Rachel Maddow's much-heralded interview with Kellyanne Conway took place tonight, just after the announcement that she will be joining the administration, mostly to handle "messaging." This interview, unlike others you may have seen on other cable news channels, was quite interesting. Conway was subdued; Maddow determined and prepared.
However, if this is an example of Conway's "messaging," we're in for a rough ride. It was a long interview that touched on many things, but the standout moments for me were in the video above, where Rachel Maddow pushed Conway on this tweet from Trump:
There's no ambiguity in that tweet. The President-elect of the United States outright called for expansion of our nuclear arsenal. Now watch Conway dance around Maddow's pointed question about why Trump is stepping all over President Obama by tweeting this before he takes office.
Conway replied, "No, look, this is him preparing to be president. He's asked constantly what his position is on x, y or z and in the case of the nuclear comment, I discussed it with him directly."
Oh, then she should have a good answer, except she really doesn't. "He's making the point that this is about nuclear proliferation in the face of rogue nations and regimes that are stockpiling weapons, it would seem. And all he's saying is his first priority is to keep us all safe and secure. His first doctrine is peace through strength. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have any nuclear weapons. but it's a very dangerous world."
Protip, Kellyanne. More nukes doesn't make the world less dangerous. Just sayin'.
Rachel then delved into what, exactly, she meant by "rogue nations or regimes."
"He's talking about anyone who fits the description of a regime that would do us harm or a rogue nation,' Conway replied.
Maddow went in deeper, trying to get Conway to understand that we have a real balance of power right now with regard to nuclear weapons, so which rogue nation was she concerned about? "Is he talking about some new nation that's a proliferation risk that nuclear weapons are being developed by a country that we don't know about?"
When trapped, deflect. It's the Conway way. She went to President Obama's call to modernize our nuclear weapons, which is nothing like actually expanding our capacity.
When pressed further, Conway denied that Trump had specifically called for expanding the arsenal, spinning it away.
"What he's saying is we need to expand our nuclear capability, really our nuclear readiness or our ability to be ready for those who also have nuclear weapons," she insisted.
"I'm going to give you the analogy. Us saying they're contained and then attacking proves that everybody foo feels unsafe in a world with terrorists particularly in the case of ISIS who are advancing, that they're still wanting to do harm. [Trump]'s trying, I think in his quest to keep us safe and secure, he's putting the world on notice that he will do what he thinks he needs to do to keep us safe and secure."
Uh, okay. Again, I think it's important to stress that no one feels secure in the notion that a nuclear war is right at the fingertips of Donald Trump. That is not a definition of "keeping us safe."
As Rachel Maddow again pressed on whether it was very smart to do his policy making in 140 characters on Twitter, Conway got a bit defensive.
"He's not trying to change a policy through Twitter; he's not trying to project what he will do as president," she insisted. She went on to say that he's getting intelligence briefings and the PDB before adding, "He also has other intelligence sources and he's learning many different facts that i'm not privy to. This is one of the responses that he felt compelled to give based on those facts."
What "other intelligence sources" are those? Maddow missed that question entirely.
When asked about the nuclear triad which he didn't know about at all just a few months ago, Conway said, "He thinks that a nuclear triad is important to maintain. He's not calling for any of the policies that you suggested or asked me. What he's saying is he wants us to be ready to defend ourselves and he's not making new policy."
Oh, okay. Not making new policy, you say?
Maddow shot back, "This sounds like really new policy. On nuclear weapons, it's really a sensitive matter."
"I would agree," Conway nodded.
And then there was a bit of a quiz for Kellyanne. She did not pass.
"Who has the most nuclear weapons after the US and Russia?"
"I don't know. but i'm sure he does."
"It's France. India and Pakistan. One of the most important things to know is the number of nuclear weapons that they've got on launch status. Do you guys talk about that? Is that like --"
"Well, I don't. He's surrounded by a national security team."
"If the United States announces a U-turn on nuclear policy, India and Pakistan don't have any nuclear weapons on launch status. They could move them to that status because a new nuclear arms race is going to start."
"We're getting ahead of ourselves, Rachel."
"But that's what happened in the past when presidents have made even jokes about nuclear weapons. I think what i'm trying to get at is a lot of people are hiding under the bed right now because it doesn't seem like he knows what he's talking about on this issue," Maddow chided.
"How can you make policy on --"
"That's not fair."
"He's not making policy on Twitter."
"Expanding our nuclear arsenal and announcing it on Twitter is a big deal."
After Kellyanne once again retreated to the untrue claim that he is doing nothing that President Obama has done, Rachel tried one more time to get her to see that when he tweets things like he did yesterday, it is communicating policy.
Rachel concluded this part of the interview by informing Kellyanne that "the president making policy happens whenever the president speaks on a national security matter. "
Are we clear on that?
The entire interview was fascinating, because Rachel came to the table armed with facts. She took aim at Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the next segment for tweeting fake news, she hammered Monica Crowley for claiming President Obama wasn't black, and she hit Conway for Trump's unwarranted and untrue slams at his rallies on Martha Raddatz.
Through it all, Kellyanne kept her cool. But the spin was also kept to a minimum. Take a note, media. This is a better way to deal with what we're going to get coming out of the Trump administration.
Come armed with facts and quotes, and stick to them. Don't let the spin dizzy the audience. It will work.
Watch the interview below, from the December 22nd episode of The Rachel Maddow Show.