Joe Scarborough Subscribes to the Donald Trump School of Politics

He’s being purposefully vague about his political ambitions.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (L) talks with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough (R) as they play guitars during a rally in Des Moines, Iowa in 2008.
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
April 23, 2014, 8:59 a.m.

BREAK­ING: Joe Scar­bor­ough is vis­it­ing New Hamp­shire.

What sounds like fairly mundane news serves up a crumb of in­trigue to polit­ic­al re­port­ers hungry for 2016 gos­sip.

On May 2, the MS­N­BC host will speak at a Re­pub­lic­an fun­draiser in New Hamp­shire. And ac­cord­ing to CNN’s an­onym­ous source, Scar­bor­ough will at­tend New Hamp­shire’s an­nu­al Re­pub­lic­an Party meet­ing the fol­low­ing day to talk with state party lead­ers — and to hawk his latest book.

Scar­bor­ough has said he doesn’t want to run for pres­id­ent in 2016, while still leav­ing a crack of room open for spec­u­la­tion. In Feb­ru­ary, he told con­ser­vat­ive talk-show host Hugh He­witt that he “won’t rule any­thing out.” And in March, he gave Molly Ball at The At­lantic the per­fectly vague non-an­swer: “Ever since I got out of polit­ics, people have asked me if I’m go­ing to get back in,” he said. “The an­swer is yeah, at some point I’m go­ing to get back in. It just hasn’t been the right time yet.”

In oth­er words, Scar­bor­ough is tak­ing a page from Don­ald Trump’s play­book.

As BuzzFeed‘s McKay Cop­pins wrote in an ex­cel­lent pro­file of The Don­ald, Trump’s polit­ic­al strategy is to toy with the idea of run­ning for pres­id­ent — and milk that free pub­li­city — every elec­tion cycle, without ever fol­low­ing through.

“Trump can no longer es­cape the fact that his polit­ic­al ‘ca­reer’ — a long con that the blustery bil­lion­aire has per­pet­rated on the coun­try for 25 years by re­peatedly pre­tend­ing to con­sider vari­ous runs for of­fice, only to bail out after gen­er­at­ing hun­dreds of head­lines — fi­nally ap­pears to be on the brink of col­lapse,” Cop­pins wrote. “The reas­on: Nobody seems to be­lieve him any­more.”

Like Trump, Scar­bor­ough has TV rat­ings to think about. While Morn­ing Joe con­sist­ently ranks among the top net­work morn­ing shows, it’s been lag­ging be­hind FOX and fa­cing new com­pet­i­tion from CNN’s New Day. To think about it cyn­ic­ally, a faux pres­id­en­tial run is sure to drive rat­ings.

But un­like Trump, Scar­bor­ough has had a veri­fi­able polit­ic­al ca­reer (not to men­tion the two men’s rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent polit­ic­al views). Be­fore be­com­ing a TV talk­ing head, Scar­bor­ough rep­res­en­ted the res­id­ents of Flor­ida’s pan­handle in Con­gress for six years. Still, that was more than 12 years ago.

Scar­bor­ough has re­jec­ted the Trump com­par­is­on. “I’m not Sarah Pal­in, and I’m not Don­ald Trump,” he told The New York Times last month. “I don’t need to stir the spec­u­la­tion. I have more in­flu­ence sit­ting at the table where I’m sit­ting, and en­joy a much bet­ter life­style than I ever would get­ting back in­to pub­lic of­fice.” (He now earns $99,000 a week for host­ing “Morn­ing Joe.”)

Still, he’s toed the line between TV host and polit­ic­al act­iv­ist. In both 2005 and 2009, he sug­ges­ted he might run for Sen­ate. In the lat­ter case, he op­ted to in­stead re­new his con­tract with NBC. The fol­low­ing year, he was sus­pen­ded from his show — for two whole days! — for donat­ing a total of $4,000 to vari­ous Flor­ida polit­ic­al can­did­ates, in­clud­ing his broth­er.

He also hasn’t shied away from fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans with pres­id­en­tial am­bi­tions — they’re of­ten guests on his show. In the past, Scar­bor­ough has openly ex­pressed sup­port for Chris Christie — whenev­er the New Jer­sey gov­ernor came up in con­ver­sa­tion on “Morn­ing Joe,” Scar­bor­ough was sure to refer to Christie as a “friend of the show.” (He has since dis­tanced him­self from that friendly rap­port).

Like Jeb Bush, Scar­bor­ough is a Flor­ida politi­cian who may be more com­fort­able at a New York fun­draiser than hob-nob­bing with Pensa­cola seni­ors. Scar­bor­ough’s ex-wife, Susan War­en, was an aide to Bush when he was gov­ernor of Flor­ida.

When asked if he thought Scar­bor­ough was ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing a run, Newt Gin­grich told The Times, “He’s cer­tainly ser­i­ous about let­ting you talk about him.” “It doesn’t cost him any­thing,” Gin­grich said, “and as long as he’s care­ful about his MS­N­BC con­tract, he can have fun.”

Be­sides, Scar­bor­ough is un­likely to have many fans in the hard­core con­ser­vat­ive base that shapes much of the de­bate in Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies. He does, after all, host a show on MS­N­BC.

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