Matthews Serves Up Roughly 20-Minute Softball Interview with Clinton; Trump Talk Dominates Much of It

Corrected from earlier ´ see bottom of post | In his much-hyped exclusive sit-down interview with Hillary Clinton aired earlier this evening, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews treated the former secretary of state to a softball chat that was heavily dominated by Donald Trump.

The toughest portion of the interview was when Matthews pressed Clinton to explain the difference between your garden-variety Democrat and self-avowed socialists like Bernie Sanders.  What's more, Matthews sought to paint Hillary as a centrist Democrat, perhaps center-left economically of course but "a notch to the hawkish side" of President Obama.

In another portion of the interview, Matthews helped further the absurd origin story of Hillary's 2000 U.S. Senate campaign, which essentially boils down to Hillary insisting she really, really didn't want to run but essentially got sweet-talked into the whole thing by the kind-hearted folks of New York who just won her heart.

Matthews may be diabetic, but he just poured all kinds of sugar on his interview subject tonight.

All in all it was a neatly-wrapped late Christmas present for the Democratic frontrunner and it certainly did nothing to jeopardize Matthews's wife Kathleen potentially garnering a coveted Hillary endorsement for her House primary race.

Here's the full transcript (emphases mine):


January 5, 2015

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Des Moines, Iowa. A few hours ago, Hillary Clinton gave me her first interview in the year 2016. You'll notice the colorful backdrop of the Osage firehouse.

[begin videotaped interview]

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Madam Secretary. This is a big interview for us. Twenty-two years we've been doing this and this is one of our big ones. I want to tell you, I want to ask you about 12 questions tonight.


MATTHEWS: Two segments, so I hope we get through them all.

CLINTON: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Back in 2001 when we had 9/11, and you were a senator from New York, there was a different spirit in this country, including the Republican Party. You had a Republican president who went on the air and made it clear time and again, this is not a battle between the west and the east, it's not about Muslims, it's about terrorism. And he did it so effectively.

And now we have the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, basically declaring a war on Muslims, saying they're not allowed in the country. The whole works. What do you make of this?

CLINTON: Well, it's deeply distressing to me, because I, as you know, well remember what happened after 9/11. And I have publicly given President Bush a lot of credit for the way that he set the tone and his entire administration echoed that.

And now, we need to have a sense of unity and purpose in combatting terrorism. I view it as a threat. I believe ISIS cannot be contained. It has to be defeated. But in order to do that, we need to work within our own country, with Muslim Americans, so that what I'm hearing from the other side, is not only offensive and shameful, it's dangerous, counterproductive. And of course we have to work with countries around the world in order to have a unified coalition against terrorism.

And I've laid out very clearly what I think needs to be done. And it does include an American-led air alliance and we're doing that. And we're supporting troops on the ground that are not Americans, Special Forces, but we do need to have the Kurds and the Arabs with Special Forces support, but not American combat troops. And we need to go after the arc of instability, that fuels this terrorist ideology, from North Africa to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and go after their funding and their foreign fighters, and their very effective use of the Internet.

But then the third pillar of my approach is, we have to be safe here at home. We have to work with our friends and allies around the world. I know you just got back from Israel. We have a lot of important work to do, with countries, from one end of the globe to the other. And we need to do it in alliance with Muslims here in America and elsewhere. And that's what I'm advocating.

MATTHEWS: That's why I'm concerned about the Republican Party, because this ethnic way of going at this situation, the way they seem to be going at the Muslim people rather than the terrorists, this started, remember when the man whose name we dare not speak anymore, Donald Trump, I mean, the fact is, Trump started his sort of initiation in politics by saying the president of the United States was an illegal immigrant, he was probably a Muslim, he almost was an identity thief, who created a notion of himself through a phony birth certificate, a phony birth announcement, and he was somehow, in fact, he used to say things like, Trump would say things like, nobody knew him in school, like he's some phantom impersonator, usurper. The Republican Party, every time he did that, said nothing.

Boehner, the Speaker of the House, who was pretty much respected, wouldn't, isn't this a Republican Party problem, which started with Trump's first arrival on the world stage, as some sort of politician, is that it's ethnic with them? The president of the United  States is one of the bad guys, if not the terrorists, one of the sneaker-inners. He snuck into the country and assumed an identity. It's pretty sick!

CLINTON: Well, it's very divisive. And I think counterproductive. It undermines our values, who we are as a people. We are a nation of immigrants, which you know so well.

And when I hear what's coming from the other side, and it's not just one person. There's an echo chamber there. And it's very troubling to me to try to divide and conquer, divide and conquer, and you know, a house divided against itself cannot stand. We need to be united.

And we should not reward people who use inflammatory rhetoric, when use the kind of derogatory comments, whether it's about Muslims or Mexicans or women or people with disabilities, whoever it might be. That is not a sign of leadership. That's a sign of showmanship, of desperation that should be rejected roundly by the American people.

MATTHEWS: By the way, my grandmother spoke Irish when I grew up.

CLINTON: Yeah! Yeah!

MATTHEWS: I had an Irish accent in the house. Anyway.

CLINTON: I would have guessed that.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about guns. Because you've shown a lot of guts out there. And we know all the politics of guns. You know it, you’ve ran with your husband, ran before for president. There are states that have a real gun culture, including the state I grew up in, in Pennsylvania. You come from that part of the world, in a way. You do come from that part, the Scranton –

CLINTON: My father comes from, right.

MATTHEWS: So you know there's the gun culture. How do you deal with that in electoral college situations where you've got to beat a Republican come next November, hopefully for you. How do you how do you make sure the gun people don’t say, emotionally, “Oh, she’s an enemy of guns”?

CLINTON: Well, I think it's important to be focused on what we can do together, and that’s why I do support comprehensive background checks and to close the gun show loophole and the online loophole and what’s called the Charleston loophole.  And to prevent people who are on the no-fly list from getting guns.

In fact, what I am proposing is supported by a great majority of the American people and a significant majority of gun owners. Just today at Osage, you were here when I was speaking to the crowd, and afterwards I always take time so people can come up to me. Sometimes I do it publicly, a lot of times I do it privately, what's on their minds. And a man came up, he had a veterans cap on and he said, you know, I'm a gun owner, but he said, I can't see any reason why we can't do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands.


CLINTON: And he asked me, what can I do? And I said, well, please stand up against the NRA and the gun lobby. And please talk to your friends, because what we are proposing is consistent with constitutional rights.

But I agree with you, Chris, it's going to be part of the, you know, the political debate and frankly the battle in a lot of parts of our country going forward. But it is so important, when we lose 90 people a day, 33,000 Americans every year, and when you have met as many victims of gun violence as I have, when you've sat there and you've listened to their stories about losing a child, losing a husband, losing a parent, and I've met with the mothers, who have lost children to gun violence by police hands, by, you know, more likely, gun and gang, deadly combination.

I've just so many people, from Columbine to Sandy Hook. I just can't remain silent. And I think we are at a turning point. And what I said to the man here is, you know, there needs to be a rival organization to the NRA of responsible gun owners who know that their hunting rights –

MATTHEWS: Moms Demand Action!

CLINTON: – their shooting rights, their collecting rights, all of that is not going to be affected. So I'm going to keep beating the drum and I'm delighted that the president announced the actions he did today.

MATTHEWS: Well, you're back in this fight. You were here eight years ago and here you are again. I do wonder sometimes at your ability. To use the word "stamina," that hasn't been used correctly lately. You know, I'm a student of history like you are, and I remember Nixon back in 1950 ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas, and she was one of the first women, liberals, to go out there, progressives, to try to win a big seat. And he said things like, you know, it's awfully hard on a woman. Nixon. He would use these little shots at her. Here we are, two-thirds of a century later and the leading Republican candidate is out saying that you don't have the stamina, the strength. Is this sexism? Is it what it is?

CLINTON: You know, I have a new year's resolution –  

MATTHEWS: I know, I've heard this. OK, you don’t want to talk about it. How do I phrase this?

CLINTON: I will not respond to his, you know, personal attacks.

MATTHEWS: What does it say about the Republican – let me try to phrase it – I feel like a lawyer now. How do I rephrase? How does the Republican Party deal with the fact they’re rooting for this guy. That 35 percent of people are supporting him, and even though he’s making these charges which a lot of people would say are sex – why would he go after your stamina rather than Bill’s stamina or George McGovern’s stamina or anybody else’s except you’re a woman. He's older than you.

CLINTON: That’s true.

MATTHEWS: I'm older than you.

CLINTON: That’s true.

MATTHEWS: My stamina’s alright, so why is he doing this?

CLINTON: Well, why does he do whatever he does? I can only tell you what I hear from people, and what I hear from people is their lives and their future. A lot of this back-and-forth that goes on in the political universe –

MATTHEWS: But he's winning.

CLINTON: We'll see. We haven't had a single caucus or single primary. The Republicans will have to choose whoever they decide to be their nominee and I'm looking forward, if I am so fortunate to be the nominee, to run against whoever they put up. I'm going to keep working really hard, like right out there today, you know, getting people to caucus for me, connecting them up with my great organizers.

I have an amazing team here, and we're going to work as hard as I can to make my case.

MATTHEWS: He ain't going to stop. He did an interview with my colleague, Joe Scarborough this morning, it’s going to air tomorrow morning, he's out there again saying he's going after your family. He said it's fair to go after them.

CLINTON: Well, I just –

MATTHEWS: He's just going to keep doing it. He says you're an enabler. He's making it personal with you.

CLINTON: Well, he can say whatever he wants to say. I'm going to keep talking about what people talk to me about. And what they talk to me about is, what are we going to do about prescription drug prices.

MATTHEWS: By the way, you're good on that one. That's so true. Everybody's taking drugs now, if you have diabetes like me or somebody, everybody needs it –  if your parents died of Alzheimer's, you talked about that out here. These are real things.

CLINTON: These are real things that people talk to me about. And I'm going to be a president who does the big stuff, that gets in the headlines, that, you know, you and other analysts and reporters talk about, and I'm going to do the stuff that keeps people awake at night, like, you know, making sure they can afford their prescription drugs.


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MATTHEWS: I want to say something nice about you.

CLINTON: Oh, please.

MATTHEWS: No, I have to. I was personally responsible. Back when you had all the difficulty in the second administration of President Clinton, your husband, and you had a difficult situation to go through. And you went through it, and I think you were completely stunned by it initially, and you had to deal with it as you became aware of what was going on. And what did you do? You didn't cry. You didn't go away and say, gee, whiz, this is terrible, why am I going through this.

What you did was you went out and acted like a champion for Democrats. You went around the country campaigning like mad. You were the real banner carrier for the Democratic Party in '98. And something interesting happened. An epiphany happened.

Somehow out there campaigning in New York for chuck Schumer and other people, you said something to yourself. You said, you know what, something good can come out of the for me. I can become a hero to people. And you ran for the senate for New York when a lot of people were critics of you, would have loved for you to have fallen on your face. They would have eaten it up if you would have gone down in a ditch and lost it. Because at the time you were running against Rudy, who looked unbeatable and you had the guts to go out there. What made you do it?

Because there are a lot of women watching right now, half my viewers are women, and they want to hear, what's it take for a woman to just rise out of a situation, which is pretty bad, and come out of it and say, you know what, I can rise to this occasion. How did you do it?

CLINTON: Well, you know, that's a great question, because I –  

MATTHEWS: Do you know the answer?

CLINTON: I didn't have any sense that all of this would happen. I really didn't.

MATTHEWS: Well, New York came and fell in love with you and said, we like you, come up here, live up here and be our senator.

CLINTON: And they, they did. And please run. And I said, no, no, no, for four months.

MATTHEWS: Charlie Rangel and other guys.

CLINTON: And so many others. And I absolutely said no. And I'll tell you what changed my mind. And it was maybe something other women can relate to. Because I was in the news, like, would she or wouldn't she, and I kept saying, I'm not going to. And I was first lady to go up to do an event in New York City to promote women in athletics and Billie Jean King and other great athletes.

So I was introduced by this young woman. I think she was the volleyball or basketball captain. And I came up and shook her hand and you know, I said, you know, great job. She leaned over to me and she said, dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton, dare to compete. And I thought, wow, you know, I have encouraged so many women and girls to compete on the athletic fields, in academics, in politics, in business, and I'm being asked to compete.

MATTHEWS: Stick your neck out.

CLINTON: And stick my neck out. And it is scary.

MATTHEWS: It's different than supporting your spouse, isn't it?

CLINTON: Totally different. I had the hardest time when I started, saying, I and me. I'm happy to say, you know, my husband this, or candidate "X" or "Y," but to stand up there and be the person out there, and it is a big challenge.

And I think because we're coming into our own as women in all walks of life, but still, there's something a little bit daunting about holding yourself out, asking people to support you, to give you money, to vote for you. It's hard.

MATTHEWS: And you know who went through that, another New York senator, Bobby Kennedy.

CLINTON: Yes, I remember reading about that.

MATTHEWS: He was his brother's brother and then all of a sudden he had to be the guy and stuck his neck out. Anyway, we'll come back and talk about you, because the way I look at politics, and you called me an analyst, I like that. I'm an analyst.

And I look at this race for president, 2016, which we're now in. And really, that list is closing. And a guy at Georgetown, a professor once said, there's a difference between free will and free choice.

Free choice means there's a limited number of choices. And it looks like there's a limited number of choices for the president of the United States in 2016 and you're one of them. We'll be right back and talk about Hillary Clinton as the possibly the next, in fact, the first ever woman commander-in-chief of the United States.

[commercial break]

[resume videotaped interview: 7:16 p.m. Eastern]

MATTHEWS: Madam Secretary, you may have a new title if this campaign is successful. You have to win the primary, you’ve got to beat Bernie, you’ve got to beat Martin O’Malley. But if all that happens and you have to beat whoever on the Republican side, you could be the first woman commander-in-chief.

And this is all happening, perhaps coincidentally, or maybe culturally, when Ashton Carter, the secretary of defense,  has just made it clear now that all combat roles are open to women, this is something unique in our history.

Now, maybe every woman doesn’t want these jobs, but these jobs are now open. You can go out there and be infantry. You can go out there, you know, with a knife in your teeth and you can go swing on ropes in whatever valley you gotta go kill people in. Women are going to be doing that just like in Israel where I just was. How’s our country going to adapt to that? And is it important culturally for us to have women in it in its combat role?

CLINTON: I think it's important to open up all roles to women. But I also agree with Secretary Carter, that you have to have standards. And women and men have to meet those standards. Because we're talking, literally, life or death. So I am –  

MATTHEWS: You mean like climbing ropes and stuff things like that?

CLINTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And how much weight you can carry, because maybe one of your, you know, fellow soldiers will need that one day. And so, I am a huge supporter of women being able to break whatever glass ceilings are holding them back.

 MATTHEWS: If they can physically handle that.

CLINTON: They’ve got to be able – and mentally. Physically, mentally, you have to be prepared. You have to be ready.

And I think that, you're right, not every woman's going to want to do that. And some of the women who want to do it are not going to qualify but we just had a few women pass Ranger school which is an enormously competitive, grueling experience.

It was just less than a handful, but they proved they could do it. And from everything I know, nobody cut any slack for them. They did it. And in fact, after it was over, they interviewed some of the male competitors to go through Ranger school, and these guys said, you know, after a while, I didn't even notice. Yeah, you're right, she was a woman, she carried her weight, she pulled her own.

That's what you want. Because I think about the job that I'm applying for. And it really is a job interview that I'm doing all over America.

MATTHEWS: Commander-in-chief.

CLINTON: President and commander-in-chief. And I feel ready to fulfill both roles.

I think it's important the next president get the economy working for everybody, so that we don't keep having the deck stacked for those on the top.

We've got to stay safe at home and strong in the world and we've got to deal with these problems that keep people up at night, I like to say. I feel particularly well prepared to do every part of the job.

And when it comes to being commander-in-chief, my eight years as a senator from New York after 9/11, my four years as secretary of state, my many, many hours in the situation room, I know how hard these choices are.

MATTHEWS: You were there when Osama was killed?

CLINTON: I was. I was one of the very few people who was brought in to advise the president. And it was the most –  

MATTHEWS: You said go for it?

CLINTON: I did. I did, you know, after – as I say, sitting through hours of meetings, listening to the intelligence being presented, listening to Admiral McRaven, who was then the head of Special Forces, talking about what Special Forces could do, looking at other options like a cruise missile or an armed predator, and recommending to the president that we go with the Navy SEAL option, and then being there that day, watching part of the operation on a video screen in the situation room, just holding my breath, literally, through the whole thing.

I know how hard these choices are. And I know what a cool, deliberative head needs to be finally making them. I've learned so much, Chris, over the last years. I feel very ready –

MATTHEWS: You know who said you had the temperament for it? Bill Clinton. Which I thought was interesting because he would know your temperament.

Let me ask about your sort of position on this. You know, you voted for the Iraq War authorization, if not the war. Bernie Sanders is out there still hitting you on that one. Of course, he's coming from the left on you. You’ve got  Rand Paul out there, a libertarian, and a bit of a dove, saying that you would be more for regime change, that you would start the next war.

CLINTON: Yeah, well, he's wrong.

MATTHEWS: They're positioning you to the hawkish side of Obama. You read Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post position you as someone a notch to the hawkish side, because he said you were for a no-fly zone in Syria, you were for ground troops but not necessarilyour troops, because you need a ground component to tell them where to drop the bombs.

CLINTON: Exactly, right.

MATTHEWS: Does that make you more hawkish than the president?

CLINTON: Well, I think most of what I have been advocating, the president is now doing.

MATTHEWS: But not that.

CLINTON: Well, we have Special Forces on the ground, he sent them.

MATTHEWS: But no fly zone?

CLINTON: But the no-fly zone for me was an idea that I developed with some advisers.

MATTHEWS: Is it dangerous with the Russians flying around there?

CLINTON: Well, of course you’d  have to have the Russians sign off on it. And we were making progress. I don't know what the result will be of the conflict now between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but, you know, for the last four years, we've been pushing to try to get a peace conference going. And I give Secretary Kerry credit for getting everybody agreeing to be in the same room.

I saw the no-fly zone as leverage. Number one, if we could get the Russians on board, because we would have to. And I think we could, if we were to say, look, we need safe zones. If we're going to be operating on the ground, advising the Kurds, the Arabs, we need safe zones.

We also need safe places for civilians, so that they're not refugees leaving Iraq and Syria. And it can be done. It can be done in a way that doesn't create more problems. But now I'm very supportive of what the president's doing. We're making some progress. And I've been calling for that, calling for reconstituting the approach toward the sheiks, the Sunni sheiks in Anbar province, getting them back into the fight, so to speak. They are. Rebuilding the Iraqi army.

MATTHEWS: That's what we need. We need the Sunnis to retake their land, because the Shia can't do it.

CLINTON: The still largely Shia Iraqi army took Ramadi, but with Sunni troops.

MATTHEWS: They had to turn it over to Sunnis.

CLINTON: This makes all the sense in the world to me. So I view myself as being a realist, being practical, and in accordance with our values. Because I think it's very important that we get back to promoting our values and pursuing our interests and protecting our security.

If the United States doesn't do that on our own behalf or on behalf of our friends in Europe and Asia and the Middle East, no one will. So this is not a choice. It's not a luxury. It's an necessity.

MATTHEWS: OK, last question, we're running out of time. I want to try to help you for this audience tonight, our audience, locate yourself politically in this country.

Now, we have Trump out there and we have Bernie out here. Now, Bernie calls himself a socialist. Nobody uses a derogatory term anymore. He loves to have that label. He's never ran as a Democrat, he runs against Democrats up there in Vermont.

You're a Democrat. I would say you're a pretty typical Democrat, in the traditional Democratic Party. And Humphry and the rest of them. Scoop [Jackson], not even Scoop, I’d say Mondale, you’re somewhere in there. What's the difference between a socialist and a Democrat. Is that a question you want to answer or you’d rather not, politically.

CLINTON: Well, you’d have to –

MATTHEWS: Well, see, I'm asking you. You're a Democrat, he's a socialist. Would you like somebody to call you a socialist? I wouldn’t like somebody calling me a socialist.

CLINTON: But I'm not one. I mean, I’m not one.

MATTHEWS: What's the difference between a socialist and a Democrat. That’s the question.

CLINTON: I can tell you what I am. I am a Progressive Democrat.

MATTHEWS: How is that deferent than a socialist?

CLINTON: I'm a Progressive Democrat who likes to get things done and who believes that we are better off in this country when we're trying to solve problems together. Getting people to work together.

There will always be strong feelings and I respect that, from, you know, the far right, the far left, libertarians, whoever it might be. We need to get people working together. We've got to get the economy fixed, we’ve got to get all of our problems, you know, really tackled and that's what I want to do.

MATTHEWS: I think the difference is, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t answer the question either when I asked her. Because I know politically you have to keep together the center-left and the left has to work together. I know all of that.

Let me ask you about working together. You gave a nice speech here today in Osage about the need to work together. I wrote a book about Tip and Reagan that when it comes to an urgent situation they can find a solution.

Obama, and I've always supported the president on his philosophy and his general approach to a lot of things, but he doesn't seem to like the company of fellow politicians. He just doesn’t. He doesn't want to hang out with them and play cards with them at midnight, maybe he did it in Springfield, for some reason he doesn’t want to do it.

You seem to like the company of people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain and you can find a way to go on codels [congressional delegations] with them and getting along with them. And it seems to me that that is an important part of life. That you have to find, you were talking about Tom DeLay here, and I get along with Tom DeLay. Even though you disagree 180 on something, you got to find, Congress means coming together. How do you, talk –

CLINTON:  Well, your book is a perfect example of –

MATTHEWS: Tip and the Gipper.

CLINTON: Exactly. And look –

MATTHEWS: You read it?


MATTHEWS: Thank you.

CLINTON:  I don't want you to know that.

MATTHEWS: You just told me that. I like this. You’re talking in a [unintelligible]

CLINTON: Because I am always looking for ways that we work together. It used to be easier in the past. I think the polarization has gotten so acute now, so you have to work even harder. But relationships are the beginning of everything.

MATTHEWS: So you can imagine if you're fortunate to become the next president of the United States, having people over to the White House, not going to the Jefferson Hotel for an hour and a half, but actually having people come over and talk it over. By the way, you're an empty nester, so it's easier for you.

CLINTON: It is easier, I mean, it’s much easier, and look everybody has strengths that they bring to this position –

MATTHEWS: Is schmoozing one of yours?

CLINTON: Well, I think that I like it. Because I am looking for that common ground somewhere. And I don't think that you get it just on the first try, you've got to listen to people, you’ve got to get to know people, you've got to look for ways that you can reach across the aisle. I'm not saying it's going to be magic, because part of what's happened, and it is different from when Tip O’Neill and President Reagan were working together, it is so much more gerrymandered.

MATTHEWS: You don't have any more Republicans in the Democratic district. You don’t have any Democrats in a Republican district.

CLINTON: Not anymore. And so people don’t feel like they have to make deals.

MATTHEWS: I've been telling people for years that when they’re with you personally, you’re very different, you’re very easy to talk to. I think watching you the last 20 minutes they get the point. I think this has been a great interview and I appreciate you for coming on and giving us the time. Thank you, Madam Secretary.

CLINTON: Thank you very much, Chris. Great to see you!

# # #

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Correction (9:48 p.m. Eastern): In the initial posting, I said Matthews did NOT mention DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's refusal to answer a question about the difference between being a Democrat and a socialist. He did, in fact, briefly mention that, saying, "I think the difference is, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t answer the question either when I asked her. Because I know politically you have to keep together the center-left and the left has to work together. I know all of that."

I regret and apologize for the error.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.