updated 12/31/2014 9:06:37 AM ET 2014-12-31T14:06:37

Show: HARDBALL
Date: December 29, 2014
Guest: John Feehery, Anthony Roman, John McGraw, Ryan Grim, Nia-Malika
Henderson, Matt Lewis, Zeke Miller, Melinda Henneberger


MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC GUEST HOST: No need to adjust your television set.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Steele, in for Chris Matthews.

I want to start tonight`s show with a simple question. Is the Republican
Party finally ready to confront the issue of race in America? Now, the
past few months have been ripped open through racial and political wounds
that run deep in America, especially between police, the black community
and political leaders. In New York this weekend, we saw hundreds of police
officers turn their backs on New York City mayor Bill de Blasio as he spoke
at the funeral of a slain New York police officer. Those actions ignited
some strong responses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: To be treated with people
turning their backs -- doesn`t matter if you like the mayor or you don`t
like the mayor, you have to respect the mayor`s position. I don`t support
that. But I do believe Mayor de Blasio should apologize to the New York
City Police Department. I said it day one, and I think he`d get this over
with if he did it.

BILL BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: They really do feel under
attack, rank-and-file officers and much of American police leadership, that
they feel that they are under attack from the federal government at the
highest levels. So that`s something we need to understand also, the sense
of perception that becomes a reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Here`s the bigger political reality. Republicans have a
remarkably diverse bench of candidates vying to lead the party in the next
election, but it appears none of them, so far at least, wants to talk
directly about race. There are the almost obligatory references to the
American dream, the early struggles of their families, but never in the
context of the communities from which they came.

In many respects, the party`s clinging to an old Southern strategy that
proved the basis for electoral success in the past but which gives them
little chance of winning the White House in the future. So I`ll ask it
again. Is the Republican Party finally ready to confront the issue of race
in America?

Joining me tonight, "Washington Post" opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, and
Republican strategist John Feehery. Gentlemen, welcome.

John, let me start with you. The idea of the Southern strategy is over. I
announced that when I was chairman. We`re not doing that anymore. And yet
we still seem to have these vestiges within the party that cling onto the
strategy where there`s this focus, almost pull towards that -- that, you
know, polarizing moment where you`re almost separated between whites and
blacks.

Is that still the strategy here, or is there something different that we
should be doing, or is at work (INAUDIBLE)

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, we need a better winning
presidential strategy. I agree with you on that.

STEELE: Right.

FEEHERY: And it`s got to appeal to a broader base of voters of all ethnic
groups, but it can`t be a pandering strategy. And I think that the issue
we have with what`s going on in Ferguson and New York is really sad because
we thought, as a country, we had progressed so far, and now it seems that
we have -- we`re going backwards.

And I think what we all -- both parties have to have discussions because
this was -- these are Democrats and Republicans in -- these are Democrats
mostly in these big cities that are having these issues. Republicans have
to understand that they have to be both pro-cop and pro-criminal justice
reform. And some of our candidates, like Rand Paul, I think, understand
that.

STEELE: Right. So who do you see emerging as that voice? Who`s ready to
have that conversation to answer the question that I asked at the top of
the show?

FEEHERY: Well, I think we have a lot of responsible candidates (INAUDIBLE)
I think Chris Christie could be one of those guys. He did very well in the
last election with African-American voters. I think someone like Jeb Bush,
who has this understanding of deeper issues and understanding of how to
appeal to different communities -- I think he could do that. I think that
Rand Paul has showed that he could do it, and I think that Marco Rubio can
do it.

So, you know, I think that we have, as you said, a deep bench of good
candidates who are willing to have bigger discussions. We obviously have a
problem in this country, and we got to start to fixing it.

STEELE: Jonathan, you wrote a piece today that speaks about we`re past
this -- you know, this euphoria on race in terms of having a black
president, that we just have to deal with the realities. Do you see the
Republicans dealing with this, or either party, actually, frankly, dealing
with this issue?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let`s put
it this way. Democrats are more comfortable talking about race and the
issues surrounding race than the Republican Party. And I would say, you
know, Chairman Steele, when you were the head of the Republican Party, you
tried to do something that the party needs to do, by taking the party to
places where the party hadn`t been before, to African-Americans, to
Latinos, to Asians, broadening the reach of the party.

But you`re no longer chairman. And ever since then, the party has seemed
to retreat from reaching out. They put out an autopsy almost two years
ago, boldly pointing out where the party needs to go in order to be an
open, warm, attractive party to people of color.

And from the moment that report was released, it was put on the shelf, and
either the Republican Party leadership or candidates or leaders within the
party did something or said something that further alienated gays and
lesbians, African-Americans, and particularly Latino -- potential Latino
voters, who the Republican Party is going to need if it ever hopes to win
the White House again or be viewed as a national party again.

STEELE: Well, Jonathan, you raise an interesting point in that respect,
particularly regarding the autopsy, the -- how we`re going to do better,
how we`re going to move forward. The party always seems to take one step
forward and then has a step or two backwards.

And here we are today with one of the Republican Party`s rising stars in
Congress finding himself at the middle of a racial controversy. "The
Washington Post" reports today that Representative Steve Scalise, the House
majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by
white nationalist leaders while serving as a state representative back in
2002. That organization that he spoke to was founded by former Ku Klux
Klan leader David Duke, and has been called a hate group by the Southern
Poverty Law Center.

Now, in a statement, Scalise`s spokesperson, Moira Bagley, emphasized that
the then -- excuse me -- the then state lawmaker was unaware at the time of
the group`s ideology and its association with racists and neo-Nazi
activities.

John, you know Scalise. I know Scalise. You know, clearly, for me at
least, this initially sounded like poor staffing. You know, you just don`t
do the homework to figure out who you`re speaking to.

FEEHERY: Right.

STEELE: But then at another level, how does this counter the narrative
that we seem to always run into, trying to move the party forward in these
areas, but then all of a sudden, something pops up, and here we are now
having this conversation about another member -- leader of the party in a
sensitive racial situation?

FEEHERY: Well, this happened 12 years ago. It was when he was on a barn-
storming tour trying to talk about how to get waste out of government. It
wasn`t -- he`s a devout Catholic. And a lot of these groups hate Catholics
as much as they hate anybody else. And I think that he knows and his staff
knows that this was a mistake made 12 years ago, but you had to put it in
context.

Is it part of this discussion right now? I don`t really think so. I think
it`s some good research by someone meant to embarrass Scalise, but I don`t
think -- you know, Steve Scalise is not a race-baiter. And I think he`s a
good guy and I don`t -- I don`t think --

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: -- put this in the (INAUDIBLE)

STEELE: But how does this, though, impact -- Jonathan, how does this
impact the party`s overall efforts? I mean, this now is one more feather
in that negative narrative.

CAPEHART: Yes, it is a setback, because I`m sitting here watching this and
thinking, Here`s a leader in the Republican Party, a then state senator,
who as you pointed out, maybe this was poor staffing. I thought that
elected officials when -- before they even agreed to go speak to anyone,
that they were -- that those organizations were at least vetted and that --
maybe red flags didn`t go off or maybe they thought, Oh, it`s OK, it`s
fine.

But you know what? Then state senator Barack Obama, when he was then
senator from Illinois and running for president, had to deal with sermons
from his now former pastor at a church he attended, where the particular
sermon that got candidate Obama`s candidacy in trouble, he wasn`t even in
the pews that day. And he had to deliver -- Obama had to deliver probably
the most important speech on race we`ve had since the 1960s.

I think that the -- you know, Scalise, who`s now the House majority whip,
is going to have to do a little bit more than the statement that he put out
there.

STEELE: Well, he will. And I think he will in time. I agree with you,
Jon, I think that at the end of the day, he kind of sees himself, you know,
not necessarily in this particular situation because of something he
deliberately did, but because now he`s got to go back and explain past
actions.

But it does speak to the overall dogwhistles that tend to dog both sides in
politics, and there isn`t even agreement that there is a problem half the
time. So as we look at the recent polling, according to the New York -- to
the new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll, only 1 in 10 African-Americans
agree that they get the same treatment as whites under the criminal justice
system. That figure is significantly higher among whites, where it`s about
5 in 10.

Now, among whites, though, there`s a political divide even more striking.
A supermajority of white Republicans, 2 out of 3, think that white --
minorities that -- whites and minorities are treated equally under the law,
but only 3 in 10 whites think that (ph) Democrats.

FEEHERY: Well, I think it`s interesting because I think the Republicans
and Democrats in so many ways are speaking completely different --

STEELE: Right.

FEEHERY: -- languages and speaking past each other, and neither really
are talking about how do we solve this really big gulf and how do we make
things better in these communities so that there is trust. You cannot have
a community where there`s such complete distrust of the police force,
because if you do, then you have a breakdown in all kinds of things.

And so what we have to do is figure out a way to start talking the same
language, start talking to each other and not past each other.

STEELE: Jonathan, this idea of talking to each other and not past each
other -- why is that such a problem right now? Why do we seem to have such
a hard time getting those pieces to the conversation?

CAPEHART: It boils down to one word, and that`s trust. When you have a
conversation about race, it demands that it happens between two people who
have a friendship, a relationship there, where they understand the motives
of the other when talking about certain issues or asking certain questions.

And on an individual level, we see it happening all the time, people
talking about race, which is a very uncomfortable conversation, which is
why I say it has to happen between two friends where there`s trust. The
reason why I think the conversation never gets off the ground on a national
level -- it`s because as a nation, we do not trust each other to have this
conversation on race that we must have if we`re going to step forward, if
we`re going to move beyond this.

STEELE: Well, I definitely agree with you there. We seem to be a little
shell-shocked to get in the same space to have that conversation. I think
it`s time we do.

Thank you, Jonathan Capehart.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Michael.

STEELE: John Feehery, so good to have you here with us.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

STEELE: Thank you, as well.

Coming up -- the search is resuming for that missing AirAsia airliner that
disappeared earlier this weekend. It disappeared from radar, and
Indonesia`s search and rescue chief says it`s likely at the bottom of the
Java Sea.

Plus, Jeb Bush surges to the front of the Republican field, and he`s the
strongest Republican presidential candidate against Hillary Clinton. But
for both Bush and Clinton, there are big challenges that come with being
the early front-runners. And that`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEELE: Former president George Herbert Walker Bush is staying in a
Houston hospital overnight tonight, but his office is confident he could be
released soon. Bush, who`s 90, was hospitalized two days before Christmas
after experiencing shortness of breath. The former president is said to be
in great spirits, his breathing has returned to normal, and he and former
first lady Barbara Bush watched the Houston Texans` (ph) victory yesterday
and even called their coach to congratulate him for a winning season. We
wish the Bushes well.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEELE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The search is resuming for AirAsia
flight 8501. The Airbus with 162 passengers on board went missing on
Sunday over the Java Sea approximately 40 minutes after taking off from
Surabaya International Airport in Indonesia. That search, now in its third
day, resumed at daybreak. Searchers are concentrating on the last known
location of the aircraft, where it disappeared from radar, and they`re also
expanding the search to land. And today, the State Department confirmed
that the government of Indonesia has formally asked the United States to
help with that effort.

Joining me now is Anthony Roman, a former pilot and aviation expert, and
John McGraw, the former deputy director of the FAA`s Flight Standard
Service. Welcome, gentlemen.

I guess the question that a lot of Americans have on their mind right now
is, what`s happening? I mean, this is the third Malaysian airline -- Asian
airline that`s gone down in this year. How -- how are we to take what`s
going -- is it technology? Is it pilot error? Is it the area they`re
flying over? What`s going on, I guess, is one of the big questions and
concerns.

JOHN MCGRAW, FMR. FAA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Well, it`s natural for people to
have those questions. I mean, think it`s very early in this
investigation, in the search. We really don`t know for sure what happened
with this particular aircraft.

But what we know so far wouldn`t indicate that there`s a problem
regionally, even though there have been three major accidents. MH-17,
which was shot down over Ukraine, is something that you really couldn`t
prepare for --

STEELE: Right.

MCGRAW: -- the fact that rebels would get this high-altitude missile and
shoot down an aircraft. So you almost have to take that out of the safety
equation.

So I think people can still, in spite of the fact that there have been very
high-profile fatal accidents in that area, all tragedies -- they can look
at the real accident record. And the safety record, actually, in Asia is
very good. Overall, it`s still very good, even with these accidents, even
though the fatalities are very high.

STEELE: So Roman (sic), how long do you expect it will take before they
find the plane? And why would it take, you know, a significant amount of
time, if any? I mean, they`re outfitted with the latest technology,
presumably. How long do you expect them to take to find the plane?

ANTHONY ROMAN, FORMER PILOT: Well, that`s an open question, Michael.
Everyone is saying that this is a reasonably small search area. What we`re
dealing with is approximately 24,000 square miles of search area. And even
though the Java Sea is approximately 150 meters deep, which is in
comparison to the Indian Ocean, where MH-70 landed, it is still less than a
needle in a haystack to try and find this aircraft.

So a couple of things have to happen. They have to determine the fuel
burn, the amount of fuel the aircraft had, its last known position, draw a
circumference around all of the possible trajectories that aircraft would
have taken and create that search zone. So it can be a year or more before
it`s located.

STEELE: So we don`t have the technology in place, John, to kind of pull
that information sooner than a year? I mean, does it have, you know, the
flight recorder and the various pings that go off? I mean, you know,
you`re talking about a long period of time here. I mean, I know that part
of the ocean is deep and wide and all that, but really? A year?

MCGRAW: Well, I`m a lot more optimistic in terms of when they might find
this aircraft, so -- the difference with this aircraft and MH-370 is this
aircraft was under radar contact. So you were in an area where there`s
plenty of radar painting the aircraft.

I`m not sure they`ve had time to really analyze particularly the primary
radar signals, which are sometimes military radars and take a little longer
to get the data to determine whether (ph) the number one position, the
location -- last location of the aircraft accurately, or also, they may be
able to pick out large -- if the aircraft broke up in flight, for instance,
large objects that might be falling out of the -- in -- you know, out of
the area where the aircraft was last seen.

So, I think there`s more analysis to be done. I think it`s far more likely
that they will find the aircraft in the next days or weeks, rather than it
going for a year. I`m just more optimistic about that.

STEELE: Anthony, you have -- you have had some thoughts on this idea of
the weather playing a role here.

I know that that`s been a big part of the conversation over the last 24
hours or so. What`s your take on the role of the weather? Could that have
played a significant part in bringing down this aircraft?

ROMAN: Without suffering from investigation bias, one cannot ignore the
enormous storms that were present in the flight path of this aircraft.

Now, three aircraft passed through that storm squall line within five or 10
minutes prior to AirAsia. However, this area is known as the Intertropical
Convergence Zone. And in that particular area, during the northeast
monsoonal season, you get these monster storms, level five thunderstorms.

They can grow in energy from 25,000 feet to 50,000 feet in a matter of
minutes and engulf an airplane. But we don`t want to suffer from
investigation bias, as I said. And we would have to look at other
considerations. So, it`s much too early to tell.


We have to look at the terrorism aspect, although that`s a low likelihood.
But we want to look at all the technical data. We want to look at what the
pilots were saying when the cockpit voice recorder is found, the flight
data recorder.

The problem with those instruments is, sometimes, they`re damaged during
the crash, which would prolong the investigation and even the search.

STEELE: Which gets back to your earlier point.

And I know this is a real frustration for the families. My hearts and I
know all our hearts go out to them, particularly at these holidays, to have
something like this happen. Hopefully, the experts are able to speed up
the process and we will know soon what happened to that Asia flight.

Thank you both for being here, Anthony Roman and John McGraw.

Up next: As 2014 winds down, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are the front-
runners for 2016, but there`s a danger to being the leader this early. And
that`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I think Jeb getting into the race will help
the field.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: How so?

PERRY: Well, he`s been a successful governor. And, again, having a person
of his background in the race makes a lot of sense. But it won`t make a
difference about whether I get in or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been over a week since Jeb Bush declared on Facebook he would actively
explore the possibility of running for president of the United States.
According to a new CNN poll, he holds a commanding lead over all the other
potential candidates. His closest competition, New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie, is 10 points back.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continues to dominate the field by
more than 50 points. The question is, are there downsides to being out
ahead this early?

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for "The Washington Post" and
Ryan Grim is Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post.

Nia, what`s the upside of being out this soon? I mean, front-runner,
really?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Yes.

STEELE: There`s no one declared in the race. How can you have a front-
runner?

HENDERSON: Right. There`s no one declared.

But everyone`s saying, well, they`re sort of in the race until they`re not
in the race. And I think everybody was surprised, I certainly was, when
Jeb Bush --

STEELE: Really?

HENDERSON: -- made this announcement that seemed to be very close to him
inching into this race.

But I think everyone looks to 2008, right, and says, oh, well, Hillary
Clinton was the front-runner then, didn`t do her much good.

STEELE: Right.

HENDERSON: But she wasn`t as huge a front-runner in 2008 as she is now.
You talk about Jeb Bush`s commanding lead. It is not nearly as commanding
as Hillary Clinton`s lead.

STEELE: So, he`s the Hillary Clinton of 2016?

HENDERSON: I mean, he`s more like the Mitt Romney of this field,
essentially because you are going to see him take up that establishment,
you know, oxygen in the room, in the way that Mitt Romney did, and
everybody else splits everything else.

STEELE: Well, Ted Cruz told Politico he`s a fan of Jeb Bush, but warned
Republicans, "If we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole or
a John McCain or a Mitt Romney, the same voters who stayed home in 2008 and
2012 will stay home in 2016 and Hillary Clinton is the next president."

Is that the math, Ryan? Is that a good calculation, or is that just Ted
being Ted?

RYAN GRIM, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I mean, that`s the argument that he`s
going to make because it`s the argument for Ted.

And, you know, the idea that Ted Cruz is going to get out enough of the
kind of, like, white base in order to overcome the demographic challenges -
-

STEELE: Right.

GRIM: -- that they have, I think, is a bit of a fantasy.

Jeb`s argument is a different one. He`s saying, I`m going to shift some
votes in the middle here. Ted Cruz has not demonstrated that he can really
expand the electorate. The people that like Ted Cruz, they tend to vote
anyway.

STEELE: So, let me ask you, is there a resistance by a Jeb Bush or a
Hillary Clinton to the tag front-runner? Or is there more of an emphasis
by either folks in the press or their political opponents to throw that tag
onto them because it does carry a lot of weight when you go into this
contest? How do you see it, Nia?

HENDERSON: Well, you know, I think, if I was running in this race or
potentially running in this race, I would rather be the front-runner than
someone who is at 2 percent or 3 percent, because when you`re the front-
runner, you`re going to attract the attention --

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Yes, but 16 percent does not a front-runner --

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: I mean, there`s 16 percent of --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Well, he -- yes. I think Jeb Bush is -- he`s 23 percent. He`s
sort of a soft front-runner, primarily because he`s an establishment figure
and it`s name recognition.

STEELE: But isn`t that name I.D.?

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes, that`s what I was going to say. It`s name recognition.

But I do think you attract donors, you attract buzz, you attract press, and
that sort of feeds on itself. But I do think you run the risk of sort of
getting a little lazy. I always get really nervous when Duke is up really
far in a basketball game. And so I think, in some ways, it could be the
same worry --

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: Because the bottom is about to fall out, right?

GRIM: Right.

HENDERSON: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Exactly. There`s nowhere to go but down.

STEELE: So, there are a lot of back and forth on this whole front-runner
tag, and certainly The New York Times" reported this weekend that Chris
Christie`s approval rating in New Jersey has dropped, partly due to his
perceived presidential ambitions.

According to "The Times," he`s been out of the state for 137 days or 40
percent of the time since his second inauguration in January. This month,
Mr. Christie was in Canada, where he gave a speech endorsing the Keystone
XL oil pipeline, which is backed by big Republican donors, but not so much
by New Jersey interests or their voters.

The governor has remained silent on the pipeline that would run through his
own state and is opposed by state Republican leaders.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: Last month, he vetoed a bill banning gestation crates for pigs --

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: -- legislation popular in New Jersey, but unpopular in Iowa, the
first caucus state where Mr. Christie is headed next month for a conference
of conservative voters.

So, Ryan, pig in the blanket here?

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: I mean, what --

GRIM: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: All of a sudden, we got pigs in Jersey? I mean, what`s --

(CROSSTALK)

GRIM: Now he`s in the pocket of big pig.

(LAUGHTER)

GRIM: So, the problem for Chris Christie is that his calling card is, he`s
the guy that`s going to tell you the hard truths.

STEELE: Yes.

HENDERSON: Yes.

GRIM: He`s not this everyday politician who is just going to cater to
every old interest group here and there.

And here he is bending to the whims of these Iowa voters, and doing it in
such a transparent -- I mean, as he`s in Iowa practically, he`s vetoing the
bill in New Jersey.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes.

STEELE: And that -- I think that`s the starkest part about this, is that,
you know, you have these interests at home that you`re not necessarily
paying attention to, and yet in states like Iowa or elsewhere, you`re --
you`re championing or arguing the point.

How does that ultimately play? Do you think that is having the drag that
he`s seeing now on his numbers, Nia, in his state?

HENDERSON: Well, I think part of -- part of his calling card has also been
the New Jersey miracle, right, the turnaround that`s been seen in New
Jersey.

The problem with that is that it`s not really a miracle, because you have
had all of these casinos close down. You have had credit downgrades in
that state. His popularity is down. So part of his challenge is, how does
he sell New Jersey to folks in Iowa? I think Iowa is a misfit for him
anyway because he doesn`t -- he`s not really part of the homeschooling
crowd and that sort of teavangelical crowd and that activist base in Iowa.

So, in some ways, it`s sort of useless for him to be trying to sell his
message to Iowa in some ways.

STEELE: Well, while Christie is having problems with pigs, Hillary is not
having problems with her polls. The Gallup poll has found Hillary Clinton
is the most admired woman in the world.

According to Americans, she beat out Oprah, Michelle Obama and a host of
others. She`s been named the most admired woman for the past 17 of the
last 18 years. That`s not bad. That`s not a bad number to go into a
presidential race with.

HENDERSON: That`s not a bad number.

And part of this is --

STEELE: Sort of the -- Sally Field`s, they like me, they really, really
like me.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: And this partly is name I.D. And it`s partly what you get when
you have been first lady and you have been in the White House. I think
Obama is the most admired man.

Michelle Obama is on there too. She only beat Oprah by 4 percentage
points, though, so --

STEELE: So, does --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Maybe Oprah should --

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: How does this play? How do you see this? It`s early, Ryan. And
you`re going to have this dance and this conversation for the next two
years.

But how do you see this thing setting up right now, as we begin 2015 and
the race for the presidency is under way? How do you see it falling out
for Jeb? Chris Christie has got some dangling participles out there in
investigations. How do you see this playing out for them and Hillary
Clinton?

GRIM: Well, the problem for Hillary comes if inevitability becomes her
only argument, you know, I am the front-runner because I`m the front-
runner, because as soon as that starts to erode, then the entire argument
is gone.

The argument for her in 2007 and 2008 was that she`s the front-runner,
she`s the one that`s going to win, everybody better get behind them and,
oh, remember, the Clintons are very vindictive and we will get you if
you`re not behind us.

So that works, until it doesn`t. And the second that it stops working, it
can`t be recovered. If somebody like Elizabeth Warren is going to run, you
-- at least she has an argument.

STEELE: Right.

GRIM: Everybody knows what her argument is. Wall Street`s messing
everything up for everybody.

HENDERSON: Yes.

GRIM: So that`s her argument. You`re either with that, or you`re not with
it.

What does Hillary have? She has inevitability. Once that`s gone, it`s
hard to get back.

STEELE: Well, it remains to be seen. It`s going to be a fun campaign and
it kicks off in earnest.

HENDERSON: Right now.

STEELE: Right now.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: Right here.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: Thank you very much, Nia-Malika Henderson and Ryan Grim.

Up next: the release of that controversial movie "The Interview." Sony put
it out online and independent theaters this past weekend, and it actually
did pretty well, despite the cyber-hack and all the threats that it
received. That`s coming up with the roundtable.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
what`s happening.

The USS Sampson, a destroyer in the South China Sea, is heading to the
search zone where crews are looking for missing AirAsia Flight 8501.
Indonesia has asked for U.S. help in search operations.

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike targeting a leader of the Al-
Shabab terror group in Somalia. The Pentagon says it is assessing the
results of that operation.

And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will meet with members of several
police unions tomorrow. De Blasio has been facing criticism from police
after the shooting deaths of two NYPD officers -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a gift. You know what I mean? Just to see what
all the hoopla was about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wasn`t the most Christmas thing we did, but it was
the most American thing we did.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Those moviegoers were talking about "The Interview," the movie that may
have the most winding road to release of any movie in history.

At its first showing in L.A., co-star and co-director setting thanked the
audience personally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH ROGEN, ACTOR: We just really wanted to say thank you. If it wasn`t
for theaters like this and for people like you guys, this literally would
not be happening right now.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: So far, "The Interview" has taken in more than $15 million online
and nearly $3 million in theaters. It`s a huge online success.

Going forward, will moviegoers demand that big movies be released online as
well as theaters?

It may just the combination of Seth Rogen and Kim Jong-un that ushers in
the whole new movie distribution paradigm.

I`m joined now by the HARDBALL roundtable, "TIME" magazine`s Zeke Miller,
"The Washington Post"`s Melinda Henneberger and The Daily Caller`s Matt
Lewis.

Matt, did you spent six bucks? Did you get into the hype? What?

MATT LEWIS, DAILY CALLER: No, I did not this time. But let me tell you, I
would love it if this sets a trend.

You know, you got to the movies, you sit there, you -- you`re -- you have
to sit through these trailers that are just horrific. You go to see "Dumb
& Dumber To" and you`re watching, I don`t know, horror movie previews.
You`re a captive audience. You`re trapped. You`re paying $15 for a huge
popcorn. And then you got people on -- you know, texting in front of you.

STEELE: Oh, that`s always a killer.

LEWIS: And -- oh, everybody now has H.D. TVs at home. I would love it if
we could find a way to watch new movies at home. And I`m hoping this is
it.

STEELE: Well, you know, it opens up, I think, Zeke, a real opportunity for
this -- this new era to unleash itself.

It`s unfortunate the way it came about. Cyber-hacking a company like Sony
has serious political and privacy ramifications. But looking at it from a
perspective of where movie theater goers are, how many people are going to
the theater now? I mean, to Matt`s point, it really -- this is the new
frontier --

(CROSSTALK)

ZEKE MILLER, "TIME": And box office -- box office revenues are down year
over year.

You know, but that was well before "The Interview." "The Interview" didn`t
do that well, even in comparison, you know, to the number of screens it was
on, in comparison to other films that were released over the weekend. This
movie wasn`t going to do very well. It`s not a very good film.

STEELE: Right.

MILLER: That`s part of the problem here. But, you know, people want to
watch movies on, just like they want to do everything else, on their own
time, where they want. We`re living in digital age where people can get
whatever they want on their phone, whenever they want it. You know, you
can order up a pizza in 30 seconds from Domino`s. I want to order up a
movie on my couch in 30 seconds.

STEELE: I like that idea. In fact, I did that this weekend.

But, Melinda, the whole idea, you heard in the sound bite there, you know,
it was the most patriotic thing I could do.

(LAUGHTER)

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes.

STEELE: So, I don`t go to the movies, am I not being patriotic? I mean,
what is that? I mean, are we --

HENNEBERGER: You want to see a stupid movie, just say you`re in the mood
for that, not try to wrap it in the flag. Though I understand the point
they were trying to make.

I think you`re going to see this more and more and would have anyway, even
without "The Interview," for certain kinds of movies. But for big
blockbuster movies, I mean, I was looking forward to tell you, my taste in
movies to seeing "Into the Woods" over Christmas which I did, I wouldn`t
have wanted to see that at home. You want to see a movie like that on the
big screen.

STEELE: But you`re raising --

HENNEBERGER: I think the major chains are still going to be able to block
that kind of movie from coming out --

STEELE: Yes, but to Zeke`s point, that audience is a diminishing audience.
Because I look at my millennials, 26 and 23, they don`t own a television.
They stream everything. They rarely, if ever go to the movies. They may
go if it`s, you know, the next "Star Wars," I mean, big special effects,
only because the television in our house isn`t big enough to really
accommodate that.

But other than that, a lot of it is really -- you know, as you said Matt,
at home with my popcorn and my beer or soda, watching in front of my
television. So, how does Hollywood transition itself to this new
marketplace, because I think it`s a real threat to the big box theaters?

MILLER: I think you`re going to see movie theaters trying to become
destinations in their own right. You`re starting to see the trend and
they`re just --

STEELE: With Ferris wheels and rides inside?

MILLER: Even just from the multiplex where you`re cramming in as many
seats, you`re seeing more and more theaters that are retrofitted with lazy
boys and even drinks at your seat during -- at set points during the film.
Turning them into higher class destinations that you go to because they
want to attract the people who want to see "Star Wars," who want to see the
next "Star Trek," "Avatar" --

HENNEBERGER: It`s harder to recoup the money for big movies if you`re
doing it online. Six and 8 bucks for a whole family supposedly versus the
--

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: It`s relevant about the communal experience,
seeing a really big movie around other people. But for 99 percent of the
movies out there, I would pay more money to get to watch it at home with my
pug Uncle Rico sitting beside me.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: And I`d pay $19.99, because my wife could see it to too with me.
So, I think it would be well worth it. And --

STEELE: And you wouldn`t have to deal with the light from someone`s cell
phone blaring --

LEWIS: Which is way worse than people talking or the $30 popcorn.

STEELE: We`ll clean it up this way. So, big movie comes out, blockbuster,
big stars, would you stay at home, or do you go to the theaters?

LEWIS: Unless, it`s special effects, I stay at home. It helps me out,
because then I get to write about something that`s happening this week.
And you know how it is. If you`re writing about movies, you have to right
about them as they come out. They don`t matter.

STEELE: How about you, Melinda, stay home or go to the big box to see the
big movie?

HENNEBERGER: It depends on what the movie is.

STEELE: How about you, Zeke?

MILLER: I still like the idea of seeing the movie in the theaters. That
said, if it`s a slow Sunday, and I just need something to do and there`s no
football on, I might give in and just watch it on the couch.

STEELE: Gosh, what an old-fashioned idea. Movies in the theater.

OK, the roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, as Chris Christie travels the country, voters back home in New
Jersey are getting frustrated. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEELE: We showed you earlier how Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton now are the
presidential front-runners of their respective parties for 2016. But how
do they match up against each other?

According to that CNN/Opinion Research poll, Clinton leads Bush in a
hypothetical nationwide match-up by 13 points. Clinton`s at 54, and Bush
is at 41.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Is it right for me? Is it right for
my family? Is it right for the country? If I answer yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In what order?

CHRISTIE: Me, my family, the country. And if I answer yes to all three of
those things, then I`ll run. If I don`t answer yes to all three, I won`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: We`re back.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has got a few questions to answer before
he decides whether or not to run for president. A new poll has him in
second place among Republicans for the 2016 nomination.

But in New Jersey, Christie`s favorables have taken a hit. A "New York
Times" article headlined "Christie roams and popularity suffers at home"
suggests New Jersey voters may feel ignored. It notes that as chairman of
the Republican Governors Association, over the past year, he has spent 152
days or 42 percent of his time outside of New Jersey.

Could Christie`s popularity at home affect his 2016 chances?

I`m joined again by the roundtable, Zeke, Melinda and Matt.

So, what`s up with that Christie move? Is he in trouble or what, Zeke?

MILLER: Well, if you look at the questions he had to answer -- it`s me, my
family, the country. It`s not the state of New Jersey in there.
Christie`s always going to have to break away from New Jersey if he wants
to run for president. He has to run on his record there and tell his story
through what he`s done in his state. But at the same time, he has to get
out of there and his popularity is going to take a dive when he does that.
He has to outgrow New Jersey in order to win the nation.

STEELE: That`s always the sweet spot, you know, staying at home and taking
care of business at home, while your duties and responsibilities as RGA
chairman, for example, command that you be somewhere else. And he`s taken
the hit on that. But is there more to the story than just the RGA and
being out of the state?

He`s gone through the ringer certainly on the he`s got an FBI probe going
on. He`s got also a downgrade of the state`s credit and other issues like
that. Are New Jerseyians kind of feeling left out, or what?

HENNEBERGER: Well, I thought it was interesting that he seemed to admit
that he was putting whether it was best for him ahead of whether it was
best for the country. But, that aside, I don`t think that voters,
nationally, are going to care whether New Jersey voters felt he was out of
the country too much when he was even seriously considering running for
president.

I think it would be a more serious issue if some of the things that people
in New Jersey seem to be upset about it. Some of the things that you
mentioned, including the fact that job numbers, unemployment is higher in
New Jersey than it is in the nation as a whole. I mean, I think that could
be an issue for him.

But, per se, the fact that he`s not in New Jersey enough is definitely not
going to hurt his presidential aspiration.

STEELE: So, Matt, what that doesn`t play well at home in Jersey plays well
in Iowa? I mean, how is he -- how do you stack him up against the 2016
hopefuls so far? Given what he`s going to be bringing into a presidential
race. Given the push back and sort of the tit for tat he`s already had
with Rand Paul, who`s not going to be a wallflower with the Christie in the
room, how does he navigate that, bringing that New Jersey to Iowa?

LEWIS: Well, look, you eve got a guy who won in a tough state twice.
You`ve got a guy who`s head of the Republican Governors Association won in
states like Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts. So, a very good tenure as
head of the RGA.

And I think the real question is how does the New Jersey swagger play in a
place like Iowa? But I think he`s very formidable. And I`ll say this, I
think there`s a hunger right now amongst conservatives for a governor. And
I think that`s why you`re seeing people like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie
who are governors, who have name ID at the top of that poll.

STEELE: But are those same Republicans who are hungering for governor also
ready to check off or not check off certain boxes beneath the title of
governor on that purity test, on that --you know, whether or not you`re the
perfect kind of conservative.

So, how does Chris Christie check off those boxes in a place like Iowa,
South Carolina, against a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul?

LEWIS: Well, look, it`s going to be tough, right? If you go down the
conservative litmus test of issues, is he conservative enough?

STEELE: But that`s how go through the Iowa caucus.

LEWIS: It is.

STEELE: That`s how you get through the early stages of the campaign.

LEWIS: But I think Chris Christie has an ace up his sleeve in that regard.
We tend to inflate toughness with ideology. And so, Chris Christie`s
toughness, the fact that he will viciously attack Barack Obama and Hillary
Clinton covers a multitude of sense. It makes him seem more conservative
that he actually is. I think Christie does better amongst conservatives
than you would think based on his ideological record.

HENNEBERGER: Do you think (ph) they go back to viciously attacking him
after the hug?

STEELE: So, Zeke, do you see him as a player going into 2016?

MILLER: I think he has to work out what he`s going to do with Jeb Bush
now, likely, potentially in that race, because they fill that same slot. I
think what`s really interesting about this poll, though, is you have Jeb
Bush at the top and Chris Christie in second. And that sort of a wake up -
- it should be a wake-up call for the Republican base right now, sort of
the narrative right now is that the Republican Party is controlled by the
Tea Party.

You put those two numbers together and you have an establishment Republican
weighing the Republican nomination again in 2016. That is the sure sign of
where the Republican Party is today. It still is a somewhat establishment
oriented party, and, yes, the more vocal and outspoken members of that
party are grassroots base, the Tea Party and whatnot. But you can have an
establishment Republican win that --

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: I think senators have beclowned themselves. Governors look better
every day.

STEELE: Well, they do. They do. But then there`s always the gauntlet of
the primary. And that`s -- when you`re standing on that stage next to
those conservatives, good luck with that.

Thank you, Zeke Miller and Melinda Henneberger and Matt Lewis.

We`ll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEELE: Let me finish tonight with this:

It should not be lost on us that the racial lines of black and white
America are not as well-defined as they once were. In fact, those lines
have taken on new hues and texture as America has changed -- which is why
we still found ourselves shocked when we hear or read about what happened
to Michael Brown, Sean Bell or Eric Garner. How could that happen?

We turn our eyes away from the day-to-day harshness and unforgiving glare
of the true state of our relationship with one another. We find a way to
escape the truth that there was more to do after the marches stopped and
affirmative action was put in place. No doubt, enormous strides had been
made since the days blacks were water-hosed for wanting an education or
refused service at a lunch counter.

But there still remains so much unsettled business buried beneath the
surface of that relationship. And let`s be honest about it. This racial
dynamic may have many hues to it, but its primary colors have been and will
remain black and white.

Black and white America is quick to place the blame on the systemic issues
of poor education, unemployment, militarized police, drugs and a host of
other ills and we are very right to do so.

But we are disconcertingly uncomfortable with addressing the underlying
issue of race. How race is used by whites against the black community and
as an excuse by blacks for harm we often do to ourselves. We do not live
in a post-racial America. And we must be honest with ourselves and our
children about that.

But what does it say about these times? When a black male can be shot and
authorities appeared annoyed that the community wants to protest his
killing? What does it also say about the black community that each day,
each week, each month, more of our future is lost to gunfire, failing
classrooms, boarded up businesses and a lack of parenting and teen
pregnancies?

How are we prepared to respond to the increased incidents of targeting
black males? How do we expect any changes if we don`t vote?

And, finally, what should we say to our sons who have been told that this
is a different America than the one their grandparents grew up in.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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