updated 9/17/2015 12:09:15 PM ET 2015-09-17T16:09:15

Show: HARDBALL
Date: September 16, 2015
Guest: J.C. Watts, Alice Stewart, Robert Costa, Barbara Boxer

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Round two.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out at the Reagan presidential
library in Simi Valley, California.

The first Republican presidential debate was, of course, pretty much
of a slugfest. It was, I think Trump, versus Kelly, as in Megyn Kelly,
with the front-runner getting his sharpest challenge from the moderator
herself. It made TV ratings history, by the way.

Tonight, get ready for one hell of a sequel. Again, the first round
battle, I believe, should feature Trump versus the moderator, in this case,
Jake Tapper. Tapper is on the record saying he wants to get the candidates
fighting with each other. I expect Trump to make him eat those words.

Eleven Republican presidential candidates will take the stage less
than an hour from now here at the Reagan library -- 11. Center stage once
again is the so far immovable object himself, Donald Trump. He cemented
his front-runner status. He`s declared war on the entire field. The
attack, by the way, right now is on his back tonight.

Next to Trump is the guy with the hot hand right now, Dr. Ben Carson,
the retired neurosurgeon. He surged into a strong second place. He`s an
outsider, of course. He`s unfiltered. He could say anything tonight.

Then there`s the addition to the stage, Carly Fiorina. She`s the only
woman in this Republican race, and she`s rallied herself into primetime.
Trump has gone after her looks, believe it or not. Get ready for fireworks
because she has promised a show tonight.

And by the way, I think she`s in an excellent position to make
tomorrow`s headlines. Expect to see Fiorina in the words of the headline
tomorrow morning.

Anyway, all eyes are on those three outsiders, Trump, Carson, Fiorina.
But that`s just the start tonight. For the rest, things are looking, let`s
face it, desperate. Republicans are in no mood for establishment
candidates. That means office holders like Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Marco
Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich and Chris Christie are
all in hostile territory with voters. Their support is drying up in the
polls. They`re all in single digits.

If these elected types flunk the test tonight, it could mean a one
ticket to the graveyard -- a one-way ticket, which Rick -- by the way, Rick
Perry just stumbled in to that graveyard.

We`ve also been watching the undercard debate earlier this evening
featuring four candidates whose campaigns are on life support, Rick
Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham. We`re going to
have all those highlights of that, such as they are, later in the show.

But we begin tonight with the primetime showdown coming up soon. I`m
joined here right at the library in the spin room -- what a ridiculous
title for this place -- by NBC`s Katy Tur and former RNC chair Michael
Steele. Also with us from New York is Republican strategist Steve Schmidt,
a smart guy.

Steve, I want you to start tonight with this. Give me your tout. I
think it`s a fight with Tapper, between Trump and Tapper because Tapper
made the mistake, I believe, of giving away his plan for tonight.

By the way, here he is, Tapper, saying what his goal is tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN DEBATE MODERATOR: What the team and I have been
doing is trying to craft questions that in most cases pit candidates
against the other. They`re going to want to be talking to the camera.
They`re going to want to be getting out their talking points. But I`m
going to try, attempt to get them to address each other and actually
debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump himself is gearing up for the debate by going
after CNN himself. He tweeted today, "Can you believe CNN is milking it
for almost three hours tonight? Too long, too many people on the stage."

Steve Schmidt, is this going to be another battle between Trump and
the moderator? I think it is. Your thoughts.

STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST, MSNBC POLITICAL
ANALYST: Look, everything -- everything that Donald Trump does in this
race is designed to convey strength. His motto, his slogan in the
campaign, "Make America great again" -- it speaks very deeply to the
Republican electorate that believes that Barack Obama has succeeded in his
mission of transformation, that he`s brought fundamental change to the
country and that he`s wrecked the country. And the proof points of
conservatism no longer are issues.

And what Trump is doing when he gets in a fight with Roger Ailes or
with Megyn Kelly or when he doubles down and doesn`t back down after he
makes his comments on illegal immigration, he`s saying to a Republican
electorate that despises and has complete contempt for the elected
political class of the country -- he`s saying that, I won`t bow down. I
can`t be bought off.

And that message of strength you`ll see play out tonight in exchanges
when he counterpunches to other candidates who come at him. But it`s
always a ready applause line in a Republican debate to go after the debate
moderator or to go after the media. And he`s been spectacularly successful
at that so far in this campaign.

MATTHEWS: Katy Tur, I think you were the first one to go to war with
him, even though you didn`t declare the war. He does seem to like to make
noise by going after the person with the mike in their hand.

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think if he doesn`t like a question,
he will go after the person who asked that question. Rather than answer
the question or trying to figure out the best answer to that question or
being diplomatic in some way, he`s going to ask -- he`s going to claim that
the person who`s asking it has an agenda and isn`t fair. And then
people...

MATTHEWS: Tapper`s already told him his agenda tonight! He told him
his agenda`s to get some fishing out there, some fisticuffs.

TUR: I wouldn`t be surprised. I mean, they are looking for ratings,
as well, and ratings will come if they start fighting with each other. And
Donald Trump brings ratings. And it will be interesting, obviously, to see
him attack the other candidates.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Fiorina because, basically, I think Trump
put her in the on-deck circle, to use a baseball term. He said, you know,
I don`t like your looks, which is a terrible thing to say in any civilized
situation, certainly a corporate office situation. He did it in a way that
maybe it made the point, you know, that Steve made. It just shows he
doesn`t follow the rules.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: He doesn`t care about the establishment. But it has given
her what anybody would want, a platform.

STEELE: He has, and...

MATTHEWS: A spotlight.

STEELE: ... to her great credit, she has made the most of it and the
best of it. I...

MATTHEWS: She`s in the team now.

STEELE: I think of all the candidates, all 17 of them, she has been
the one who`s outperformed everybody`s expectations. She has been the one
who`s actually made substantive gains in this effort.

I think with real voters -- a poll out tonight has her third now in
New Hampshire. So this -- this is...

MATTHEWS: So he tried to fire her...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... in "Apprentice" style...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and he hired her.

STEELE: And he hired her. And that`s effectively what it is. And
tonight, my eye is on her. I think she stands not only to gain the most,
but to make the biggest move on Trump not by going after him, but by
showing through her answers how ridiculous his answers are.

MATTHEWS: How does she do that? Give me a script.

STEELE: I mean, I think, for example, you know, on immigration, she
will bring the compassion. She will speak to the issue in a way that
shows, yes, we can build a wall, but what about the people? It`s not about
kicking...

MATTHEWS: What about the ones that fly here?

STEELE: Well, that`s true, too. But it`s not about -- it`s not about
the direct attack that you saw with Rand Paul and Chris Christie and
others. It`s like the lion going after its prey. One on one, the lion`s
going to win.

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: When it`s -- when it`s a bigger herd, guess what, you know?

MATTHEWS: We got a couple lions joining us, Chuck Todd, moderator of
"MEET THE PRESS," and Edward Rendell -- Ed Rendell.

i want to start with Chuck on this. How do you see this tonight?
We`re ahead of the game. We`re predicting -- I predict a fight with the
moderator, and then I think the spotlight and the headlines are going to be
on Fiorina. Your thoughts.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": I don`t think -- I actually
think they`re -- I think the way Jake`s going to set this up, frankly, is
going to be where the candidates go after each other. I don`t -- I don`t
expect the moderators to be as -- sort of an equal sort of as an extra
candidate on stage, the way they were in the Fox debate.

And part of that is because first debates, candidates are usually
tentative in going after each other. This debate -- man, look at Rubio,
look at Walker, look at Christie, look at -- I could go through -- these
guys -- Rand Paul -- they all thought they were going to be top tier
candidates by now.

There`s a September 30 fund-raising deadline. I think you`re going to
see some desperation. I think you`re going to see these guys desperately
trying to go after Trump and Jeb, in particular. I think those are the two
guys that are going to get the most incoming, Trump for obvious reasons,
but Jeb because he`s going to be the stand-in for all things anti-
establishment. You know, if you don`t like Washington, you don`t like
Bush, and you`re going to see all that.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: I`m with you on Fiorina, though. I think by showing up, she`s
already -- let`s say, you know, in horse-racing, win, place, show -- she`s
already in the money. I think by showing up, she`s in the money, and she`s
going to get that great exchange with Trump when the moderators set up the
whole -- the "Rolling Stone" disparaging comment.

Put it this way. If she can`t win that moment, then she doesn`t
belong on that stage. I think she`ll win that moment.

MATTHEWS: Of course, Carly Fiorina is the only woman on the
Republican stage tonight, and as you said, she`s grabbing headlines for
dueling with Trump after he made fun of her face, believe it or not.
Here`s how she`s responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies, look at this face!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

FIORINA: This is the face of a 61-year-old woman. I am proud of
every year and every wrinkle!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Ed Rendell, I don`t know about this, but it seems
to me -- it seems to me that all these guys are going to come in with their
Sunday punch that they`ve shined up with their consultants. It`s going to
be some big birthday cake, and Trump`s going to put their face right in it
because I tell you, it`s going to be -- they`re not original people. They
don`t think on their feet. He does. I think he`s going to cream them when
they come with their big punch. Your thoughts.

ED RENDELL (D-PA), FORMER GOVERNOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree,
Chris. And I think the more people who attack him, the better it is for
him. I think the worst thing for him is if one person went after him and
scored some significant body blows and the other people address the issues.

But I think there is an air of desperation. Walker`s got to be
desperate. How about Chris Christie. He`s got to hope for a Hail Mary.
So I think there are going to be a lot going after him. And the more they
go after him, the more it makes that disenchanted voter say, Well, they`re
going after him. All these establishment pols are going after him. He`s
the guy we want.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to look like "Gulliver`s Travels," with all the
Lilliputians jumping on him!

(LAUGHTER)

Anyway, nearly every Republican candidate`s out there itching for a
piece of Trump tonight, as you said, Governor. Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is an
entertainer. I am a leader. I think Mr. Trump`s going to be hearing quite
a lot from me.

JEB BUSH (R-FL), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When he attacks
me personally or disparages my family, damn right I`m going to fight back.
I hope you would do, too.

(APPLAUSE)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He`s a narcissist.
He`s an egomaniac. The only thing he believes in is himself. This is a
carnival act.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want ratings?
Christie is ratings. Ratings, Megyn.

(LAUGHTER)

MEGYN KELLY, "THE KELLY FILE": Governor...

CHRISTIE: Total ratings.

KELLY: ... it`s always fun.

CHRISTIE: Big.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE. Big, very big. How`s that? Is that good?

KELLY: Yes!

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: his is not a game
show. It`s not a production. It is, in fact, deciding the most important
political office in the world. And I don`t believe Donald Trump will be
our nominee.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re going to make
sure everybody in America knows Donald Trump, you`re a fake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you`re going to be in their sights,
their target?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s what everybody says.
(INAUDIBLE) see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me go back -- let me go back to Katy. You`ve watched
this guy. You`ve reported on him. You`ve followed after him. You`re in
the bus. Has he got a lot of moves or one move? I mean, what we`ve seen a
lot on the shows -- and we`ve been covering him live a lot -- it`s
basically stand-up comedy, put-down artist, Don Rickles, you know, putting
people down -- that`s funny. Putting down the way things are in the
country, going after the border -- pretty predictable. Is he capable of
modulating his act so he can like a pitcher can throw a change-up?

TUR: It`s unclear. I mean, it seems that he is starting to change up
his act every so slightly. He`s becoming a little bit more controlled.
His stump speech is the same pretty much every time he gives it, except for
a few zingers that he adds on here and there. He hasn`t had press avails
before the last two events he`s had, which means that he`s maybe not trying
to make unnecessary headlines before this debate. He`s preparing for this
debate. So he is starting to treat this more like a real campaign.

MATTHEWS: Is he doing homework, like Hamas and Hezbollah?

TUR: I`ve asked that...

MATTHEWS: Does he know that stuff?

TUR: I`ve asked that question specifically. I said, you know, are
you worried about the Hugh Hewitt interview and this being a foreign policy
debate? And they said that he is doing his prep work. I`ve asked his
campaign staffers, Do you know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah?
And they said, Well, I don`t need to, but Donald Trump will know.

MATTHEWS: So is he, like, memorizing the heads of state, Michael,
those trick questions the guy from Boston used to ask?

STEELE: Yes, you know...

MATTHEWS: Who`s the prime minister of England?

STEELE: I think if they do that tonight -- I think if they do that
tonight, it will blow up in CNN`s face. I think the audience will boo.
Everyone -- part -- it`s not a matter of which team you`re on, they`ll boo.
And that will just...

MATTHEWS: But isn`t there some minimal amount of information we
expect...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... a president to have?

STEELE: There are ways you get that information. I mean, a good
example was that Hugh Hewitt, when he was talking about the Kurds versus
the Quds, and the fact that if he just let that go...

MATTHEWS: The Quds Force.

STEELE: ... it would have been self-evident. And I think if they do
that approach...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: ... it works.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Steve Schmidt. Do candidates worry about
the simple information question that shows they don`t even read the
newspaper? Are they afraid of that?

SCHMIDT: Look, candidates are always nervous being exposed as lacking
in one of the qualities that voters look to in deciding for a president.
But the point is, is that Donald Trump has shown so far that he`s immune to
all of this because the proof point for Donald Trump is winning every day.

What he`s saying is, I`m going to make America great again. I`m going
to go into the room with Putin or the Chinese or with the Mexican leaders
and we`re going to win. I`m going to get the deal. I`m going to fight for
America. I`m going to fight for the American people. And the proof points
are the strength that he shows out on the campaign trail every day.

And we talked about this earlier, Chris, but I really think we`re at
an inflection moment in the Republican Party, where issues are separating
from conservatism. Conservatism now is an expression of an emotional
sentiment. And the proof point of conservatism is the hotness of the
rhetoric, the expression of contempt towards the political establishment of
the country.

So we`re going to see playing out on the stage tonight attacks coming
at Donald Trump ideologically -- You supported Nancy Pelosi with a check or
Hillary Clinton and you supported this tax increase or that. And I don`t
think, frankly, it matters anymore.

What Trump does is he conveys strength, and that conveyance of
strength is the proof point to the message, which is he can make the
country great again. And he`s saying something that Republican voters
believe, that none of the rest of these candidates have the guts to say,
which is the country isn`t great anymore. It`s a profound statement and
it`s one that is deeply resonating with Republican voters.


MATTHEWS: It sounds like Trump can`t be outdone in Trumpism. Anyway,
Chuck Todd, last thought on this.

TODD: No, look, I think Steve brings up a good point. And this is a
-- I think it`s a huge mistake and a tactical error to -- if these guys go
after Trump on ideology because -- and I go back to something -- the
Republican Party is split now. Its rank and file, there`s a working class
-- there`s a big, large working class vote. And guess what? They all used
to be Democrats.

So trying to attack Trump as being an ex-Democrat and used to support
Democrats, it just -- and Steve`s right. This is not about issues. This
is about a style and persona.

By the way, it`s why John Boehner`s in so much trouble as speaker of
the House. It`s not an issue that he`s made conservatives mad about, it`s
his persona and style. He doesn`t show strength.

MATTHEWS: In fact, we`re sitting here in the library dedicated to a
guy who most of his life was a -- was a Franklin Roosevelt liberal Democrat
judged too liberal to be a nominee for the Democratic Party (sic) back in
the early `50s.

Thank you., Katy Tur. Thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Steve
Schmidt. Thank you, Chuck Todd and Governor Ed Rendell, who`s been in a
lot of these debates.

Coming up -- it`s make or break time for some of those second tier
candidates -- I`m being nice -- who thought they`d be first tier. And what
about those desperadoes? What are they going to do tonight? How are they
going to shake this race up and get into the race.

And a reminder. After the debate at 11:00 Eastern tonight, join me
again at the Reagan library here for a special two-hour post-game edition
of HARDBALL right from this room ridiculously called the spin room, all the
analysis, the winners, the losers, everything here in this room from these
chairs tonight.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics live from the Reagan library.
Thank you, Nancy, for having us here tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, live from the Reagan library for
tonight`s big Republican debate.

For many candidates up on stage tonight not named Trump, this is a do
or die moment for them. Nationally, Trump and Dr. Ben Carson claim half
the party`s support across the country. Everyone else languishes. And I
can`t believe this, having watched this for years. They`re in single
digits. People like Bush are down in single digits, according to the
latest poll from "The New York Times" and CBS News.

In New Hampshire, the story is similar again, the latest WBUR poll,
Trump in the lead, followed closely by Dr. Carson, Fiorina a few points
back, all three without any official history in government, Jeb and John
Kasich tied for fourth.

Well, that means there are going to be a lot of candidates on stage
tonight in desperate need of a win tonight. What`s their strategies for
seizing the spotlight from Trump? It`s going to be tricky.

Alice Stewart is communications director for the Huckabee campaign.
She is right here. Robert Costa is national political reporter for "The
Washington Post," and in D.C., J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman
from Oklahoma. He`s a surrogate for Rand Paul.

Let me start with J.C. You`re not here.

J.C., how is Rand Paul going to get into the fight tonight so that he
is somewhere in the lead in the coverage tomorrow?

J.C. WATTS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, Chris, I think all the
polling data -- talk to me about or have me on your show about 10 days out
from the Iowa caucuses, and I can tell you who is going to win.

I think, right now, the numbers are going to be all over the board.
We saw this in 2012. I was intimately involved with the Gingrich campaign.
We saw five or six different leaders in Iowa. We saw Newt at 33, 34
percent. He ended up with 13 percent.

Two weeks out, Rick Santorum had 4 percent or 5 percent. He ended up
winning the thing. So, I think you will see some of these candidates
probably continue to drop out, as you saw Rick Perry do. But it wouldn`t
surprise me if we still had about 10 candidates going into Iowa, into the
caucus.

And it is going to be very interesting. These numbers aren`t moving
me, and I don`t think they are moving Senator Paul.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask Alice the same question.

Your candidate, Huckabee, same low numbers, numbers as low as Bush.
They don`t like anybody, it seems, that has had a job in government. It`s
endemic.

ALICE STEWART, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: Well, the congressman
was right. This time in 2012, Rick Perry was leading in the polls.

We have got a long way.

MATTHEWS: So, why are you out here debating?

STEWART: Because it is important. It`s important to communicate...

MATTHEWS: So, is this pregame season? Is this pregaming for a party?
Is this preseason for a football season? You are saying this doesn`t
matter?

STEWART: I`m saying every debate, every opportunity to meet voters...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why are they watching debates and watching these candidates
that have been campaigning for almost a year now? They are making these
judgments, the voters.

STEWART: Well, it`s still in the early process.

MATTHEWS: Well, what are they -- what judgments are they making?

STEWART: Right now, they are window shopping. They`re comparing and
contrasting the candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There is a pattern here. The pattern is they don`t like
anybody who has had an office. They like people like -- now Fiorina is
catching up to Dr. Carson and Donald Trump. All three of them have one
thing in common. They have never been elected to anything. Isn`t that a
pattern?

STEWART: Well, right now, people at the top of the polls, sure, they
are outside of government.

But the key is, we`re seeing surface level. When we start peeling
back the layers and we`re asking candidates for specifics on where they
stand on the issues, and when they also -- people want to see someone who
has actually led something before in terms of executive experience.

MATTHEWS: No, they don`t. Well, that`s not what -- excuse me, Alice.

That`s not what they are doing, Robert. They are picking people that
they can`t blame for something.

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That`s right.

MATTHEWS: They don`t hold these guys responsible. They hold the
people in office responsible. And Ronald Reagan once said, I will admit
I`m irresponsible when they admit they are responsible. And that may sound
ironic, but he meant it.

COSTA: And Reagan ran as an outsider. He was a governor, but he ran
as an outsider.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: As an ex-Democrat, too.

COSTA: As an ex-Democrat.

And you see people are brushing off Trump. I think tonight, it is
early, and I understand all of these arguments about what happened in 2011.

MATTHEWS: Well, what else are you going to say when you are behind?
It doesn`t matter.

COSTA: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I would say.

That`s what you`re saying.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: Every campaign you talk to you -- I think maybe even the
Huckabee campaign would agree with this -- you need a moment tonight. You
need a breakout moment, because Trump has been overwhelming.

MATTHEWS: Does Huckabee need a breakout moment tonight?

STEWART: Every candidate -- in these debates, you are not going to
win a campaign in a debate, but you sure can lose one. And we have seen
experience...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Rick Perry and -- you know who is losing, is Governor
Walker. He has gone from being a real contender to being a two.

STEWART: The key with these is this an opportunity to communicate and
show your contrast. But building an organization -- you have been out
there.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: But Walker -- Walker has been canceling events around the
country, trying to focus on Iowa. I think, tonight, Walker is speaking
directly to those people in the suburbs of Des Moines, saying, I am
evangelical, I am Midwestern. Pay attention to me again.

MATTHEWS: OK, J.C., let me ask you about football. Do you throw the
bomb tonight? If you`re one of these guys, do you throw the bomb? Do you
try to go all the way into the end zone?

Tonight, I have got one or two shots with the announcer. I`m going to
get the -- I`m going to make my touchdown tonight. Do you do that, or do
you risk it and just do three yards and a cloud of dust, just keep in the
game? What do you do?

WATTS: No, I don`t think you try to throw the bomb. I think you
probably look to get some 20-, 25-yard gains.

But, Chris, most football games, you are going to have a whole lot
more six yard gains than you have 60-yard gains. That`s the reality of it.
And I think in politics and a presidential election, when you are talking
about five months away from the Iowa caucus, there is still a lot of runway
out there.

And so I think being -- the race isn`t going to be given to the swift
nor to the strong, but to those that will endure. You have got to make
sure that you are organized. I think Senator Paul is well-organized in
Iowa. I think he`s is well-organized in New Hampshire.

And I think organization, continuing to stay the course, talking to
people, that`s the thing that is going to win. At the end of the day, I
have nothing against Donald Trump, but I do believe that Donald Trump, when
you look, he is at 27 percent and 23 percent, I think the two polls that
you showed.

Chris, there is seven out of 10 people saying, no, he is not our
choice.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WATTS: So when you see this thing dwindle down, I think it`s more
realistic to say, let`s see what those numbers are going to be two month
said from now, and then all the sound and fury will mean something at that
time.

COSTA: You just keep -- you can`t -- Congressman, with all respect,
you can`t have this wait strategy forever campaign.

If you are on the bubble, if you are Chris Christie, if you`re Scott
Walker, at you`re at 1 percent, and you think you are just going to wait on
the sidelines tonight, you may not make that next debate, even for Senator
Paul.

WATTS: Well, that`s fine if they -- that`s fine if they want to do
that.

All I`m saying is, is throwing the bomb on every play isn`t going to
win the game for you.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: I think you need a steady performance. You don`t need to be
trying to throw the bomb every play.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

I think the chief defender is going to be Donald Trump jumping up so
high in the air that he`s knock that ball right down again. I think his
greatest strength tonight will be defense. I think he is going to be ready
for it, because he has a magical ability to think. And most of the other
candidates can`t do that. They can come in with a script. He can think
right out there.

WATTS: Chris...

MATTHEWS: Your -- last thought to you, J.C.

WATTS: Chris, let me ask you something.

I don`t think there is anybody on this panel that would say that
somebody that has said what they have said about -- what he said about
women, what -- the brush that he has painted with concerning Hispanics,
when you use your personality to be rude and crude to people and say,
that`s just the way I am, what happens when he says that about the Jewish
community, about the black community, about poor white people and on and on
and on?

I met Donald Trump a couple of times. And I don`t say this as a
Republican. I say it out of civility, to say that, is that what we want in
the White House? And I just have to think that that`s not where
Republicans are. I think it will do irreparable damage to the Republican
Party if that`s who we select.

MATTHEWS: J.C., I completely agree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: ... Republicans who are upset about what has happened in
Washington over the last 10 years, but, nevertheless, is that the choice
that we make? I`m not so sure that it is.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I think you are right across the board.

The problem is your timing. If the Republican Party was going to
stand up for decency in American politics, they could have done it about
four or five years ago, when Donald Trump was out there, for everybody to
hear, saying the president of the United States was an illegal immigrant
who came from Borneo or someplace like that.

He said it over and over and over again. It was racist, disgusting,
and everybody let it go by, including Boehner, the speaker of the House.
He never raised objection to it. So now you guys have got it coming home
to roost, the way you let that guy get away with it -- no, you let him get
away with it, and now he is getting away with it big time.

WATTS: No question. No question.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And your party should have stood up for it when it
mattered. When he first in for this poisonous talk, you should have talked
up, and you didn`t do it. And now you are paying for it with a guy that
has gotten out of hand.

WATTS: Chris, no question...

MATTHEWS: Right?

WATTS: ... because when we -- when we were using -- when the
personality was being used to dis the Democrats and the president, FOX News
and others, the establishment, thought it was cute.

But now that he has turned on Republicans and FOX News, we don`t think
it is so cute. But I didn`t think it was cute when he was doing it to the
president. You can disagree without just flat out being nasty.

And -- but, Chris, at the same time, we have seen it on the Democrats`
side as well. It`s no more right for the Democrats to do it than it is for
the Republicans to do it.

COSTA: But Trump has changed his tempo.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s move on there.

By the way, good work there, J.C. Watts. Thanks for coming on for
Rand Paul.

And thank you for coming on for Governor Huckabee.

And, Robert Costa, thank you for coming on for the truth.

I`m just kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: For "The Washington Post."

Up -- I`m not kidding, actually.

Up next: She beat Carly Fiorina out in San Francisco, Los Angeles,
San Diego, everywhere, for the United States Senate from California.
Senator Barbara Boxer is joining us next to discuss her former opponent,
plus whether Hillary Clinton should be taking on Donald Trump right now and
don`t wait until the general.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from the Reagan Library
for the second Republican presidential debate tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLY FIORINA (R), CALIFORNIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: My focus is on a
national energy policy, because that is why...

QUESTION: Yes or no? Just answer, do you support it?

FIORINA: I have not taken a position on it yet.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: If you can`t take a stand on Prop
23, I don`t know what you will take a stand on.

If my opponent gets there, California is done for in terms of its lead
on clean energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, live from the Reagan Library for
tonight`s Republican debate right here.

Well, that was Carly Fiorina debating U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of
California during their hard-fought 2010 U.S. Senate contest.

Senator Boxer knows what it`s like to go on stage with Fiorina. She
joins me right now.

Senator, I`m a big fan of yours. So, tell me what you think about
tonight. You beat her, and here she is back going for president. It
doesn`t make sense. Your thoughts.

BOXER: Everybody has a right to follow their dreams, but nobody has a
right to win without proving that they really care about people.

And the reason I was able to beat her by really a landslide in a year
that was terrible for Democrats was because of her record. She had laid
off tens of thousands of workers. She pocketed millions of dollars in a
golden parachute, was fired from Hewlett-Packard. She had been fired
before that.

And I`ll tell you, the people who she stepped on cut commercials for
me. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats, some were independents,
and they said they were so mistreated. She actually had them training
their replacements, people who were coming from abroad. So it was a pretty
awful record that she had.

Plus, what is incredible is, when she was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard,
they actually were selling printers to Iran, and there was an executive
order that said no. And the SEC caught them. So, she has got so many
problems.

I say, if the Republicans choose her, we will walk into the
presidency. Really, we will.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it ironic that she is able to run now as a feminist,
as someone who was mishandled, if you will, abused by a male, Trump in the
way he talked about her appearance?

And now she can come back tonight, I assume, with a lot of support
behind her just to stand up for her integrity and her gender, if you will.
It just seems like that.

BOXER: Well, that`s -- that is fine.

There is nothing wrong with Carly Fiorina`s face. And that is so off-
base, I can`t even go there. But she should have realized that when she
attacked me because my hairstyle was -- quote -- "so yesterday."

(LAUGHTER)

BOXER: So, it is sort of crazy that she had attacked me on my hair.

Now, it is true I have many bad hair days. It is true. But people
thought...

MATTHEWS: I always thought you looked pretty well -- pretty together,
for me.

(LAUGHTER)

BOXER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this gender fight this year.

Hillary Clinton is a pro. She`s been around while. People made a --
I never met anybody that had so many people who have made up their mind,
their own attitudes. It seems like it`s a Rorschach test when you ask
about Hillary Clinton. What do you think? Well, ask who I am.

Do you think this is going to be a campaign where she can get out
there and really make it about issues, the economy, foreign policy? Can
she get out of this discussion of this personal, who do you like today kind
of thing?

BOXER: Well, the Hillary situation -- and I am so for her. I think
she is by far the most qualified. She has the temperament. She has the
toughness.

But I was right when I said on day one that, as soon as she announced,
they would be going after her 24/7. So, you have had like more than a
dozen of these Republican candidates going against her. You have got the
Republican House going against her. And the media wants to knock her down
because they want a race.

And she has proven that she can stay tough through all this. And this
e-mail thing is so much a baloney sandwich. I can`t even begin to tell
you.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Do you think "The New York Times" is out to get her?

BOXER: I don`t know.

But let me tell you, I don`t know one senator, not one, I don`t know
of any who doesn`t send work e-mails on their personal e-mail address. It
is done all the time. What Hillary did was OK at the time. She got
approval to do it. Yes, she used a private server, which I would argue
probably turns out to be safer than some of the government servers which
has been hacked.

So this thing is nothing, but it`s been 24/7. But she is proving,
Chris, that she can take the heat. If you look at her right now, still
leading by a lot, compared to Jeb Bush, who has been knocked to the bottom,
you see the reservoir of faith there is in Hillary.

And once this is behind her, I am so excited. But it has got to get
behind her. She said she would have done it differently. But I think when
people sit down and say, OK, I don`t like the way she did her e-mails, that
is a bad thing, but I love the way she fights for our families and for our
children and for a foreign policy that makes us safe, I think that we will
get past this. I really do.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have proven you know what you are talking about.
I have never seen anybody as successful being the person they want to be
and succeeding in politics.

BOXER: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Barbara Boxer of California, it`s great to be out here,
Senator. And thank you for coming on.

Up next, we`re going to take a look at what happened earlier tonight
during that happy hour debate, the second string ,if you will. It got a
little hot there.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics, live from the Reagan
Library and the Republican debate coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL from the Reagan library for the
big day tonight on the Republican side. The candidates who didn`t qualify
for the main event, which is coming up, faced off on an undercard or happy
hour debate. According to CNN, who ran the debate, all four candidates,
Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham are below 1
percent in the average of national polls, all below 1 percent. Jindal, the
Louisiana governor, has tried the hardest to go after Donald Trump,
recently calling him a madman who must be stopped. He didn`t mean (ph)
anybody in the advertising business, either. And former New York Governor
George Pataki who tweeted this week he would not vote for Donald Trump if
he becomes the nominee, said tonight Trump is unfit for the presidency.

I am joined right now by MSNBC political reporter Kasie Hunt, former
RNC chair Michael Steel, NBC`s Andrea Mitchell and Eugene Robinson of the
Washington Post. Gentlemen and ladies, I just have to tell you, the first
thing I liked is the way -- Tapper -- who was it who brought -- Tapper did.
Which was, you said you were going to back anybody who won and now you say
you won`t back the front runner. He said that to Pataki, Pataki did not
give an answer.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I think that shows you how much --

MATTHEWS: Don`t these guys think ahead? Don`t you know if you put
your hand in the air and you swear you will back whoever wins, and then you
say except that guy?

HUNT: I`m not sure anybody will throw the hand raising thing back at
them.

MATTHEWS: I just did.

HUNT: You are the only one.

MATTHEWS: Don`t they think ahead? When they put their hand in the
air?

STEELE: You would think they would. But you know, that is how they
get caught in the moment, and the words come back to trap them. If you
will stake out the position, hold the ground and stay true to it. You
can`t just start not answering the question. When you said, well, you`re
not going to support him, are you going to support him as the nominee?

MATTHEWS: Kasie, you thought the guy who made the strongest
impression on you in the first debate, it`s just about over now, was
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

HUNT: Senator Graham brought a little bit of happy to the happy hour
debate. The Lindsey Graham we saw on Fox News last time around was dour,
sour. Lindsey Graham that showed up tonight was the one that people who
cover him really know. He was cracking jokes, he was loose. But he really
has been in the mix on almost every exchange that we have seen. Even the
other candidates on the stage have turned to him and looked to him, and he
also stood up on immigration. He said Hispanics are Americans.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He has the guts in this crowd to do that.

STEELE: He stood his ground that he staked out, and in that venue he
looked at the camera and said I`m not backing down from that point. This
is what we believe. This is where we should go.

MATTHEWS: I thought the best thing Lindsay said in terms of
government making it work like we all supposedly believe in was he said to
Rick Santorum, yes, you had an immigration bill. How many Democrats
supported it? And you never asked the most obvious question, how are you
going to enact something if nobody on the other side is for it? Lindsay
challenged him I thought effectively. Maybe not in the room, but in the
world. I thought he was being honest. Your thoughts.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC: I agree with Kasie that Lindsey Graham really
stood out and he tried to establish his bona fides as commander in chief,
and we know of his background as a JAG officer and on Armed Services. But
also he stood his ground and laid out the case on immigration and did it in
a way that I believe just practically speaking if not morally, Republicans
have to do and have not. Also interesting that George Pataki tangled with
Santorum on the rule of law and that Santorum didn`t seem to know that or
rather, Bobby Jindal didn`t seem to know that Justice Kennedy was a Reagan
nominee and appointee to the Supreme Court in trashing Supreme Court
justices. That clearly an error that in fact Jake Tapper corrected him on.

MATTHEWS: Andrea, you`re a good reporter. Can you remember any of
these Republicans complaining when we had a 5-4 decision in Bush versus
Gore in 2000? Weren`t too many heads shaking oh, we can`t have that in
this country. Let me go to Gene Robinson. These guys change their mind
about the Supreme Court on the last decision. What did you make of Lindsey
Graham? He was talking about his predecessor, Strom Thurmond, having four
kids after 67, and that was at least kicking in and helping Social
Security. But your thoughts.

ROBINSON: That was one of his good lines and it was during the
immigration section of the debate, which I thought was a very good
exchange, and Lindsey Graham essentially saying for demographic reasons,
going forward, we need immigration. We need young workers coming into
support all those baby boomers who are about to retire.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: I thought that was very good. I thought the other person
who I thought had a good moment and had some bad moments, too. I thought
Rick Santorum had a good moment when the discussion turned to the minimum
wage. He supports an increase in the minimum wage, and the other
candidates don`t. He had a back and forth with Lindsey Graham on that. At
one point Santorum said, look, 90 percent of American workers are not small
business owners, they are workers, they are wage earners. How are we going
to win if 90 percent of Americans think we don`t care about them? I
thought that was a good moment.

MATTHEWS: Well said. They have to stop acting like everybody is an
entrepreneur building something in their basement. We like those people
doing it, but not everybody is going to be doing it. Tonight, Bobby Jindal
was asked whether he was breaking Ronald Reagan`s famous 11th commandment.
Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JINDAL: I am in compliance with the 11th commandment. I would tell
my fellow Republicans, let`s stop treating Donald Trump like a Republican.
If he were really a conservative and 30 points ahead, I would endorse him.
He is not a conservative. He`s not a liberal. He is not a Democrat, he`s
not a Republican, he is not an independent. He believes in Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So apparently do a lot of Republicans because they keep
voting for him in the polls. Former New York Governor George Pataki was
asked tonight if he has reneged on his pledge to support the ultimate
nominee. Here is his non-response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATAKI: I have not broken the pledge because Donald Trump is not
going to be the Republican nominee, period, flatout, I guarantee that I
will vote for the Republican nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, you said on Twitter that you would not
support Donald Trump. If he is the nominee will you support him?

PATAKI: He is not going to be the nominee. Let me just say one word
here. This is an important election with an enormous number of challenges
facing the American people, and the first four questions are about Donald
Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you really vote for Hillary Clinton over
Donald Trump if he is the nominee?

PATAKI: No. I will vote for the Republican nominee. Let me say this
flatout. Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States or the
Republican Party`s nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was gubernatorial response to a press question. I
swear, in three terms as governor of New York, he learned how to not answer
the questions. They all do that. All governors do that. They don`t
answer the question. They don`t have to. The capital press corps is
obedient. We will have more with our roundtable in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back from the Reagan library right now with Michael
Steele. We`ve got Lindsey Graham here coming over here to me right now.
Kasie Hunt. From Washington I have Andrea Mitchell. And Gene Robinson.
Lindsey Graham has just set up behind us here. We`re going to go quickly
through this thing. Who`s going to make the headlines in the big debate
tonight?

HUNT: I think Senator Graham made them in the small debate. In the
big debate I`ll go with Carly Fiorina.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Carly, yes.

MATTHEWS: Same question, Andrea, who will make the headline tonight
in the big one?

MITCHELL: I think it was Lindsey Graham in the undercard, and I think
it will be Carly Fiorina.

MATTHEWS: I think we agree on this. Gene, are you with the group on
this? I think it`s probably true.

ROBINSON: I`m with Lindsey Graham in the first debate. Second
debate, let me go a different way, maybe Ben Carson. Let`s see how he
performs in the second debate, there are a lot of eyes on him.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it will be offense or defense for him?

ROBINSON: It might surprise us and be a little offense. It will be
interesting. But he has got something to show to a lot of people. He`s
number two right now in all of the polls. I think there will be a lot of
attention on him, and a lot of people listening to see how he answers these
national security questions.

MITCHELL: I think it`s a big test for him.

MATTHEWS: If Jake Tapper gets him into a mano-a-mano thing, he has
won the big fight tonight for the ratings, because that will be the fight
to watch and will be in the papers tomorrow, that picture of the two of
them. By the way, they`re standing next to each other, which can make it
great.

Thank you, Kasie Hunt, Michael Steele, Andrea Mitchell and Eugene
Robinson back in Washington. Back with more HARDBALL from the Reagan
Library right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a question, how long Donald
Trump can keep this up? Isn`t that the drama? When will his fans stop
laughing, his big crowds fail to show? Is there a limit to how many times
he can go out there on the stage, call into a TV show, attack the way
things are in the country, trash his rivals, and still get ratings? It is,
oddly enough, the reality TV show Trump is producing before our very eyes.
We tune into him with the fascination of seeing how long he can do what
he`s doing.

Trump`s presidential campaign isn`t his first enterprise in this
distinctive use of television. Look at the long-running success of the
"Apprentice," it`s based on the same viewer demand out there in 2016
politicking. People like to see someone under pressure. And Trump is the
long-time master of this game. For years, he sat stone-faced, the hard-
nosed business tycoon deciding the fates of those sitting in that quiet
room before him. Then came the verdict -- you`re fired. Well, the
contestants hated it, but the audience at home loved it, and today he`s
doing the same to his presidential rivals with the added bonus of being a
contestant himself.

But reality TV always holds the prospect of surprise, and this
explains Trump`s fight with Megyn Kelly during and after this season`s
first Republican debate. The Fox moderator did to him what he`d done to
others -- casting Trump in the role of hopeful apprentice, taking for
herself the stern role of interrogator and judge. She won, he lost. Trump
has in recent weeks recasted himself into a new role -- executioner.
Instead of watching him for a verdict, we now watch to see how he will slam
the next opponent. We wait to see which rival he will fire. All the
while, he`s constantly been raising the heat level in his on-air contest.
Like the producers of the old quiz shows, he wants to see his rivals sweat.
Trump is making a bet that people, A, will like the image he projects, and
B, believe that the performer they see on the TV screen is actually who he
is. We`ll know he`s failed when we start to see him sweat, and that`s
HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes
starts now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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