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A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies over Osan Air Base, Sept. 13, 2016, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Why the nuclear first-use debate matters in the 2016 race

09/29/16 10:54AM

It's difficult to choose the single most alarming thing Donald Trump said about foreign policy and national security at this week's presidential debate, in part because there are so many unsettling comments to choose from.

The Republican seemed to believe ISIS has been around for much of Hillary Clinton's adult life, which isn't even close to being true. Trump suggested China should invade North Korea. He took credit for NATO policies that he had nothing to do with, while suggesting the NATO alliance itself should be considered as some kind of protection racket.

Trump also insisted, as he has before, that the United States should have stolen Iraq's oil -- which would have been illegal -- in order to deny ISIS the resources it's actually getting from Syria.

But as Rachel noted on the show the other day, the real gem has to be Trump's woeful understanding of nuclear policy. Moderator Lester Holt asked an excellent question: "On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation's longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?"

Trump rambled a bit before eventually saying:
"I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.

"I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it's over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can't take anything off the table."
He then rambled some more, straying between a variety of loosely related topics, including his opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

But for those paying attention, the real problem was with Trump's obvious contradiction. Policymakers can adopt a "no-first-use" policy or they can endorse a "nothing-is-off-the-table" position, but Donald Trump is one of those rare politicians who wants to take both sides simultaneously.
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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a Hispanic Town Hall meeting with supporters, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump campaign defends its rejection of substance, policy details

09/29/16 09:50AM

If anyone on Donald Trump's presidential campaign should be willing to defend the importance of substantive details, it's Sam Clovis. He is, after all, one of the Republican candidate's top policy advisers.

And yet, as BuzzFeed noted yesterday, even Clovis doesn't want to bother stressing the importance of governing details in the campaign.
Sam Clovis, Donald Trump's national policy adviser and campaign co-chair, said Monday before the debate that voters don't care about policy specifics and would be "bored to tears" by them.

"Our approach has been to provide outlook and constructs for policy because if we go into the specific details, we just get murdered in the press. What we're dealing with [is] we're chasing minutia around," Clovis said on the Alan Colmes Show on Fox News' radio network.
In fairness, Clovis added that he cares about "specificity," but the campaign has chosen not to get into policy details because these kinds of campaign debates are of no interest to the electorate.

"I think the American people, the American voter, will be bored to tears if that is in fact the way this thing goes," he said.

It's a valuable insight, if for no other reason because Clovis' comments make clear that Team Trump is deliberately avoiding a substantive campaign debate over the issues. For the Republican candidate and his team, it's a feature, not a bug.
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A group of Hofstra University students stand in front of a CNN trailer with images of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra University, Sept.25, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Team Trump wants credit for all the wrong reasons

09/29/16 08:51AM

During this week's presidential debate, when the discussion turned to race relations, Donald Trump explained that he opened a golf resort in Palm Beach that doesn't discriminate against racial or religious minorities. "I have been given great credit for what I did," the Republican boasted, adding, "I'm very, very proud of it.... That is the true way I feel."

It was a reminder of one of Trump's worst habits: he wants credit for doing the things he's supposed to do anyway. In July, for example, the GOP nominee bragged about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the construction of his buildings -- failing to note that he didn't have a choice.

It's as if Trump effectively likes to tell voters, "Look at me! I routinely do what laws and basic human decency require of me!"

The same dynamic applies to the Trump campaign's post-debate boasts. The Republican and his aides are incredibly impressed by the fact that Trump didn't bring up Bill Clinton's infidelities -- as if attacking a woman over her husband's affairs is a perfectly normal thing to do, but Trump is too nice and chivalrous for such boorish behavior.
Donald Trump doesn't think he's gotten enough credit for not talking about Bill Clinton's history of sexual misconduct in Monday's debate.

Just ask his son, Eric Trump, who said it took "a lot of courage" for the Republican nominee not to attack the former president. Or his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who told MSNBC on Tuesday that Trump showed "presidential virtue" by not talking about the Clinton scandals.
Eric Trump couldn't stop raving about this, characterizing it as some kind of moral triumph. "That was a big moment for me," he told an Iowa radio station yesterday, adding his father's reluctance to attack a woman over her husband's adulterous past "will be something I'll always remember."

This is more than a little bizarre.
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Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson speaks to moderator Richard Lui of MSNBC during a 2016 Presidential Election Forum at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Aug. 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Gary Johnson hurts himself with another 'Aleppo moment'

09/29/16 08:00AM

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, recently appeared on MSNBC and was asked to reflect on the crisis in the Syrian city of Aleppo. He replied, "What is Aleppo?"

Yesterday, Johnson, a former Republican, appeared on MSNBC again, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, he made matters much worse for himself.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

"Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody," host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

"I guess I'm having an Aleppo moment," Johnson finally said.
Note, Chris Matthews started naming specific countries and continents, apparently hoping to help Johnson focus. The Libertarian nevertheless came up empty. Johnson said he was having a "brain freeze."

As recently as Monday, Johnson told reporters how concerned he is about current U.S. foreign policy, which he described as "horrible," and how eager he would have been to discuss the issue with the major-party nominees had he qualified for this week's official debate. Of course, presidential hopefuls who care deeply about foreign policy can usually name one foreign leader they like.

The broader problem, meanwhile, is Johnson failing to take advantage of the opportunity that's been presented to him on a silver platter.
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Newspapers rejecting Donald Trump

Newspapers rejecting Donald Trump

09/29/16 12:58AM

Rachel Maddow notes the recent spate of traditionally Republican newspapers that have broken historic precedent in endorsing Hillary Clinton or simply declining to endorse Donald Trump, who has yet to earn any major newspaper general election endorsements at all. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.28.16

09/28/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest school shooting: "Two children and a female teacher were injured in a shooting at a South Carolina primary school Wednesday, police said. The suspected attacker, a teenager, is in custody, said V. Taylor Jones, deputy chief of the Anderson County Emergency Services Division."

* Iraq: "U.S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the U.S. has agreed to send an additional 600 troops to Iraq, in anticipation of the major upcoming operation to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul."

* The odds of a government shutdown are approaching zero: "The Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to approve a critical government funding measure -- a move which could help Congress narrowly avoid a shutdown before the general elections. The vote was 72-26."

* I'm not sure Congress fully thought this one through: "Congress has voted to override the president's veto for the first time in his administration over a controversial piece of legislation that would allow the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot."

* On a related note, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the bill, generally known as "JASTA," could have serious negative foreign policy implications for the United States. Corker voted for it anyway.

* Donald Trump may be interested to know it wasn't a 400-pound American: "U.S. officials are increasingly confident that the hacker Guccifer 2.0 is part of a network of individuals and groups kept at arm's length by Russia to mask its involvement in cyberintrusions such as the theft of thousands of Democratic Party documents, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Syria: "The effects of Russia's bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo -- destroying hospitals and schools, choking off basic supplies, and killing aid workers and hundreds of civilians over just days -- raise a question: What could possibly motivate such brutality?"

* On a related note: Secretary of State John Kerry today "warned that the United States would stop talking to Russia about ending Syria's civil war unless it ends an onslaught in the city of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian government forces."

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will "forfeit $41 million for the bank's burgeoning sales scandal, marking one of the biggest rebukes to the head of a major U.S. financial institution."
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on Sept. 26, 2016 in Hempstead, N.Y. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

With more debates looming, Team Trump looks for a solution

09/28/16 12:47PM

Ahead of this week's presidential debate, Donald Trump's campaign aides eagerly dished to reporters about the Republican candidate's difficulties. Over the weekend, for example, the New York Times reported that the GOP nominee "has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers."

found all of this very hard to believe. In fact, I largely assumed this was a shameless attempt at lowering expectations and that Trump had actually done extensive preparation.

After watching the Republican amateur struggle for an hour and a half on Monday night, it looks like those pre-debate reports were accurate after all.

Of course, this week's event was one of three showdowns pitting Trump against Hillary Clinton, and his aides have time to make him a better and more effective debater. The Times added today, however, that this is easier said than done.
Campaign advisers to Donald J. Trump, concerned that his focus and objectives had dissolved during the first presidential debate on Monday, plan to more rigorously prepare him for his next face-off with Hillary Clinton by drilling the Republican nominee on crucial answers, facts and counterattacks, and by coaching him on ways to whack Mrs. Clinton on issues even if he is not asked about them.

Whether he is open to practicing meticulously is a major concern, however, according to some of these advisers and others close to Mr. Trump.
The Times reportedly spoke to seven campaign aides and advisers who "expressed frustration and discouragement" over Trump's performance Monday night, pointing to, among other things, "the lack of time spent on preparing a game plan."

The article, however, also added this gem: "Almost all of his advisers rejected the idea that the debate was a failure for Mr. Trump, noting that he landed some punches and insisting that Mrs. Clinton looked more polished than she was because of her opposition."

That's a very odd sentence. It's like saying, "The Miami Dolphins looked like a good team while playing the Cleveland Browns, because the Browns are pretty awful -- said the management of the Cleveland Browns."
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.28.16

09/28/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* President Obama appeared on the Steve Harvey Morning Show via telephone this morning, and was only too pleased to focus on Donald Trump's mistreatment of Alicia Machado. "You had somebody who basically insulted women and then doubled down I think this morning in terms of how he talks about them and talks about their weight and talks about, you know, how they look instead of the content of their character and their capabilities," Obama said, "which is not somebody that I want in the Oval Office."

* First Lady Michelle Obama is the star of the Clinton campaign's new television ad, which was released this morning.

* Donald Trump told supporters yesterday that if he wins the presidential election, he will "make possible every dream you've ever dreamed." Oh my.

* During Monday's debate, Hillary Clinton encouraged viewers to go to her website and "see in real-time what the facts are." According to Wired, "nearly two million people visited Clinton's website within an hour after she mentioned it." This was her site's heaviest traffic to date.

* Rudy Giuliani, who's worked his way into the news a little too often lately, has a new op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, making a series of dubious claims about Trump and New York's stop-and-frisk policy.

* Earlier this year, Trump's state director in North Carolina resigned following allegations he pulled a gun on a colleague. Now, the executive director of Trump's campaign in Georgia is also stepping down, stemming from a 2008 arrest.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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