Date: April 6, 2015
Guest: J.C. Watts, Nicholas Confessore, Robert Costa, Michael Rubin,
Bernard Kerik, Ryan Grim, Jeanne Cummings, John Brabender
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Opening day.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
And tomorrow morning in Louisville, Kentucky, the 2016 presidential
campaign gets into real action. Rand Paul, who just beat Hillary Clinton
in a respected Pennsylvania poll, announces his presidential candidacy.
And before you sell this guy short, just watch how far and how fast he`s
moved. In 2010, he knocked out not only the establishment Republican
candidate, Mitch McConnell`s candidate, but beat the Democrat in November
by a dozen points. He shellacked the guy. Now he`s a genuine contender
for the White House.
When Senator Paul announces tomorrow, he`ll be joined by former Oklahoma
congressman J.C. Watts, who joins me now from Louisville. Congressman
Watts, it`s great to have you back. You were a regular on the show for so
long, and I guess you will be now again as a big surrogate for Mr. Paul,
Why has J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, an evangelical man of the South, why are
you, a Bible guy -- why are you with a libertarian guy like Rand Paul?
J.C. WATTS (R-OK), FMR. CONGRESSMAN: Well, Rand, Chris, obviously has some
libertarian leanings, but I think he has the right perspective and I think
he wants to do the right thing. And over the last two-and-a-half years
that I`ve been talking to him, that I`ve had his ear, I think he`s wanted
And I think the things that he`s done -- he`s not just taken on just your
typical conservative issues on the social side and on the economic side,
but he`s gone much further than that, and he`s gone into non-traditional
constituencies. I think he`s tried to be very consistent in striking up a
dialogue with those non-traditional constituencies. And I think that`s
what we need.
You know, post-Jack Kemp, you know, I`ve been looking for somebody --
MATTHEWS: OK --
WATTS: -- that would that would offer up himself or herself to have this
type of dialogue with more than a narrow constituency.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, the thing that I`ve been beating the drum on
around here for a couple years, J.C., is the Republican Party`s efforts at
suppressing the vote, all these new requirements about photo IDs. And then
some of these Republican leaders like in Pennsylvania just come out and
say, yes, we do it to suppress the vote (INAUDIBLE) vote. In fact, one guy
said, We`ll keep the black vote down with it, in so many words. And yet
this guy you think is different, you believe is different.
WATTS: Well, I`ve talked to the senator about this. He wants to expand
ways that we can get more people to the polls to vote. And you know, the
nonviolent offenders -- we`ve had the conversation about that in saying
WATTS: -- they should have the right to vote. And again, he`s talked
about things in the last four years that most conservatives would be afraid
of getting voted off the island if they were talking about those type of
And obviously, he`s made some mistakes. He`s evolving. But I think he is
honestly -- he has honestly made the case to me that, J.C., I want to have
the right perspective, I want to learn, I want to go to the next -- take
the country to the next level in so many areas.
And Chris, we`re so focused on the 30,000-foot level on so many of these
issues that we don`t get down to that 300-foot level --
MATTHEWS: OK --
WATTS: -- and have a dialogue, have a conversation, have deeper
relationships, and I honestly think that he wants to do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you why I like him, and you may disagree
because we have often disagreed, J.C. I like him because he`s not a hawk.
He`s not a neocon. He`s not somebody who always wants to take us back to
the Middle East for the latest country we have to go to war with. He seems
like a guy who has restraint in the use of military, just like he has
restraint in the use of big government. What do you think of that?
WATTS: Well, I will tell you this, Chris, my conversations with him, I
don`t think there`s any question that his philosophy in terms of war is,
you know -- if we`re fighting a war, we win, they lose. That`s the bottom
line. However, I think he hasn`t taken on a demeanor that says, Let`s
shoot and then aim. And I think --
WATTS: -- most people agree with that. And I think this ISIS thing is
getting crazy. It`s getting more crazy by the day in Kenya and Nigeria and
all over the Middle East. And it`s something that we certainly need to be
concerned about, and I think he is. But the fact that he said -- you know,
as John Kennedy would say, you know, Never -- never -- never fear to
negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear.
So I do think that -- now, he`s going to have to make that case to the
American people because you`ve got many people trying to frame who he is or
what he believes in terms of our national security. But again, I think his
philosophy, no question, is if we`re going to do it, let`s do it the right
way. We win, they lose.
MATTHEWS: Any room on the ticket for you, sir?
WATTS: Chris, I`m having too good a time hanging out with you like this.
WATTS: And by the way --
MATTHEWS: What a charmer.
WATTS: -- I had to jump through hoops to get here tonight, but --
MATTHEWS: No, I`m glad you did. We fought -- we did every method of
seduction to get you here. Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts
of Oklahoma, a great guy.
WATTS: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thanks for coming on. You`ll make news tomorrow.
And today, Senator Paul released a three-minute video which includes,
actually, a clip from this show to tease tomorrow`s big announcement.
Here`s some of the video that has us in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The senator from Kentucky might just be the candidate who ends
up winning this thing!
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He`s got the
organization on the ground right now. He`s in all 50 states.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It`s time for a new president!
SUPPORTERS: President Paul! President Paul! President Paul!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you got the message, he`s running against Washington.
That`s means Hillary Clinton. I`m joined right now by two of the best
front page political reporters in the business, Robert Costa, national
political reporter for "The Washington Post," and Nick Confessore,
political reporter for "The New York Times."
I want to start with you, Nick. Let`s talk about this. Is this fellow a
real contender, as you look at the shape of the field right now?
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Absolutely, Chris. I think
he`ll have his moment. Look, his foreign policy views -- if you took
things he has said on foreign policy and polled them individually, it`s
hard to imagine that any of them would not be, you know, kind of over half
in a primary electorate or nationally.
He believes what I think a lot of ordinary people think, the problem is
foreign policy in this country is crafted by elites in both parties and not
CONFESSORE: So in Washington and think tanks and the State Department,
it`s very different. But it`s hard for me to think of anything he`s said
on foreign policy that your average voter is not going to kind of shake
their head in agreement with.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m so with you. And here`s a poll to back up what you
said. The grass roots regular Republicans are not as hawkish as the money
people, the ones who make all the noise, including with Jeb Bush. Here a
recent Quinnipiac poll, has Rand Paul in a close race in matchups with
Hillary Clinton in some key swing states, the ones that matter.
In Ohio, for example, Paul is within earshot, actually, Clinton 41 --
actually, Clinton -- he`s 41 percent, Clinton`s 46. Right?
CONFESSORE: Yes. Exactly. And look --
MATTHEWS: And in Florida, he`s within the margin of error, 43-46 against
down there against Hillary Clinton. In Pennsylvania, where I come from, he
actually leads Clinton.
Now, I want to go with Robert on that, Robert Costa. What that tells me is
despite all the hawkish neocon talk about, We got to go into the latest war
against Iran now -- we`ll talk about that in the next section -- the
average working guy and woman in Pennsylvania goes, Wait a minute, that`s
us that has to do the fighting, our kids. We ain`t going into another
stupid war that people laugh at afterwards, and our kid comes home, you
know, beat up.
ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": Senator Paul looks at what his father did
in 2008, 2012. He sees someone who in almost every primary was in the top
three. So he starts with a base. The question is, how does he get number
one or two?
MATTHEWS: What`s his percentage of the -- what`s his percentage of the --
COSTA: I`d say it`s about 20 percent, that libertarian base, 20, 25
percent. You add in some young voters, that`s his coalition. At the
moment, he needs to expand it.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s -- here`s are the allies Rand Paul takes into
presidential battle with him -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from
Paul`s state of Kentucky. He`s with him. "The National Journal" reports
that a group of House members, mainly Tea Partiers, will be in Paul`s
corner. They are Justin Amash of Michigan, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Paul
(sic) Labrador of Idaho. He`s pretty conservative. Mark Sanford -- Raul,
rather -- and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who`s an interesting fellow
in all kinds of ways.
But let me go back to Nick on this. This is a small cadre of people behind
him. But I`m amazed there`s anybody behind him, he`s such an
CONFESSORE: Yes, I mean, you know, he`s not been a party guy. I suspect
the alliance with Mitch McConnell is more, you know, an alliance of
convenience than an alliance of love. But look, those general election
matchups -- it`s funny to see, you know, him and Walker and Bush are the
guys who do the best against Hillary in the general election. And there`s
a reason for that.
But there is going to be a group of people in the party, you know, the
hawks, as you describe them, who are going to fight tooth and nail against
him, who are going to pour money into the race to make sure he does not
become a contender.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about that. You know, a couple years ago, a couple
cycles ago -- they run into each other after a while -- his father, Ron,
dared to say something about stupid wars, after we`d gotten into Iraq and
we found out it was -- the whole thing was crazily put together and had no
basis in fact.
And he made a reasonable comment, but immediately, Giuliani starts doing
his -- and I like Rudy as a personality, but over and over again, a
sentence that included the word "9/11" in it, so everything is 9 /11.
COSTA: It`s going to be even more rough this time around. You`re going to
maybe have John Bolton having a long shot.
COSTA: Peter King from New York may run for president, Lindsey Graham from
South Carolina, all these hawks flying in, looking at Paul trying to edge
him out of the race. This is going to -- what is going to --
MATTHEWS: Can he get shouted down like his father was, or can he speak his
COSTA: He`s going to speak his mind. He still has a non-interventionist
philosophy. The question is, can he not scare some of those suburban hawks
away who are still somewhat sympathetic to George W. Bush?
MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t know. What do you think, Nick? Do you think that
the suburban Philadelphia person -- and everybody`s talking about that as
being the key. I thin -- it was George Will, I think, this week in his
column, and the people I read relentlessly, like he and Peggy Noonan --
they all seem to know from the Republican side, if you can`t carry
Pennsylvania, you got to be contending there in those suburbs to win the
general across the country.
And I don`t think those people are hawks. I may be wrong. I don`t think
they are. Your thoughts?
CONFESSORE: I think people are worried about defense and security, but
it`s not the way it was even last fall when ISIS and diseases abroad, so to
speak, were really on everyone`s mind. The thing about foreign policy is
you never know, Chris, exactly when it`s going to become a central issue in
a campaign again.
MATTHEWS: I know.
CONFESSORE: We`ve had a long time now where it wasn`t really at the
forefront, several campaigns now where it wasn`t the main issue. And the
question is, is this campaign going to be one with Iran and ISIS, where it
comes back to the forefront for a broad section of voters and not just a
big interest group in one party?
MATTHEWS: Yes. And trying keeping up with this, like you guys do for a
living, and I try to do -- I mean, you pick up the paper today and you
realize that the fight over Tikrit, you know, that the -- the Shia militia
are doing a hell of a job smashing and taking back territory from ISIS.
Are they -- which side are we on? I guess we`re with the Shia militia.
COSTA: This is what really hurts Paul. When you talk to his inner circle,
they didn`t think this was going to be a foreign policy election. Now it`s
looking like a foreign policy election. It`s all --
MATTHEWS: But it`s a hard decision about where we go in. What do we do?
Do we back the Shia? Do we back the -- you know, where do we go here?
With our usual Sunni allies now, we`ve got a problem right in the middle of
that is ISIS, which is Sunni. And we don`t get this. The Americans aren`t
part of the Sunni/Shia conflict.
CONFESSORE: I`m not even sure the average voter, who is supposed to be
critical of Rand Paul, theoretically, on these issues could even tell which
side any of those groups you mentioned are on. It`s confusing even to me.
MATTHEWS: All we want to do is -- well, we`ll get into this in the next
segment -- Munich, Munich, Munich, Munich. Just keep saying Munich. Tie
in Hitler because people know what he looks like, and hope that people can
get in your side of the fight.
Thank you, Robert Costa. Thank you. Top guys here -- Nick Confessore of
"The Times." Coming up -- I read both of your papers every day. And I
read it in paper.
MATTHEWS: I go down the driveway and get it, just like the old days.
Coming up --
CONFESSORE: Ka-ching (ph), Chris. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And I read "The Wall Street Journal," too, guys, the hawks
Coming up -- President Obama`s got a tough road ahead on that deal with
Iran. He needs to convince Senate Democrats the deal makes us safer. He`s
facing a Republican Party that wants to fight him every step of the way, a
crowd that constantly compares Iran and the agreement to the appeasement of
Hitler back in `38.
Plus, from cop to criminal. Former New York police commissioner Bernard
Kerik joins us to talk about his new book -- what a title -- "From Jailer
to Jailed." By the way, he was commissioner for corrections, as well, back
then, and he learned all about that later, and his stunning fall from
grace. That`s going to be fascinating.
And Ted Cruz says the world`s on fire. Hillary Clinton is all about
experience. Of all the candidates running for president in 2016, who`s got
the best message?
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with my theory about presidential elections. It`s
who`s got the best strategist. That side wins.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: And now to the guy Rand Paul will try to take down, Jeb Bush,
who is the front-runner now, but is not exactly this year`s Pied Piper, is
he. "The New York Times" reports today that Jeb Bush identified himself as
Hispanic in a 2009 Florida voter registration application.
A Bush spokesperson offered the newspaper no explanation, but Bush later
tweeted, "My mistake. Don`t think I fooled anyone." Oh, what a waspy guy
We`ll be right back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It`s starting to feel a lot more like
September of 1938, where Neville Chamberlain, the of course, prime minister
of great Britain, said the deal that he concluded with Hitler was akin to
peace in our time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: well, that was former aide to President George W. Bush Ron
Christie on our Friday show. He`s not the only conservatives who recently
has compared the president`s potential deal with Iran to this infamous
moment in history, the appeasement of Hitler back in `38.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This morning, I had another
talk with the German chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper, which
bears his name upon it, as well as mine.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ah, the word of Adolf Hitler. As good as gold!
Anyway, last week, Senator Mark kirk said, quote, "Neville Chamberlain got
a lot more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman got out of Iran," Wendy Sherman
being John Kerry`s deputy at State Department.
Others have made the comparison before there even was a deal. Here they
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN WEST (R-FL), FMR. CONGRESSMAN, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: If you really are a
student of history, this reminds you of the Neville Chamberlain/Hitler
moment, when Chamberlain had this piece of -- this signed agreement that
ended up being nothing but a piece of paper to Hitler.
JOHN BOLTON, FMR. U.S. AMB. TO U.N., FOX CONTRIBUTOR: The United States is
about to sign an agreement with the ayatollahs in Tehran over their nuclear
weapons program that will be, in my judgment, the biggest single act of
appeasement by the West since Munich in September of 1938.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I believe that history may well record it as a
mistake and a catastrophe on the order of magnitude of Munich. And when
our negotiators return with a promise of peace in our time, we should
believe it no more now than we should have believed it then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK. Why has this become such a popular refrain on the right? I
have a theory.
But I`m joined right now by Eugene Robinson, columnist for "The Washington
Post" and MSNBC political analyst, and Michael Rubin, a scholar at the
American Enterprise Institute. He`s the author of "Dancing With the
Michael, it seems to me that the neoconservative movement intellectually
has always been founded on a couple things. They didn`t like community
control of the teachers in New York, especially, I understand some of that.
But this notion, it`s all about World War II again, that somehow, history
repeats itself. And excuse me if I don`t like that argument because it`s
always Munich because that argument of Munich is what got us into Vietnam.
We can`t give any more territory. It was like Hitler in the Sudetenland.
So therefore, every political or geopolitical situation that involves
conflict with an enemy, which is normal, somehow goes back to, Oh, this is
Neville Chamberlain giving away half of Czechoslovakia. Is it like giving
MICHAEL RUBIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I`ll go back further. It`s
pre-World War I. It`s Kellogg (ph) and Brian (ph) saying that this is --
it`s just naivete, that everyone wants peace. We`re projecting our own
sincerity onto others.
Now, the reason why it`s not Neville Chamberlain, Chris, is Neville
Chamberlain was negotiating from a position of weakness against a much
RUBIN: Obama is caving in.
MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t have an army. He didn`t have an army.
RUBIN: Obama is caving in from a position of strength.
MATTHEWS: OK. Why -- what is the -- let me ask you this.
I want to get to Gene. The implication of the whole debate with Netanyahu
and conservatives in this country, hawks in this country, if you will, is
that there`s a third option, that it isn`t war. We`re not going to have to
blow them apart, and use bunker busters or help the Israelis do it. No,
because there`s this other option. We don`t have to do this deal. We can
make a tougher deal work.
Do you believe that? We can make a tougher deal work.
RUBIN: We gave $11.9 billion worth of unfrozen sanctions relief. Now, the
annual budget of the Revolutionary Guard, this group that killed hundreds
of Americans, $5.6 billion a year.
Why -- it`s like giving a little kid dessert first and then asking him to
eat his spinach?
MATTHEWS: OK. Could we have gotten a better -- there is a better deal,
RUBIN: Yes, with economic leverage. Oil was down to $50 a barrel.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, where`s the better deal?
If there`s a better deal, where is it?
And the answer is that they got actually a better deal than most people
expected them to get. And, in fact, the alternative to this deal is likely
military action, I mean, because it`s not going to be tougher sanctions
because you`re not going to get the Russians and the Chinese to go along
with tougher sanctions. You`re talking about unilateral sanctions, which
aren`t going to take you very far against Iran.
MATTHEWS: Do we have the world with us for tougher sanctions?
RUBIN: Not Vladimir Putin, but most of the toughest sanctions were Bill
Clinton with his executive orders, as well as some of the Bush
administration financial sanctions.
But, look, you have when Iran is suffering economically, can you negotiate
tougher verification? Yes. Do you have to give them financial relief
before they pony up? Yes. And the problem is, with Iran, it`s one step
forward, two steps back.
RUBIN: We don`t even know what the deal is, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me just ask you this. I just want to know, do we have
partners with us on this?
ROBINSON: Because you`re assuming things about the deal that you actually
don`t know. You don`t know exactly when the sanctions come off. You don`t
know exactly when they get the relief. And so --
RUBIN: Well, neither does Kerry and neither does Obama, because here`s the
Even with North Korea 20 years ago, you didn`t have a situation where both
sides came out and it was almost as if they were talking about completely
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about this date forward. Here we are on April
6, right? Let`s move forward. There`s probably going to be a vote in the
Senate the next couple weeks.
You want it to go down, right? You want 67 senators to challenge the
president on this?
RUBIN: I think it`s a bad deal, yes.
MATTHEWS: No, you want 67 senators to challenge the --
RUBIN: Yes, I do.
MATTHEWS: OK. What happens then?
RUBIN: Then we go back to the negotiating table.
MATTHEWS: The president of the United States, having been defeated by his
Congress, goes back, goes back to where?
MATTHEWS: Where`s this meeting? Where`s this meeting?
RUBIN: Chris, in his "New York Times" interview, Obama said Iran is not
going to get nuclear weapons on my watch.
Well, I hate to break it to you. The world isn`t ending its watch in 20
months. They want Iran not to get nuclear weapons, period. That`s why we
have got to use our leverage and we still have that leverage.
ROBINSON: If I were taking your position, the last thing I would want
would be for this deal to go down, because I would then have a president
who`s going to be in office for another 18 months or so.
I would expect that he`s not going to bomb Iran, that, in fact, Iran is
going to -- perhaps thinking it`s not going to be able to negotiate a deal
with the West to its satisfaction, rush pell-mell, perhaps secretly, closer
toward a nuclear weapon, or nuclear weapons capability, and that at the end
of 20 months or whatever, we`d have a situation that was more dangerous,
rather than less dangerous.
If I were taking your position, I would want the deal to go through, and
then I would say, wait until a Republican president comes through.
RUBIN: I don`t think the Senate`s going to come through, Gene, until June
30, and we don`t know what the deal is. What we have --
MATTHEWS: But if this goes down -- let me go down -- let`s go back to this
third option. If this president fails with his whole effort here, and he
will fail if two-thirds of the Congress rejects him and overrides his veto,
he`s left with nothing on the table, as you say, Gene, nothing on the
table. So he`s a lame duck.
You guys use the word lame duck.
RUBIN: He`s already a lame duck.
MATTHEWS: And then how do we avoid a war with Iran?
RUBIN: Well, ultimately, you avoid a war with Iran by credibility -- with
MATTHEWS: Who does this?
RUBIN: Who does this? The United States does this. The Bahrainis do
this. The Saudis do this.
MATTHEWS: No, no, no, no, no. So, you`re suggesting military action in
replacement for what failed diplomatically? In other words, if this deal
goes down --
RUBIN: No. Every comprehensive deal has a diplomatic, informational,
military and economic component.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk reality today. If this deal goes down, what happens
RUBIN: If this deal goes down, frankly, it`s going to be the Iranians who
MATTHEWS: Then how close are we to a war? How close are we to a war?
RUBIN: I don`t think we`re close to a war at all.
MATTHEWS: We`re not going to have to bomb them?
RUBIN: No. I don`t think that -- why would you bomb Iran without having a
policy in place to take advantage of the delay? That`s where I would
disagree with the notion that we have to bomb Iran.
The fact of the matter is, we have got to worry about not just the nuclear
weapons, but the regime that would wield them. And it`s not just the
Iranian regime writ large. It`s the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who
would have command of the control.
MATTHEWS: So, you`re talking regime change.
ROBINSON: So, you have a plan for regime change in Iran?
RUBIN: Well, why is it, Gene, that liberals and European greens all over
the world support organized labor, but they refuse to support Iranian trade
unions, for example?
MATTHEWS: OK. Here we go. This is how far it goes.
MATTHEWS: I invited you to give your views. Do you think we`re going to
end up having to bomb them?
RUBIN: No. I don`t think we will have to bomb them.
MATTHEWS: What will we end up doing?
RUBIN: I think we`re going to have to use economic coercion.
Iranians can`t make payroll with oil going down.
MATTHEWS: How do we do this if this deal goes down?
RUBIN: The Saudis are doing it for us because we forfeited our leadership,
RUBIN: They flooded the oil market.
MATTHEWS: You`re so fast here. You mean the Saudis are going to bring
down the Iranian leadership?
RUBIN: The Saudis are going to bring down the Iranian economy because they
have more foresight strategically than the Obama administration.
MATTHEWS: What do we have to do in this to make it work, then?
RUBIN: I would say leading from behind ain`t the place to start.
I would argue, OK, comprehensive strategy, Chris?
RUBIN: What you want to do is undercut the Iranian economy so they can`t
MATTHEWS: How do we do that?
RUBIN: You flood -- you keep oil prices low, for number one, and it`s
ROBINSON: Number one, the Saudis today announced their support of this
Number two, the idea that Iran is going to suddenly cave under economic
pressure seems to me absurd. Iran did not cave under a million deaths in
the war against Iraq.
RUBIN: Actually, Ayatollah Khamenei got on the radio and he said it`s like
drinking a chalice of poison, but the cost of this has been too great to
MATTHEWS: My problem is -- Michael, thank you for coming on.
RUBIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: My problem is that the Munich metaphor or comparison has been
used before to take us into Vietnam. It`s has been used before to take us
It`s always question of, do we have the guts to fight? And I don`t think
it`s about guts to fight. I think it`s the brains to figure out how to get
through these things.
Anyway, Eugene Robinson, thank you. Michael Rubin from the AEI.
Up next, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik will be here.
He was nearly the secretary of homeland security, until a dramatic fall
from grace which left him behind bars. He is coming here when we come
back. This is quite a show tonight.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics, aptly named.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
New Jersey native Bernie Kerik rose from high school dropout to become
police commissioner of New York in 2001, under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
He also had been -- and this would become oddly important -- commissioner
In 2004, George Bush wanted him to join his Cabinet and become secretary
for the Department of Homeland Security. But there were problems. His
failure to employ -- or his failure to employ a legal nanny and pay her
taxes made him withdraw his nomination and initiated further scrutiny of
his finances and affiliations. By February of 2010, Bernie Kerik stood
convicted of eight counts of criminal conspiracy, tax evasion and lying
under oath and headed to prison.
Joining me right now is Bernard Kerik, author of the new book, "From Jailer
Mr. Kerik, thank you for coming on.
BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you what you know, what we don`t know, what the
fall from grace felt like, what prison was like. Most men fear rape in
prison. They fear being beat up. They fear just the hell of it.
Why don`t we start with that? What was the worst part of something that
you never thought you would experience, prison life?
KERIK: Honestly, Chris, the worst part is -- for me was not prison life.
The worst part for me was the removal of my kids, was being taken away --
was being taken away from your family.
And I think the depravation of freedom, for anyone, especially someone in
my position or someone in your position, the depravation of freedom is far
more profound than you could even imagine. And the loss of your children
and family is beyond anything you can comprehend, really, until you`re
MATTHEWS: You spent two months in solitary while waiting to testify
against an old friend. But most of your time was spent in minimum security
prison in Western Maryland.
In the book, you say: "You come to the realization that you`re staying
there. One piece at a time, your hope gets chipped away and you go into a
deeper mode. A deeper depression set in. This is something you can`t get
I don`t even know where to begin here. Did you think that you were wrongly
accused? Did you think that you had screwed up? What was sort of your
self -- I guess I`m Catholic. I`m trying to figure out exactly how you
look at this internally. Did you say, mostly me, mostly them, or others
guys do it, I just got screwed?
How did you look at it at that way in terms of justice?
KERIK: You know what, Chris, listen, I -- as I said in the book, I have
made mistakes. And I have made plenty of mistakes. I`m not perfect. No
At the end of the day, I think my mistakes could have been handled
differently. They could have been handled civilly or ethically.
MATTHEWS: Without you getting convicted?
KERIK: Without a criminal conviction, you know?
KERIK: And keep in mind -- and you -- you were fully aware of this at the
time -- I was actually being prosecuted, being investigated for tax
violations and nanny issues when Timothy Geithner was being confirmed
Treasury, you know, and after he admitted he had failed to pay his own
KERIK: Look, I made mistakes. The bottom line is, I paid for those
And I think what`s important right now is the content of the book, the
reality of our criminal justice system and how it should be changed.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about that.
You know, my colleague Reverend Sharpton talks about this. A lot of people
talk about this, that we have too many African-Americans in prison, a
particular group that`s in there. When you were in there, did you sense
that there was this unfairness in the way people were being put away?
KERIK: Honestly, yes, Chris. And I talk about that.
One, I put a lot of people in prison, people for long periods of time. But
they were really bad people that did bad things. And then I went to
prison, I meet a young 19-year-old black man, a kid, that was sentenced to
10 years for a first-time low-level nonviolent drug offense, and people
sentenced to 15 years, 20 years, commercial fishermen that caught too many
We`re putting way too many people in prison across this country that didn`t
have to be there to learn from their mistakes or to learn what they did
wrong or pay for those mistakes. We are creating, in essence, a complete
second-class generation of men and women by doing what we`re doing. And I
think it has to stop. It`s unsustainable. We can`t continue to do this.
MATTHEWS: Well, your book is called "From Jailer to Jailed." You know
what you speak of.
Thank you so much, Bernard Kerik, the new author of a great new book.
The next -- up next, the newest battle lines in the fight over those so-
called religious freedom laws. Hollywood has picked up the fight. Anybody
see "The Good Wife" last night? It`s right off the pages of the newspaper
this week. I don`t know how they do it.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I`m Richard Lui in the MSNBC
Jury deliberations begin tomorrow in the trial of Boston bombing suspect
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He faces 30 criminal counts; 17 of those could result
in the death penalty.
A fourth New York City man is charged in an ISIS recruitment plot. Three
others were arrested last month.
And the man charged with killing three Muslim college students in February
could face the death penalty if he`s convicted. Prosecutors in North
Carolina say the suspect confessed to the shootings and was arrested with
the murder weapon -- now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, the fight over religious freedom set off by legislative action in
Indiana and then in Arkansas last week made its way to Hollywood in last
night`s episode of "The Good Wife." A debate over religious liberty was on
full display. I don`t know how they did this, but they did it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE GOOD WIFE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows
exemptions in anti-discrimination laws.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Not in California. California does not have one.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let`s say it`s in New Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: It doesn`t matter. The baker is refusing to sell a
wedding cake to a gay couple for who they are. That is the heart of
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What if our baker won`t sell wedding came to a gay
couple, but he will sell them bear claws, cupcakes?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That`s right. She isn`t in fact refusing to serve
homosexuals. She just won`t do the one thing her religion says is a sin.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: That`s insane. Selling someone something they don`t
want is the same thing as refusing them service altogether.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No, it isn`t.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: A vegetarian couple walks into a market, and you
refuse to sell them vegetables. In fact, you will sell them anything but
vegetables. You`re effectively denying them service.
A gay couple wants to buy a wedding cake, and you refuse to sell them a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, they got more sophisticated than that, than you can
believe, last night.
But, in the real world, the fight doesn`t end there. Those laws that many
say discriminate against gays and lesbians found support from governors in
states beyond Indiana and Louisiana -- actually, Arkansas.
Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal has
defended the rights of private businesses to deny some services to same-sex
Here he is taking the hard view here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I`m disappointed. Let`s remember what
this debate was originally all about. This was about business owners that
don`t want to choose between their Christian faith, their sincerely held
religious beliefs and being able to operate their businesses. Now, what
they don`t want is a government to force them to participate in wedding
ceremonies that contradict their beliefs. They simply want the right to
say we don`t want to be forced to participate in those ceremonies.
So, I was disappointed you could see Christians and their businesses face
discrimination in Indiana. I hope the legislators will fix that, rectify
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think he was joined there by Rick Santorum. A couple guys
thought that was the right way to go.
Let`s go to our panel members right now. We got Ryan Grim here. We`ve got
Jeanne Cummings. And we have John Brabender.
I`ve got to start with you, John.
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I knew you would.
MATTHEWS: No, because I think because you`re a Rick Santorum guy. And I
like Rick Santorum. But on this issue, I find it very hard to figure where
the courts are going to end up here.
Is it OK -- we agree if you open up a convenience store on the open, see a
couple gay fellows come in, they look they`re lovers, no, you`re not going
to get any chewing gum. That kind of street corner operations is clearly
just -- for everybody to come to a -- everybody has to be allowed in. But
then to get the catering and ordering up special stuff for weddings and
stuff, and -- I don`t know. That gets into contracting. I`m waiting to
see how that figures out.
He`s saying I`m against any kind of law that requires you to serve gay
BRABENDER: Well, but let`s go with what we agree with first. I mean, we
start getting into the emotional side, the legal side, I think all of us
would agree here, and I Rick Santorum would agree if there was a restaurant
that said, I do not want to serve a gay couple and I`m not going to serve a
gay couple because of my religious beliefs, he would not go to that
restaurant. I don`t think any of us would go to that restaurant. We would
tell our friends not to go to that restaurant.
MATTHEWS: Well, what would happen then? Would the restaurant be allowed
to do that?
BRABENDER: But then, the crux of the issue becomes, does the government
have the right to step in and tell that restaurant owner that they have to
disregard their religious beliefs and take an action that the government
feels that they should have to?
And that`s really what a lot of these governors are saying. That`s a lot
of what the conservative Republicans are saying is. We did not intend this
to be a discrimination issue against anybody.
MATTHEWS: OK. Think of all the words you can think of that are negative
about people who are gay. We grew up in high school, a lot of us. They`re
bad words. And you put a sign over the store, none of them allowed in
here. Do you think that`s legal? I`m just asking a question. Is that
BRABENDER: I have no idea.
MATTHEWS: Answer the question. We`re debating here. Is that illegal?
BRABENDER: No. What we`re debating is I would not go to the store.
MATTHEWS: You might if you`re tough. You`d say, I`m going to prove I`m
BRABENDER: I`m saying --
MATTHEWS: Brabender, you`d do it. You`d do it. If it said no Brabenders
allowed, you`d go.
BRABENDER: You`d go with me.
MATTHEWS: I would do that.
BRABENDER: But the question is, you know, sometimes, the real test of
freedom is allowing something that we find abhorrent.
MATTHEWS: Jeanne, politically, I get the feeling because Jindal and
Santorum are taking the conservative side, you`re allowed to say no to
certain weddings, parties you don`t want to be participating in
religiously, that that`s going to be an appealing argument to a good chunk
of the Iowa caucus vote, of the early primary vote in the Republican Party.
A good chunk of it.
JEANNE CUMMINGS, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Absolutely, a good chunk of it. There`s
a big percentage, 20 percent, 30 percent of the Iowa caucus-goers are
evangelicals or -- they`re all almost all Christians. So, this matters to
And Santorum and Jindal will indeed use it because they`ve got space now
because bush moved. Bush initially defended the law, but then --
MATTHEWS: Will Ted Cruz come chasing after them? Ryan?
CUMMINGS: Not come chasing. He`ll come charging in and go after them.
MATTHEWS: You think there will be a pull to the right here?
CUMMINGS: Chris, I`ll say this -- this is not a good thing for them to be
talking about. I know --
MATTHEWS: Is this like the candidates of a couple years ago, the two guys
Mourdock and Akin, don`t talk about rape if you`re a Republican male or any
RYAN GRIM, THE HUFFINGTON POST: This is a little bit better for them. Ted
Cruz jumped out extremely quickly. You know, he knows he lives or dies in
Iowa and wants to come out of there on top. That`s the place he can take
out Scott Walker, take out -- if he can win these --
MATTHEWS: You can kiss off the gay community of the United States and
their relatives and friends, you can risk that to win the Iowa caucuses?
CUMMINGS: But it`s a short-term risk. It`s short term.
MATTHEWS: You think they`ll forgive you? Is this like Bibi Netanyahu, say
I don`t like Arabs one night and the next day, he said, well, I`m not
really against the Arabs? You can do that here?
CUMMINGS: No, you can`t.
CUMMINGS: No, you can`t. That`s how I say. Long term this is not good
MATTHEWS: All right. We`re going to talk about -- I want to talk about
something serious, which is what I study. And Brabender knows about this.
I want to talk about themes and strategies that win elections. I`m waiting
to see if we`re emerging -- we haven`t heard it from Hillary yet. I want
to know why these people running for president think they should be
Simple words: Reagan was tough patriotism. Jimmy Carter was innocence,
remember? Nixon was tough politics, I`m tougher than this guy. Kennedy
was: let`s get this country moving again. God, FDR was New Deal.
They all had a theme. I want to know whose themes we`re going to see now.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Mitt Romney is in the top 1 percent but not in a way you might
expect. Romney`s NCAA brackets are better 99.98 percent of the brackets
filled out in ESPN`s bracket challenge. He picks them all the time. He`s
always right. Romney predicted all four final teams this year and has Duke
over Wisconsin in tonight`s championship. Tonight is the deal maker for
him. If Duke wins tonight, Romney is perfect.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We are back.
And as more 2016 candidates declare for president, their next challenge: to
develop a message for their respective campaigns, a message -- a winning
message communicates a candidate`s rationale for running in the first place
as well. Of course, it`s a vision for the country`s future. Most
importantly, it should differentiate a candidate from whoever else is
running against them. It should say, "This is why I should be picked for
In 1960, for example, John F. Kennedy said he would get the country moving
again, promising vigorous action in contrast with a static leadership of
the 1950s. It was just right with the pulse.
Richard Nixon asked America to vote like your whole world depended on, in
`68, he brought test and experience to a country divided over Vietnam.
In `76, Jimmy Carter promised he would never tell a lie. His slogan,
"Leaders, for a change", spoke to a country disaffected, in fact, very
angry about Watergate.
In `88, George Herbert Walker Bush promised "a kinder, gentler nation", a
theme which son George W. Bush echoed in 2000 with his call for
Barack Obama`s message of hope and his change we can believe in work to
inspire an electorate who become skeptical about the war, at least
skeptical, hateful of the war in Iraq.
So, which candidate will have the winning message in 2016?
We`re back with our roundtable: Ran, Jeanne, and John.
BRABENDER: Well, first of all --
MATTHEWS: Who`s got the best theme so far? Anybody have one.
BRABENDER: No, but it doesn`t work that way anymore because --
BRABENDER: But you`ve got to understand --
MATTHEWS: I still think it matters what the message is. Go ahead.
BRABENDER: At this point, your theme line is toward a base vote that you
can get to become the nominee. You can`t have a universal theme that plays
for everybody. If you look at Rand Paul, tomorrow, his theme is going to
be attack Washington, anti-Washington. Cruz will be like -- I think he
came out and said, the conservative that you can trust, or something like
They`re all going to play to some small position because they`re not trying
to get 50 plus one right now. They`re trying --
MATTHEWS: If they go for the 30 percent and they win the Iowa caucuses,
where -- how will they end up getting 51 in November?
CUMMINGS: I take a stab at this because I think we are starting to see
some of it. I think what Cruz is selling -- I`m the fighter," I`m the one
who`s going to go in there, sure we all believe the same things, but I`m
MATTHEWS: I`ll bring down, I will filibuster, I will shut down the
government, I will fight --
CUMMINGS: I will fight. I will fight the way you want me to fight.
I think Bush is coming in much like his brother and his father, which may
or may not be good. But he`s empathetic to newcomers he wants to lure to
the party, while at the same time trying to stay true to the roots where he
Scott Walker is, you know, iron man. I have beat them all.
MATTHEWS: I beat Ed Schultz.
CUMMINGS: That`s right. And I`m still standing, and now he is wrapping
himself around the Reagan mystique.
Hillary Clinton, we haven`t heard much from her, but one of the first
things we did hear is experience, and she mentions bipartisan legislation
that she worked on in the Senate.
MATTHEWS: She doesn`t have to worry about the primaries.
BRABENDER: When you went through those, you will see that some of them
were anti-Washington, anti-establishment when you`re on the Republican
MATTHEWS: Ryan, what are you hearing?
GRIM: I mea, it`s tough, tough for Hillary because she can`t, I don`t
think, go back to experience because she torched that by doing it so badly
MATTHEWS: It didn`t work for McCain either.
GRIM: She can`t do change, because then it`s too much of a break with the
MATTHEWS: How about -- our producers think there might be something more
subtle. Like I`m grown up, I`m a grandmother, I`m a human being in this
country, I`m part of you, I`m living like you, I`ve got a grand kid
Charlotte and I`ve got a lot of stake in this battle, but I`ve got a lot of
CUMMINGS: That`s experience. The veteran in the fight that can go to
Washington and have the best shot of getting Washington to work again.
MATTHEWS: Put that together and then you`ve got manage.
Anyway, thank you so much, Ryan, thanks for coming in. Thank you, Jeanne
Cummings. And thank you, John Brabender, for being the barrel tonight, but
thank you. We need somebody there.
When we return, let me finish about my theory on presidential elections.
And tomorrow, actor Russell Crowe is going to be here to talk about his
directorial debut. There he is. What a guy.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: I have a theory about
presidential elections. To win, you need a top drawer strategist, someone
with their finger on the country`s pulse, someone who knows what the voter
feels, knows and wants for the country, and wants it, and the candidate
running for president. The strategist needs one other thing besides
message, he needs to know how to exploit it, how to lead his candidate to
David Axelrod knew the key factor in the 2008 election was, which candidate
will deliver us from the stupidity of the Iraq War. David Plouffe knew
that the key to exploiting that advantage was winning the deluge of the
caucus and smaller primary states, even as Hillary Clinton was winning the
big Democratic states.
In 1992, James Carville and Paul Begala knew that the key to beating the
insurmountable (ph) George Herbert Walker Bush was to connect with regular
people. Bill Clinton promised to look out for people who worked hard and
played by the rules. Bill Clinton cared about people like you.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter knew that the country wanted deliverance from
Watergate and the smell associated with it, including the part of Richard
Nixon. His campaign manager Hamilton Jordan also knew that the Democratic
voter wanted more than the usual rhetoric. They wanted a governor, not a
senator, who would focus on making things work, not the same old agenda
that they never got delivered. So Jimmy who beat the whole pack of the
liberals. The shape of the field once again decided the winner.
In 1960, Jack Kennedy`s pollster Lou Harris could sense the country`s
restiveness. People could feel us losing a step or two from the post-World
War II years. Let`s get this country moving again, JFK promised. And how
did he deliver on that promise? His brother Bobby said that the key to
winning primaries was to go out and meet people, get to know delegates
personally. And that`s what Jack did and one before the 1960 convention
The word "strategist" is way overused in this business. I limit it to the
people of who`ve done it. It started with the guy James Rowe who wrote the
memo that Harry Truman used to win the biggest political upset ever,
winning that presidential election no one ever thought he could win in
1948. He, Jim Rowe, saw how the great New Deal coalition of farmers, labor
and liberals, Catholics and African-Americans have splintered apart, and
told Truman how to rebuild it. He said the Democratic Party has spent too
much time on fundraising and not enough on party building.
Truman kept that memo of Jim Rowe in his Oval Office desk every single day.
It changed everything. Real strategists do that.
We`re going to know who will win the 2016 election when see a strategy like
this begin to unfold. We will hear a clear and compelling message. We`ll
see a successful campaign carrying it out to the voter, and if we don`t see
the strategy, don`t expect to see a victory.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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