updated 3/24/2015 9:20:32 AM ET 2015-03-24T13:20:32

Show: HARDBALL
Date: March 23, 2015
Guest: Clarence Page, Wayne Slater, John Feehery, Sahil Kapur


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Cruising for a bruising.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in you. I
believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to
reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing
that I`m running for president of the United States.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The most right-wing national candidate in modern American politics is
running for president as of today. Ted Cruz has accused President Obama of
being under communist influence. He`s accused a respected Republican
senator and double Purple Heart winner of being on the take to North Korea.

Cruz is either blindly ignorant of what this country went through in the
early 1950s under the red-baiting of Joseph McCarthy and others, or he`s
out there deliberately channeling McCarthy again today. And even if he
doesn`t win the Republican nomination next year, his tactics -- questioning
people`s loyalty, red-baiting, government shutdowns and in-your-face
divisiveness -- could set the tone for the coming Republican debates.

Will Cruz go after Jeb Bush on immigration and Common Core and all the
other things? Will Jeb stand up to him, or get pulled off to the right and
slimed in the process by coming to terms with a character like him?

Howard Fineman is the global editorial director at the Huffington Post
Media Group, just back from Australia, his new kingdom over there, and
Clarence Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Chicago
Tribune." And Wayne Slater is the senior political writer with "The Dallas
Morning News" and author of "Bush`s Brain."

I want to start with the two guys with me. I`ll get to Wayne. Clarence,
this -- thanks for the invitation to the Gridiron dinner. It was very nice
the other night.

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": I`m glad you enjoyed it.

MATTHEWS: You are the masters of the cloth (ph) hall (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: The experts of journalism!

Let me -- let me ask you -- I have a problem with Cruz because I`m old
enough to remember, even though I was a kid, what McCarthy was all about.
He was Mr. Division. He accused people of being communist.

Here`s this character accusing Chuck Hagel of taking 200 K from the North
Koreans, accusing Obama, the president of the United States, of being under
communist influence because he went to Harvard law, which, of course, is
where Ted Cruz went.

PAGE: Right!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But he wasn`t under communist influence. This guy is bad news.
And I`m not -- I don`t know what the -- and his -- and his voting record is
the most right-wing we`ve ever had. What he`s going to do to the
Republican Party? He`s not going to be the nominee, probably. What`s he
going to do to the party?

PAGE: Well, he`s so low in the polls right now among Republicans that he
is desperate. I think his desperation is showing. He`s--

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it scary?

PAGE: He`s going right for the base. Look at the array of hopefuls right
now. If Mike Huckabee doesn`t get in, Cruz has the religious right, so-
called, all to himself. And that`s what he was going for. That`s why he
was at Jerry Falwell`s--

MATTHEWS: But isn`t -- but isn`t he a guy, Howard, who has nothing to
lose? Go out there and just shoot away at the other guys, accuse them all
of being lefties and communists--

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Sure.

MATTHEWS: -- and you come out somehow, maybe, on top.

FINEMAN: Well, I think the key to his speech today was not that -- was
that clip, but also the one where he says this is the anniversary of
Patrick Henry`s speech, "Give me liberty or give me death."

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: Now, he didn`t put "death" into his speech.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: But it`s all about no. I made a list -- against the IRS, no to
the IRS, no to evolution, no to global warming, no to immigrants, no to
"Obama care," no to Common Core. He`s evangelical, but he`s an angry
evangelical, and he`s focusing the faith`s anger on government.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: Now, that`s a powerful message--

MATTHEWS: We`re (ph) the threat. Government is the threat.

FINEMAN: Government is the threat, and it`s an evil threat because it`s
against faith. And that`s the trope that he`s going to use in places like
Iowa. And as Clarence said, the reason he went to Virginia was aiming at
Iowa, not really at Virginia.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Wayne because he -- tell us his history down
there running in primaries because, clearly, when he says our democracy and
our freedom are fragile, he doesn`t mean the commies are coming from Russia
or from Cuba even. He thinks they`re coming from Washington and from the
IRS, that we`re going to have our freedoms denied us by our own American
compatriots.

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Yes. One of the issues that he
raised during the Senate race, the Senate race that he won, was that the
United Nations was going to come here and take all our golf courses over.

MATTHEWS: What?

SLATER: And that sounds crazy, but frankly -- I know. It`s Agenda 21,
United -- anyway, there`s a back story to it. But the bottom line was the
accusation, the claim Washington was the enemy, government was the enemy,
Texas in this case, or the people who are not from Washington, are the only
people to be trusted.

It, frankly, worked because you don`t -- you have to understand, this is
all -- everything you all are talking about is not the message of Ted Cruz,
not the specifics of the policy debate. That`s the content. His message
is, I will punch you in the face. I will not fold. I will not capitulate.

Now, that sounds crazy, but you go -- and I know -- I know, Clarence and
Howard and Chris, you`ve been to western Iowa and around Des Moines. You
talk to real strong conservative Republicans, they say that`s what they
like best about the guy.

MATTHEWS: Well, I (INAUDIBLE) question about it. Have you no sense --
decency, sir. That`s a question you might ask Ted Cruz. He once argued to
an evangelical magazine that President Obama was educated by communists.
"Understanding Harvard law school is very important to understanding our
president, Barack Obama. He`s very much a creature of Harvard law. To
understand what that means, you have to understand that there were more
self-declared communists on the Harvard faculty than there were
Republicans." I got you, Senator. Obama`s a communist.

Then there was this channeling of the red-baiting Joe McCarthy in 2013 as
he casually accused defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, a Republican who
had two Purple Hearts from Vietnam, of being too cozy with North Korea.
Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: But it is at minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he
deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came
directly from North Korea. Now, I have no evidence to suggest that it is
or isn`t. In no way, shape or form have I intended to or have I, in fact,
impugned his character. My focus has consistently been on his record,
which I think is a record that is troubling and would be dangerous to the
national security interests of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s laughable. He just accused the guy of getting 200
K in his pocket, but he won`t admit he got it from the reds up in
Pyongyang--

FINEMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- from Kim Jung-un. Anyway, that same year, at a hearing for
an assault weapons ban, he tried to belittle Democratic senator Dianne
Feinstein, who I will say against is a political grown-up in her knowledge
of the Constitution.

Senator Feinstein is no stranger to the issue of gun control, of course.
She was the top elected official in the city of San Francisco when Mayor
George Mosconi and city supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down by an
assassin in 1978. In fact, she was the one who discovered Harvey Milk`s
body, announced his death it to the world in a dramatic press conference.
There she is there.

Here`s her reaction to Senator Cruz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: It seems to me that all of us should begin as our foundational
document with the Constitution. And the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of
Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall
not be infringed.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I`m not a 6th-grader. Senator,
I`ve been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I
walked in, I saw people shot. I`ve looked at bodies that have been shot
with these weapons. I`ve seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook,
youngsters were dismembered.

It`s fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it.
Just know I`ve been here for a long time. I`ve passed on a number of
bills. I`ve studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well
educated. And I thank you for the lecture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is someone in the Republican Party, somewhere to the more
moderate side of this guy, going to stand up to him like that in a debate
and say, Enough of this crap?

FINEMAN: Well--

MATTHEWS: Stop calling me communist. Stop calling the rest of us
communists. You`ve got to stand up for what you believe should be the
American government`s spirit, not what you`re just attacking people`s
credibility.

FINEMAN: Well, John McCain is famous for having called him a "wacko bird."
I don`t know that Jeb Bush will use that language, but--

MATTHEWS: Can he afford to?

FINEMAN: Well, I don`t know. I mean, that`s going to be the test for Jeb
Bush--

MATTHEWS: You said--

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: That`s going to be the test for Jeb Bush because if you watch
that video, Ted Cruz was not the least bit apologetic. And when she said,
Thank you for the lecture, in a sarcastic way, I`m surprised he didn`t say,
You`re welcome. At Harvard law school--

MATTHEWS: He`s not a big irony guy.

FINEMAN: No. And at Harvard law school, he was -- he -- the professors
were in awe of his intellect. Even if they disagreed with him, which they
did vehemently, these people knew that -- this guy was trained under the
Federalist Society second generation Republican wave. In other words, not
the Reagan years, but these years.

MATTHEWS: OK. A little comic relief here from -- thank you, Donald Trump
again -- in an interview today with a Fox affiliate up in New York City,
Donald Trump brought up the issue of Ted Cruz`s birthplace. Let`s listen
to the Donald.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Well, he`s got, you know, a hurdle that
nobody else seems to have at this moment. It`s a hurdle that somebody
could certainly look at it very seriously. He was born in Canada. If you
know, and when we all studied our history lessons, he`s supposed to be born
in this country. So I just don`t know how the courts would rule on it.
But it`s an additional hurdle that he has that nobody else seems to have.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, the way, the delicate way in which, Wayne and
everybody, that this guy, Trump -- and he`s a smart guy, obviously -- he
figures out who to nail with the birther problem. Doesn`t nail George
Romney, who was born in Mexico. Doesn`t nail John McCain, who was born in
the Canal Zone. Doesn`t name anybody else, but names Obama. And then this
one, he says, Well, the courts will have to sort this one out, like a
little different discernment there.

PAGE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. But let`s not treat Donald Trump like a serious
candidate.

MATTHEWS: I`m not--

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: He is a marketing genius, and that`s what he`s doing.

MATTHEWS: He`s decreeing (ph) who`s an American and who isn`t. My view
is--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- natural-born American means you don`t have to be naturalized.
You were born to an American mother, like President Obama, no matter where
you were born -- he was born in Hawaii -- and this fellow, Cruz, was born
in Canada. All fair square -- why is Trump bringing this up?

PAGE: Well, these are wonderful arguments and issues which won`t mean a
darn thing unless Ted Cruz actually wins, which he won`t. But Donald Trump
is bringing this up because he`s still arguing against Obama. And that`s
the kind of the way Ted Cruz sounded today, too--

MATTHEWS: He`s covering his butt.

PAGE: -- he`s running against -- against Obama.

MATTHEWS: He`s playing (ph) rear guard. Anyway, Republican congressman
Peter King of New York had these choice words for Cruz today. "Shutting
down the federal government and reading Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor are
the marks of a carnival barker, not the leader of the free world." Peter,
I`m getting to love you again. It`s St. Patrick`s Day.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: There are plenty of conservatives around the country who have
called Cruz nuts. Here`s just a sampling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: The very idea that you somehow have
to prove your manliness by doing something, meaning shutting down the
government, to achieve something you know it`s not going to achieve, is
quite nuts. But the analogy I used in my column was cliff diving, you
know, without any equipment. This is -- it`s quite nuts.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To tell the American people that you can
defund "Obama care" was a fool`s errand and a deception of the American
people. And I have to say, Stop. You`re wrong. You`re crazy!

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, "MORNING JOE": (INAUDIBLE) just say, Ted Cruz comes
in, obviously so completely ignorant, Ted Cruz -- oh!

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH: He is a total train wreck.

PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: This Ted Cruz, a lot of people in Texas just
think he`s wonderful. And I don`t want to rain on their parade. This
bomb-throwing stuff, and I`m the lone wolf and I`m the man in the Senate --
it`s nonsense.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: You really want a commander-in-chief who
thinks the way to run the government is to read Dr. Seuss on the Senate
floor and shut down the United States government? No, we need responsible
adults.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, Wayne Slater, defend your fellow Texan here because he`s
getting slammed by everybody who has a microphone here. And the question -
- I go back to -- you say it`s tonal. It`s attitude, that as long as he
takes this attitude of, To hell with you, buddy, he can do well in this
fight for president.

SLATER: Absolutely. Look, the argument here from team Cruz`s point of
view -- and I agree with Clarence, I think most people do -- there`s a real
difficult path to the nomination for this guy.

But the argument is, essentially, I don`t really care about you guys. The
division is not between the right and the establishment in the Republican
Party. It is between Washington and all the rest of us guys. And every
time any of those people, including Peter King and the sainted John McCain,
says something, it reinforces Ted Cruz`s message -- I`m the guy who will
fight the apostates even in our own party. You cannot buy me. I will take
on those forces--

MATTHEWS: OK--

SLATER: -- that need to be taken on. I will not fold.

MATTHEWS: If this fight for the nomination, which is going to begin in
earnest with debates this fall, in September, the first one -- if that`s
the nature of the fight, who hates Obama the most is the way I`ll
characterize it, because that`s a shorthand way of putting it, but it is
the truth. Who hates him the most? You think -- you first, Wayne, think
he has a shot at winning this.

SLATER: Oh, it`s a -- it`s a long shot.

MATTHEWS: If it`s about who hates Obama worst, he wins!

SLATER: He absolutely does win, but it`s arithmetic. Can you consolidate
the evangelicals, and Huckabee and other items there that may not allow
that to happen -- can you pull up enough of the Tea Party and can you talk
about military strength overseas that gets you some of the, Let`s go to war
against the bad guys--

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SLATER: That is the niche that could get him 24 percent, 25 percent in
Iowa, more, and they`re thinking that`s the possibility. Difficult road.

MATTHEWS: OK. Can you throw together evangelicals, the right-wing
attitude, the hatred of Obama, with a military hawkishness? Will that give
him his numbers in Iowa?

FINEMAN: He`s going to try. He is appealing to every conceivable slice of
conservatism, many of which contradict each other. He doesn`t care. He`s
going after the reddest of the hot buttons in every single place--

MATTHEWS: And he`s also--

FINEMAN: -- every single place.

MATTHEWS: -- good TV. He`s Christie without the bridge.

PAGE: I think he`s going after the Rick Santorum voters from Iowa last
time around, who just barely edged ahead and won the state in the primary.
And then--

MATTHEWS: And he`s more marginal.

PAGE: -- or I should say caucuses--

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: The only problem long range is the presidency is about hope.
It`s not just about anger. And that`s the big issue that he`s got. He`s
an angry candidate. At a time when people hate Washington, that can only
get him so far when you run for president.

MATTHEWS: It`s great primary stuff, though.

FINEMAN: Yes. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Not for the general. He`s not picking a president in Iowa,
they`re just picking who they hate the most, Obama. And thank you, Howard
Fineman. thank you, Clarence Page. What a panel -- Wayne Slater. Three
stars. Stars.

Coming up, the Pentagon has reached out to all 100 American service members
targeted on ISIS`s so-called kill list. I want to know what, if anything,
we can do to find the terrorists before they do anything. Certainly want
to get the people responsible of putting this list together and threatening
America`s military heroes.

Plus, the bad blood between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu
continues. Bibi won reelection by disavowing the two-state solution. And
today, President Obama`s chief of staff said Israel must end its West Bank
-- here`s the word -- occupation. That`s fighting words.

And what does "The West Wing`s" -- what does President Bartlett from "The
West Wing" and Frank Underwood of "The House of Cards" have in common?
They`re both doing better in the polls than President Obama, the man in the
White House, the real president. That`s in the "Sideshow" tonight.

Finally, we get to finish tonight with this dangerous day for Republicans.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Hillary Clinton was back at the White House today. The
former secretary of state met privately with the president for about an
hour. White House press secretary Josh Earnest says the 2008 rivals
discussed a range of topics, and added that they enjoy catching up in
person when their schedules permit, like today.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. ISIS has a hit list. That`s bad
news. A hundred members of the U.S. military in this country are on that
list, and ISIS wants its followers in the U.S. to hunt down and kill those
U.S. service members. The group posted names, photos and even the home
addresses of men and women in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps who
reportedly were involved in missions targeting ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Yemen,
Somalia and Afghanistan. Officials say ISIS generated the list not by
hacking but just by cutting and pasting names from news reports.

The Pentagon says it`s reached out to all the U.S. service members on the
list but are not offering any special security. Military officials are
urging those on the list to stay off of or limit activity on social media.

Joining me to talk about this threat is NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim
Miklaszewski and Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News terrorism analyst.

Mik, what do you make of this, just personally, having covered the
Pentagon? And I know you have great respect for men and women in uniform.
What does this do? Do they shake it off? Do they accept it as part of the
world they have to live in? Or how`s it coming down?

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, the immediate response, of
course, is shaking it off. You know, the military will tell you, Look, we
can handle any threat. But what makes this threat different is that it`s
come here, home to the U.S. I mean, these are the home addresses and phone
numbers for the families of those service members, many of them who are
still deployed.

So it not only affects these service members, but their families. So that
raises the level a little bit. And while there`s no indication that
there`s any imminent attack against anybody here in the U.S. or against
service members by ISIS, there is an issue here that, over time, that
there`s a fear that there will be more of these sort of postings by ISIS,
and that eventually some random lone wolf out there is going to be inspired
enough to pick up a weapon and go to one of these service members` homes
and open fire.

We all hope that doesn`t happen, of course, but that is the big fear, that
the war against ISIS in this case has somewhat been brought home.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Evan on this.

Evan, how would they get the addresses?

EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they were using Google, I
guess is the way to put it.

These guys used extremely basic methods, almost childish methods. They
broke into a blog called exMuslim.com (ph) and they stole some e-mails and
a Facebook password. They went and did some Google searches. And so it`s
a good news/bad news story. The good news is that these guys were
incompetent. There`s no evidence that they`re ISIS. There`s no evidence
they`re tied to ISIS.

The bad news is that someone who isn`t ISIS who`s very unsophisticated, who
has no skill set, simply using Google, is able to gather a tremendous
amount of very disturbing information about U.S. servicemen online.

And part of this story, I think it`s a warning, it`s really -- it`s a
moment of caution for servicemen, saying, look, you know, we all have this
inclination to share on social media, to post photos on Facebook, but there
are people out there that would like to use this information for ill
intent.

And whether or not they`re ISIS or no matter who they are, it would behoove
people that are in sensitive positions, whether you`re in the U.S. military
or wherever you are, to understand that this information is public. And
there are people that can make a lot out of very little. So be careful
what you share on social media if you`re in a position like this.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Mik on this thing.

You know, you look at that these lone wolf attacks. And the one thing that
we always, well, not that long ago thought, people that come to this
country, and they live here a couple generations, they may be Islamic in
their backgrounds, they may be true to their religion here in this country,
but they`re American, they become American. And they don`t have a loyalty
to overseas.

Is the success of ISIS militarily on the ground, in other words, creating a
nation-state, in effect, creating a magnet for loyalties that wouldn`t have
been ignited had it had not been for that ground of control they have over
there, these guys in the black uniforms?

MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, clearly, they have had this recruiting tool and it`s
pretty much called the Internet. This is one of the issues that officials
here talk about.

You know, they have been so adept at using the Internet. It`s one of their
most productive and insidious weapons, to not only attract recruits, but to
get their message out, like in this case.

And to add to what Evan said about how this information got out, it appears
that actually, inadvertently, the Pentagon, itself, over their social media
sites, their public affairs sites, in an effort to boost support for the
U.S. military, put out 66 of these 100 names on their own Web sites, not
only describing what they did, such as a bomb commander, a bomb squadron
commander, but also that, on this run, they attacked ISIS targets in Syria,
identifying some of these pilots by name, all part of a public affairs
effort by the Pentagon which was actually instituted shortly after 9/11.

So there`s a little bit of egg on the face here on the part of the
Pentagon, and one official acknowledged to me that, look, we`re going to
have to seriously pull back on some of what we are putting out.

MATTHEWS: TMI.

Anyway, thank you so much, Jim Miklaszewski.

MIKLASZEWSKI: All right. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Evan Kohlmann, as always, for your expertise.

And we will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and time now for the "Sideshow."

On the eve of the Israeli election last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu came
out against a Palestinian state, a position that put him at odds with a
bipartisan U.S. policy which has always supported a two-state solution.
Well, it may have helped him stay in office, but it wasn`t long before
Netanyahu began, here it comes, reversing himself.

Here`s how John Oliver reacted to that last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

JOHN OLIVER, HOST, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER": The problem he
now has is, how is he going to convince the U.S. that he`s a credible
partner for negotiation, given that he explicitly said he would not allow a
two-state solution, but only a one-state solution?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I don`t want a one-state
solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but, for
that, circumstances have to change.

OLIVER: Now, that`s pretty impressive, because that is a Michael Jackson
level of walking backwards.

(LAUGHTER)

OLIVER: If he somehow escapes this, he should go on the road as Netanya-
Houdini. Words cannot hold him.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s not that funny.

And on Friday, John Boehner announced that he will visit Netanyahu in
Israel at the end of the month. Here`s what Bill Maher had to say about
the speaker`s upcoming trip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Meanwhile, John Boehner has
announced that he will be visiting Israel. He will be traveling under his
Secret Service nickname, Agent Orange.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: And I -- oh, I`m looking forward to that trip. I would just like
to say to the Israelis, if you think you have heard wailing at the Wailing
Wall--

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: -- wait until old super soaker has a good cry when he (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) there.

That`s going to be something.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: Boehner refers to Israel as the land of milk and Kahlua.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: He`s -- oh, he`s a--

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, a new Ipsos/Reuters poll today finds that more Americans
have a favorable opinion of fictional presidents on TV than real-life
commander in chief Barack Obama. The poll shows that 46 percent of
Americans have a favorable view of President Obama. There`s no
competition, however, when you compare his number to the favorability
rating of President Bartlet on "The West Wing."

Bartlet scored 82 percent. You can`t beat him. Even the womanizing
president of "Scandal" played by Tony Goldwyn beat President Obama with a
60 percent. And think that`s bad? The most devious TV president of all
times, I think, Frank Underwood of "House of Cards" played by Kevin Spacey,
scored 57 percent, 11 points higher than President Obama.

Are people serious? This comes as the approval rating of both political
parties, I should say, has fallen below 40 percent, the lowest level since
1992, according to Gallup. By the way, 1992 is when Ross Perot, that
gadfly, grabbed one in five of the American votes. And that was for real.

Up next: The roundtable tackles Ted Cruz. I hope they actually do tackle
him and his long shot presidential campaign. If the campaign is about who
hates Obama the most, I bet you Ted Cruz will corner the market.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I`m Richard Lui in the MSNBC
newsroom.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter at Camp
David meeting with Afghanistan`s new president. President Obama meets with
him tomorrow; 367 lawmakers signing a letter to President Obama. They`re
saying they have grave and urgent concerns about a nuclear deal with Iran.

And real estate heir and accused murder Robert Durst had a map of Cuba in
his hotel room when he was arrested. He`s being held without bond, deemed
a flight risk and a danger to others -- now back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I believe in the power of millions of courageous
conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is
why, today, I`m announcing that I`m running for the president of the United
States.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s Ted Cruz, by the way, the first Republican out of the gate for 2016,
making it official today in Lynchburg, Virginia, at Liberty University --
that`s Jerry Falwell`s place -- that he`s now a candidate for president of
the United States.

Earlier today, he gave us a taste of what a Cruz presidency might look
like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every
word of Obamacare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CRUZ: Imagine a simple flat tax. Imagine abolishing the IRS.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CRUZ: Instead of the lawlessness and the president`s unconstitutional
executive amnesty, imagine a president that finally, finally, finally
secures the borders. Imagine repealing every word of Common Core.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CRUZ: Imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of
Israel.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that wasn`t John Lennon`s version of "Imagine."

Anyway, Cruz has some work to do if he plans on winning the Republican
nomination, but the latest polling shows him at the bottom of a crowded
field of Republican candidates at just 4 percent, is what he`s getting
right now, according to CNN`s latest poll.

Joining me right now to talk about it, of course, is someone who was there,
MSNBC political correspondent Kasie Hunt, who was at Liberty today, who was
at Cruz`s announcement in Lynchburg. John Feehery is a Republican
strategist, of course. And Sahil Kapur is a reporter with Talking Points
Memo.

Kasie, these students, apparently, when they are called to these
assemblies, if they don`t show up, they have got to pay a little penalty.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But that`s -- that`s not really fair to Ted Cruz because you
can`t--

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anything you skip, you have to pay $10 for. But he did have a
captive audience.

What are those students like down there? Are they all religious, very
conservative religious people?

HUNT: It`s a conservative religious environment. And they were obviously
very excited to see Ted Cruz.

But, look, I think that this was more about -- this said more about Cruz
than maybe the audience in itself

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why he picked that place?

HUNT: It was a built-in audience. Those kids had to be there. If you`re
thinking about launching a presidential campaign, you want to go first, you
want to go early, before maybe the general public is tuned into this.

He could walk on to that stage and presidential-level optics without having
to lift a finger on the organizing front. And that makes a big difference.

MATTHEWS: John, what`s this going to do to your fight? It`s going to
begin -- I hear the first debate may be in September. I have watched other
people and their ability to dominate the stage. And he might be one who
does dominate the debate with those kinds of assertions.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it was a very impressive
opening to a presidential bid. And I thought that his personal story was
actually quite compelling.

I`m not a big Ted Cruz fan. You understand that. But I think that he does
crowd out some other big -- Mike Huckabee, how does Mike Huckabee get into
the race now? How does Rick Santorum? The fact that he was able to
command that Liberty crowd, no matter how compelled they were to go there.
And he gave a speech that conservatives could love, even though most of it
was very disingenuous. We`re not going to get rid of--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But everything he said was a direct slam to the face of Jeb
Bush, a slam, I mean, the whole thing about immigration, of course. Jeb
Bush is married to the immigration issue, basically. He`s totally for
Hispanic opportunity in this country. He`s for Common Core.

This guy is just saying, smack all that.

SAHIL KAPUR, TALKING POINTS MEMO: That`s where I think Jeb Bush is going
to be dangerous and he`s going to impact -- have an impact on the
Republican field.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Jeb Bush?

KAPUR: I`m sorry. Ted Cruz.

I doubt he`s going to get the support from Republican elites and big donors
that`s necessary to win the primary, but he will force them to respond to
his very, very conservative--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Give me a picture of the debate.

KAPUR: A picture of the debate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s in a debate, he says one of these things in front of Jeb
Bush. What does Jeb Bush say?

KAPUR: He talks about immigration. He says we need to prevent any kind of
a path to citizenship, and Jeb Bush has to respond to that.

The conservative base very much agrees with Ted Cruz and not Jeb Bush on
this. That`s dangerous. Obamacare as well, flat tax, abolishing the IRS,
all these things--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Explain something that I don`t know. Why do people get so
red hot about Common Core, something 90 percent of the Americans have no
idea what it is? What is it that turns them off with this Common Core?
They`re jumping up and down over it.

HUNT: First of all, it`s something that they experience directly in their
daily lives. They have kids who are trying to prepare for the tests that
Common Core have slated.

And, secondly, they see it as a federal takeover.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But I thought it was the three R`s. It wasn`t teaching African
culture or women`s, feminist culture or anything new age. It was about
reading, writing, arithmetic. Isn`t that what Common Core is about?

HUNT: Right, but the reason there`s suddenly an alliance between the
teachers unions on the one hand and the conservatives on the other are
these tests.

And there are a lot of parents, frankly, who are struggling with Common
Core. That`s why people talk about how the implementation of it has been
bad. And it`s just become something that frankly the right and the left
are focused on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s also a lot of these states who have the worst results in
the country. I guess that`s why they`re against it.

FEEHERY: Well, the other thing is, it really came up when President Obama
was president. He didn`t sign anything with Common Core.

MATTHEWS: Oh, it`s his Common Core.

FEEHERY: But it`s become his Common Core, even though Jeb Bush likes it
and even though it`s a state-based thing.

You`re right, Chris. This whole thing is a little bit nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

KAPUR: It`s more symbolic than anything else, I think, because
conservatives, as Kasie said, kind of see it as an emblem of the government
gone wrong.

MATTHEWS: We`re in March Madness now. So, I will give -- it`s two
brackets, right? There`s the Western conference we`re referring to, which
is he, Rick Santorum, and Huckabee. And then there`s the Eastern
conference, which I think is a battle probably between Walker and Bush.

In the Western conference, could he be the conservative candidate?

FEEHERY: I think, actually--

MATTHEWS: Could he be that guy who wins?

FEEHERY: I think Walker is actually in the Ted Cruz--

MATTHEWS: Really?

FEEHERY: Yes, I don`t -- I think Bush is all by himself, because I
thought, you had Chris Christie, who would be part of that, but he`s fallen
off so quickly.

It`s Scott Walker vs. Ted -- Ted Cruz. I think that`s the big matchup to
get to the final two.

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And don`t forget Marco Rubio as
well.

MATTHEWS: So, you give Bush the buy?

FEEHERY: I give Bush the bye. Possible exception would be Rubio.

MATTHEWS: And Rubio is coming on.

FEEHERY: Rubio is good.

HUNT: He`s been quietly impressing donors --

MATTHEWS: Who?

HUNT: Marco Rubio.

MATTHEWS: Let`s not get on Rubio you`re covering. Let`s stick to one guy.

Sorry. I want to know whether this guy can win the nomination on a muddy
track. Can he?

SAHIL KAPUR, TPM: Ted Cruz, I don`t think he can win the nomination, but I
think he will have an impact in scaring the Republican --

MATTHEWS: Can he make the final two?

KAPUR: I think he could potentially emerge as a conservative --

MATTHEWS: Against Bush? Should he be the guy that they have to get --
see, the way it works is you go to Iowa, three tickets come out of Iowa,
two tickets come out of New Hampshire, one comes out of South Carolina.
OK, it gets pretty much -- it`s over pretty fast. Can he be the guy who`s
still duking it out in South Carolina?

HUNT: He can absolutely win in Iowa. Ted Cruz could absolutely win Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Then, he`s a number two in New Hampshire.

HUNT: He stays relevant.

FEEHERY: And Ted Cruz could be in that final. If that`s the case, it`s
not at all good for Jeb Bush. If it`s Ted Cruz who`s our nominee, it`s not
at all good --

MATTHEWS: That`s why you`re here to say what I really believe, which is
the Republican Party is going to get stuck with this guy as a guy so close
to the top, that Bush will have to make -- can caught up with him at the
end, and anybody who`s in bed with Ted Cruz is going to lose.

Anyway, the -- I think I just did.

(CROSSTALK)

KAPUR: Ted Cruz has a talent for making solidly conservative Republicans
look like squishes and moderates by comparison. That`s how we got the
government shutdown. That`s the real danger to the other Republicans.

HUNT: But, you know, he won`t attack Bush directly yet. I`ve asked Ted
Cruz on multiple occasions if Jeb Bush is too moderate for the Republican
Party. And he`s not yet willing to go there. I`m interested to see if he
does now that he`s presidential candidate.

MATTHEWS: Does he want on the ticket?

HUNT: Ted Cruz? I`m sure he would take a spot on the ticket.

MATTHEWS: Well, that would be very --

(CROSSTALK)

KAPUR: I doubt he`s playing for number two, though --

HUNT: Whether it would be offered is another question entirely.

KAPUR: I doubt it as well.

MATTHEWS: That`s going to make Sarah Palin look like Queen Elizabeth.

Anyway, the roundtable is staying up, and staying with us.

We`ll be right back next to talk about what`s going on and why Bibi gets
away with ditching the two-state solution, the only peace plan available in
the Middle East, and yet the Republican Party is apparently married to the
guy. Their prom date has stuck.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Here we go. Beantown politics. "The Boston Globe" is makes an
all-out push for Elizabeth Warren. In four separate opinion columns, "The
Globe" pushed Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic
nomination, or if she`s not willing to do that, to use her voice to back a
candidate who will.

"The Globe" writes of Warren, quote, "She should not shrink from the chance
to set the course for the Democratic Party or cede that task to Hillary
Clinton without a fight. If she puts her causes and goals front and center
as Democrats gather their forces for the crucial 2016 campaign, Warren
could enrich the political process for years to come."

Warren has repeatedly said she won`t run for president.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable, Kasie, John, and Sahil.

Anyway, Republicans celebrated Bibi Netanyahu`s win last week. But will
they follow his lead on two-state solution over there?

In the days leaving to the election in Israel last week, Netanyahu reversed
his previous support for the Palestinian state. He said, "I think that
anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory
gives territory away to radical Islamic attacks against Israel." So, he`s
got his position there.

According to the "Associated Press", when asked if that means a Palestinian
state would not be established if he`s reelected, Netanyahu replied,
indeed.

Well, after the election, he told NBC`s Andrea Mitchell he never retracted
his support for a two-state solution. But in an interview with "The
Washington Post," President Obama said he wasn`t buying Bibi`s 180.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did indicate to him that
we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the
long-term security of Israel if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and
democratic.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Is there any reason at this point to
believe that he`s serious about a Palestinian state?

OBAMA: Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn`t happen
during his prime ministership. And so, that`s why we`ve got to evaluate
what other options are available to make sure that we don`t see a chaotic
situation in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, the whole problem with modern Jewish history, of
course, modern Israeli history is this whole conundrum. If you bring along
those other parties and say they`re part of Israel, they`ve got all these
people that are never going to be Israeli. And say you`re going to have a
minority population running the country because of a demographic time bomb.

So, everybody in Israel, and we always accept this, sooner or later, you`ve
got to separate, you`ve got to divorce and create another country. What is
Bibi talking about, about not doing that?

KAPUR: He was trying to turn out his ultra nationalist base and he
succeeded --

MATTHEWS: Pure politics.

KAPUR: It seemed like pure politics at the time and he succeeded with
flying colors. He won the election --

MATTHEWS: OK. If you were Obama, what would you think? Is he a really
peace partner or not?

KAPUR: Well, his actions show that he`s not been willing to make the kind
of compromises necessary to establish a two-state solution. And
rhetorically, the reason I think he flipped back so quickly is that it`s
dangerous to be principally against a two-state solution because it
inflames anti-Semitism in the region, it inflames anti-American sentiments
in the region. And that`s why President Obama I think was taken aback by
the comment and that`s why he said we have to re-evaluate United States
policy in the region because the United States absolutely has a dog in this
fight. The United States has interests in that region that could be
damaged by supporting an Israeli that doesn`t support a Palestinian state.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

HUNT: It also drove this wedge in many ways into -- it opened some space
that the president was able to then jump into. I talked to White House
Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Friday at some length on this issue. And
they`re at the point where they`re saying, look, when we were at the United
Nations and we said, you know what, we`re not going to support the
Palestinians` unilateral push for statehood, we`re doing that because we
think the Israelis are operating in good faith.

And now, the White House has been able to turn around and say, you know
what, if the Israelis aren`t going to operate that way, then we`re maybe
going to reconsider reassessing all of that, our entire posture and pushing
for unilateral --

MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s good for the Republican party to take -- I
think they`re doing enough for the Jewish community which is pretty much
historically Democratic in its voting pattern. It`s not going to change
much. But that huge evangelical crowd out there, that is very pro-Israeli
and say they don`t mind take a hard right position with Netanyahu. Isn`t
that what the politics is?

FEEHERY: The politics for that, I think from a policy perspective, that`s
where the Republican Party is. They strongly support the state of Israel
in this fight against Barack Obama and this disagreement. I think they are
with Bibi.

MATTHEWS: Here they are. To make your point, here`s Republicans rush to
praise Netanyahu after his win last week. Jeb Bush called him a true
leader who will continue to keep Israel strong and secure. Ted Cruz, we
just mentioned him, said, "His electoral success is all the more impressive
given powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including sadly the full
weight of the Obama political team."

And Paul Ryan celebrated the victory on FOX. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I think it`s great. He`s a strong leader.
I think he says it like it is. I`m pleased to see him re-elected and I
actually think the Obama administration helped contribute to his victory
because of the way that they treated him. It helped him consolidate his
coalition so that he could have this landslide victory and I`m pleased to
see it happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Everybody is a victim.

Anyway, meanwhile, Senator John McCain accused the president of throwing a
temper tantrum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president should get over it. Get over
your temper tantrum, Mr. President. It`s time that we work together with
our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of ISIS and Iranian movement
throughout the region which is threatening the fabric of the region. The
least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election
campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s great to hear John McCain come out against temper
tantrums.

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: He`s never going to lose his cool ever.

MATTHEWS: I thought that was an amazing thing, John Feehery.

FEEHERY: Well, I tell you what, it`s not in our strategic interest as a
country or Israel`s strategic interest for this constant bickering to
happen. The Israeli and the United States have to get together because
they`re our strongest ally in the region. And the more this nonsense
happens, it hurts both countries.

KAPUR: That`s the greatest peril I think for Israel. Democrats will be
fine. President Obama will be fine. Republicans will be fine with this
debate. The real peril for Israel is if Israel becomes a partisan issue in
the United States. If it goes down this road, it`s never been a partisan
issue.

So, I think the best thing Israel has going for it is that the United
States, both parties unconditionally support it. If that changes --

MATTHEWS: If you`ve ever been to Israel, the one thing great about that
country, if you come in as an outsider or Christian, you can get in a place
in Tel Aviv and go to the university there and argue with anybody about
everything.

It is totally free country about this kind of debate. There`s no
sensitivity. You fight and you argue your position.

Anyway, in his interview with "The Huffington Post", the president also
indicated he was disturbed by Netanyahu`s last minute warning to his
supporters on election day to get out the vote because, quote, "Arab voters
are going to the polls in droves". Here`s the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the
best of Israel`s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the
historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli
democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated
equally and fairly, and I think that that is what`s best about Israeli
democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, today, Bibi Netanyahu issued, this is strange here, an
apology for his election day remarks saying, "I know that my comments from
a few days ago offended Israeli Arab citizens. This was never my intent.
I apologize for this."

Well, there`s another 180. It`s amazing how people -- he`s going to raise
some aboard (ph) what you say in politics.

KAPUR: He`s walking it all back because I think he understands the impact
of his rhetoric and he understands that it`s not going to help Israel.
It`s going to inflame anti-Semitism in the region, and by extension,
inflame anti-American sentiments with the U.S. --

MATTHEWS: OK. Rhetorical question, what did we say before walking it
back? We have to come up with that phrase because people do it all the
time now. I think it`s called being two-faced as they used to say in the
cowboy movies, talking with, what is it, a fork tongue. You know, this
kind of talk, because we call that lying when you say something you didn`t
mean and you correct it the next day.

FEEHERY: Now, Bibi has to govern. Now, he`s got to actually -- he`s been
reelected. Now, he`s got to clean up the mess from the election, which
happens all the time and now he`s got to --

MATTHEWS: OK. Will he ever acknowledge the Palestinian right to a
country?

FEEHERY: I don`t know. I have no idea.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he should? Should he let them --

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: It goes to your basic point. The demography doesn`t work in his
favor unless they get a two-state solution. That`s just the bottom line.

MATTHEWS: Just say, should the Arabs have their own country over there?

FEEHERY: I think the demographics don`t work unless there`s a two-state
solution. I`ll put it that way.

KAPUR: Even if he acknowledges that, the real question is whether this
sorts of very, very hard compromise involving settlements and right to
return can happen, so it goes much beyond that.

MATTHEWS: Well, when your settlement, the place to death, there`s not
going to give back to Arabs at some point. At some point, Bibi is -- I
mean, he`s a true Likud that way. All the way, more settlements and more
settlements, and as Golda Meir once said, new facts create a new solution.
It`s so tough.

HUNT: I think the political ramifications in the U.S. are going to be
lasting. I think that what has happened with this is going to drive that
wedge further with Republicans. Israel was one of the biggest applause
lines today.

MATTHEWS: It`s very good for J Street, very good for an alternative to
AIPAC.

Anyway, Kasie Hunt, John Feehery, and Sahil Kapur.

Anyway, when we return, let me finish with this dangerous day for
Republicans with Bibi and, of course, Ted Cruz, both dangerous characters.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this dangerous day for Republicans.

We begin this week sifting through the news that Speaker John Boehner is
heading to Israel. Is this a return favor from his prom date, Bibi
Netanyahu? If so, it certainly has a nasty tone to it with Bibi
undercutting what had been a bipartisan backing honored by U.S. presence of
both parties for some kind of two-state peace solution over there.

Nobody thinks Bibi wants to deal with the Palestinians. Nobody thinks he
will get back the occupied territories. Nobody believes Bibi will break
with the settlers over there. Nobody.

So, what`s Boehner`s position on the future? Does he support the position
taken by both parties that we need to settle this thing or does he go back
to backing Bibi on keeping things the way they are? Are they going to put
that in the Republican platform next time? No peace now, really?

Well, the second bit of bad news is Ted Cruz. Just picture it, it`s not
hard. What the Republican debates are going to look like, Ted Cruz is
going to dramatize every Republican get-together of 2015 and 2016. He will
be the center of the media coverage. He will control the conversation for
the basic reason that he will be working the outside lane, the far right
lane of conservative Republican rhetoric. He, Ted Cruz, will be the one
quoted on the front page and that`s what starting today Republicans are
going to have to look forward to.

So what a day for the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight
Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, a Republican Party so positioned to the
right, it can`t find its way back.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END


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