Show: HARDBALL Date: December 29, 2017 Guest: Maria Teresa Kumar, Susan Page
Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.
This year in politics has delivered a series of explosive headlines, most of which have been generated or at least fueled by President Donald Trump. Like many politicians Trump was elected on the promise he would shake up Washington, yet none of his predecessors have delivered such a steady stream of controversy and chaos in their first year in office.
We begin tonight with the biggest story of 2017 so far or by far, the investigation into Russian meddling, potential collusion and possible obstruction of justice. We have seen an ever-growing mosaic of Trump associates, there they are, advisers and affiliates, who have been drawn into the unfolding congressional and federal Russia probes.
Piece by piece investigators have been connecting the dots between them and their possible links to Russia over the course of the last year. Among those with the most clearly defined Russian contacts are some of the highest-ranking former campaign officials, many of whom currently serve or previously served in the White House itself.
So far four people have been charged with crimes in this special counsel's probe. Two pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate and two are under indictment. All of this comes after President Trump said last February that he didn't know of anyone aside from Michael Flynn who had contacts with Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not -- nobody that I know of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?
TRUMP: Look, how many times do I have to answer this question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I just say yes or no?
TRUMP: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I'm joined now by our round table for the evening. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA today." Michael Steele is a former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst and Maria Teresa Kumar is the President and CEO of Voto Latino as well as an MSNBC contributor.
Thank you for this great group of people to explain a year of politics.
Let me ask you this for the big question, Susan. You write front page coverage for the "USA today," which has gotten very opinionated at the end of the year, I must say. The wall is still there. Let me ask you about this comparison to Watergate.
I see it step by step the way people come forward, Michael Flynn seems to be coming forward in a John Dean way, there seem to be parallels. We haven't found a tape yet of the President cutting deals with Russia. But comparisons.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, I think it is potentially much more serious than Watergate because it involves a foreign government, a hostile foreign government, affecting our election and that is a more serious set of circumstances than we had with the Watergate affair. What we don't know is what role the President himself exactly played in this and that is what we are going to find out I bet in this next year.
MATTHEWS: Well, just at the most simplistic level the Democrats broke into their -- rather the Republicans broken into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. In this case, what happened? What's the parallel?
PAGE: Well, in this case, Russia actively tried to affect who we elected as President.
MATTHEWS: And they broke into?
PAGE: And they broke into email systems and they affected the national debate through Facebook and they repeatedly reached out and tried to form contacts with the Republican candidate -- with the Republican candidate's campaign.
MATTHEWS: Firing people was no way for Richard Nixon to defend himself. Are we seeing the same pattern here?
MICHAEL STEEL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's an attempt to that. And firing people will be no way to get out of this particular mess for the administration as well. In fact, what you have seen at the end of this year is more and more Republicans have sort of hunkered down around -- even though they are still throwing stones at Robert Mueller, they know they can't have those stones actually land in the area of actually pulling his investigation.
MATTHEWS: Is that what you are hearing, that they think that's almost a firing offense for the President?
STEELE: Yes, they do. I think a lot of Republicans, a lot of the ones I have talked to, both on the staff level and at the congressional level, they don't want any parts of a firing of Mueller because not just the optics and the politics but the legalities of it, the constitutionality of that. All of those things kind of come together in a big mess for the party. Given all the other messes that they have had to deal with this year, that's one they do not want to start next year with.
MATTHEWS: Maria, real and powerful comparison to Watergate is Nixon. Of course he was pardoned by Gerald Ford, his successor. Now people always wonder was there something there in the back room in terms of that relationship? But this time around everybody is talking about Trump, is he going to pardon his son-in-law, is he going to pardon somebody else, and he hasn't done it yet. Is that part of what we're going to see in the beginning of the year here?
[19:05:00] MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that was part of the calculation when the President said, well, I haven't looked at everything right now for Flynn but he may be pardoned, right? So he is basically dangling this maybe, if you basically cooperate with me and basically --
MATTHEWS: This is a horse out of the barn here?
KUMAR: It is. But this is what's interesting.
MATTHEWS: He is already talking.
KUMAR: He is already talking. But that's it. He has been talking the whole time. He is basically -- while Nixon tried to cover up, this President is tweeting out. Right? And basically every single thing that he says. He has actually sat down with Lester Holt and admitted why Comey was really fired, which was because of the Mueller investigation. He basically tweeted out and said the reason that Flynn was, you know, he is distancing himself was because he lied to him and he knew that he was lying to the FBI.
This President does not know when to -- what's good for him, and I'm sure that it's driving his lawyers bananas because it's what you are saying is like he is literally creating a trail of obstruction of justice.
MATTHEWS: Well, the President is going further than denying just collusion. He is consistently rejected the intelligence showing that Russia was responsible for even meddling in the 2016 election. Let's watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Might be Russia. Could be China. Could be, if you remember, Sony. It could be North Korea. It could be a lot of places.
But also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. OK?
Maybe there is no hacking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't think it's phony that they the Russians tried to meddle in the election?
TRUMP: That I don't know.
I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows.
I said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia but it could well have been other countries and I won't be specific but I think a lot of people interfere.
I believe that President Putin really feels, and he feels strongly, that he did not meddle in our election. What he believes is what he believes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It could have been the Japanese that bombed Pearl Harbor. It could have been. What do you make of that? I think years from now historians or archaeologists when they try to figure out these tapes, who Is this 400-pound person on a bed somewhere? What is he talking about?
PAGE: It's Vladimir Putin in a fat suit. But you know, here is the -- I think if you were looking at the mysteries of Donald Trump, the biggest mystery is why has from the start, he has had this odd attitude toward Russia, that he won't criticize Russia, he praises Vladimir Putin, that he is delighted when Vladimir Putin praises him.
This would not -- it's not like it's the leader of Great Britain or Germany or some one of our allies. It's one our biggest adversaries. And I think that is an answer to a question that we don't know yet. Why this persistent effort to excuse Russia or praise Russia or say --
STEELE: I think part of that answer is transactional. I think it is a transactional relationship that has been well established now, that has gone back a good number of years. His sons have come out and admitted to it, you know. How they get their golf courses built. Well, the Russians finance it, you know.
The big projects that he wanted to get done. The, you know, the beauty pageants. All of that is a very transactional relationship that Donald Trump has established. And I think that's the underbelly of this whole thing for him. Because he's not just thinking about right now. He is thinking about what he wants to do when he leaves the White House, his business interests, his brand. And the last thing he wants to do if he still wants to get that hotel, that Trump Moscow built, is have the guy who could kill it pissed off.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
KUMAR: I also think that's why so many folks, at least here in Washington, are really watching the Mueller investigation as it relates to Deutsch bank because we know that Deutsch bank is the one that has actually lent the Trump administration, the business, a lot of money. And it will be interesting to see what they actually --.
MATTHEWS: Could they gave money to Jared for his operation.
KUMAR: And also to the Trump organization, to the business. And that is why when the Mueller investigation is actually subpoenaing them I think that's one of the reasons people are --
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Maria. You have got the hot hand. Tell me how you connect that? Connect that to refusing to acknowledge the Russian meddling. Connect that to all those meetings about, well, they are dumping all the bad stuff about Hillary Clinton, which is obviously helping Trump. He is start talking relief on the sanctions helping them. Is that the big quid pro quo or is it something to do with what Michael said, a deeper personal relationship in terms of transaction where this whole Presidential campaign has been tainted by something of a business enterprise going on all through it for later years?
KUMAR: I think it's two. I think one is definitely his business enterprise that basically he recognizes that nothing happens in Russia without Putin's approval. But also the fact that Donald Jr. met with the Russians in that hotel room about repealing the sanctions. That sanction act specifically is what gives Putin power because it's what basically allows his cronies to come into the United States and launder money. Without that he does not have power within the Russia oligarchy and that's why repealing that sanction is so important.
MATTHEWS: That is correct. That's right in the middle of what we are trying to figure out, the mix of business, criminality, criminality, (INAUDIBLE) and the whole works.
Anyway, ever since the Specter of Kremlin interference first arose in the summer of 2016 the President and his allies have repeatedly and adamantly denied any collusion, communication or coordination with Russia took place. Let's watch some of those denials.
[19:10:19] TRUMP: So they are investigating that never happened. There was no collusion between us and Russia.
There is no collusion. You know why? Because I don't speak to Russians.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: I did not collude with Russia. Nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The suggestion that I participated in any collusion is an appalling and detestable lie.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would certainly say Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So no collusion whatsoever? Nobody involved with Trump and anybody involved with Russia in the 2016 campaign.
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did any adviser or anyone anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul, let's go back to this question of Russia and hacking. Can you tell us what you know about the relationship and what the campaign knows and what Donald Trump believes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no relationship.
MATTHEWS: So what's the explanation? Mike, you lead off. What's the explanation for complete stonewalling here saying no, no, no, no, no, I won't give an inch? Trump -- is that Trump's character, his personality, that doesn't give on anything?
STEELE: Yes, partly. I think, well, t's a lot of that. He does not like to cede any ground on any issue because in his mindset he is right wherever he is, he's right. But for me this has always been -- I always thought the collusion argument was a rabbit hole. It was something that, you know, people just kind of went down and got lost in. And it was easy for Trump to sort of push back on the collusion thing because how do you prove, what does it look like? Where does it show up? For me it's always obstruction of justice. The whole thing --
MATTHEWS: What's he hiding from?
STEELE: Well, that's what Mueller's got his fingertip on right now, which is why you see the nervous nellies around the White House. Because when you start having Flynn, Papadopoulos and others start to go down, Manafort, who is starting to sing a little bit, talk a little bit, fill out the scenario --
MATTHEWS: Let's try something.
STEELE: What's that?
MATTHEWS: Jared Kushner is one of the people who have been finger is, the guy -- one of the people giving orders to Flynn to go talk to the Russians. Your son-in-law. You know. Let's just speculate here. Was one of the people giving the orders about what to talk to the Russians about. That's bringing you in.
PAGE: And you know, I think they have had a two-part defense. One is deny everything, even if you have to later make concessions that you didn't report, for instance, contacts with Russia. The other is to muddy up the waters by people who are going to come out with the reports. The Mueller investigation, congressional investigations if necessary and the news media.
MATTHEWS: What's more likely as we get to the end of the year here, pardons of the people he cares about like his son-in-law Jared Kushner or firing Mueller? Are they both causing big trouble?
STEELE: I think they both cause him a problem, personally.
MATTHEWS: The Republican Party, your party, will they break with him in any sizable percentage if he does one of those two things?
STEELE: I think it will be a real breaking point, particularly in the Senate. I think that would be a real breaking point on both of those fronts starting to pardon people like Flynn or --.
MATTHEWS: This could be the test of greatness or lack of it --
KUMAR: I mean, I actually think he is more concerned. I think the Republican Party would be more concerned with Mueller. And with the pardons I think they are going to be much more thoughtful because they want to make sure they don't take that away from future Presidents as well.
MATTHEWS: Well said.
Coming up, 2017 will be remembered as the year the country went through a reckoning on issues of sexual misconduct. Many high-profile men accused of misconduct, lost their positions of power. We all know those stories. But one notably did not lose his position of power. His name is Donald Trump. And that's ahead.
And this is "Hardball," where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[19:17:35] TRUMP: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time because a lot of things are coming out and I think that's good for our society and I think it's very, very good for women. And I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out. And I'm very happy -- I'm very happy it's being exposed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."
That was incredible. President Trump on the other big story of 2017 as the country grappled with a national reckoning on sexual misconduct by powerful men like him. "Time" magazine named the silence breakers, the women who spoke out about sexual assault and harassment, as their person of the year.
And what started in October with a big "New York Times" report on multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood mogul or former mogul Harvey Weinstein quickly spread as charges of sexual misconduct took down high-profile men in politics and public life generally.
The issue came to define, by the way, the Alabama Senate race after the "Washington Post" reported on multiple allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore involving teenage girls. One said he molested her when she was just 14 years old. Charges Moore denied. Here goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROY MOORE (R), FORMER ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We have been intimidated. Other people have been intimidated. And we are tired of it. The "Washington Post" put out this terrible, disgusting article saying I had done something. And I want you to understand something. They said these women, two, had not come forward for nearly 40 years. But they waited till 30 days before this general election to come forward. Actions are going to speak louder than words.
SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: It's a referendum not just on the issues that we've got but it's who we are and what we are going to tell our daughters. And is Alabama going to stand with our daughters and our granddaughters that we will believe them, we will respect them no matter when they come forward?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: On Capitol Hill, Minnesota Democratic senator Al Franken resigned after multiple accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior led more than 30 of his democratic colleagues to call on him to leave the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I will be resigning as member of the United States Senate. I of all people are aware there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the oval officer and a man who is repeatedly preyed on young girls campaign for the Senate with the full support of his party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: While Alabama voters ultimately rejected Roy Moore, the MeToo movement and Trump's support of Moore revived attention about allegations against the president himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Women who accuse anyone should be heard. They should be heard and they should be dealt with. And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.
JESSICA LEEDS, PRESIDENT TRUMP ACCUSER: It became apparent that in some areas, the accusations of sexual aggression were being taken seriously and people were being held accountable, except for our president. And he was not being held accountable.
RACHEL CROOKS, PRESIDENT TRUMP ACCUSER: I ask that Congress put aside their party affiliations and investigate Mr. Trump's history of sexual misconduct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump has denied the allegations against him, all of them, but several Democratic senators have called on Trump to resign over these accusations. That includes New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
Trump lashed out against her in what I might call a sexually suggestive tweet, saying the senator went to his office, begged him for campaign contributions, said she'd do anything to get his money.
Well, we're back with our panel, Susan page, Maria Teresa Kumar, and Michael Steele.
I think the president has gotten off on this. And I think for whatever reason, the people that like him, the 30-some percent that like him, don't seem to put this into their head at all. It doesn't seem to take -- name one person who likes Trump except for this.
I mean, I don't -- Maria.
KUMAR: Yes. No, I think that he...
MATTHEWS: Who's out there saying if it weren't for that misbehavior with women and that "Access Hollywood" bragging thing and for this awful thing he said about Kirsten Gillibrand coming and begging for his money, I would like him? Nobody seems to care.
Why is it that this isn't grabbing on him the way it grabbed onto all the other people that have been accused?
KUMAR: Because I think that he, what he's been able to do is sow such division within the country that they'd rather see him win on everything else.
And I have to say that even though Doug Jones won, it's still -- 48 percent of Republicans still went out and voted for Roger Moore. He still won by...
MATTHEWS: Roy Moore.
KUMAR: Roy Moore. Excuse me. Roy Moore.
And I think what we're seeing is that -- and this is the question we have to ask ourselves -- is the MeToo movement more powerful than partisanship? Because what just happened in this past election was that it was not.
And I think we have to see what is going to happen, whether or not the congressional members of both parties...
MATTHEWS: Well, but people say the MeToo movement helped Doug Jones, didn't it?
KUMAR: It did because you got a flurry of much more people coming out and voting than they do historically in midterm elections.
But you still had 48 percent...
KUMAR: ... voted.
MATTHEWS: Look at the women shift. The women shift was significant down there.
KUMAR: Absolutely. Yes.
PAGE: We did a poll. We asked if you agreed with the candidate, but he faced a credible allegation of sexual misconduct, would you be less likely to vote for him?
And more than eight out of 10 Democrats said they'd be less likely. But two-thirds of Republicans said they'd be less likely. I think this is clearly a bipartisan movement, and I think this is a movement that owes...
MATTHEWS: How come it didn't work with Clinton?
PAGE: Well, because that was a different time.
MATTHEWS: Kathleen Willey, all those accusations were all pretty credible. Juanita Broaddrick. They're credible and pretty ghastly accusations.
And all I heard was move on, MoveOn.org. That's all I heard during that period.
PAGE: But I think there have been two huge cultural shifts in the last few years. One was on gay marriage. And the one we have seen just this year is on believing women who accuse powerful men.
And I think we have Donald Trump to thank for that, because he got elected...
MATTHEWS: How about Harvey Weinstein?
PAGE: No, I think Donald Trump changed the landscape...
STEELE: Change the attitude, yes.
PAGE: ... and made people much more willing to say, we have got to listen to these women who are making...
MATTHEWS: Would there have been a Trump -- would there have been a discussion about Al Franken or any of these guys, would there be a discussion if it weren't for the Weinstein disclosure that came out?
STEELE: I think the Weinstein disclosure sort of catapulted the discussion forward.
I think what happened, going back to the 2016 cycle was, when this came out, that "Access Hollywood" tape hit, there were a whole bunch of other things that distracted the way the conversation could go. You were still dealing Hillary Clinton, Comey, e-mails, and then this.
And I think now people had a chance to step back, and in that stepping back, Weinstein happens, and, all of a sudden, it's like refocus the conversation. That's the president's problem going forward, because these women now have a second bite at that apple. You didn't pay attention to what we said in 2016. Now can we replay the story for you, so you understand exactly what we're talking about?
And the difference between now and then is that the American people are willing to listen.
MATTHEWS: Let me try something by Maria.
I think the hardest thing for a woman was to come out when they had to deal with some big bully, a guy who would actually make a point of ruining your life, who would track you down. Weinstein. Everything we knew about him is, he'd go around. Either he'd buy off people, he would go after them, ruin their careers, whatever.
To take on that bully, that, to me, was the big one. That was taking on Goliath. If you could take him on, who's known for retribution, right, and for being all-powerful, you just don't get any more movie parts, you don't get any more jobs, and worse than that you're blacklisted, basically, the women -- that thing to me really seemed to be, if you can beat that big bully, don't worry about the other guys.
KUMAR: Well, and I think that's exactly right.
People -- all of a sudden, women became emboldened, and they actually said, look, this is actually something that's powerful.
And what I think that is also important is that men are having these conversations as well. And while we are...
MATTHEWS: Tell me about that.
KUMAR: Men are having these conversations. They're basically going, looking in and actually encouraging -- the majority of the folks that have been reporting on this...
STEELE: Or taking cover.
KUMAR: Or taking -- no, but the majority of folks that have broken these stories have been men, where -- and I'm thinking of obviously Farrow right now, but he and the others have taken the lead.
My question, though, is if this is what's happening at the highest levels of power, what are women in the service industry who can't have the power, who cannot decide to go and not work because of minimum wage, what are they facing? And how do we make sure that we are creating policy to ensure that they're too safeguarded for telling...
MATTHEWS: Let's hope the labor unions are doing their part, because that's a big chance. Go to the shop steward.
KUMAR: That's right.
MATTHEWS: Go to the business manager. Go to those people for help. You got to do that. That's why you're in the union, collective strength.
Anyway, up next, 2017 was also a year in which President Trump injected himself into hot-button issues involving race. We're going to take a look at everything from his comments on Charlottesville to his war with the NFL players.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump inserted himself into multiple culture wars this year that eclipsed the national conversation, ranging from Charlottesville to the NFL players to Gold Star families.
When a 32-year-old woman died while protesting the white supremacist groups marching on Charlottesville, which included, of course, the KKK, neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right, the president didn't outright condemn the groups. Let's watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I'm not sure 'on many sides" was written in that script.
Anyway, he changed his tune a few days later, after his remarks raised questions over yes was drawing a moral equivalency between the supremacists, the white supremacists, and the counterprotesters demonstrating against them.
Let's listen to his more scripted remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But just one day later, the president doubled down on his original claim that both sides were to blame and claimed that some of the white supremacists were -- love this phrase -- fine people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either.
QUESTION: But only the Nazis...
TRUMP: And -- and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We're back with our panel.
This was a -- what is it you used to say, an unearned foul or something in sports? Like, why did he do -- or why did he dig into this? Who was he gaining from here?
PAGE: Well, I think it reflects his actual point of view.
MATTHEWS: Unforced error.
PAGE: An unforced error, a self-inflicted wound.
And I also think that when we were trying to figure out why -- how Trump got elected against all odds, we looked a lot at economic pressures on some American voters. But the fact is cultural discomfort with an increasingly diverse society, one that allows gay marriage and transgender bathrooms and all that, I think that was a big force behind the voters who went to Trump.
And that is part of what he -- that is a card he continues to play in keeping the support of his base voters as president.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree. I think a lot of people were not comfortable with all the changes going on. Too many too fast for a lot of people, older people especially.
And they also thought I think the Democrats were a little too frisky about it. They seem to like all these changes. They want more and more and more. And the people said, enough, slow this train. I'm sure that's one reason why, even in the burbs, people voted, changed their minds.
STEELE: Well, on race, as I have looked at it and sort of absorbed a lot of this, particularly the Charlottesville period between that Saturday and Tuesday, what I saw the president do effectively and what he did throughout the campaign was pick at the scab of race, picked at it, picked at it, picked at it until it became a wound again.
The healing process that had begun in the '50s and '60s with the marches, the great speeches by King, certainly involving the assassination of leaders, all of that came flashing back for a lot of people.
And now you saw young men in their early 20s and teens in nicely tailored suits, not hoods, you know, not with torches, but with tiki torches, out saying and protesting and claiming the same thing around issues of race that our parents and our grandparents had to deal with.
And that for a lot of people was just very unsettling. And the one person you go to in that moment, as we have, we turned to Reagan, we turned to Johnson. We turn to our presidents to sort of help us process and deal with this. He was the man who was picking at the scab.
MATTHEWS: He was going the wrong way.
STEELE: Is going the wrong way.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact that Roy Moore, the recent candidate for senator from Alabama, saying he liked it back when the families were united...
STEELE: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: ... during slavery. The one thing everybody knows about black families is the way the money business of slavery worked is, you sold -- if this kid's big and strong, send him to the guy out in Oklahoma somewhere. If this guy's weak, make him work somewhere.
But they divided up the families like they weren't even a family. There was no unity of family.
KUMAR: I think that's the problem, is with...
MATTHEWS: I'm talking about the slave trade and how awful it was.
But at a bigger level -- and I don't want to get too much into it -- there's a problem right now where you actually have school books that actually want to sanitize the history of the United States.
In Texas in particular, they want to basically say that slavery didn't -- was actually -- was actually an economic gain for the folks that were involved in it. That is not true.
MATTHEWS: You mean the slaves?
KUMAR: The slaves, exactly, yes.
STEELE: Yes, yes, they benefited.
STEELE: Because they got free food. They had a roof over their head. I have heard this.
KUMAR: Yes, this is...
MATTHEWS: This is like the original American...
STEELE: Yes, exactly.
KUMAR: Exactly. Exactly right.
MATTHEWS: You get your three squares a day with your job.
Unfortunately, somebody's whipping you, and you're in shackles, and the boss is having sex with your daughter...
MATTHEWS: ... or your wife because he feels like it.
KUMAR: Well, they're trying to delegitimize the actual American experience. And that's the problem.
But the bigger problem, I would say, with the Republican Party is that he is basically betting on that brand to continue getting him elected. But how are they going to basically rise from this if he's continuously polarizing the American people along race? And that is going to be very...
MATTHEWS: The suburban voter is embarrassed by this.
MATTHEWS: They may have left the city as part of white flight a generation ago. They're embarrassed by racism. They may not be any better than anybody else, but they're embarrassed by it.
MATTHEWS: And they do not to vote for a president they believe is a race guy.
KUMAR: And the fact that, even after Charlottesville, you had Tillerson come out, you had Mattis telling the troops hold the line because stuff is going a little bananas back at home tells you that not everybody in his Cabinet actually believes this, even Republicans.
But he's playing with...
MATTHEWS: Doesn't believe what, Maria?
KUMAR: They don't believe that -- the divisiveness the president is basically propagating when it comes to race.
MATTHEWS: They don't believe it. They don't support it.
KUMAR: They don't support it. They don't believe in it.
MATTHEWS: I hope not.
PAGE: But, also, suburbs are increasingly diverse. The suburbs are no longer this all...
MATTHEWS: The near suburbs, especially, and the ultimate...
PAGE: Demography is...
STEELE: The bottom line is, we still sanitize race. We still sanitize the conversation around race. And that's something that has to change in order to effectively deal with it.
MATTHEWS: Well, that conversation will not be led by Mr. Trump.
MATTHEWS: Up next, Trump may be head of the Republican Party, but he's not without his Republican critics. It's been a year marked by fierce battles with fellow members of the GOP.
You're watching HARDBALL.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: No president, Democrat or Republican, in recent memory has exhibited the kind of behavior that this president has. And so, I -- you know, I am not a Republican, I'm a conservative. I would love to have a Republican president, but not at any cost.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: It's obvious his political model and governing model is to divide. And he has not risen to the occasion. I think the worst is going to be the whole debasing, if you will, of our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Those are Republican senators warning about the threat posed by Donald Trump. It can't be more clear than that.
Trump responded of course with his own attacks. He called Senator Corker a lightweight, and incompetent, neither of which I think are true, and someone who couldn't get elected dog catcher in Tennessee. Well, he's been elected senator a few times.
And here's what he said about Senator Jeff Flake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He came out with his horrible book, and I said, who is this guy? The first time I saw him on television, I said -- I assumed he's a Democrat. Is he a Democrat? They said he's a Republican. I said that's impossible.
So look, his poll numbers are terrible. He's done terribly for the great people of Arizona, a state that likes Donald Trump very much as you -- even you will admit. And he would have never won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican Party has never been so divided, certainly not in the television age. Senators openly defy their party's heart now. The president backed a Senate candidate in Alabama accused of mistreating teenage girls against the will of nearly every Republican in Washington.
He battled a sick war hero, John McCain. He reportedly fought to keep Mitt Romney, 2012's nominee for president, out of the Senate. And his allies, Steve Bannon, mocked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with more venom than he showed Democrats.
What's going on in the GOP?
Susan, I think it's very interesting and the question I lay to you, is there still a non-Trump Republican Party?
PAGE: No. I think what's interesting is the Republican Party is deeply divided. It's really fractured. And yet the only people willing to actually directly take on Trump are people who do not plan to run for re- election, like Senator Flake and Senator Corker. This is the party of Trump. They are tied to him and I don't think there's any getting away from it.
MATTHEWS: Why, Michael? Is that true? And if so --
STEELE: I ask that question.
MATTHEWS: Why are they in bed to Trump to the point they won't even wink at someone and say I don't like this guy?
STEELE: Because, the real bottom line here is when they go back to their congressional districts and they look at their states, they see that a significant portion of that base Republican vote is still with the president. So, that 32 percent, 33 percent is made up of largely 75 percent or 80 percent of the Republican Party.
And that, as long as that number is where it is, you're not going to see the kind of movement away from the president that people talk to you and all of us about in the shadows of Washington, with the low whispers and the rolled eyes.
STEELE: You'll get more of that next year as the campaign for 2018 heats up and they start looking at their poll numbers and they realize it's either me or him. And the reality for a lot of Republicans is, right now, the him, the Donald Trump is winning in their districts and their back yards and they're caught in this hot spot.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, PRESIDENT & CEO, VOTO LATINO: But I actually think what we're seeing in the Republican Party is really a reflection of two Americas. And what I mean by that is the established Republican Party has always been the party of small business -- big business and small government.
The nationalist wing, which right now is all about rural America, and rural America has been left behind. They're battling an opioid epidemic. They fear that trade and globalization keeps them further behind. And their communities are changing rather quickly.
And the Republican Party, the establishment, has not actually addressed that in any meaningful way. And so, what you're going to continue to see is this push-pull. And if you were to ask, all things being equal, let's forget what just happened in Alabama, Steve Bannon and his wing of the party's going to continue to get stronger because he is part of a bigger apparatus of misinformation that the Republican Party, the established Republican Party has yet to figure out. They're playing by the old rules.
MATTHEWS: Let me try the suburbs, which I think is happening. I think the suburbs have been shifting not just in Virginia but certainly in Alabama. The suburbs gave Trump his victory. We were all shocked by it. We thought the suburbs would be completely against him. They weren't. They were with Trump.
I look at Peter King, a classic. An Irish guy. I know about this guy. He's from Long Island. He's outside New York. Not rich suburbs, middle middle.
And he took the hardest shot at Steve Bannon this week. He said he looked like a disheveled drunk, OK? That's pretty strong. Could it be that the suburban guys, Meehan, Fitzpatrick, all these people around the country representing suburban congressional districts, are at least willing to take on Bannon and Bannonism if not Trump?
PAGE: Yes. And they're in a better position to do so because they're less at risk of getting knocked off by a Bannon candidate in a primary. And the fact is if you look at the results --
MATTHEWS: I just love not being the smartest person on this show. You're always outsmarting me. That is so smart because yes, he doesn't -- the alt-right means nothing in the burbs.
PAGE: But if you look at not just Alabama but also New Jersey and Virginia where we had elections recently, all of them showed this kind of shift in the suburbs as college-educated whites and especially women.
MATTHEWS: And they're embarrassed by Trump. And they're afraid of Bannon. They see Bannonism as a ferocious loser. I think they see him as a guy that's going to bring their party down.
KUMAR: I think that's exactly what he's trying to do. I mean, the fact again that he went to Alabama so many times, even though Trump was not supporting him more originally, he -- for Bannon nationalism is much more important and what we're seeing right now is a fight between -- usually it's between the north and the south of the Republican Party. Right now, it's actually rural and the elite, the urban. And that is a different -- that's actually a different calculation.
MATTHEWS: Here's Trump ally Steve Bannon we've talked about, has spent the past year campaigning against leaders of the Republican Party, especially Mitch McConnell, and McConnell's hit back. Let's watch the two of them go at it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Mitch McConnell and this permanent political class is the most corrupt and incompetent group of individuals in this country.
We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda that Donald Trump ran on and the president of the United States.
There's a time and season for everything. And right now, it's a season of war against a GOP establishment.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: You have to nominate people who can actually win because winners make policy and losers go home.
What he's a specialist in is nominating people who lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, I look at the costuming of Mr. Steve Bannon. I want to have my friend here, who's very good at this -- first of all, he wears the army fatigue jacket. I don't think it's a barber jacket. I think it's army fatigues.
He's sensing he's sort of a revolutionary. He's got that look, disheveled look. And then I shouldn't say it but the black shirt. But he did have it on.
MATTHEWS: So, what do we make of all that?
STEELE: It's the common man thing. It's the rumpled clothing. It's the green fatigues or whatever. The black shirt --
STEELE: I'm a bad guy. Yes. I'm the guy who's willing to be the bad guy for you. And all that --
MATTHEWS: I was thinking more of the '30s.
STEELE: All of that works. But here's the problem, is you know, going back to what Maria said, this is something that's been going on inside the party since Reagan left office. This internal frustration over what is conservatism versus what is Republicanism.
And what Bannon and Trump have been able to do is to come in and say that's not really important. What is important is what we say is important. And absent some clear definition of those two principles, conservatism and Republicanism, they've been able to come in, to go back to those folks who have been frustrated about the economy and their station in life, and sort of play that particular card.
And as long as they're able to do that, they'll be successful. I think, though, you'll see next year candidates come up and begin to push back against that narrative because the party's future is on the line.
KUMAR: I don't disagree but we are underestimating the power of misinformation. The fact that "Breitbart News" right now is part of the official federal clippings that every federal agency receives should concern us. The fact that --
MATTHEWS: And that's because of this government -- this administration.
KUMAR: But that is seeding misinformation, right?
KUMAR: And what they understand is that currency, by creating doubt in the American people that anything that the government is doing or that anything that might be true may be false, that is the -- that's unfortunately the game that the Republican Party or the Democratic Party has yet to figure out how to win. They're playing by a completely different set of rules, and for them, it's not about 2018. They're here for the long haul, for the long game.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the long haul. You had the -- I have a sense that when I'm 90 years old, I'm going to be seeing Mitch McConnell as Senate leader of the Republican Party, minority or majority. I'm going to see John Cornyn waiting for his turn right there. This pecking order, there are like certain kinds of insects that survive all kinds of changes - -
MATTHEWS: I think they know how to do it. I think Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt, a bunch of these guys are stilled at re-election. They know how to save themselves politically. That's one great talent they have. And Trump doesn't have that.
Trump could wear out -- he could be a sell by date by next month. We don't know how fast this thing's wearing out.
PAGE: Mitch McConnell's had this battle before. He had it in 2010 when the Tea P rose up. Managed to --
MATTHEWS: Who outlasts who?
PAGE: Mitch McConnell's the one with the history of surviving.
STEELE: I think that's exactly right. And I think what McConnell understands is he plays long ball. Trump thinks he plays long ball.
KUMAR: But I think, this is again -- we're not playing by their rules. For Bannon, Trump is just a vehicle of his nationalist agenda. So, it doesn't matter if he expires in three years.
MATTHEWS: You expect Bannon to run as a third-party candidate.
KUMAR: Not him.
MATTHEWS: Not Bannon.
I think he might try. He looks like he's running. He looks like a European right-wing candidate is what he looks like, anti-immigrant candidate. Up next our panel stays with us and when we come back, come back three predictions for 2018.
One each and they're going to be biggies. I'm telling you. Predictions to talk about all through next year.
You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Back with the panel and now it's prediction time. Lots on the line here for 2018.
Your prediction, Susan.
PAGE: This will be the year of women on steroids. We're going to see a record number of women elected to the House and Senate. And what's more important, that is going to have -- that's going to help change some of the fundamental ways in which Congress operates.
MATTHEWS: Big women will be like '94 --
PAGE: More than '92, yes.
STEELE: On steroids.
I agree with that and because I agree with that I have to say this, the house that Steele built ain't going to be there no more because they have torn up the floor boards and the house will fall for Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Fall to the Democrats.
How about the Senate?
STEELE: The Senate is a little bit closer I think because they have more at stake and in play on the Democratic side, and particularly given where those seats are, that the president won and particularly where he won big. But the Senate is now in play.
MATTHEWS: Michael Steele just made news.
KUMAR: I completely agree. I think it is going to go through the heart of the community. And what I mean by that is that Nevada and Arizona are going to be in play. But I think that what we saw in Virginia and what we saw in Alabama is that not only was it the fierce vote of women, but also the fierce vote of young people coming out and fierce vote of people of color. For a long time, the work that I do, we talk about this emerging new majority of Americans and I think that is what was going to flip the house.
MATTHEWS: I hope if the Democrats get the House back, they take a comprehensive immigration bill, pass it, send it to the Senate and jam them on it. Anyway, make them pass it.
I want to thank our panel, because on the Senate, you can bring it up.
KUMAR: That's right.
MATTHEWS: I want to thank our panel, Susan Page, Michael Steele, who made news tonight, and Maria Teresa Kumar.
We'll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: -- the people who bring HARDBALL to you night after night. You don't see them but I do, and I know how truly valuable they all are.
That's HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. And have a very happy New Year.
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