Like many political junkies, I usually start my day with Morning Joe. Over the last few months, I’ve become convinced that not only is Scarborough going to run for president, but that he already is, that he should, and that he would probably win. Handily.
Of course, at one level we live in the world of the permanent campaign, and the race has already begun. Hard as it is to believe–so powerful was the shock of Trump’s election that, for most of the country, it has still not fully worn off–the 2020 campaign will commence shortly after the midterms. I predict that some time in early 2019, Scarborough will declare his candidacy on air and suspend the show.
Don’t take it from me. CNN’s Chris Cillizza last summer: “If you wanted to run for president in 2020, you’d be doing exactly what Joe Scarborough is doing right now.”
Granted, this is a hunch. It’s based on nothing other than careful observation of his behavior and a reading of Beltway tea leaves. But once you start viewing the show through this lens, you’ll see it, and you won’t be able to unsee it. Scarborough’s extended monologues aren’t the host of a show using his prerogative to pontificate. They are rough drafts of a stump speech. It’s all in the cadence. His guests–reporters, journalists, politicians, historians, pundits, policy experts, campaign advisors–aren’t merely there to provide commentary and analysis. They are unknowingly participating in tryouts for slots in his administration.
Listen to the way he talks. Just this morning, when discussing Trump’s rally in South Carolina, he prefaces his comments with “South Carolina, a state I know very well, a state I love,” etc., just as every candidate intones, “The great state of…” while on the trail.
Scarborough would be a strong candidate in general, but he is uniquely equipped and positioned to take on Trump in particular. In fact, I don’t see anyone else on the horizon who can take Trump on and take him out. Here are 15 reasons why.
1. He is a media personality
One of the reasons Trump got anywhere near the presidency in the first place is that he understood, more intuitively and deeply than the other candidates, that modern politics is very much like show business. His background in sales and television, and expertise in being famous for being famous, helped him to capture and manipulate the media in order to build his political brand. Precisely because he was “not a politician,” his presence in the race made him the only thing worth covering, i.e., what got the highest ratings. What this means is that, in 2020, he will continue to be the story, unless another figure outside the arena of political propriety enters the fray. We are living in Trump’s universe because he came from another world. Perhaps the only way we can escape it is if someone else does the same.
If Scarborough were to run, it would instantly disrupt the frame. And, in a way, it would be fitting. Trump declared war on the media a long time ago, which is to say that he declared war on two things: the truth and the American people. What poetic justice it would be for one of the most prominent members of the media to step into the ring and face him. Like Trump, he has pre-loaded public familiarity, so he doesn’t need to expend energy and resources branding himself with voters, as the Democratic nominee will likely have to do (and, of course, will be vulnerable to being
defined demonized by Trump before he or she even gets to Iowa). And his media savvy and showmanship would help even the odds and blunt the competitive edge that has allowed Trump to run circles around everyone else.
But he is not merely a media personality…
2. He has congressional experience
Scarborough served nearly four terms as a Congressman from 1995-2001 and served on a number of key committees. This is important not only because of how long he served, but when he served.
First, Scarborough is in a Goldilocks position with respect to political experience: not too little, not too much, just right. In an era in which political experience can be a liability–primarily on the right, after decades of mindless anti-government rhetoric that has led to a collapse of faith in “experts” and conspiracy theorizing about the “four corners of deceit”
–Scarborough might seem like a breath of fresh air to those who are skeptical of politicians and wary of Washington, whether they voted for Trump or not.
Second, he served long enough to understand how the political system works, but long ago enough that the stench of the swamp doesn’t cling to him. Which means…
3. He can evoke a saner era of bipartisanship
Though all was hardly hunky-dory in the capital during the Clinton years–see “shutdown, government”–the partisan squabbles then look like child’s play compared to the tribal warfare we see today. Americans tend to remember the 90s fondly, as the “holiday from history.” Scarborough can, not implausibly, claim that unlike Trump and unlike Obama, he knew what it was like when there was a different culture in Washington and, as someone who has spent time in both conservative and liberal circles, bring about a new (old) way of doing things. And due to his actions during this time…
4. He has conservative bona fides
During his tenure in Congress, Scarborough received a 95% rating from the American Conservative Union. This will allow him to appeal across partisan lines more effectively than any Democratic candidate.
But when it comes to the long-term health of the American body politic, picking GOP voters off of Trump’s base is less important than this: Scarborough can articulate an inspiring vision of conservatism for the 21st century. Many liberals will regard the latter phrase as an oxymoron. However, as Roger Scruton points out in his new book, conservatism is a venerable tradition of political thought that captures essential truths about human affairs, a tradition that is, in many ways, the exact opposite of what passes for conservatism in Republican politics. There is a place for a reasonable conservatism–in social and economic policy, in immigration, in foreign policy–in American politics. This is something the left simply needs to accept. Conservatism and liberalism are ineradicable poles of the human experience. More on that in a future post.
The problem is that no Republican politician has been able to articulate a sane, reasonable conservative message because they always have to fead The Beast. By The Beast, I mean the third or so of voters who support Trump, most evangelicals, nationalists, social conservatives, Walmart Republicans, the Alt Right, and so on (and yes, by The Beast, I do indeed mean what Hillary called The Deplorables; it was a major faux pas, yes, but the truth is that she was right. Those people are gone. All we can do is elect people from the center-right on leftward, enact legislation and policies that will make their lives better even though they’ll fight them tooth and nail, and wait for them to be replaced by their hopefully more enlightened children). Principled conservatives always have to do some degree of selling out in order to get anywhere near the nomination (see “Romney, Mitt”). Scarborough won’t because, on the one hand, he won’t repel these folks, and on the other, because unlike most Republican candidates, he’ll have cross-over appeal to Democrats and he’ll sweep the Independents. This frees him to strike conservative chords in his campaign message without strapping himself to The Beast.
In this sense, it is ironic that the year Scarborough retired from Congress was 2001. What hopes there were for a new form of conservatism–Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”–died on 9/11. Instead, we got “neoconservatism,” which George Will correctly deemed “a spectacularly misnamed radicalism.” The fear of the Other, the fetishizing of freedom, and the obsession with security that came to characterize American life in the aftermath, combined with the economic earthquake of the Great Recession, made the country afraid, paranoid, suspicious, and vulnerable against a strong man to come in and claim the mantle of conservatism to seize power in the name of “the people.” Scarborough can present himself as a compassionate conservative. The difference this time is that he will mean it.
Look at the titles of Scarborough’s books:
Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day: the Real Deal on how Politicians, Bureaucrats, and other Washington Barbarians are Bankrupting America (2005)
The Last Best Hope (2009)
The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics—and Can Again (2013)
They don’t sound like memoirs. They sound like campaign books. They sound like blueprints for a revival of a healthy conservatism, one adapted to the contours of today’s world.
In addition to his conservative bona fides, it doesn’t hurt that…
5. He’s from the South
Born in Georgia, college in Alabama, law school in Florida. Check, check, check.
But I know what you’re thinking: but why would liberals and progressives ever vote for him? Glad you asked. Because…
6. He has a loyal liberal audience
Morning Joe falls somewhere between catnip and porn for liberals, a form of self-soothing and a guilty pleasure they wish they could kick but keep coming back to for more.
Another reason the Left will embrace him is because…
7. He has impeccable anti-Trump credentials
No candidate will have more–and more impassioned–denunciations of Trump in the public record than Scarborough. Ironically, his position in the media has allowed him to be even more outspoken about Trump than many Democrats in or running for office who have had to muzzle themselves for fear of conservative backlash. And with the exceptions of Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain, Republicans have been astoundingly absent in calling out the president. Unlike
Fox News state media, he will speak truth to power. Unlike Rachel Maddow, conservatives will actually listen to him.
Because he is part of the Real Media, and because he is defending the media against the president…
8. He would be a darling of the press
If you think about it, no segment of society has provided more sustained and robust leadership in the Resistance than the press. It is fitting, then, that the candidate spearheading the resistance to the man-boy who would be king would come from the press.
Yet Scarborough has something that most liberals and progressives in the press and in politics lack, something that today’s gender politics make it difficult for us to talk about it, something that is an important part of the bloodsport of politics…
9. He has alpha male swagger
Look, I voted for Hillary, and I can’t wait until we elect our first female president. But right now, much of the country is not ready for a female president. The winning ticket in 2016, as I suggested at the time, was Biden-Warren. This would have made sense not only because it would unite the moderate and progressive wings of the party, but it would have warmed the country up to the idea of having woman in the oval office, setting Warren up to run in 2020.
But the country doesn’t just need a male candidate; it needs an alpha. One reason Trump clinched the GOP nomination was because he quickly discovered that he could just bully and out-alpha everyone on the stage. No one else was able or willing to throw their weight around like he was. He overpowered the other GOP candidates, the media, Hillary, and, most importantly and impressively of all, the truth itself. Indeed, what a cruel twist of fate the year a woman finally makes it to the final round, her opponent is the most bombastic, braggadocios, misogynistic alpha male that has ever entered politics, a weak man’s idea of a strong man. But here we are.
The fact is that, energetically, an alpha male presence in the only thing that can shift the board with this monster. We need a gunslinger, a John Wayne to emerge, step out into the center of the town square, declare there’s a new sheriff in town, and blow this outlaw away. We need, as Donny Deutsch put it on Morning Joe, of all places, someone with balls.
This is part of a larger argument, and it’s difficult for us to speak honestly about these things given our gender politics, but for now, I’ll just stipulate that this is actually more important than you might think. One of the reasons Democrats lose is that they are constitutionally uncomfortable with power, and have difficulty understanding and accepting how power actually works. It was Obama’s Achilles heel, and Trump’s trump card.
Rule of law first. Transgender bathrooms, free college, and universal basic income later.
Not to mention that…
10. He is taller than Trump
If you don’t think such optics matter, you haven’t been paying attention. In politics, style is a part of substance. Which means it also doesn’t hurt that…
11. He is good looking in a conventional American way
He even kinda looks like John Wayne. Plus he’s got great hair. Plus…
12. He has a smart, photogenic fiancé popular with women
And people (including Trump) also love the fact that…
13. He’s a winner
Scarborough is 4/4 in his electoral contests, scoring a higher margin of victory each time. Plus…
14. He personally knows Trump
Why is this important? Because I think it means he doesn’t fear him. None of the candidates in 2016 knew how to handle Trump, but I think Scarborough (and Mika) know him well and know how to handle him. On air, they have told the story of how he invited them to the White House shortly after the inauguration, even into the Oval Office. If I had to bet, I suspect that is the moment he decided he was going to run.
And the final reason a Scarborough candidacy is necessary is because…
15. The Democrats will almost certainly fail to get their shit together
At this point, such a proposition should be all but self-evident. The Democrats’ capacity to self-sabotage, devolve into internecine warfare, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory approaches virtuosity.
I’ll make the prediction even more precise:
- Scarborough will run as an Independent, and will thus become the first Independent elected President of the United States.
- His campaign advisor will be Steve Schmidt. Schmidt, who was McCain’s campaign director in 2008, is a regular guest on the show and an impassioned critic not only of Trump, but of what has become of the GOP. He officially left the Republican party last week.
- His national security advisor will be Richard Haas. Haas, a deputy to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the second Bush administration and president of the Council of Foreign Relations, is a regular guest on the show and an impassioned critic of Trump’s approach to foreign policy and international relations.
- Scarborough’s victory will lead to an official schism within the Republican party, perhaps leading to the formation of a new party that is some mashup of libertarians, classical liberals, Wall Street Republicans, Reagan Democrats, and moderate Democrats. Many leading, sane, NeverTrump conservatives, most recently George Will and, of course, Scarborough himself–have concluded that Trumpism is a terminal cancer on the Republican (and American) body politic. As David Brooks puts it this week, “Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose.”
Of course, all of this assumes that Trump even makes it to 2020, which I highly doubt will happen, since MUELLER IS COMING, with all the force and ironclad, lawlike necessity of Winter. Even so, I think most of the above still holds even with a Pence candidacy.