If you wanted to run for president in 2020, you’d be doing exactly what Joe Scarborough is doing right now.
First came Scarborough’s Washington Post op-ed earlier this month, with the provocative headline: “Trump is killing the Republican Party.”
In it, Scarborough wrote that he was leaving the Republican Party, explaining:
“The Republican Party left its senses. The political movement that once stood athwart history resisting bloated government and military adventurism has been reduced to an amalgam of talk-radio resentments. President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, US history and the Constitution.”
Now comes a cover story by Olivia Nuzzi in New York magazine about Scarborough and his co-host/fiancee Mika Brzezinski that casts the duo, but especially Scarborough, as Trump’s foil over his first six months in office.
“If you look at where Joe came from, he has no business being where he is, and that is because he has this internal drive that all politicians have where you look in the mirror and say, ‘I should be leading people,’” Nuzzi quotes a Scarborough friend as telling her. “He swims a little higher than jealousy. I think it’s not that simple; it’s basically Joe feels that the country should be run a certain way, he believes in a lot of things, and doesn’t like to be dismissed or (expletive) with, and that’s kind of what Trump’s doing.”
Two things to pluck from that quote: 1) “Joe feels that the country should be run a certain way” and 2) “He has this internal drive that all politicians have where you look in the mirror and say ‘I should be leading people.’”
Then consider this line from Nuzzi (emphasis mine): “Scarborough and Brzezinski said the White House is misrepresenting their motivations, though they didn’t rule out that Scarborough might be interested in running for president in the future.”
Let’s game this out a bit. Say you are a high-profile TV personality with an interest and an ambition to run for president. Positioning yourself as a solutions-minded centrist who has abandoned the party of your youth because it left you with its extreme agenda is a good place to be in an electorate that loathes both political parties and is desperate for other options.
Now what if that same person was also seen – or working to be seen – as someone who was once a friend of President Donald Trump but who has turned into one of his most vocal critics. A person who knows Trump well – so well that he has decided the president is not only out of his depth but in a dangerous state of mind.
“Him getting elected has just amplified all of his insecurities,” Scarborough told Nuzzi of Trump in a bit of armchair pop psychology.
The point here is that Scarborough is not only not denying he is interested in running for president but also positioning himself in such a way to appeal to people disgruntled with Trump and with politics more broadly. Which is interesting – and smart.
Before you write off Scarborough as a candidate, consider this: Donald Trump is the President.
Given that, can anyone really be ruled out? The answer is, of course, no.
The biggest hurdle to Scarborough becoming a serious candidate is not that he is a TV personality but rather that it looks like his path would be as a third-party nominee. That’s a tough row to hoe given the costs of qualifying for the ballot in all 50 states and then getting enough polling momentum to boost yourself into the general election debates.
That’s all a very long way from where Scarborough is today – or where he might ever get.
But, what Scarborough is doing right now is clearly aimed at making sure the door of a 2020 bid doesn’t slam shut. And he’s doing it well.