Last week, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had a fairly long conversation with the Washington Post, which tried to explore his views on foreign policy in detail. The discussion made it abundantly clear that the GOP candidate simply has no idea what he's talking about. It's not just that Trump's arguments are wrong; it's also that he seems lost when it comes to basic details.
On Friday afternoon, it was the New York Times' turn. Alas, it appears efforts to teach Trump about international affairs aren't going well.
In criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, he expressed particular outrage at how the roughly $150 billion released to Iran (by his estimate; the number is in dispute) was being spent. "Did you notice they're buying from everybody but the United States?" he said.
Told that sanctions under United States law still bar most American companies from doing business with Iran, he said: "So, how stupid is that? We give them the money and we now say, 'Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,' right?"
But Mr. Trump, who has been pushed to demonstrate a basic command of international affairs, insisted that voters should not doubt his foreign policy fluency. "I do know my subject," he said.
It's quite clear, of course, that he doesn't know his subject. The full transcript has been posted online, and honestly, it's hard to even know which parts to highlight -- because so much of the interview is incoherent. Andrea Mitchell noted on "Meet the Press" yesterday that Trump "is completely uneducated about any part of the world." The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg added on "Face the Nation" that it's "remarkable to imagine that someone who shows so little interest in understanding why the world is organized the way it is organized is this close to the presidency of the world's only superpower."
Trump noted, for example, that countries with "nuclear capability" represent the "biggest problem the world has." Soon after, however, the candidate argued that the United States has to "talk about" allowing Japan and South Korea to have a nuclear arsenal of their own. He also referred to his fear of "nuclear global warming," whatever that is.
Asked about U.S. policy towards China, Trump added this gem: "Would I go to war? Look, let me just tell you. There's a question I wouldn't want to answer. Because I don't want to say I won't or I will.... That's the problem with our country. A politician would say, 'Oh I would never go to war,' or they'd say, 'Oh I would go to war.' I don't want to say what I'd do because, again, we need unpredictability."
In other words, just take a guess, American voters, before casting a ballot about about the possible intentions of the country's next Commander in Chief. Trump won't tell you before the election, but don't worry, he promises to be "unpredictable" -- in a "winning" way.
A couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, laid out his short-term expectations for the Democratic presidential race, which now appears rather prescient. As Mook saw it, Bernie Sanders would win the next five caucus states with relative ease -- Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and the state of Washington -- while coming within striking distance in Arizona.
After Clinton's bigger-than-expected win in Arizona, one of Mook's predictions looked a little off, but the rest of the assessment was quite sound. Last week, Sanders cruised to easy wins in Idaho and Utah, and over the weekend, the independent senator did it again.
Bernie Sanders swept all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, with decisive victories over front-runner Hillary Clinton in Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii, according to NBC News analysis.
Speaking to a rapturous crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, after his victory in Alaska, Sanders declared his campaign was making "significant inroads" into Clinton's big delegate lead.
Sanders was supposed to do well in Saturday's caucuses, but let's be clear: he did extremely well, winning by margins ranging from 40 to 70 points. As for "significant inroads," the final numbers are still coming together, but it looks like Sanders will end up with a net gain of 60 to 70 pledged delegates.
By most measures, Saturday was Sanders' single best day of the entire presidential race: three lopsided landslides, which, when combined, gave the Vermonter his biggest net delegate gain of 2016.
That's the good news for Sanders and his supporters. The bad news is, well, just about everything else.
The formation of the solar system is still a very open question in astronomy. Some things we understand, some things we don't. New work by astronomers proposes that Saturn's rings and moons may have formed billions of years after the Sun burst into light and Saturn and its brethren took shape.
Saturn's rings were first discovered by Galileo in 1610, but the first moon wasn't detected until 1655, when Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens took advantage of advances in telescope technology to study the planet in more detail. It was originally assumed that the rings (and moons) formed simultaneously (astronomically speaking) along with the entire solar system. However, evidence to the contrary is now being found. In 2012, astronomers in France found that some the moons closer in are actually spiraling slowly away from Saturn.
Building on that research, astronomers at SETI and the Southwest Research Institute have used computer simulations to dynamically model the evolution of Saturn's inner moons. The results suggest that moons beyond the orbit of Rhea are likely the oldest, but the ones closer in are younger and their orbits around Saturn haven't had as much time to evolve - i.e., their current locations are not far from where they likely formed. Ages for these moons based on these assumptions come out to less than 100 million years old (which likely applies to the rings as well).
Lead researcher, Matija Cuk, summarized it thusly:
"Our best guess is that Saturn had a similar collection of moons before, but their orbits were disturbed by a special kind of orbital resonance involving Saturn's motion around the Sun. Eventually, the orbits of neighboring moons crossed, and these objects collided. From this rubble, the present set of moons and rings formed."
This means that while dinosaurs were roaming the Earth during the Cretaceous Period, Saturn was ringless! Mind. Blown. Those dinosaurs will never know the beauty they missed.
First up from the God Machine this week is a congressional effort to codify a policy that helps refugees of one religion, but not another.
Last fall, a variety of Republican leaders and presidential candidates suggested a refugee policy in which the United States favored Christians, but not Muslims, fleeing ISIS and Syria's civil war. ThinkProgress noted this week, however, that one GOP senator has taken the extra step of introducing federal legislation related to the idea.
In an interview with radio host Kevin Miller on Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) spoke about his new bill to make it much easier for Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS-related violence to resettle in the United States.
"I think the U.S. has a moral imperative to try and save these Christians and the other small minority groups," he said. "So I would create a special kind of visa program that wouldn't take any access away from anyone else in the United States, but would recognize that Christians -- like Jews in the Soviet Union -- are being singled out for persecution and elimination. That's in our interest, as it is in combating the Islamic State."
To be sure, the barbarism ISIS has shown towards Christians and the Yezidis is heartbreaking. It's also true, however, that most of ISIS's victims have been Muslims, many of whom have fled their homes in search of refuge.
And when U.S. officials have taken steps to offer protections for Muslim Syrian refugees running from ISIS, Tom Cotton has helped lead the opposition.
In November, responding to arguments from Republicans, President Obama argued, "When I hear folks say that well maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war torn country is admitted ... that's shameful. That's not American, that's not who we are."
Cotton's bill, introduced this week, does not yet have any co-sponsors.
Rachel Maddow calls on the Republican National Committee to stop using a fake bill marked "past due" as a means of raising money from unsuspecting people who might think they actually owe something. watch
Mayor Jennifer Roberts, of Charlotte, North Carolina, talks with Rachel Maddow about North Carolina's new anti-gay law blocking measures to protect the LGBT community from discrimination, and the backlash from citizens and businesses whose sense of decency or inclusiveness policies are offended by the law. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the already ongoing battle within the Republican Party to shore up delegates with candidate loyalties that will come into play if there is no clear winner by the national convention. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the upcoming Democratic caucuses in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska, pointing out the myriad factors that give Senator Bernie Sanders and advantage in these particular contests. watch
* Iraq: "A suicide bomber blew himself up in a soccer stadium south of the Iraqi capital on Friday, killing 29 people and wounding 60, security officials said, as the military announced new gains on the ground against the Islamic State group."
* Related news: "The Pentagon said Friday it was moving to increase the number of American forces in Iraq and announced that U.S. forces have killed the Islamic State's finance minister. 'We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet,' Defense Secretary Ash Carter said."
* Brussels: "Belgian commandos and bomb disposal units swept through a district at the heart of the Brussels attack probe Friday, underscoring the widening security fears as prosecutors acknowledged that they missed a chance to press a key terrorist suspect for intelligence in the days ahead of the twin-site suicide bombings."
* Among this week's victims: "A New York-based brother and sister were among those killed during this week's Brussels attacks, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Friday. Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski had just arrived at the Brussels Airport when two explosions went off Tuesday. They had not been seen since, but on Friday they were confirmed as having died in the twin blasts."
* Alabama: "State Auditor Jim Zeigler on Friday filed a report with the Alabama Ethics Commission on allegations that Gov. Robert Bentley conducted an affair with a staff member."
* Indiana: "Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a controversial abortion bill Thursday that, among other things, would ban the procedure if it is sought because the fetus was diagnosed with a disability or defect such as Down syndrome."
* Capt. Daniel Dusek: "The highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer convicted so far in a massive bribery scandal was sentenced to almost four years in prison Friday for selling military secrets to an Asian defense contractor in exchange for prostitutes, luxury hotel stays and other favors."
Wisconsin's April 5 primary is likely to be important for all kinds of electoral reasons, but the day will also be significant in terms of the voting process itself: it will be the first big test of the state's ridiculous voter-ID law. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to create the system in 2011, responding to a "voter fraud" scourge that did not exist, but following a series of legal disputes, this will be the first presidential election year in which the system is fully implemented.
For supporters of voting rights, this isn't good news. A report from Pro Publica noted this week, for example, that the law requires Wisconsin's Republican-run state government to run "a public-service campaign 'in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election' to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable."
To date, it appears that public-service campaign has not happened and no money has been a set aside to educate the public. With literally hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters facing disenfranchisement, it's a major problem officials are not even trying to fix.
It's also not the only step backwards Wisconsin has taken on voting rights. MSNBC's Zack Roth reported today:
A bill signed into law last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could make it much harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the pivotal swing state just as the 2016 election approaches.
The Republican-backed measure allows Wisconsinites to register to vote online. But voting rights advocates say that step forward is massively outweighed by a provision in the bill whose effect will be to make it nearly impossible to conduct the kind of community voter registration drives that disproportionately help low-income and non-white Wisconsinites to register.
No other state, including states led entirely by Republican officials, has created a registration system that dismantled community-registration drives.
Project Vote noted this week, "Local and national group ... joined together to show [Wisconsin] lawmakers that the proposed online registration system would not be available to all eligible electors, disproportionately impacting students, veterans, older individuals, low-income people and people of color. We explained that it is community registration drives that often register the very people unable to use online registration."
The GOP-led legislature wasn't willing to change the bill. Walker, naturally, signed it.
A few weeks ago, when the race for the Republican presidential nomination was even murkier than it is now, the party's governors got together for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. Some super PAC operatives joined them to do a presentation on how to stop Donald Trump.
At the time, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who supported Marco Rubio, raised an interesting point that stood out for me. "It's one thing if [Trump] goes to the convention and he's got 48 percent, 49 percent of the delegates," Haslam told the Washington Post. "Then it's a hard thing to see if there's a convention floor battle. But if he goes to the convention and he's got 35 or 40 percent, that's a whole different thing."
That, of course, was in early March, and the race has changed a fair amount since then. In fact, it seems extremely unlikely Trump will end up anywhere near 35 of the available delegates -- the question is whether or not he'll cross the 1,237 delegate threshold, or perhaps come very close.
If Trump falls short of the magic number, many believe it will create the opening anti-Trump forces need to nominate someone else. NBC News reports today on Team Trump's effort to make sure that doesn't happen.
While Trump publicly dismisses talk of a battle in Cleveland, he is quietly assembling a team of seasoned operatives to manage a contested convention. Their strategy, NBC has learned, is to convert delegates in the crucial 40 days between the end of the primaries and the convention - while girding for a floor fight in Cleveland if necessary.
The outreach is already underway. "We are talking to tons of delegates," says Barry Bennett, a former Ben Carson campaign manager now leading the delegate strategy for Trump.
The report is worth reading to get a full sense of the strategy, but it's worth emphasizing that the plan will be shaped by just how close Trump gets by the time the primaries and caucuses wrap up. If he's only a handful of delegates shy of 1,237, it's easy to imagine Trump working the phones and picking up backers among the hundreds of uncommitted delegates who'll reach the convention as free agents.
Indeed, there are currently about 300 up-for-grabs delegates in play. If Trump is 100 delegates shy of what he needs, he and his team would need to pick up support from a third of the unbound delegates.
But make no mistake: plenty in the party are still dreaming of a scenario in which there's a contested convention and the nomination goes to a white-knight candidate who isn't even in the race right now.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As part of an increasingly personal back and forth between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, the Texas senator yesterday called the Republican frontrunner a "sniveling coward." Asked, however, if he intends to support his rival if Trump wins the nomination, Cruz would only say he doesn't believe Trump will be the GOP nominee.
* President Obama's approval rating has reached three-year highs in the new CNN and Bloomberg Politics polls. This won't help improve Republicans' chances of electoral success.
* After Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) announced his support for holding a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination, the Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund said it's prepared to support a possible primary challenger against the Kansas Republican. Moran is up for re-election this year.
* Bernie Sanders picked up a union endorsement yesterday, with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announcing its support for the senator yesterday.
* Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump, was asked yesterday to defend Trump's record of deceptions. "Tell me a politician who doesn't tell lies?" Carson replied, as if that were a defense.
* Lindsey Graham, fresh off announcing his backing for Cruz, said yesterday the Republican Party "can lose in 2016 and probably will."
* Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been under pressure to make a statement about his party's presidential primary. "I'm not a Trump fan," he told the Associated Press yesterday. "I don't think he should be the nominee. At this point in time, I have no idea who the candidates are going to be or who I'm going to vote for."
* Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, was asked this week about his preferred candidate's record of offensive rhetoric. The Republican congressman said yesterday Trump has "been misquoted, and they've taken things out of context."
In the wake of this week's terrorist attack in Brussels, President Obama's critics raised familiar and predictable complaints. Why isn't the Obama administration going after ISIS? When is the White House going to get tough on terror?
We were reminded again this morning, however, that the gap between perceptions and reality is often significant.
ISIS' second in command, Haji Imam, was killed during a raid this month, U.S. defense officials announced Friday.
Imam was a finance minister who oversaw all the funding for ISIS' operations, said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Imam's death comes on the heels of a U.S. airstrike in Syria that reportedly killed another top ISIS commander, Omar al-Shishani. The combination of the two, NBC News reported, "are major scores for U.S.-led coalition forces in taking out the biggest names on the U.S.'s terror hit list."
These announcements coincide with the Washington Post's report that, on the battlefield, ISIS is "a rapidly diminishing force." The article added, "Nowhere are they on the attack. They have not embarked on a successful offensive in nearly nine months. Their leaders are dying in U.S. strikes at the rate of one every three days, inhibiting their ability to launch attacks, according to U.S. military officials."
As for the territory controlled by ISIS, according to Pentagon officials, the terrorists' area has shrunk by 40 percent since its 2014 peak, "a figure that excludes the most recent advances."
In fairness, we've seen reports like these before, only to learn soon after that ISIS has regrouped and made fresh gains.
That said, much of the evidence is not in dispute: ISIS is obviously still capable of pulling off deadly strikes against civilian targets, but on the ground in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist network is losing leaders and land. The U.S. military offensives have made a difference.
The political question is when Republicans are going to notice.
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.