Trump Conference TRANSCRIPT: 2/27/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Ami Bera, Aaron Blake, Trav Robertson, Zerlina Maxwell, Joe Donnelly

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And I should note, of course, our election coverage and a lot of other news coming up next on HARDBALL with Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: A president`s duty. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

U.S. markets had another terrible day with the Dow Jones dropping nearly 1,200 points over global concerns about the coronavirus. Today`s drop is the biggest one-day point decline in history. And it`s the worst week for the market since the financial crisis back in 2008.

Amid the growing crisis, Trump is facing intense scrutiny and a growing credibility crisis. Aides to the president tell the Associated Press that the more pressing concern at the White House is not the possibility of the widespread outbreak but the downstream effects of the virus on the global economy and public sentiment.

Moments ago, President Trump praised his own handling of the crisis and tried to downplay fears about the spread of it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re almost all better now. But we do things, and it would be really nice if we could be recognized by the press fairly. And you know what, it would be really nice that if we do something wrong, we get criticized by the press. But I gave a press conference yesterday that was really a very good press conference. And some people thought it was great, and most of you people saw it. It was covered live. One of the advantages is that I get covered live all the time. I like that better because they can`t chop that up. I`d rather be live. But it was a very good press conference. And, basically, it was a calming press conference. It was a press conference to say we`re doing well.


MATTHEWS: At the same time, President Trump was trying to assure the public that the spread of the virus was under control. A new case was confirmed in California of a person who had not traveled to affected areas. In that state, California is currently monitoring 8,400 people who had traveled to affected countries, 33 of which have been tested positive.

Globally, seven new countries, including Brazil, Greece and Georgia have reported cases in just the past 24 hours. Here in the U.S., the CDC has warned that the spread of the virus is inevitable.

Well, during his press conference yesterday, President Trump continued to make statements that contradicted his own health officials.


TRUMP: the vaccine is coming along well, and in speaking to the doctors, we think this is something that we can develop fairly rapidly.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSITUTE OF ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Although this is the fastest we have ever gone from a sequence of a virus to a trial, it still would not be any applicable to the epidemic unless we really wait about a year to a year-and-a-half.

TRUMP: We`re ready to adapt and we`re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: We do expect more cases and this is a good time to prepare.

REPORTER: Do you trust your health officials to give you good information or do you trust your instincts more?

TRUMP: I don`t think I have. They`ve said it could be worse. And I`ve said it could be --

REPORTER: You said you don`t believe it`s inevitable. It contradicts with CDC`s --

TRUMP: No, I don`t believe it`s inevitable.


MATTHEWS: And tonight, breaking news, it is sending alarms about how the government is responding to the virus. According to The New York Times, a whistleblower is claiming that federal personnel may have been unnecessarily exposed to the coronavirus and, quote, then scattered into the general population.

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Ami Bera, a Democrat from California, he`s a physician and he`s the former Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County, Dr. Natalie Azar is MSNBC Medical Contributor and Aaron Blake Senior Political Reporter with The Washington Post.

I want to go to the Congressman first. How would you counter -- how would you compare the president`s calming words as he put it in yesterday`s press conference with the medical information itself?

REP. AMI BERA (D-CA): Look, the president has got a bit of a credibility problem here. Sacramento County is my home district and I talked to my former colleagues at U.C. Davis. Look, this was a patient who`s being cared for in Solano County who is positive now. So you`ve had healthcare workers exposed and others that we now have to get down there and quickly trace.

Yes, the other big thing was when this patient arrived at U.C. Davis last week, they asked to test him for coronavirus. They said no, he doesn`t have it. Well, lo and behold, we found out that he did have -- that this patient does have coronavirus. Well, you know, we`ve got to revive our testing criteria.

It also took 72 hours to get the test results back. We`ve got to do better than this.

MATTHEWS: How do you get it without having been affected by someone who has it in the area where it`s prominent or prevalent?

BERA: Yes, that is called community transmission. And you`ve seen it happen in other countries. This is the first case of community transmission where it`s not because someone traveled to the region or has knowingly come -- been exposed to someone we know has the diagnosis of coronavirus. That`s what we`ve been worried about. And, again, we`ve got to be very careful here.

We`ve thought that this was going to pop up. You`ve heard CDC officials suggest that you might have community cases. This is the first one we know about.

MATTHEWS: What does community case mean in popular jargon? What does it mean? How do you get it, if you don`t get it from someone who has it? BERA: In popular jargon, you could -- we know the virus lives on inanimate objects. We don`t know exactly how long it could be there.


BERA: But they could pick it up from that. They could pick it up from casual exposure. They could pick it up from asymptomatic patients who don`t know they have the disease and come in casual contact. That`s -- we don`t know exactly where this patient picked up the coronavirus. We do know that they were very sick, that they had to be incubated and put on a ventilator and then sent up to U.C. Davis.

Again, kudos to the physicians at U.C. Davis. They took infection -- controlled measures. I think they`re going to be okay. But I worry about the healthcare workers who are at the national hospital who you`re putting a tube down someone`s throat, you`re going to get exposed to a lot of respiratory droplets and secretions. And if you don`t think this person has coronavirus, you probably just got exposed.

MATTHEWS: Wow. what did you make of the president`s casual comment? I have no idea where he gets his advice. But he was giving advice to our country of 330 million people. And he said, don`t touch railings unless you have to. What did you make of that bit of advice?

BERA: Yes. I don`t think that`s the right health measure. I am glad that we`re encouraging folks to wash their hands and be vigilant and be cautious and Take the same measures they would to try to prevent the flu. But we`ve still got a lot to learn about this virus. And, again, I think the president should be very careful here.

MATTHEWS: Well, as I mentioned, The New York Times reporting right now the federal health employees may have interacted with Americans generally in the public, in the world out there outside their own offices, possibly exposed to the coronavirus without proper training or equipment. The exposed staff members, quote, moved freely around and off the bases with at least one person staying in a nearby hotel and leaving California on a commercial flight.

The news comes from a whistleblower report filed with the office of Special Counsel and alleges that the team was improperly deployed to two military bases in California to assist the processing of Americans who had been evacuated from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere. Again, according to The New York Times, federal officials admonished the staff members and deemed the complaint as a nuisance.

What do you make of that, Dr. Azar? What do you make of the -- this kind of a -- is this just going to happen, these cases where you`re going to hear about disturbing news that someone may have gotten the disease or exposed to it and didn`t take it seriously?

DR. NATALIE AZAR, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is certainly concerning, Chris, that anybody would come into contact with people who are in quarantine who haven`t had the proper training. I mean, this is something that hospitals across the country have been, number one, implementing for years and have even with influenza have a protocol and we have a protocol for respiratory isolation and precautions and things like that, and it takes time to train personnel properly and they have to be fitted with the respirators, the particular respirators.

So you really -- it is not at all appropriate to send people in who may be exposed, who haven`t had the proper training and who don`t have the appropriate personal protective equipment. I mean, I can`t comment specifically on what happened here. I`m hearing it as we all are in this whistleblower account.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you something that`s useful to the viewers right now. This is generally a political show, but I do want to have some value to them in terms of their personal protection here. We hear a lot during the flu season, get your flu shots, go to CVS, wherever you get one, maybe free, blah, blah, blah, people always want to take it seriously. Then the other day, the president threw out that number of 25,000 to 69,000 a year on average, or somewhere in that range of people die from flu.

Most people -- I was surprised at that big number but, of course, this is a country of 330 million people. You say it`s not you, it`s someone else, but a lot of people. So what would you say as a physician as to what people should do right now if they`re concerned?

AZAR: Well, you bring up the flu shot. And we actually -- I just was discussing this with patients of mine yesterday and today that getting your flu shot, getting your pneumonia vaccine is incredibly important in general for populations in whom it`s indicated, but especially now. Because once you have one respiratory infection, for example, if you do get the flu, you are theoretically more susceptible to developing, you know, something like coronavirus and vice versa.

And to your point about the lethality of flu or at least the number of fatalities that we have every year in this country, we have thousands of deaths every single year from the flu in this country. We have around 29 million cases of flu. We`re going to get the updated numbers tomorrow. 29 million cases of flu already.

But the scales are very different. You know, we have a smaller number of coronavirus cases. The fatality of coronavirus at least with the numbers we`re working with right now seems to be a little bit higher than influenza, which is certainly disturbing because the number of coronavirus cases increases and that fatality rate of 2 percent is, in fact, valid, we`re going to see a tremendous number of fatalities from the coronavirus.

MATTHEWS: Well, moments ago, President Trump himself said that he would welcome criticism if he deserved it but he assured Americans that the virus could disappear.


TRUMP: If we were doing a bad job, we should also be criticized. But we have done an incredible job. We are going to continue. It`s going to disappear. One day, it`s like a miracle, it will disappear. And from our shores, you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We`ll see what happens. Nobody really knows. The fact is the greatest experts I`ve spoken to them all, nobody really knows.


MATTHEWS: Well, on the reporting on this, we have to be macro, the whole country. As I said, 330 million people here. Some of them, for good reason, worried, some people not worried. But the politics of this seems to always go back to the president`s credibility because he would argue about ridiculous things like crowd sizes. And here he is, you know, saying things that it was the Democratic debate, the presidential debate, which we all covered on Tuesday night that caused the stock market to go down 1,000 points on Monday, and Tuesday, two days -- actually more than hours before the Democratic debate, which was a nonsensical claim.

AARON BLAKE, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. So it`s one thing to have 16,000 false or misleading claims, which the president is up to right now. Many of those things, as you mentioned, are trivial, crowd size stuff, don`t really affect people`s lives. Two things come to mind here. One is two months ago when the U.S. government took out Qasem Soleimani, the president said there was an imminent threat here. That was the justification he used for the strike. We found out later that that wasn`t actually in the White House`s report here.

The other thing is when we had the hurricane in Florida and Alabama. The president said Alabama is going to be hit here, I have it on good authority. Well, it turned out that wasn`t in the forecast at that point. He, of course, used the map, he drew the sharpie on the map and showed how it could potentially hit Alabama.

MATTHEWS: Because there was a political race there at the time. He wanted to show his interest in it.

BLAKE: But even something like that, he was telling people who were not in harm`s way that they were in harm`s way. The risk wasn`t that people wouldn`t take something seriously. Here, it`s reversed. We have a situation where people could potentially be exposed to something. They`re being told by the president that maybe it`s not going to be a big deal, maybe they won`t take it as seriously. There is a huge both societal and political risk in that.

Right now, he seems much more concerned about the stock market momentarily, but a short-term correction is a very small price to pay for people being safe and for the ultimate risk of this not being realized.

MATTHEWS: So you think he is concerned more about the bad P.R. in terms of the election than he is about the reality facing the country?

BLAKE: The president has shown over and over again that he takes the stock market very personally. He points to it when it`s up. He points elsewhere when it`s down, and that`s pretty much what he`s doing right now.

MATTHEWS: And then blaming the Democratic debate on Tuesday night. I`m going to go over that again, because the time travel involved in that is insane.

Anyway, The New York Times reporting the White House is now looking to, quote, tighten control of coronavirus messaging, catch that word, messaging by government officials, directing them to clear all statements and public appearance with the office of Vice President Mike Pence. Dr. Anthony Fauci told associates that the White House had instructed him not to say anything else without clearance.

And early this week, aides told The Washington Post that President Trump was angered by what he saw as, quote, extreme warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Congressman, I guess this gets back to the question. We always talk about how free a society do we have, how much does the government of the United States care about us more than it cares about the politicians. These are fundamental American questions. We have to be alert to them. And here we are again with the word going out that all government officials who know what they`re talking about have been gagged so that the president, who doesn`t know what he`s talking about, can speak for them.

BERA: Yes, it`s very disconcerting. I as a member of Congress don`t work for the president of the United States. I work for the people of my district, as we all do as members of Congress. We`ve got to step up in a non-partisan way and make sure the citizens of this country get the accurate information.

It is disturbing if he`s going to try to muzzle Dr. Anthony Fauci, who`s a legend in the healthcare community for his work in HIV, et cetera. Let the scientists discuss the science and put the facts out there. And our first priority has to be protecting the American public, not worrying about the stock market or worrying about presidential re-election. That should be the president`s first priority. And it`s disappointing that that`s not what we`re hearing.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I`m afraid we`re hearing about the coronavirus from the president the way we heard about the Mueller report from Bill Barr. Not exactly from horse`s mouth, is it?

Thank you so much U.S. Congressman Ami Bera of California, Dr. Natalie Azar and Aaron Blake of The Washington Post.

Coming up, Joe Biden needs a victory in South Carolina this Saturday and a new poll today shows he might just get that victory. Can he parlay that success on Saturday it looks like he`s going to have to Super Tuesday? He might be able to do that. Things are changing a bit in this Democratic fight for president.

Plus, the Democrats haven`t had a brokered convention since 1952. Could it happen again? And what happens if Bernie Sanders gets the most delegates but can`t get the majority which you need to clinch the nomination? He says whoever gets the most votes should win, but what about the rules?

We`ve got much more to get to tonight. Stick with us.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The South Carolina primary is two days away. It`s a make or break moment, of course, for former Vice President Joe Biden, who`s staking his presidential run this year on a victory in the first in the south contest. A new Monmouth University poll out today shows him with a commanding lead at 36 percent. That`s 20 points ahead of Senator Bernie Sanders down there in the Palmetto State, who`s got 16 percent. Tom Steyer has got 15 percent. No other candidate in South Carolina has got even double digits.

Well, a poll shows that Biden with even a larger lead among African- Americans in that state, Biden has the support of 45 percent of black voters. He`s followed by the way in that category by Steyer at 17 points and Sanders at 13. Steyer is doing better than Sanders among African- Americans.

But Biden put most of his resources in South Carolina. He hasn`t done any campaigning or not much in Super Tuesday states in recent weeks. The New York Times reports that interviews with party leaders in half a dozen states suggest that the same vulnerabilities that plagued Mr. Biden beginning in Iowa, subpar organization, limited outreach to local Democrats and a late start to campaigning are holding him back in the states that next week will dole out a third of the total delegates in the entire Democratic primaries.

Even with those concerns, polls show there are a number of Super Tuesday states that Biden could potentially win.

For more, I`m joined by Trav Robertson, the Democratic Party chair in South Carolina, Zerlina Maxwell, senior director of progressive programming for SiriusXM, Howard Fineman, contributing correspondent for Real Politics -- RealClearPolitics.

You got so many hats, Howard. Thank you.


MATTHEWS: No, really. I love RealClearPolitics.

Let me go to Trav on this.

South Carolina is fascinating. It`s a fascinating state. It`s part of the Deep South. It`s the cotton culture.


MATTHEWS: Trav, tell us about Biden`s comfort down -- I just -- no, let`s do something for fun. Let`s do something positive. We need positive news.

Jim Clyburn strikes me as one of the last people on this planet, certainly in the United States, who really has the ability to endorse anything, even a product, but it looks like he`s got some real street cred. Your thoughts.


ROBERTSON: Well, we have 46 counties in South Carolina, Chris, and he has 18 of the 46 counties in his congressional district.

And that`s pretty, pretty significant, as it is one of a superminority- majority districts in South Carolina. And so his endorsement does in fact carry a lot of weight.

And then Congressman Joe Cunningham, whose district adjoins Congressman Clyburn`s, has made his statement as to what we want in South Carolina, as opposed to socialism. So you have got both of our congressmen actually speaking out in this particular primary.

MATTHEWS: First in the South, Zerlina, what`s it mean?

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM RADIO: I think it means that...


ROBERTSON: I`m sorry. Go ahead.

MAXWELL: ... the majority of black voters in South Carolina.

I mean, that`s when I joined the campaign, Chris, because, in 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign understood that, after that loss in New Hampshire, it was absolutely critical to perform well in Nevada and then subsequently South Carolina.

So, you know, 60 percent of the electorate there is African-American. And what you`re seeing here in some of this polling, I think, should be explained in this way. You`re seeing a generational divide among African- Americans.

Bernie Sanders does particularly well among African-Americans under the age of 40. But Joe Biden does a lot better with African-American women in particular, the churchgoing types of women, like my mom, over 45.


MAXWELL: And that -- those are -- that`s the base of the Democratic Party, writ large, but especially in South Carolina, because those are the folks on the bus going Souls to the Polls. And so...

MATTHEWS: I want to hear your family discussion. Give us a little taste. What is -- because we have some of those in our family too.


MATTHEWS: Tell me what`s going on between mother and daughter, if you will, or at least from mother.

MAXWELL: Well, I have been having conversations with my parents all year long, trying to figure out, you know, where they land on a large slate of candidates.

My dad talked about Kamala Harris being his favorite, Julian Castro his second favorite. And they`re no longer in the race. And so now he`s looking at this slate of candidates. He`s very much opposed to Bernie Sanders. I would say that.

But I think that black people are under no illusions that a second term of Donald Trump would be worse than any of the possible Democrats that we have to choose from.

So I think what Bernie Sanders can do in order to attract some of these older black voters is to articulate in detail how he`s going to get us to Medicare for all, how he`s going to pay for it. He needs to make those folks feel comfortable, because it`s not so much about the label socialism, as much as it`s the fear of the unknown of what that even means and what it will do to, you know, upend people`s lives.


I would like to know how they`re going to get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. But that`s an insider`s question.

Let me ask you, Howard, about, if Biden wins, does he have a chance to jump out? I was looking at some of these states where he`s doing pretty well in, like Alabama, Tennessee. He`s really strong. He could possibly win a handful of states coming out of -- well, on Super Tuesday.


And I think that will be based on the same history and the same experience as what`s going on in South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: Black voters.

FINEMAN: It`s the cotton South. It`s the place where Martin Luther King and others fought for civil rights, where they were branded as communists for doing so...


FINEMAN: ... and where a generation of black voters got to become full participants, politically, at least, and economically to a large extent, in that region.

Those people remember that. And they also remember Barack Obama. And they remember that Joe Biden was a loyal and effective vice president for Barack Obama, with Barack Obama.

That vote is pretty solid for Joe Biden, and it`s one that doesn`t require that much organization on his part. You were talking about his lack of organization.

MATTHEWS: I love it.

FINEMAN: That`s still a push-button...

MATTHEWS: I think , Howard, you`re so smart.


FINEMAN: That`s still a push-button thing.


MATTHEWS: Let`s get to that.

Trav, let`s get to this.


MATTHEWS: Some voters don`t need encouragement. They don`t need a polling operation. We all know about a polling operation. That`s when you send the car around. They get to the polls.

They get to the church on time. They get to the polls on time. They`re regular people with great family discipline. If you get older people, older African-Americans, any voter really, older voters are much better at that. Your thoughts about South Carolina?

ROBERTSON: Oh, I think you`re exactly right.

And the truth is, is that Joe Biden`s support appears to be extremely strong among older African-American voters in South Carolina. And the fascinating thing is, is, I think that Bernie Sanders` emergence, as well as Tom Steyer`s, in South Carolina has really forced the Biden campaign to actually become a little more self-disciplined and invest a little more in an organization here, to his benefit, to make sure that those voters weren`t just voting for him because of name I.D., that they`re actually with him 100 percent.

And I think you can actually feel on the ground here the actual momentum that his campaign is receiving and getting, and the Sanders campaign and the Steyer campaign too.

But you have got Elizabeth Warren waiting in the wings. She`s had a staff on the ground for a very long time here.


Let me go to Mike Bloomberg and that question. He will be on the ballot this Saturday. He`s going to be on a ballot. He`s go to make his debut on Super Tuesday, rather. He won`t be on the ballot this Saturday.


MATTHEWS: He`s been waiting. He`s coming up. Next Tuesday, he will be here.

He`s already spent $172 million blanketing the airwaves in the states that are voting on -- next Tuesday. But all of that spending may not be enough to help the former New York mayor, who has started to see his rise in the polls stall after his performance in last week`s Las Vegas debate.

Politico`s reporting, for example, that several sources close to and involved in the campaign of Mike Bloomberg have acknowledged concerns about his recent internal and public polling.

Zerlina, let`s take a look at that. You`re on the air all the time about this. Is there a point of diminishing returns with spending money? I have always wondered, if you just had a zillion dollars, could you be the next president, just because you put the ads on the air?

Is there a point where people say, I got it, I have seen the ad, I`m voting for someone else?

MAXWELL: I think there is a diminishing return. And I say that as a former organizer for President Obama.

And the reason why is because advertisements -- you know, when you get close to election time, particularly in those battleground states -- and those folks who are watching know this is true -- every single commercial is a political advertisement.

So at a certain point you`re just going to the kitchen to get your snacks during these political advertisements. So the impacts, I do think, are diminishing.

His Barack Obama advertisements and the radio advertisements were particularly effective because they were in Barack Obama`s voice. And so a lot of folks were mistaken, thinking that President Obama had endorsed Michael Bloomberg.

Now that that is very much cleared up and wasn`t the case in the first instance, I think folks are looking at his record. And stop and frisk, the Central Park 5, exonerated 5, rather, and other issues, his -- the NDA issue, I think that Elizabeth Warren bringing out some of those vulnerabilities, a lot of people, I think, are taking a second look and reexamining whether or not he`s -- he would be a good choice.

I think that that argument was pretty persuasive. And I`m interested to see if, on Super Tuesday, in those states that he`s in second place, Elizabeth Warren may supplant him in some of those states.

In my opinion -- it`s just a prediction -- she has a lot of staff on the ground all over. So I`d be curious to see if she can take advantage, since she was the one to bring out so many of those vulnerabilities.


Howard, there must be a lot of conversation.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead. I`m sorry, Trav. Go ahead.


I think the caveat to that, I was in Oklahoma several weeks ago for a wedding, and I just happened to stop by two of Bloomberg`s events. And, you know, there were 750 people that showed up to one; 250 people showed up to another one.

But my question is this. I believe Elizabeth Warren did some serious damage to him, but he`s participating in areas that have seen no candidate for president, and that`s going to benefit him, I think.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.

Howard, quickly, quickly.

FINEMAN: Question.

MATTHEWS: Can he get through this? He`s had two miserable debates, Mike Bloomberg.

FINEMAN: Oh, I think he`s been badly damaged. In a way, all the money that you spend can double back on you, whiplash style, if you don`t deliver in person.

MATTHEWS: You have to look like your ads.

FINEMAN: You have to look like your ads. And he didn`t. He hasn`t in either debate.

MATTHEWS: Oh, it`s been really -- it`s been rough treatment too.

Anyway, apparently, he`s going to have a hard time every single one of these debates.

Trav Robertson, thank you, Zerlina Maxwell, and thank you, Howard Fineman.

A quick programming note. I`m heading to South Carolina tomorrow ahead of this week`s primary. HARDBALL will be live 7:00 Eastern tomorrow night broadcasting from Home Team Barbecue. I like North Carolina barbecue. Let`s taste -- let`s see what the other kind is like in Charleston.

I will be back there on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for special coverage of the South Carolina primary. I did go to UNC.

Up next: Some Democrats are in a full-fledged panic at the thought of Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket. We know that.

But could efforts to keep him from getting the nomination be even more destructive, more disruptive, and create even more chaos than letting him win, because he`s got the most delegates?

You`re watching HARDBALL.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I or anybody else goes into the Democratic Convention with a substantial plurality, I believe that individual, me or anybody else, should be the candidate of the Democratic Party.

And if one candidate comes out on top, to say to the country, you voted for that candidate, oh, but, by the way, we don`t think that candidate should be the nominee, I think that would be a serious, serious problem for the Democratic Party.



Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Bernie Sanders, who`s not actually a member of the party yet, at least not yet, arguing again this week that the candidate with the most delegates heading into the convention this summer should become the party`s nominee.

In all fairness, he said a substantial plurality, a substantial plurality, in other words, up in the high 30s or 40s.

However, to secure the Democratic nomination, a candidate must win a majority of the delegates -- that`s the rules -- that are up for grabs during the primary season. Even if a candidate has more delegates than anyone else, they`re not guaranteed the nomination, unless they reach that magic number of half, half the delegates available.

Those are the rules. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear today that the party`s going to stick by those rules.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The rules are very clear. The person who we nominate will be the person who has a majority, plus one. That may happen before they ever get to the convention. But we will see.


MATTHEWS: If Senator Sanders or any candidate falls short of a majority, the Democrats would have to duke it out in an open convention in Milwaukee.

And that means party officials would be allowed to cast votes as so-called superdelegates beginning with the second ballot.

Now, "The New York Times" has interviewed 93 of those superdelegates, reporting that they -- quote -- "found overwhelming opposition to handing the Vermont senator the nomination if he arrived with the most delegates, but fell short of a majority."

They are not just worried about Mr. Sanders` candidacy, but they`re also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination, according to interviews with "The Times."

In other words, if Sanders doesn`t win outright, will he have a tough time emerging?

And while Sanders continues to question the rules guiding the process, one of his opponents says he`s challenging the rules that he himself wrote.

And that`s coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Should the person with the most delegates at the end of this primary season be the nominee, even if they are short of a majority?

SANDERS: So I think that the will of the people should prevail, yes.

The person who has the most votes should become the nominee.



MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s Senator Sanders arguing that the candidate with the most delegates should win the nomination, even if the rules make clear that you need a majority of the delegates to become the Democratic nominee.

As Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out last night, Sanders is now challenging the rules, even though he helped to write them back in 2016.

Here she goes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain why the will of the voters should not matter if no candidate reaches a majority of delegates?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So you do know that was Bernie`s position in 2016?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not necessarily, no.



The way I see this is, you write the rules before you know where everybody stands, and then you stick with those rules. Those are the rules that he wanted to write and others wanted to write.

Everybody got in the race thinking that was the set of rules. I don`t see how come you get to change it just because he now thinks there`s an advantage to him for doing that.



MATTHEWS: I`m joined now by former Democratic senator from Indiana, Joe Donnelly, and Michelle Goldberg, who writes a great column for the "New York Times."

I`ll let you start, Michelle. What is your position? Should it be majority of the delegates or the plurality of the delegates that gives the winner the win?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Oh, I think Bernie is right when he said substantial plurality. And before I say anything, full disclosure, my husband is consulting for Elizabeth Warren. But I think in this particular case I think that if Bernie --

MATTHEWS: What`s a substantial majority, 45 percent? Give us a guesstimate. What`s a substantial majority?

GOLDBERG: I don`t know off the top of my head. But if it`s not just kind of one or two points ahead of the next person, the next runner-up. I think if it`s pretty clear who`s gotten the most votes, then not even -- to me this isn`t even about fairness. It`s about winning. It`s about what it would do to the party if you kind of told Bernie`s voters that having won a substantial plurality, we`re going to kind of go into a back room or go into some sort of DNC process.

They already have a lot of paranoia and distrust about the DNC and the Democratic Party.


GOLDBERG: I think you would shatter the party. You would cleave off these young people who are the future of the party and possibly disillusion them for years into the future? I think Bernie`s a really risky general election candidate. And I`ve written a lot about my concerns about his electability. But the candidate who comes out of a process that alienates that substantial part of the party I think is even less electable.

MATTHEWS: I heard every word you said.


JOE DONNELLY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, there are rules. And there`s a reason that we have rules, is that you follow them. And that`s how it --

MATTHEWS: One of the reasons for the rules of the majority, it has to be a majority, what`s the point of it?

DONNELLY: Well, Bernie Sanders --

MATTHEWS: But what`s the point of that?

DONNELLY: The point is to make sure somebody has 50 percent plus one. That you`re not close. So, for instance, if you`re in a softball game, in the third inning, you`re feeling pretty good. It`s like, let`s send it to the seventh.

No, you play this out and you get a majority. And what the supporters of every candidate need to know is, look, do you want to beat Donald Trump and change our country or do you want to simply say, if I don`t get what I want, I take and pack my bag and go home?

MATTHEWS: That`s the political argument. What about this? I thought for both of you, that the reason we had these rules all these years, for a lot -- the Democratic Party. Michelle, I`ll start with you again.

The Democratic Party was never a party of harmony. It wasn`t -- the north and the south, there was the northern liberals from the big cities, of course. A lot of ethnic groups involved. We know that rich -- diversity of the party.

Then there was the Southern conservatives, the segregationists in fact, and the way they put it together was say we`re never going to ram anybody down your throat, we`re going to have to have -- for a long time it was 2/3 majority. You know, that was the way they kept the party together.

So, they would put mild-mannered liberals like, you know, Adlai Stevenson with Sparkman as his running mate. You know how they did it in the old days. And they did it with Johnson and Kennedy.

They always had to build a bridge. Is that why it`s good to have the 50 percent? I`m just asking. Does that make sense? That`s why they did it way.

GOLDBERG: I think it makes sense that that`s why they did it that way but I think you have now a couple of generations who have the expectation that the candidate`s going to be Democratically elected, right?

So, brokered conventions were not such a freakish thing in the past that would run the party because they had some legitimacy. I think that even though it has legitimacy now under the rules, a lot of voters would not regard it as a legitimate process.

MATTHEWS: I can see what can happen.

Senator, it will drive you crazy. Michelle might live with it. I don`t know, I might live with it.

How about this? Bernie gets 37 percent of the delegates. Elizabeth Warren gets 13 percent. That adds up to 50. That`s your so-called -- and he`s the nominee and she`s the VP nominee.

DONNELLY: That`s exactly right. That`s how it works, is you need to get a majority.


DONNELLY: And it brings people together as well. So what we have to do is be aware of the fact that everybody`s vote counts and in this process as you look at it, you can`t say I`m ahead, let`s call the game right now. You play it out until it concludes.

And so, Bernie has the lead now. He may have a very significant lead near the end of the convention time. And then he gets together with an Elizabeth or somebody else and goes over the top. That`s how this is done.

But you can`t say you want certain rules in 2018 and then have completely different rules in 2020 because they favor you, and it`s a good lesson for supporters. You don`t always get what you want simply because --

MATTHEWS: So, you`re not afraid of a walkout by the Bernie people if they don`t get the nomination in that situation?

DONNELLY: Well, I`d be -- I`d be looking at them going, really? It`s time to grow up. What you have to do is you fight for what you believe in. If you don`t --


MATTHEWS: To a 27-year-old, grow up, that`s a way to win their hearts.

Well, thank you.

DONNELL: Well, I know, it`s what I say to my kids every day.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re not your kids.

Anyway, thank you so much. Michelle, you`re great. I love your column.

Former senator Joe Donnelly, Notre Dame guy. Michelle -- not Michelle. I was going to say something like Hoosier.

DONNELLY: There you go.

MATTHEWS: You`re a Hoosier.

Anyway, up next, no dissent allowed. The party of Trump boos the name Mitt Romney after the Republican senator was disinvited from this year`s CPAC conservative gathering. The bizarre scene from the conservative summit, coming up next. Stick for the show.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last month, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was officially uninvited from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference after he voted to allow witnesses in Trump`s impeachment trial. And that was before he voted to convict Trump on one of the articles of impeachment.

At the time, CPAC chair Matt Schlapp said Romney was disinvited because, well, Schlapp was worried about his physical safety.


MATT SCHLAPP, CPAC CHAIRMAN: We won`t credential him as a conservative. I suppose if he wants to come as a non-conservative and debate an issue with us, maybe in the future we would have him come. This year, I would actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him.


MATTHEWS: Well, today`s crowd at CPAC made it clear that this is the party of Trump and anyone else is persona non grata.




Correct answer, by the way. Correct. Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way, because he lied to every single person in this room that knocked on doors for him, that made phone calls for him, that donated to his campaign, because we thought that he was going to be a crusader against the Marxist president that preceded Donald Trump. And now he asks and he begs for the endorsement of Donald Trump for the Senate in Utah and then he goes and votes for that sham unconstitutional impeachment.


He embodies the very same political class that President Trump ran against.


MATTHEWS: Barack Obama was a Marxist?

I`m joined now by Republican strategist Susan Del Percio.

I think that shot at a moderate, moderate Democrat, Barack Obama being a Marxist, puts sort of the axis of where the CPAC convention is. It`s a pretty right-wing crowd. But now it`s become sort of a Trump crowd. Not normal ideologically, just a cult it seems.

Your thoughts?

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That`s right. Chris, you and I both remember, in the `80s, CPAC was a place where sure, there were some fringe players, but there was a place of ideas. They were conservative ideas. You didn`t have to agree with them, but they were well thought out and we respected each other on both sides of the aisle.

What I saw just now is a disgrace. Let`s not forget when this time four years ago when Donald Trump was running for president, he came in third at CPAC with 15 percent of the vote behind Ted Cruz`s 40 percent and Marco Rubio`s 30 percent. So it certainly is a different place.

And I guess what Kellyanne Conway said in 2017 is right, they`re going to change the name of it from CPAC to TPAC. And they might as well make it the party of Trump. They have now shown that they have no values, no standards, and no political beliefs.

MATTHEWS: Who happened to all those young Americans for freedom, all those people who believed in free trade, they believed in a limited power for the executive, they believed Congress should make the calls?

It was very constitutional. They had very strong principles about limited government. And now they`ve got Trump to defend. It`s a total 180 from all those principles of Jeffersonian limitations on power.

DEL PERCIO: Well, if you look at the turn --

MATTHEWS: Is that too obvious to say this? I don`t know.

DEL PERCIO: Well, look, who`s in the Senate and in the House right now. Look how they have fallen off the wagon of what was good, principled Republican and conservative ideas and principles.

So, it`s not surprising to see some of the younger people coming up and throwing things out the window because they don`t know what it means to actually have core values, Chris. And that`s what we`re missing. That`s why we`re only hear about certain extremes, whether it`s these folks at CPAC and Donald Trump and to an extent Bernie Sanders going off as a Democratic socialist, people don`t want to hear a complete revolution against government. They want to hear about working together, getting things done, disagreeing on ideas, for the betterment of our society.

MATTHEWS: Well, this coronavirus would be a great case if it was all us working together. Unfortunately, we`re not, thanks to the president, and other politicians too.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Vice President Pence was one of today`s speakers at CPAC and he, of course, had nothing but glowing praise for the president.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Four years ago a movement was born, a movement of everyday Americans from every walk of life, from big cities and small towns. All of you here at CPAC believed we could be strong again. You believed we could be prosperous again. You here at CPAC said yes to President Donald Trump in 2016, and I know you`re going to say yes to four more years of President Donald Trump in 2020!

Ronald Reagan said it was morning in America, and President Donald Trump made America great again.



MATTHEWS: He sounds more like a high priest than a politician.

DEL PERCIO: Yes, and Mike Pence needs to be careful because he has now been set up for the full blame of this country not being prepared for the coronavirus to fall on him.


DEL PERCIO: President Trump said you`re in charge, Mike Pence. And Mike Pence can`t just go out there and trot the lines of the president. This is an important part --

MATTHEWS: Is he sticking him out there?

DEL PERCIO: I think so. I think that`s the easy --

MATTHEWS: Is this to make room for Nikki Haley?

DEL PERCIO: I don`t know if it`s too make room for Nikki Haley but I know President Trump takes no responsibility for anything and he`s willing to put it on anyone, even those who have been loyal to him.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, Susan Del Percio. You`re a tough person but I love it.

DEL PERCIO: All right.

MATTHEWS: Up next, you`re supposed to be.

Up next, Donald Trump once again opts to divide the country instead of uniting it. This time against a common foe the coronavirus. Why is he dividing us against something that can hurt us all? Is that too obvious?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: The coronavirus offers a chance for this country to get its act together, confronting its spread in an honest fashion, doing what can be done to contain it, to treat people who become infected, could all be the kind of challenge that elevates this country to its best.

In other words, when we got together and used the full power of an effective government to meet the common challenge. Why can`t President Trump see it this way? Why does he see the coronavirus as an opportunity to once again divide the country, not unite it?

Yesterday, he blamed the stock market drops of Monday and Tuesday on Tuesday night`s Democratic debate. Not market concerns about the coronavirus.


TRUMP: I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves and they say if we had to have a president like this, and there`s always a possibility, it`s an election, you know, who knows what happens -- I think we`re going to win. I think we`re going to win by a lot. But when they look at the statements made by the people standing behind those podiums I think that has a huge effect.


MATTHEWS: Why would he say something that`s impossible? It makes no logical sense. How can what happened on Tuesday night have caused what happened on Monday and Tuesday during the daytime? Why say something that a reasonable person would see as ridiculous?

And that`s been a real problem with Trump. Polls show a majority of registered voters now giving the president a very poor rating, that`s the phrase, very poor, on being honest and trustworthy. And that`s not a good situation for him but more so for the country. There are times and events like the threat of the coronavirus when we need to trust what government health officials are saying, and that includes the person at the top. This isn`t about the crowd size at his inauguration.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.