack the media, which is kind of the overarching narrative of this White House. Now, it`s that the reports about his mistake are inaccurate. He`s trying to get all these ways to show, no, I was right, and it`s the media reporting on me that once again is wrong.
We saw at the same time that another big story line of the week was the White House attacking The Washington Post for a story that the paper wrote about Trump`s lost summer, a huge opportunity to make inroads with policy achievements and on his campaign that was sort of lost to trivial fights. We saw them pushing back aggressively on that.
So this is turning into a classic Trump doubling down, tripling down, not able to admit a mistake into really another way to call it all fake news. So in that sense, it fits the overarching narrative that is always part of this White House.
KORNACKI: We mentioned that statement that came out in the last couple of hours from NOAA. In that statement, NOAA also reprimanded the National Weather Service in Birmingham, which first corrected the president last Sunday, saying their tweet, quote, spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.
Now, a prominent meteorologist in Birmingham is speaking out, saying, quote, the tweet from the weather service in Birmingham was spot-on and accurate. If they are coming after them, they might as well come after me. How in the world has it come to this?
Gene Robinson, as I say, this is a -- the word I was going to use, I think I use is unusual. There is probably bunch of other --
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Oh, come on.
KORNACKI: Well, as unusual as it though, is it positive or negative? Does this change the way anybody views Trump?
ROBINSON: You know, I think it`s quite negative. And the reason is that, look, this is not the first time we have seen President Trump obsessed over about his coverage, coverage that he felt was or wanted to maintain was excessively negative. It`s not the first time we`ve seen him attack the media. It`s not the first time we`ve seen him not able to let something go.
But this is -- this is -- everyone was paying attention to this hurricane, and everyone was paying attention to the path of this hurricane. This is a kind of simple thing that it`s very easy to sort of get your arms around. And so I think that people have paid attention.
I wrote a column about this the other day. I got a much bigger than usual response from commenters and I tweeted about it once. I think I got a million impressions on the tweet. So people are paying attention. And I don`t see how that`s good for President Trump.
And the statement tonight, throwing the Birmingham National Weather Service Office under the presidential bus is just extraordinary. It`s absolutely extraordinary. And there`s just going to be an uproar, I think, inside that agency over, you know, that office doing what it was supposed to do.
The president said people in Alabama were in danger and they said, hold it, wait a minute, you know, people of Alabama, you`re not. That`s what the National Weather Service is supposed to do. If not that, then what? Their job certainly isn`t to bolster whatever crazy thing the president says.
KORNACKI: Yes. And I think a lot of people are going to be curious to see if there is subsequent reporting on this statement on what may have gone into that. We will see.
While the president said he doesn`t know about the sharpie and its made to the map in the Oval Office, his campaign has embraced a black marker as a symbol in its push to re-elect him. The Trump campaign is now marketing a set of black markers that are for sale on his website.
Noah, he was talking about this. It is Trump versus the media. He does seem to see that as what this ultimately is, and to see some kind of advantage in that.
NOAH ROTHMAN, ASSOCIATED EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: Yes. But anybody who`s on board with that message is already on board. You`re not getting new people from this blisteringly, mind-numbingly stupid week of controversy around this. And the original tweet wasn`t really all that wrong, right? Other states, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, could be impacted more. Just ignoring the criticism around that would have made it go away, but he had to turn it into a week`s worth of controversy.
His defenders say, well, why don`t you -- you have to hit back. I mean, they`re calling him a liar. What are you supposed to do, not hit back? And the answer to that is, yes, you don`t hit back, because it lowers your stature and your failure to admit a mistake, and it was a mistake, a small one, but a mistake nonetheless. The failure to acknowledge that and then double down for an entire week makes you look incredibly small.
The fact that they don`t see that, his supporters and the president don`t see that, is going to come as a very rude awakening, I think, because this is one of those stories that translates easily. Everybody gets the weather.
You don`t get why the Fed Chairman is refusing to lower rates on its face is terrible. There is a lot of education. This is one that everybody buys into easy, and, as Gene said, translates instantly across the political spectrum, and it could hurt.
KORNACKI: Yes. So, Annie, let me ask you about this, because Noah mentions, if this resonates with folks who are already on board with Trump, say, the Trump base, the reality we`ve talked about this a lot, he got elected in 2016. Yes, the base was there, but there was also that critical mass of voters who didn`t like Trump but also didn`t like Clinton, the reluctant Trump voters. Is there a concern around the president that the reluctant Trump voters are turned off by behavior like this?
KARNI: There is concern among the president`s advisers in general about the path to 2020. I think they see a path. It involves winning all the states they won in 2016 or maybe they`re very interested in Minnesota right now as a place they can play offense. They see some ways around this.
But there`s real concern that this is not in the bag, that, yes, some of these reluctant Trump voters who -- and you see this in the primary challengers he has. People like Joe Walsh, who is a long-shot candidate, who is not going to be the Republican nominee, but he was a Trump supporter in 2016 because he hated Clinton. And he says, now, I have seen him in office and I`ve had a change of heart. This can`t go on.
And the idea for people like Walsh is that this creates a permission structure for other people who voted for Trump in 2016 to say, you know, it`s not embarrassing to say he didn`t -- I got it wrong. I`m out too.
So the campaign is taking these challengers both seriously and unseriously. They see them as kind of a joke, but they`re making a lot of efforts to prevent any real primary challengers from bubbling up and having a clean convention next year where there is no challenges on the floor.
KORNACKI: Well, and, Gene, it seems to be there is a pattern here in these moments of national tragedy, potential natural disaster. These are moments where past presidents, Democrat or Republican, would normally rise to the occasion. They would be seen as rising to the occasion by wide swaths of the country, not just their own supporters.
And I noticed this when you had the Dayton and El Paso tragedies a couple of weeks ago, the polling after majority disapproval of Trump`s conduct during that, Charlottesville, majority disapproval, Puerto Rico. We haven`t seen polling on this week yet, but we`re talking about a hurricane, and we end the week talking about a sharpie. It just seems for that type of voter we`re talking about, these are opportunities for Trump to reassure them.
ROBINSON: Yes, and he doesn`t do it. Trump is objectively awful at this. Whatever your politics, he is just terrible at projecting the kind of empathy and leadership that a leader should protect, should project at a time of crisis.
I remember, you know, I`m -- you know me. I`m not a conservative Republican, right? But after 9/11, I was so proud of George W. Bush when he stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center. I mean, he made me proud to be an American. He made me proud of him in that moment. There were other moments when I wasn`t so proud of him. But Donald Trump is not capable or has not demonstrated any capacity to evoke that sort of embrace from Americans, in general. He just doesn`t have that empathy gene.
KORNACKI: And, Noah, it`s interesting. I mean, look, everybody told Trump in the 2016 campaign he was going to lose. He couldn`t win. His strategy wouldn`t work. And he ends up president. And I get the sense that that has internally given him license to ignore all advice after, because after all, he is president.
ROTHMAN: Yes, I mean, not only gets you so far. You can defy history only so often, and eventually your luck runs out. It happens to everybody. And it`s going happen to the president eventually. We don`t know when.
This president has been really lucky. He hasn`t encountered any sort of national disaster, sustained military operation abroad. The disasters that he has dealt with have been not unprecedented in scope, horrible but not unprecedented in scope.
You mentioned Puerto Rico. His response to that has been duly criticized. You can`t talk about disaster in Puerto Rico without him indulging his own ego, his wounded ego. And the exogenous crisis that he faced so far is at the border. And what did he do? He circumvented the Constitutional process in order to create the campaign vision that he advertised in 2016, to build the wall.
So God help us if we face a real sustained crisis because the president`s ego is always entwined in his response to these things. They are inseparable.
KORNACKI: We had emergency declaration and the after affects that we`re going to talk about in just a minute. But, Annie Karni, Eugene Robinson, Noah Rothman, thank you all for joining us right now. I appreciate that.
And coming up, the human cost of diverting billions of dollars from Pentagon projects to pay for that border wall. Schools and day-care centers for military families are among the projects on the chopping block. As we say, it is a consequence of the president`s controversial emergency declaration.
Plus, two presidential candidates are here to play HARDBALL. Republican Bill Weld on the move, under way in several states to prevent primary challenges to President Trump, And Democrat Steve Bullock with the Democrats` message for rural America and how he can break through into that top tier of candidates.
We`ve got much more. Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We are learning more about the human cost of the Pentagon redirecting funding from its budget for military construction projects in order to build President Trump`s promised border wall.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it would redirect $3.5 billion freed up by President Trump`s emergency declaration in February from 127 projects that were planned in 23 states and around the world. Among them are a number of projects that impact day-to-day life for military families, like schools and day-care centers.
Today, The New York Times reports on one of those projects, quote, for almost two decades, families at Fort Campbell, a sprawling army base along the Kentucky/Tennessee border, have borne the brunt of the country`s war efforts as a steady clip of troops with 101st Airborne Division and from Special Operations units deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The report adds, quote, the Pentagon`s decision to divert more than $16 million from the construction of Fort Campbell`s middle school means that 552 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades will continue to cram themselves into 30 to a classroom in some cases at the base`s aging middle school.
In February, Senator Lindsey Graham was asked about the prospect of redirecting the middle school funding for a border wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I would say it`s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We will get them the school they need. But, right now, we have got a national emergency on our hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who serves on the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, and former Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo.
Thank you both for being with us.
Congresswoman, let me start with you.
We have all of the numbers there, 23 different states in around the country. In real terms, what is the impact of a move like this going to be?
REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Well, I think there`s sort of two impacts.
There is the average human toll for kids and families and for our bases and our ranges, and then there is sort of the strategic point, which is, the Pentagon`s budget has long been a very bipartisan thing. And I think taking this issue, taking the money away from the Pentagon and putting it on a wall brings the Pentagon into this political conversation in a way that is not good for the Pentagon.
It`s not good for the country. So it has a human face, but it also has a strategic kind of position it`s playing.
KORNACKI: Well, Carlos Curbelo, we had that clip there from Lindsey Graham saying, look, we will get you a school later. We want to deal with the border right now.
When you had that motion in the Senate to try to do away with the president`s emergency declaration, I think it was only 12 Republicans in the Senate voted to do away with it. The rest of them voted with the president.
Is Lindsey Graham`s view there the consensus view in the Republican Party now?
CARLOS CURBELO (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, a lot of Republicans, at least privately, are very critical of this decision. Of course, few of them are actually willing to stand up and say so.
And the sad part about this is the military construction appropriations bill is, as the congresswoman said, usually a bill that is built through consensus. It`s many times the first one heard on the House floor of all appropriations bill, because there is a lot of bipartisan support for investing in military infrastructure, for improving quality of life for our men and women in uniform and their families.
This is actually a White House, Steve, that boasts about its commitment to military funding. And, in many ways, they do get credit for securing major increases in defense spending, in line with what many generals have been asking for.
However, now they`re taking a giant step back by taking away money from our men and women in uniform and their families and using it to a fund border infrastructure project that the president could not get Congress to agree to.
KORNACKI: Well, Pentagon officials say that the military projects are simply being deferred.
"The Washington Post" reports the deputy undersecretary of defense told reporters -- quote -- "If Congress were to backfill the projects in our request, none of the projects would be delayed. But we do realize that this could cause some delay."
Well, so, Congresswoman, essentially what they`re say here is, look, we had to take the money...
SLOTKIN: Sorry. My -- my audio cut.
KORNACKI: Let`s see.
Congresswoman -- can you hear me now, Congresswoman?
I don`t think she`s with us. So let me see if we can work on that issue.
And I will go to you, Carlos Curbelo, because you understand how Congress works, obviously, as well as anyone. This idea of backfilling, of the administration saying, OK, we`re going to take the money from the Pentagon`s pot here, but Congress, if it wants, can reappropriate new money and can fund those projects all over again, is there any chance of that happening?
CURBELO: That`s just kind of a bizarre concept, Steve.
Congress appropriated these funds for military construction. Now the administration is taking them without Congress` authority to use for another purpose that hasn`t been authorized by Congress. And they`re telling Congress OK, well, if you really want to fund those projects, you can backfill those funds, because we have taken what you approved and used it for something else.
This is not really a reasonable request to make to the Congress, although I think there are many members of Congress who would like to see the military made whole, again, because there is that need for improved military infrastructure.
A lot of the housing and some of these bases, it`s really a shame when you visit and can`t believe our men and women in uniform live under these conditions. These are important projects.
I just don`t see how this gets resolved smoothly, because the White House was so impressive in the way they went in and took these funds by declaring an emergency.
KORNACKI: So, Congresswoman Slotkin, I understand we have worked out the issue. We have you back with us.
KORNACKI: The question I`m asking here is about this idea of backfilling, the administration saying, look, we took the money, but you can just reappropriate new money.
Is there -- is that something you`re at all open to?
SLOTKIN: I mean, listen, no one wants our military families to be caught in the middle of this whole scenario.
But just think about the implications, right? The Pentagon came to us. They said, here are our needs. This is what we need for the war fighter, for our families. We went around and talked to everybody, both sides of the aisle. We got them the budget that they came and testified about.
And then they turn around and take $3.6 billion and let the president move it. We don`t just have money growing on trees. And I feel strange doing it and saying it, as a Democratic congresswoman, but I think we are the ones being fiscally prudent here.
You don`t just take $3.6 billion and say, oh, we will find an extra. And I think that this idea that we`re going to automatically backfill, it sets this precedent for any president, Democratic or Republican, in the future to just look at the Pentagon, look at the military, see it as their piggy bank for any pet project that they want.
And I`m all for border security. I`m actually -- I`m a former CIA officer. I worked my entire life trying to prevent homeland attacks. But we have to do something that is sensible. I`m also on the Homeland Security Committee. Let`s have that conversation where it belongs, in the Homeland Security Committee, not rob the Pentagon and our military families to pay for it.
KORNACKI: just -- you clearly don`t like the president.
Just so I`m clear, though, does that mean, from your view -- you got to vote here -- from your view, backfilling is a no?
SLOTKIN: I mean, it`s going to be tough to get me there, because I think we have to make clear to the Pentagon leadership, if you`re going to come to us, say you really need this money for our soldiers, for our Marines, for our bases, we got to believe that that needs assessment is true, and that you need it urgently.
And if you`re willing to risk that money on something that the president -- his pet project, you`re going to feel some pain from that.
So those conversations are happening now in Washington. We get back on Monday. So we will see this state of play. But the Pentagon has relied on bipartisan support. We have largely trusted them in many ways for many, many years, and it just breaks faith with Congress in a way that is very, very untraditional for them, and it`s not good.
KORNACKI: Well, Fort Campbell, which we were mentioning, of course, it is notably in the home state of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
And back in January in an op-ed in "The Louisville Courier-Journal," McConnell touted that he -- quote -- "secured much-needed assistance for Fort Campbell, Fort Knox and the Blue Grass Army Depot, helping the men and women serving there keep America safe."
Senator McConnell opposed a Senate resolution we were just talking about there to terminate the national emergency declaration. He voted in favor of President Trump on that one.
Asked about the diversion of funding from the Fort Campbell middle school project, a spokesperson for McConnell said: "We would not be in this situation if Democrats were serious about protecting our homeland and worked with us to provide the funding needed to secure our borders during our appropriations process."
Carlos Curbelo, in the old days, it was a no-brainer in politics the congressman, the congresswoman, the senator who brought home the bacon, who brought federal dollars back into the district was good for life, would constantly be reelected by a grateful electorate.
That conventional wisdom has gone by the wayside in the last number of years. Do you think it still applies at all? Would people potentially -- would members of Congress potentially pay a political price for these projects being shut down?
CURBELO: There is still a price to pay.
Steve, look, our politics have become a lot more tribal. So people are less pragmatic about supporting their members of Congress. And certainly there are overarching concerns out there like military funding, like deficit spending, that do require the attention of Congress.
But, look, Republicans got to call this honest. The truth is the president probably could have gotten a lot more than $3.6 billion for border infrastructure if he had negotiated a bipartisan deal on immigration.
And there are great opportunities out there. A lot of Democrats and even a good number of Republicans want to solve the DACA issue. Other Republicans and Democratic coalitions understand that funding border security is important. So there is a deal out there.
The president just hasn`t been able to close it. And, after all, he said he was the great dealmaker.
KORNACKI: All right, former Congressman Carlos Curbelo and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you both for being with us.
CURBELO: Thanks, Steve.
SLOTKIN: Thanks so much.
KORNACKI: All right, and up next, fending up primary challengers may get a little easier for President Trump this weekend.
I`m heading over to the Big Board to show you why this could end up being a very big deal.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.
Remember, we always talk about, there`s general elections and there`s primary elections, and there is all sorts of important differences between them, obviously, but one of them is who runs them. The primary elections, of course, are run by political parties.
Political parties get to set their own rules, and that means that some state Republican parties loyal to the Republican President Donald Trump are changing the rules when it comes to their presidential primaries and caucuses next year, changing the rules, as in doing away with them, apparently.
It looks like Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, and South Carolina, the state Republican parties there are looking to do away with their primaries and caucuses. It would prevent any kind of potential embarrassment for President Trump in a Republican primary.
Remember, South Carolina usually one of the early states, Nevada one of the early states. It would prevent any potential trouble for him in a contested primary.
And, of course, he does have some primary opponents. Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, he`s already running. Joe Walsh, the former one- term congressman from Illinois, he is already running. And now Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina, former congressman, defeated in a primary at Trump`s urging last year, he is now considering a run.
So, the president could have three opponents in the Republican primaries next year. But these primaries, one by one, it seems, are being taken off the board by state Republican parties.
Now, that`s not all of them. Of course, New Hampshire, the critical first- in-the-nation state, that one is still going to have a primary. Opportunity here for the Republicans. But how much opportunity? Because, remember, when you talk about Trump and a primary challenge, Trump, as a general election proposition, he is clearly vulnerable.
This is Gallup, their most recent poll. They have got Trump`s national approval rating at 39 percent. That screams vulnerable in a general election. But Gallup also tracks Trump`s approval rating among Republicans, among the folks who are going to decide who the Republican nominee is.
That sits right now at 88 percent, and it has been at 88, 89, 90 percent basically the entire Trump presidency. This number just has not budged.
And to put that number in perspective, obviously, it`s high. But here is a question. Donald Trump sitting at 88 percent, he has been around. As I say, he has been stable at 88 percent among Republicans.
What about past presidents, OK, past presidents who have received serious primary challenges, right? Where were they with their own parties in terms of approval rating? How does it compare to Trump at 88 percent right now?
That`s one way to gauge potential vulnerability to a primary challenge. So, the last president who got a serious primary challenge, you got to go back to `92. It was George H.W. Bush. And when his challenger, Pat Buchanan, got in the race, Bush`s approval rating with Republicans was 75 percent, so not as popular as Trump.
The other thing with Bush was, that number had been extremely high because of the Gulf War in early `91. It was already falling by this point in late `91. And by the New Hampshire primary, it was down in the 50s. Again, that`s movement you just haven`t seen with Trump support among Republicans.
How about Jimmy Carter, 1980? Ted Kennedy almost got the Democratic nomination from Jimmy Carter. When Ted Kennedy got in the race, Carter`s approval rating with Democrats was just 40 percent, 4-0, 40 percent.
Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan took him all the way to the convention in Kansas City in `76. Ford was at 60 percent when Ronald Reagan decided to run against him.
And then, of course, LBJ, the Vietnam War, Eugene McCarthy got in the race in late 1967. LBJ`s approval with Democrats was just 57 percent.
So, again, you see here support that is just lower, in most cases, significantly lower with their own party than Trump was.
There is one modern president who got a couple primary challengers who`s a lot closer to where Trump is right now. That president, Richard Milhous Nixon, got two congressmen, two Republican congressmen, one from the left, McCloskey, one from the right, Ashbrook, ran against him in `72.
When McCloskey got in the race,Nixon was at 82 percent with Republicans, when Ashbrook got in, 84 percent. Of course, neither of them got anywhere challenging Nixon that year. Nixon, of course, as a general election candidate, he was able to roll past George McGovern. He was much better positioned than Trump right now.
But in terms of a primary, that is what any potential Republican primary challenger is up against running against Donald Trump.
So up next, how do those Republican challengers feel about this, about those canceled primary elections? I`m going ask one of them. I`m sure he is going to have plenty to say about it -- next on HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democratic Party rigged the nomination to give it to Hillary Clinton. It was a rigged race. It was totally rigged. And Debbie Wasserman Schultz rigged it for Hillary Clinton.
The whole entire purpose of her campaign is to keep our system rigged and to stop change from happening at any cost.
Remember, folks, it`s a rigged system. Just remember it. It`s a rigged system. It`s a rigged system. Don`t ever forget it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was then candidate Donald Trump back in 2016. During that campaign, he repeatedly accused the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton`s campaign of rigging their party`s nominating process for her.
And as I mentioned in our last segment, the news today, South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, and Kansas appear poised to cancel their Republican presidential primaries and caucuses next year. And that is not sitting well with President Trump`s Republican challengers.
Joining me now is one of those challengers. We just talked about him a second ago, the former governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld.
Governor, thanks for taking a few minutes. Let me...
BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Steve, always a pleasure.
KORNACKI: Let me just ask you, do you have any recourse to stop these states from deciding to cancel primaries and caucuses?
WELD: I don`t know about a lawsuit.
There are some precedents for this during presidential years, but I don`t think there are precedents when there was a successful two-term Republican governor running against the incumbent who was reelected with 71 percent of the vote and left office with a 75 percent popularity rating in his state.
That would be me, of course. So I don`t think -- I think these precedents don`t really hold up. I think the money rationale is kind of a phony -- it`s too expensive to hold an election. Elections are the most important thing we do in a democracy. And even if this has happened before, it is anti-democracy.
And a vote is the ultimate expression of choice. There are a lot of Republican women who disagree with the president on issues like, let`s say, in cases of rape, does a woman really have to carry the rapist`s child to term?
That`s what the president and recent state statutes in the South expressed. To me, that`s taking women back to the Stone Age, and people should have a vote on that.
KORNACKI: What does this do to your campaign strategy? Does this basically mean this is about New Hampshire fundamentally for you, if these other ones are kind of going off the board?
WELD: Well, you know, I think it`s interesting that the president alternates between being arrogant and being paranoid.
He was in New Hampshire not long ago, and he told -- he lectured the voters of New Hampshire at his rally there, you don`t have to choice. You have to vote for me.
On the other hand, this is the same president whose state party earlier in the year tried to abolish the New Hampshire primary, the first-in-the- nation primary that gives New Hampshire about 25 percent of its clout in our country, because every four years people have to go to New Hampshire.
And New Hampshire understood that. And that motion basically failed for want of a second. But what a stupid idea. And it comes from I think the president`s paranoia, insecurity, if you will. He wants anything but a contest, anything but a choice.
KORNACKI: You obviously are facing an uphill battle here.
You have got now some company, though. You have got former Congressman Joe Walsh running, and you have got former Governor, former Congressman Mark Sanford considering getting in the race.
KORNACKI: Realistically, given all of the built-in institutional support that the president enjoys, every extra challenger that you have to deal with, doesn`t that just dilute the send-a-message-to-Trump vote?
WELD: Oh, no.
I think it`s great that these guys are getting in. And I have told both of them that. It will be a more robust conversation. Mr. Trump, with his one-word platforms, hoax, wall, he doesn`t really want a conversation.
And I don`t think he`s deep enough on the issues to hold up his end in a real conversation.
But I know Mark Sanford really well. He knows a lot. He is very experienced. Joe Walsh is very articulate from the right. You know, if there is three of us, I don`t even know. I think we have already had our first invitation for a televised debate, and I think there would be more than that too.
So, that will be very good for all three of us in terms of publicity. I welcome these guys in. I tried to persuade Larry Hogan of Maryland and John Kasich of Ohio to get in earlier. And who knows, they may yet.
But I think that will stir up lot more interest in the primary on the Republican side. That can only be good for me.
KORNACKI: Well, we mentioned too just the president`s approval rating with Republican voters right now, how steady that has been.
What that translates into -- I`m sure you`re familiar with these numbers, but just to give folks a sense of it, when you have been tested against it in polling -- and I think we can show the most recent poll up in New Hampshire. This is the most recent national poll. This was Suffolk a couple of weeks ago. You had Trump 90, Weld 5.
Up in New Hampshire over the summer, there was a CNN poll that had it at 86-7.
One thing that I wanted to ask you about when I look at these numbers is this. This is ultimately -- these are obviously Republican voters. And you have been a Republican governor of Massachusetts. You endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. You were the Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 2016.
I remember you were on this network a couple of days before the election in 2016. You gave an endorsement to Hillary Clinton`s character, seemed to be suggesting, if folks felt they were wasting a vote on the Libertarian ticket, to vote for Hillary, instead of Trump.
Can you understand if Republican primary voters are hesitant to look at you as somebody who they would consider loyal to the Republican Party?
WELD: Well, I can understand how a poll that`s focused on the Republican state party apparatus and the party leaders is going to come out 100-0 in favor of President Trump, because the Republican Party, state party in all 50 states is the Trump Organization. They have put those people in there. So, of course they`re all for President Trump.
And my job is to make sure that the people voting in the Republican primary go beyond the Republican Party leaders in the state.
And, as you know, Steve, there are 20 states that permit crossover voting, where Democrats and independents can take a Republican ballot, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, in New England, Wisconsin, 20 of them.
And I`m going to be focusing on those states to persuade independents and Democrats to come in and, if they don`t care for President Trump, vote against him twice, once for me in the Republican primary and once vote for whoever they want in the general.
I`m getting a lot of traction with that argument.
KORNACKI: All right, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, thanks for taking a few minutes.
WELD: Thank you, Steve.
KORNACKI: All right.
And up next: A narrowing field, a shrinking debate stage, they are presenting new challenges to the Democratic candidates who are polling lower.
Can a candidate polling in the single digits hope to turn things around? We`re going ask one of them how he plans to do that.
That is next on HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Next week, 10 candidates will participate in the third Democratic presidential primary debate. The remaining candidates did not qualify. That list includes Montana Governor Steve Bullock.
This week, Bullock, in a pitch to centrist voters, unveiled a plan targeting rural America focusing on agriculture, economic development, and other issues like health care.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the Montana governor warned the Democrats -- quote -- "have not incentivized actually talking to the voters that we need to win this election."
He added: "We need to make sure voters" -- excuse me -- "know we can improve upon their lives. That`s less about a revolution than addressing the problems of here and now."
Governor Steve Bullock joins me now.
Governor, thanks for taking a few minutes. I appreciate it.
GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be with you, Steve.
KORNACKI: What is the message to rural voters that Democrats aren`t delivering that you can?
BULLOCK: Well, first, we`re not even showing up. And if a third of the counties in Iowa went Obama, Obama, Trump, or you look over the last 10 years -- or -- last years, two-thirds of the counties in this countries actually lost businesses.
Those are the exact same places that voted for Donald Trump. So, first showing up and saying, you shouldn`t have to leave your school, your community, your church, your synagogue just to make a decent living, and actually then connecting on those issues that matter to them.
When 20 percent of rural hospitals in this country are at risk of closing, and the Trump administration`s trying to rip away the ACA. When you turn around and say that farmers are losing money -- literally, farm bankruptcies are increasing, that -- and the Trump administration isn`t doing anything for them along the way.
So, fighting for their issues, which are really the here and now. And those are often those pocketbook issues, from education to economic development to health care.
KORNACKI: What about -- you know this from Montana, probably better than any of the other Democratic candidates -- the importance to rural voters of guns.
And in the context of Democrats right now, obviously, there is a push here for background checks, assault weapons ban, Beto O`Rourke saying to go even farther than that.
KORNACKI: Does that issue lose the Democrats rural voters?
BULLOCK: Well, I think, from the perspective -- and, like, look, I`m a gun owner. I`m a hunter.
Forty percent of households in this country actually have a firearm in it. But if we actually look at this as a public health issue, universal background checks, the vast majority of Republicans, the vast majority of NRA members, most folks in rural areas actually got their gun through a background check.
So there ought to be some commonality that we can reach here. Like, when you -- I think about it, though. Like, when I was growing up, the NRA, it was a hunting and a gun safety organization -- 30 million reasons why we haven`t made any progress, that`s 30 million bucks that they put in to the Trump campaign.
So, at some point, even gun owners have to say, we can do more to keep our communities safe. And I don`t think that loses rural voters.
KORNACKI: But you -- when you ran for reelection in Montana a couple of years ago, you were against universal background checks back then.
KORNACKI: So, that was telling you something about where your state was on that issue. It was not an issue where there was a lot of support there, was it?
BULLOCK: Well, but even all throughout -- like, I have vetoed 14 gun- related bills.
And every time that I have run for office, they have said, oh, Bullock`s going to try to take away people`s guns. And I don`t think that that`s where I have ever been or we as a country are.
What we want to do is actually keep people safe along the way. And I think of even since -- I will never forget, it was after the Vegas shooting. I`m sitting in my office saying, I don`t even know what to write in this template to lower the flags.
When a staffer says, oh -- or write in the proclamation, a staffer said, we have a template for mass shootings. Now, since then, I have lowered the flags nine times, since Parkland, seven times.
And I think people are tired of seeing that and saying, there are steps that we could make that won`t threaten and won`t say we`re going to take away everyone`s guns, but actually can do a better job at keeping communities safe.
KORNACKI: We mentioned the debates, another one coming up next week.
You did not meet the qualifying threshold for that. So the next one after that is mid-October. You have got a shot to qualify for that. They may raise the criteria again.
BULLOCK: No, that`s -- yes.
KORNACKI: That October one, is that make-or-break for your campaign, to be in that debate?
BULLOCK: You know, not at all.
Look, I hope I`m there. If everybody goes to SteveBullock.com, provides that $1 donors, yes, we will get there along the way.
But there`s still like 150 days before Iowans first express prefers preferences. You go back to 2004, put it on the Big Board, right, that John Kerry was at 4 percent 31 days out. Al Sharpton was beating him.
The way this has always gone, it hasn`t been debate rules that actually narrow the fields and make it. It`s those early states that people take a real close look at this and take big fields and make them much smaller.
KORNACKI: All right, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, on his way to New Hampshire, thank you for joining us. Appreciate that.
BULLOCK: Thanks for having me.
KORNACKI: You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Well, next week is a big one in politics.
On Monday, the House and Senate will be back after their August recess. Then, on Tuesday, North Carolina`s Ninth Congressional District is going to hold that special election to fill the seat that has been vacant all year. And, on Thursday, the top 2020 Democratic presidential candidates will face off in their third debate of the season.
So, yes, a big week ahead. You`re not going want to miss it.
And Chris Matthews will be back on Monday to take you through all of it.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
And up next, a special edition of "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" in front of a live studio audience.
And that starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END