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updated 3/31/2014 11:17:30 AM ET 2014-03-31T15:17:30

HARDBALL
March 28, 2014

Guests: Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, Darryl Isherwood, Susan Paige, Susan Page,
Jon Ralston, Clarence Page, Charlie Cook

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Kelly versus Christie.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Late today, in a Trenton conference
room, Chris Christie reentered the media arena. In his version of facing
the lions, the only things missing as he intimidated and taunted members of
the press corps were a chair and a whip. All the rest was on display as he
poked and derided the capital reporters invited to ask him about his
million-dollar defense report he used today as both shield and weapon.

Unfortunately, he may not have gotten all that the taxpayers of New
Jersey paid for. The report released yesterday by Christie administration
lawyers proclaimed in no uncertain terms that Christie has been exonerated,
but there are plenty of skeptics out there. Nearly every major newspaper
in Christie`s back yard harshly questioned the report.

Look at this. The New York Times editorial board writes, quote, "This
glossy political absolution cost the taxpayers of New Jersey more than a
million dollars in legal fees. This report is an expensive whitewash."

"The Newark Star-Ledger`s" editorial board also called it a million-
dollar whitewash, adding, "Let`s see what the U.S. attorney`s investigation
turns up." The Bergen "Record`s" editorial board writes, quote, "The
completed report raises more question than it buries. What it also buries
is hope that the internal investigation might rise above the governor`s
self-interests."

And the front page of "The Trentonian," one of Christie`s home town
papers, says, "Christie was with a" -- ends -- begins with a headline
written in all caps, written "Conflict of interest."

Moments ago, Bridget Kelly through her lawyer fired back at the
report, which we know pins much of the blame on her and throws in some
salacious details about her personal life to boot. Here`s part of her
statement. "The report`s venomous, gratuitous and inappropriate sexist
remarks concerning Ms. Kelly have no place in what is alleged to be a
professional and independent report."

"There appear to be two distinct versions of the George Washington
Bridge lane closings. On the one hand, Mr. Wildstein through his counsel
has taken one clear position. On the other hand, Mr. Mastro has staked a
different view. Thus, Ms. Kelly`s evidence could be critical to verifying
either of the two competing versions of events.

Darryl Isherwood is senior political reporter with NJ.com and Valerie
Huttle is a Democratic assemblywoman from New Jersey and a member of the
state committee that is investigating the bridge lane closures.

I want to start with the assemblywoman. Assemblywoman Huttle, give me
your sense of having read this report. What`s not in it? What should be
in it? What do you want to know?

VALERIE VAINIERI-HUTTLE (D), NJ STATE ASSEMBLYWOMAN: Well, you know,
they said the report was exhaustive, and you know, everything was in the
report. We certainly have no more answers to the questions than when we
started. The governor was looking for the truth. This report certainly
was there to try to exonerate the governor. We still don`t have the truth
or the answers.

And I find it very objectionable and questionable that they
interviewed 70 people, and the key people -- Stepien, Wildstein, Baroni,
Kelly, Samson -- were not in the report. Certainly, I don`t think we need
to spend a million dollars to find out that we needed Port Authority
transparency reform. We`ve done that two years ago in the legislature, and
he vetoed that. We could have done that -- we did that for nothing, quite
frankly. There`s nothing in there.

I also feel that really, you know, stuck out to me were how they
really denigrated the women. Bridget Kelly was scorned, so she caused...

MATTHEWS: Why do you think they did that?

HUTTLE: ... a traffic jam.

MATTHEWS: What was the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... lame-brain politics.

HUTTLE: Dawn Zimmer was yawning, and the yawning was her defense that
she wasn`t threatened. I found that to be incredible.

MATTHEWS: But these lawyers are smart guys. And they work -- there
must be some women in that report -- in that legal team. You`re right. It
just blew me away that they would go after a woman`s private life without
any connecting of it to what happened here.

They can`t give us a motive for why the bridge was closed down for all
those weeks, but they can give us some sort of tantalizing personal life
story about Bridget Kelly and the fact that she was having a relationship
with somebody else in this matter and was dumped by this guy. What
relevance do you think they even think -- could argue?

I mean, the governor, by the way, late today defended that salacious
attack on her personally. I thought that was pretty bad. Your thoughts.

HUTTLE: Again, there was no relevance to that. You know, the
governor said he wants to get to the bottom of it. He wants to get to the
truth. The only thing this report did -- which, you know, we`re calling a
million-dollar press release. And as you stated in the beginning, all of
the editorials called it a whitewash.

Again, we did not get any more answers than we had before. I`m hoping
that as we continue with our investigation, you know, with the committee,
that we do get some of the answers for the people that were stuck in the
traffic. The Port Authority reform, I welcome that. And you know, we hope
that now the governor will consider the legislation that we are putting
together. So it just -- it`s, quite frankly, very objectionable, very
biased and very expensive report to tell us something that we really -- we
don`t have any answers to.

MATTHEWS: Darryl Isherwood, thank you for joining us. You know, one
thing that jumped out at me, and we`re all...

HUTTLE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Stay with us, Assemblywoman. Mr. Isherwood, it seems to me
there`s something fascinating here. This whitewash, whatever you want to
call it, this legal paper said, get rid of the government -- office of
intergovernmental relations, which is the one that, of course, Bridget
Kelly was heading up there.

In other words, there`s something wrong with that very institution.
Well, that ought to tell you that the governor`s got a problem here. He
has set up an office with, apparently, the purpose of shotgunning people
that get in the way of him, of bullying people, because once the legal
document came out today and said, get rid of that very office, that tells
you the governor has set up something that`s basically a bullying
operation. And yet somehow, he doesn`t get touched by it.

Is he a client of these lawyers? I mean, how does he avoid the brush
here that he created an office whose job it was to bully?

DARRYL ISHERWOOD, NJ.COM: Yes, you know, I think that office -- a lot
of the complaint is their whole goal was to help out -- at least during the
campaign was to help out his campaign.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISHERWOOD: There was, you know, looking for endorsements and trying
to push people into -- or -- I hate to use the word push, but trying to
convince people, mostly Democrats, to endorse the governor. And there was
a lot of that sort of blurred line of mixed government versus campaign
time, and you`ve got a governmental office and governmental salaries doing
this campaign work. I don`t think that sets up well for anybody. I mean,
that`s the whole goal of that office.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s a question. Why does the governor keep changing
his lingo? A couple times ago, when he was asked at a press conference, or
it must have been a town hall, Did you fire Bridget Kelly, he very
particularly said, I did not fire her. I had her fired. And now he`s back
to, I fired her.

What is he trying to separate himself from? Is he trying to establish
the fact that she did not report to him, therefore, he couldn`t fire her,
that only O`Dowd, his chief of staff, could fire her? Is he trying to set
up firewall for the courts that separates him from her?

And by the way, she only worked a couple feet from him, by the way.
He`s now acting like she`s from some other planet. Your thoughts.

ISHERWOOD: Yes, I didn`t catch the difference in the language, but I
do know -- you know, it`s obvious he has tried to separate himself. I
mean, even in today`s press conference, he talked about -- he kind of made
a -- I don`t know if he intended to make the joke, but lanes of traffic to
him, you know, that, basically, access was restricted to these two guys,
Charlie McKenna, the chief counsel, and Kevin O`Dowd, the chief of staff.
And you had to go through those two people to get to him.

And I think that`s the firewall he`s trying to create, is, Hey, look,
people couldn`t just walk in and tell me stuff. There was a process here.
And so it wasn`t like somebody could just walk in and confess their sins to
me. It had to go through channels.

And so there`s clearly an effort to kind of backtrack here and say,
Hey, I had walls in place that kept me from knowing this type of stuff.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s interesting. Assemblywoman Huttle, this is
the question, is when he said -- look, I think he did some work today. It
wasn`t all a failure. But I thought it was interesting today when he said,
It mystifies why it was done.

Now, it doesn`t take a lot of speculation for a big-time politician, a
guy who`s pretty aggressive to understand why his staff people would be
putting a little heat on Fort Lee. Why does he say, It mystifies me?
Because that gets back to the question of -- well, let`s watch him do it.
Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I don`t know if we`ll ever know
what the motive is. As I said when I was here on January 9th, it mystifies
me on every level why this was done. And I hope some day to have an answer
to why it was done. But I certainly don`t have a crystal ball, and I can`t
tell you if or when I`ll ever know. But do I hope to after all this? You
bet I hope to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Assemblywoman, are we to believe that this governor of New
Jersey has no knowledge of his office`s relationship with the Fort Lee
mayor, Sokolich, that he has no knowledge of what might motive this kind of
pushing around or punishing? This is the part that`s hard, the context
part. Whether he knew about the bridge closing prank or not, he seems to
be playing a much riskier argument here -- "I don`t know nuttin`, the
Sergeant Schultz argument from "Hogan`s Heroes." "I don`t know nuttin`."
That seems to be something that`s hard to believe. Your thoughts.

HUTTLE: Again, it`s inconceivable that it was just Bridget Kelly and
Wildstein, you know, playing traffic jams or playing with the traffic on
the bridge without any knowledge, without anyone knowing that. It`s just
inconceivable to me.

And again, this exhaustive report shows nothing on who was to blame
and why they did it. And again, the governor has promised to do a thorough
investigation. I don`t believe that, you know, this investigation is over.
It`s far from over. There`s no -- there are no answers to the questions.
We will continue to raise the questions. And the investigation is far from
over. The report was done, obviously, to try to exonerate the governor and
not get the facts.

MATTHEWS: Darryl, I used the example of a lion tamer with a chair and
a whip. He basically pushed the press away from him today. But the
lawyers do it, too. How do they think they can get away with just
dismissing the mayor of Hoboken, Mayor Zimmer, who comes off as very
impressive on television appearances -- that`s the only way I know her. To
just say, like, Oh, she was yawning. This can`t be real. She can`t really
have been intimidated by Guadagno, the lieutenant governor, in a situation
that she was the only other witness to besides the lieutenant governor,
just knocking down the cases of anybody who doesn`t agree with the governor
here in this report. It doesn`t seem to be a fair report in that regard.

ISHERWOOD: You know, but that`s always been sort of the MO here.
Look, we`ve got a lot of conversations, a lot of things that happened where
there were only two people there, or in some cases, three or four, who
actually know the answers to these things. And we`re not -- you know,
those people aren`t talking...

HUTTLE: Right.

ISHERWOOD: ... and that`s been the problem with this all along.
You`ve got Bridget Kelly, you`ve got David Wildstein, you`ve got Bill
Stepien, who all will not talk. And you know, to the assemblywoman`s
point, I think you`re never going to be able to conclude this investigation
unless you get those people to talk because...

MATTHEWS: Unless there are charges made.

ISHERWOOD: Exactly, unless the U.S. attorney comes out and charges
people. Now, here`s the other point that I would make. If the U.S.
attorney drops his investigation with no charges, which is possible -- and
we don`t -- you know, nobody really knows where that thing stands and what
their focus is -- you know, where do you go from there?

I mean, the investigative committee may be able to compel Bridget
Kelly and Bill Stepien to turn over their documents, but they may not.
They may lose that case. Where do you go from there? And I think that`s
the problem. Back to your point, Chris, is there`s always been -- you
know, in all of these things, there`s a bit of a "He said, she said." And
when he or she in that equation isn`t talking, it`s tough to get to the
answers.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re hoping -- I`m hoping there is some legal
action, at least to get to the truth. It may be the only way we get a
Perry Mason moment here. Thank you so much, Darryl Isherwood. And
Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, thank you so much.

HUTTLE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You`re a great guest to have on an important night.

Coming up: No matter how bad the "bridge-gate" scandal looks for
Christie, he (ph) clearly still considers him a viable candidate for
president of United States in 2016. As an East Coast Republican who
governs a blue state, he may be among the Republicans with the best chance
of knocking off Secretary Clinton. But that`s only if he can get past
those right-wing Republicans in the caucuses and primaries. But look at
the guy. He`s still game to run. He`s going out there to Vegas this
weekend to basically shake his cup.

Plus, what`s become known as the Sheldon Adelson primary -- speaking
of shaking the cup -- the conga line of Republican 2016 hopefuls
auditioning in Vegas right now for that one older billionaire`s support.
And more importantly, his money.

And while things look bleak for congressional Democrats this November,
Republicans have done nothing to address their shrinking political base,
and let`s face it, lack of a positive political message. Think of it.
What is it? And that could mean huge gains for the Democrats with Hillary
at least in 2016. Plus -- could put another Democrat in the White House,
her.

Finally, I know about Winston Churchill. Churchill`s actually a
passion of mine. Senator Ted Cruz, you ain`t no Winston Churchill.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: By now, you`ve probably seen that more than six million
people have signed up for affordable care. And today, we have a picture of
where people had been struggling most to pay for health care or medicine
even last year before the law went into effect. Topping the list was
Alabama, followed by West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky and North
Carolina. All those are red states, of course.

On the other end, where the lowest percentage of people had trouble
paying for health care, were Iowa and Minnesota, tied for first, followed
by Hawaii, North Dakota and Massachusetts. All but North Dakota are blue
states.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The first question Governor
Christie was asked at his press conference late this afternoon was about
whether the bridge scandal might affect a 2016 presidential run by him.
And Christie was ready.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: In the long sweep of things, any voters, if they consider
this issue at all in considering my candidacy, if there ever is one, I got
a feeling it will be a very small element of it, if any element at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: But the poll numbers tell a much different story. The NBC-
"Wall Street Journal" poll has been tracking Christie`s national
favorability and unfavorability numbers, and they`ve taken a big hit in
direct response to the bridge mess. In the latest poll, conducted in early
March, 17 percent of respondents had a positive view of Christie, 32 had a
negative view. Rewind to the clock back to October 2013, before the
scandal erupted, and those numbers were transposed, completely inverse.
Christie was 33 positive back then, 17 percent negative. So they`ve gone
switcheroo since then.

Christie said today that the bridge scandal will not be a factor in
his presidential decision making.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: The way I`ll make a decision about whether to seek any
future office would be, do I think it`s what`s best for me and my family.
And secondly, do I believe that I have something unique and particular to
offer that particular office at this particular time. If the answer to
those two questions is yes, then I`ll seek that office. And if the answer
to either of those questions is no, I won`t. And there won`t be anything
else that will enter into it because anybody who tries to game out the
politics of this kind of stuff years in advance, the last 11 weeks should
probably show them that that`s a fool`s errand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Christie will be in Las Vegas this weekend, meeting
with top Republican fundraisers. We`ll get more on that later in the
program.

But it sure looks like Christie considers himself a viable contender
for 2016 himself. "Time" magazine`s Mark Halperin is an MSNBC senior
political analyst and author of "Double Down," a great book. And Susan
Paige is the Washington bureau chief who writes all the big front page
stuff for "USA Today" about politics.

Mark, I like to remind people who`ve watched this as civilians, this
political game, you don`t pick the candidates. They pick themselves, and
then you choose among them. Will he be one of the people that will try to
be a candidate, despite this kerfuffle and embarrassment and perhaps
scandal of the "Bridge-gate"?

MARK HALPERIN, CO-AUTHOR, "DOUBLE DOWN," MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST
Chris, my considered opinion on this day is that, all things considered,
Chris Christie has the first or second most likely path to the Republican
nomination today of anyone who`s considering running.

He is not a perfect candidate. This bridge thing is not helpful. But
if you look at fundraising, the calendar, his political skills, his
message, and the one thing Republicans are looking for in a candidate, who
can beat Hillary Clinton, with the possible exception of Jeb Bush, I`d say
today Chris Christie, I think, has the clearest path to the Republican
nomination of anyone else.

MATTHEWS: Is there, Susan, an establishment candidate nomination
fight? In other words, there`s going to be a right-winger, probably,
probably a libertarian, Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or somebody, or Rubio. But
is there still a need for somebody in the sweet spot, somebody who can get
the big money and look like they can beat Hillary early on?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Right. Scott
Walker, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, first of all, would be acceptable
establishment candidates.

MATTHEWS: Is that the race that he is in?

PAGE: I think that`s the race he would like to be in. That`s the
race he seems to be wanting to run in. But I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think he is permanently tarred?

PAGE: I think this is the main thing people know about him now. You
ask Americans across the country, what is Chris Christie, he is the
governor who shut down the George Washington Bridge.

I think it is damaging. And I think what is worse for him is that he
not a good fit in this party. He is not a good fit with a party that is
Southern and that has a lot of libertarians and has a lot of Christian
conservatives. He is a Northeastern Republican...

MATTHEWS: Catholic.

PAGE: ... not a good fit in this party. That`s as damaging as the
Bridgegate scandal.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he is running? Just because he has
nothing else to do?

PAGE: I think he is running because he has met with donors, and then
he sat down for an interview, a big interview with Diane Sawyer, and then
he is going to Las Vegas for that -- for that big -- big meeting. And I
think -- and he did the news conference today. I think he is trying to
rebuild...

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN: Chris?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, yes, Mark, go ahead, because I want to know what the
money...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can you run in the Iowa caucuses with a bankroll? Will a
bankroll help a guy who is relatively centrist all against those yahoos
basically running against him?

HALPERIN: I have great respect for Susan, but I want to disagree on
two things.

First of all, what did people know about Bill Clinton during the
perils of his candidacy in 1991? That he was a draft dodger and that he
had these phone calls with Gennifer Flowers. What did people know about
George Bush early on? He was a son of someone who at that time who was not
a particularly popular ex-president.

And, secondly, Mitt Romney was less of a good fit for a Southern
evangelical Tea Party party than Chris Christie is. Look, he can skip
Iowa. He can win Iowa in a fractured field. He can raise so much money
and have a super PAC in Iowa that he wins Iowa.

I will say, again, if you look at the calendar, for instance, with the
possible exception of Jeb Bush, I don`t see anybody else today with a
better path.

MATTHEWS: What has he got? What has he got? Define for the person
watching right now. Here is this big heavyset guy from Jersey with an
ethnic name. He`s going to -- trying to run in a Southern party, as you
pointed out, Susan, a party that tends to be evangelical. It seems to me
Huckabee is more of a natural fit.

What does he have walking into that Iowa caucus or a New Hampshire
primary? What he`s got the others don`t?

HALPERIN: An establishment candidate who rich people love who looks
like he could take on Hillary Clinton and beat her and talk about an anti-
Washington message.

PAGE: You know, I agree that he has got an anti-Washington message.
That`s the best thing you can say, an anti-Washington message in an anti-
Washington climate.

But I...

MATTHEWS: How do you run anti-Washington when your biggest name I.D.
is your scandal?

PAGE: But I disagree with you. And I take the Romney example.

He is a worse fit with this party than Romney was because he is less
willing to put up with some of the lip service to the people who make up
the core of his party. And the people who are in the Republican Party
point to the example of Romney and of McCain and say, we went with a
candidate you told us had the best chance of winning. They lost. Let`s go
with someone who appeals more to our hearts.

MATTHEWS: What is the second best thing for if he runs and loses? Is
there a win for him if he runs a good race and comes in the top three or
four?

HALPERIN: Sure. He could be on somebody`s ticket. He could become a
leader of the party.

And depending on where the bridge thing is, he could rehabilitate
himself by getting back to more of what made him popular in the first
place.

Again, my magazine, when "TIME" put him on the cover in November,
there was a reason for it. He is an extraordinarily skilled guy. And,
look, we can talk about all these Republican other candidates. Most of
them are nowhere near Chris Christie`s class.

Now I should say, if the bridge thing implodes, all -- everything I`m
saying is no longer operative. But, today, with the report having cleared
him, however -- whatever else you want to say about it, with it not being
clear what federal crime has been committed, with no one speaking out, with
the exception of Wildstein, against him, today, yes for, a lot of late-
night comics...

MATTHEWS: OK.

HALPERIN: And some people, that`s what he is known for. But he is
going to be known for a lot more if he runs.

MATTHEWS: Mark, I like the way you think here. And I want to get
back to you on this for a final word.

I like politicians who can walk through crap storms. No matter how
bad it gets, no matter how much stuff is thrown at them, internally -- I
think Bill Clinton once said to young Rhodes Scholar, I heard him give it -
- you got to define yourself, no matter whatever anybody else says about
you. You have got to internally be able to be who you are and don`t listen
to the people, the rabble yelling at you.

Does Christie have that? Have you ever been with him to get the sense
that he has the iron makeup that he can take more of this crap when it
comes? Because it`s going to come from the prosecutors and the state
legislature, more coming here.

PAGE: I think that is one of his great strengths. And...

MATTHEWS: He can take it?

PAGE: And Mark mentioned the example of Bill Clinton. Anybody who
covered Bill Clinton does not count any politician out if they have the
ability to show that resilience. And maybe he does.

MATTHEWS: Were you there in New Hampshire in `92 when he walked
around handing out videos, DVDs, and saying, I don`t want the media, I`m
with myself?

PAGE: Exactly.

So, you don`t want to count him out. But I don`t think he is a good
fit in this party. And I think, in the end, that`s a bigger problem for
him this time.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Will his ego carry him, Mark, just the sheer strength
of his willpower to fight all this crap storm, as I called it?

HALPERIN: It`s attractive to people. It`s attractive to donors.

And I will say again. I have said this on the program before there is
one qualification Republican nominating voters across the spectrum want,
who can beat Hillary Clinton, as long as it looks like she is the Democrat.

He can do that. I will give you one quick example. He took on our
colleagues today often, when -- when I think he had some merit in what he
was saying about their questions. You say he is not a good fit for the
party. His press bashing is greater in skill than anybody in the party
today. And in the Republican Party, that`s a good fit.

MATTHEWS: I think he was hoping there would be a sign that would go
up after every one of his assaults on the press. My I.Q. is 148. Theirs
is 110.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I think he wanted to show every moment that he was smarter
than the press. And he may well have won that fight.

Thank you, Mark Halperin and Susan Page.

He didn`t kill the bully charge too well today, though.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next: Ted Cruz does a pretty bad imitation of Winston
Churchill, my hero. Cruz ain`t my hero. Churchill is. He has, of course,
done a very good imitation lately, unfortunately for the republic, of
Joseph R. McCarthy.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Senator Ted
Cruz was speaking at a recent event when he quoted Winston Churchill. And,
actually, at one point, he started impersonating him. Listen to this.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We shall fight on the beaches. We shall
fight on the landing ramps. We shall fight in the fields and in the
streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: Even Madonna was like, what type of British accent is that?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a disgrace.

Anyway, time for the "Sideshow."

That was Jimmy Fallon, of course, on Ted Cruz`s recent misimpression
of Winston Churchill. It was so over the top and bad, it sounded more like
a parody than an impression.

By the way, just for reference, let`s compare his rendition to the
real thing, the genuine article.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: We shall never surrender.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We shall never surrender.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: One talked like a man.

Senator, you`re no Winston Churchill.

Earlier this week, Mitch McConnell was called out for mistakenly
featuring Duke`s basketball team in his new campaign ad, which would be
fine if the Kentucky senator was running for reelection in North Carolina.
But he is not, of course. And that fact was not lost on his primary
challenger, Matt Bevin. Check out this latest ad -- or his latest ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT BEVIN (R), KENTUCKY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: March Madness in
Kentucky, commitment, courage, you got to love it, even if your team is
already out of the tournament. We need courage in the U.S. Senate too.

I`m Matt Bevin, and I approve this message, because if you want a
conservative in the U.S. Senate, I need your vote on May 20.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, my gosh, a conservative. Didn`t we have one there in
Mitch McConnell?

Finally, it`s well-known that news networks go to great lengths to
attract younger viewers. But on his show last night, Steve Colbert came up
with a way to target an even younger demographic. And you won`t believe
who showed up. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": I have created my own
branded info-enter-news-mention hang-space that targets an even younger
viewer.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Tonight, introducing "The Colbert Report"`s new Playdate
Plaza.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Who knows who will show up in our celebrity ball pit.

Hello.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Broadcasting legend and anchor of "CBS This Morning" Charlie
Rose.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Wow! Charlie, Charlie, how are you?

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST, "CBS THIS MORNING": I`m here to tell all the
kids, tomorrow, on "CBS This Morning," we will have Scott Pelley`s
exclusive interview with President Obama from Rome.

COLBERT: All right. Be sure to check that out, kids. Thanks,
Charlie.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What people won`t do to try to beat "The Today Show."

Up next: Republicans hope that what happens in Vegas doesn`t stay in
Vegas. GOP 2016 hopefuls are in Sin City right now auditioning for a
billionaire`s money. It`s pretty embarrassing.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.

Australian authorities are searching for Massachusetts that missing
Malaysia Airlines jet. They`re now focusing on photos taken of objects in
a new region of the Indian Ocean.

President Obama received a call from President Putin on the crisis in
Ukraine. They reportedly agreed that their top diplomats would meet to
discuss a diplomatic resolution.

And officials say the death toll in Washington could rise sharply
after that devastating mudslide; 17 are confirmed dead; 90 are missing --
back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HONEYMOON IN VEGAS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Son, we`re skydiving.

NICOLAS CAGE, ACTOR: You`re skydiving?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We`re the Flying Elvises, Utah chapter. Roy
Bacon, director, at your service, sir.

CAGE: If you could just drop me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, yes, yes, we`re going to drop you. Get them
up and move them out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Total embarrassment.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Like that classic scene you just saw from "Honeymoon in Vegas," a new
crop of Elvis impersonators is dropping in on Vegas this weekend, potential
2016 Republican hopefuls. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John
Kasich are all in town, ostensibly to attend a meeting of what is called
the Republican Jewish Coalition.

But there is another purpose, and they all know it, to grab the
attention of one guy, Republican billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson. She
has been dubbed the -- the Sheldon Adelson primary, actually. The casino
tycoon dumped in at least $93 million in the last presidential election.
His efforts were largely futile, of course.

Newt Gingrich`s super PAC, for instance, wasted 50 millions of the
dollars in the primary, and Mitt Romney`s PAC burned through another $30
million of Adelson`s money in the general. And yet those bad bets haven`t
dissuaded the old fellow from going all out again in 2016.

Sheldon Adelson, he told "The Wall Street Journal" -- quote -- "I will
spend that much and more. Let`s cut any ambiguity."

But his top political adviser says this time things will be different.
Quote: "The bar for support," that`s from Adelson, "is going to be much
higher. There is going to be a lot more scrutiny." Oh, my God.

And one of his friends and a fellow Republican donor tells "The
Washington Post" -- quote -- "He doesn`t want a crazy extremist to be the
nominee. He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is
reasonable in his positions, who has convictions, but is not totally
crazy."

Well, that`s setting the bar really high.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones"
and an MSNBC political analyst. And we got an expert out there, Jon
Ralston. He`s a political reporter out in Nevada and the host of "Ralston
Reports."

Jon, thank you for joining us.

Does this guy -- how does he live with himself? He has got obviously
a lot of money. He is going to make more every day in Macau than any of us
can imagine, Macau and Vegas together. And yet he`s now a big picture guy.
It`s not just a hawkish position on the Middle East. He wants guys that
oppose online gambling. He wants people that are anti-union.

What are these meetings going to be like?

JON RALSTON, "RALSTON REPORTS": Well, it must be really difficult to
live with yourself waking up ever day knowing you`re worth $40 billion.
I`m sure he is fine with that part of it, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

RALSTON: But when they come to kiss his ring, I think what people are
missing about these meetings, and almost all of them have set up individual
meetings with him, in addition to speaking at the Republican Jewish...

MATTHEWS: Coffees.

RALSTON: Yes, coffees, that`s right.

I would drink something stronger before going to see Sheldon Adelson
if I were these guys, because it`s not going to be them telling Sheldon
Adelson what their positions are. It`s going to be Sheldon Adelson telling
them what their positions should be. And the one that you mentioned that
is really interesting, Chris, is the online gaming, which has become his
latest crusade.

He is spending a lot of money. He has formed a group. He has hired
some former elected officials like George Pataki and Blanche Lincoln to
promote that cause. I can`t imagine what that meeting is going to be like
with Christie. Everyone thinks he is upset about the bridge thing.
Christie loves online gaming.

I wonder what Sheldon Adelson is going to say to him. That is going
to be fun.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I hate to be prurient there, but, David, is a horror bar
aspect to, a bunch of guys going in there, a bunch of women working the
barroom, and they`re all trying to win the favor of this rich guy. It`s
embarrassing.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is what our campaign
finance system has come down to.

Not only did he give $92 million -- $92 million, $93 million in direct
donations to super PACs and others last time around. He also funneled tens
of millions of dollars, maybe even hundreds, we don`t know, into these
secretive social welfare groups...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Didn`t Mitt Romney go out there and kiss him at the...

CORN: Well, they all do.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: And, so, I mean, this guy, if you`re looking for a poster boy
for what is wrong with the system and why that guy has more power than you,
Mr. and Mrs. Joe Six-Pack, this it is. You know, they...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s nothing wrong with it. Let me tell you, I
don`t want to knock the guy. He is just an older guy. I met him once. He
seems like a perfectly normal business guy.

My question is, isn`t there any kind of skin-crawling going on, on the
part of these candidates saying this is embarrassing? It`s one thing to
have to do a little smarmy kind of suck-up to people with money. But this
is so public, John, that they`re going out to meet this guy and meet his
demands on foreign policy, on gaming laws, on labor law. I mean, as you
pointed out, he is setting down -- he is vetting these guys, personally.

JON RALSTON, "RALSTON REPORTS": Well, I think that getting $50
million or $100 million could probably cure a lot of shame and
embarrassment, Chris, that these guys might feel. And I guess -- I suppose
the argument could be made, even though maybe a smaller amount of money
that when these guys go and appear in front of the AFL-CIO and pander to
them on the other side, they can say it`s the same thing. The unions spend
a lot of money.

What a lot of people miss is that all that money he gave to Newt,
before Newt got out, that was a personal thing. They go back to 1995 when
Adelson first met him when Gingrich was speaker and supported Israel. That
was personal.

Adelson did not like Romney. Romney is not his kind of guy. I think
it`s going to be different this time. I think he wants a guy outside of
Washington, a governor like a Scott Walker, maybe Christie, John Bolton as
you know is going to be there too. I would guess that Adelson is going to
load up on one of those guys.

MATTHEWS: He might win the argument. You know, it`s one thing about
delusions of grandeur, but it may be true. Anyway, Adelson`s support of
hawkish Israeli politicians and he`s also an opponent of a two-state
solution over there in the Mideast. Israel is a major focus for him
politically. According to one friend, quote, "Israel is at the core of
everything he does," fair enough. He`s also expressed very hawkish views
on Iran, not surprisingly.

He was caught on tape, now this puts him in perspective, at an event
last October, giving this suggestion how we the United States, we the
United States should deal with the Iranian nuclear program. Let`s watch
this man with power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHELDON ADELSON, CASINO MAGNATE: What are we going to negotiate
about? What I would say is, "Listen, you see that desert out there? I
want to show you something." You pick up your cell phone and you call
somewhere in Nebraska and you say, "OK, let it go." So there is an atomic
weapon goes over ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that
doesn`t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes or scorpions,
whatever. And then you say, "See? The next one is in the middle of
Tehran."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, that`s like a guy sitting around a country club
B.S.-ing, but here is trying to implement the power here.

CORN: Except, he has $40 billion. He could drop $100 million and
never notice it. It`s pocket change for him.

This is like a political version of the dating game. They`re all
going to go out there, and he is going to say, hey, you hear about my plan
to bomb Iran? What do you think about that?

And what are they going to say to him.

One second. Will anyone tell him you are nuts about this?

MATTHEWS: That`s what I want to know. Which one of the candidates
starting with Chris Christie, Jon, will say to him that was the most
knuckleheaded idea I ever heard of. You want to start a world war forever,
we`re going to start dropping nuclear weapons on a country to discourage
them from having nuclear weapons which is the very way to get nuclear
weapons.

RALSTON: He is somewhat of a recluse. He doesn`t appear in public
that often. He is not at public events as much as, for instance, Steve
Wynn might have been, even though Wynn is not so much anymore.

But remember, both those guys, they make 80 percent of the revenues.
You referred to it earlier, Chris, from Macau. So he doesn`t worry that
much about the United States anymore. He worries much more about his
interests in Macau.

Sheldon Adelson is a business guy. You know about a lot of these
guys, Chris. They`re not as much interested in politics except when they
have some kind of agenda they want to push. Israel is huge for him.

But don`t underestimate the online gaming ban. Lindsey Graham just
introduced the bill this week. It was widely seen as Graham doing a favor
for Adelson, introducing that bill. He cares a lot than issue now.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I can just see the staffers prepping these candidates
when they go out. Just tell him you understand his concerns about online
gambling. You understand his concerns. The old B.S., butter him up.

CORN: I bet you he asks for more than that. I bet he asks more than
that.

MATTHEWS: I think John Bolton will double down on every one of his
demands. Thank you, Jon Ralston. Thank you, David Corn.

Up next, it`s great having you on, Jon.

Up next, why election 2016 could look a lot like 2012, a lot better
for the Democrats.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is looking for a big win
this year before possibly running for president in 2016. And we`ve got new
polling on that race. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to a poll from Marquette Law School, Walker has a seven-
point lead over Democratic challenger Mary Burke. It`s Walker 48, Burke
41.

And here`s a new Quinnipiac Poll in the Senate race in Virginia, where
incumbent Democrat Mark Warner leads former RNC chairman Gillespie by a big
15. It`s Warner, 46. Gillespie down at 31, where he started.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The GOP`s expected to win House seats this November, and perhaps take
control of the U.S. Senate. We all know that. Their target will be an
unpopular President Obama. But what 2016?

After their losses in 2012, Republicans promise to deal with that
demographic time bomb they`re holding. It`s something they may not be able
to avoid this year, may be able to avoid this year, but not in 2016.

Elections guru -- what a great word for Charlie Cook. He sits with us
right now.

In fact, he wrote, "Republicans may win a bunch of races without
measurably improving their party`s brand, and without making any clear
progress among minority, young, moderate, and female voters. That`s this
time. Midterm elections attract voters who are older, whiter, and more
conservative. But as we saw in 2012, presidential electorates are a lot
friendlier to Democrats at the state and presidential levels both.

The bottom line, 2014 could give the GOP false hope leading into 2016.
If they continue to wage campaigns based on what they are against, mainly
Barack Obama, and not running on what they`re for."

Charlie Cook`s editor and publisher of the "Cook Political Report",
and Clarence Page is a columnist for "The Chicago Tribune".

Gentlemen, thank you.

Here is the question. Just I want to get it out of your way -- 2014
looks bleak compared to 2016. How is it shaping? Is it a leading
indicator or not of what`s coming?

CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I don`t think it`s a leading
indicator. I just think Republicans are likely to be lulled into a false
sense of complacency by having a good `14 and not address the problems that
they really need to if they`re going to, for the future of their party.

I mean, if you think about it, the Republican Party, if it were a
commercial enterprise, you`d say it was an unsustainable business model for
the long term, in terms of young voters, minority. They`ve got a problem.
But they don`t need to fix it for `14.

MATTHEWS: How do the Democrats get the Obama vote out? They don`t
have Obama, either, in 2016.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: 2016, you`ve demographics on their
side. I think Charlie`s right. I see a rerun of 1976 with the Democrats,
when coming off a Watergate Congress. They were overconfident at that time
and thought they had it made for 1980 and you saw what happened when Ronald
Reagan came in. I think the Republicans have a problem from both ends of
both the demographics that are involved here and they`ve got a field that
right now is kind of confused. It`s not very clear who their next
leadership is going to be.

MATTHEWS: What do they say -- you talk to them a lot. You talk to
groups on both sides a lot. What do they say when you ask, you guys play
voter suppression games in Pennsylvania, Florida, everywhere. That`s not
going to work in the long run, because are going to go -- courts are
rejecting them across the board. They don`t like those gimmicks.

COOK: Let me say something that`s harsh and uncharitable. But not
untrue. The Republicans on Capitol Hill with an I.Q. of a room
temperature, they get this. They understand it.

Now, their ability to maneuver and do things without getting killed in
a primary is somewhat limited, but they get the joke. They know they`ve
got to change. But they`ve got some recalcitrant members that just kind of
pull them back.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re trying to hold on to the 2010 vote they got,
the real wild dog attitude about Obama.

COOK: Right. Keep in mind, 2016, there are a huge number of
Republican seats up. I think it`s, like, 24-10.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COOK: So the shoe that`s hurting, pinching Democrats so badly in the
Senate this time is flipped over on them in 2016 with a bunch of, I think
it`s seven or eight Republicans.

MATTHEWS: A columnist question. How could this country be tilting
right the way it seems to be now, at the same time, tilting toward electing
Hillary Clinton? Are we just aiming toward coalition government?

PAGE: A lot of the vote -- to 2010 is a different electorate, older,
whiter, more conservative.

MATTHEWS: But it`s for Hillary. Hillary wins every up and down.

PAGE: Always did well with conservatives. Remember how well she did
in the primaries in the larger states back in 2008? And she did very well
in West Virginia. Obama did not.

I mean, these are the kind of differences that you`re dealing with.
Even right now, Bill Clinton is out helping Democrats in states where Obama
is not popular.

MATTHEWS: How do you make that together, how do you put it together?
Hillary Clinton winning every matchup, and yet the tilt of the country
seems rightward the next election.

COOK: The one phrase I hear from people more than any other, I
consider myself conservative on economic issues, but, and the leaders say
moderate, tolerate, whatever, on social cultural issues. That`s a sweet
spot in American politics right now. It`s somewhat to the right of where
Democrats are on economic issues, but it`s a lot farther over to the left
than where Republicans are on social and cultural.

I think that`s sort of -- that`s what we`re talking about. Ten years
ago, who in the world thought that we would have same-sex marriage in what
is it, 17, 18 states now? And we`d start seeing marijuana legalized in a
couple states. Nobody thought that. That`s this age --

MATTHEWS: But they still don`t trust the Democrats on spending.
Isn`t that the Republicans` ace in the hole?

COOK: Bill Clinton found the sweet spot in American politics and the
question is, can Hillary Clinton get right to that spot?

MATTHEWS: Is she going to be a Clintonite or would she be more to the
left?

COOK: I think she`s more liberal than her husband. But the question
is, is it just one click over to the left, is it two, is it three?

MATTHEWS: Well, they were brilliant, had the sweet spot. They would
say things, people work hard and play by the rules. That was very popular,
or on abortion rights, they want to make it safe, legal and rare to get the
progressive Catholics. They were very sharp.

PAGE: As we know it.

Don`t forget, too, there`s a lot of residual goodwill for Hillary
Clinton left over from 2008 from the people who wanted to vote for her, but
then the Obama juggernaut caused everybody to get behind Obama.

MATTHEWS: That`s a good word.

PAGE: They`ve waiting -- yes, all this time.

MATTHEWS: I think there`s a lot of sense that maybe they made a
mistake, too, in some cases.

PAGE: Maybe.

MATTHEWS: Maybe, anyway, thank you, Charlie Cook. It`s an honor.

Happy weekend for both of you, guys.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

When the communists of the world were in full cry, they like to say
our democracy was a sham, that we were all being controlled by the
Rockefellers. They -- the biggest money boys were the ones really calling
the shots in our country and elections were just for appearance.

Well, just think how much the old guys in the Kremlin and acolytes
around the world would love to see the scene this weekend in Las Vegas.
One after another, the men seeking the Republican presidential nomination
in 2016 are trooping into the gambling resort to bow before and kiss the
ring of a guy named Sheldon Adelson. A guy who`s made a fortune in the
casino business in Vegas and overseas, and Macau.

Adelson has a few interests close to his heart. He`s a rabbit hawk on
Mideast politics, hating the idea of a two-state solution. He also hates
online betting which threatens brick and mortar gaming halls, and big
surprise, he hates unions who he obviously sees as gobblers of the health
he believes should go undiluted, from roulette, black jack and crabs tables
right from the rakes of the croppies (ph) into the bank of one Sheldon
Adelson.

Well, so much for free enterprise, nothing wrong with making money.
But what about our democracy? Does it seem right to you, whatever your
politics, to see grown men, men with the ambition and moxy to think of
being an American president, to bend low for the personal approval of a man
who were it not for his money would be just another older guy with a couple
things he cares about politically?

I remember the U.S. congressman who got caught up in the Abscam
scandal caught on video taking cash from a pretend Arab sheikh who said on
camera basically and essentially that he knew how democracy work, money
talks, he said knowingly, B.S. walks. Well, perhaps we should insist the
Republican wannabes out there sniffing around Mr. Adelson should have to do
kissing with surveillance cameras working. At least then we could see the
stooping these guys are willing to do in order to conquer.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

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