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.