Joe Scarborough, former congressman from Florida and co-host of MSNBC's agenda-setting wake-up show Morning Joe, has protested, kindly and loudly (he is kind and loud), when speculation arises about his presidential ambitions. He points out that MSNBC is not the platform a conservative would use to build street credentials among his base. He insists he enjoys his current job, turning down entreaties from Republicans to run for Senate by noting that he has more influence as a broadcaster than as a member of the saucer cooler.
Nonetheless, a studio apartment industry has arisen of conservatives who think that Scarborough might just be the type of Republican who can be successful in the future. The chatter was kickstarted in 2009 when Christopher Buckley, who, like Scarborough, fashions himself an unorthodox Republican, took the time to read Scarborough's latest book (which has words like "Restoring" and "America's Promise" in its title") and found it to be ... pretty darn good. Former Bush/McCain image maven Mark McKinnon seems to be already on board.
It's time to stir up some trouble. First, put yourself in the framework of a Republican in 2014 or 2015. Assume, of course, that President Obama has been re-elected and the economy is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, but the black plague of deficits is restraining growth. Assume that the culture-war wing of the GOP has lost considerable influence. Assume that a revanchist foreign policy is no longer in vogue.
Scarborough describes himself as a conservative with libertarian leanings. He's a fiscal hawk who cares more about the debt because it's a genuine burden than because it's an opportunity to prevent liberals from spending. He is not a denialist. He doesn't traffic in fear-based politics. He doesn't like cant, and has been trained, as an off-the-cuff broadcaster, to speak more like the normal person he is than the politician he once was.
Making amends with conservatives would be his first task, but Scarborough is a legitimate hero of the '94 Republican revolution. He's been there, and he's done that. One assumes that if Obama wins re-election, conservatives in 2016 will want to vote for someone who can win, and someone who can change course. Pundits like to say that the most acceptable mainstream conservative tends to get the GOP nomination; the party could well be in Scarborough Country after shedding its isolationism, after the old guard of the RNC is purged after 2012, after younger Republicans with libertarian leanings on social policy move into positions of power.
Since when did the Floridian become a die-hard Red Sox and soccer fan? I don't question his motives, but it conveniently endears him to New Hampshire and to the educated, independent suburban elite who will have more of a share of the vote in 2016 than they will in 2012. OK, I kid, but these are the sorts of things one notices. Soccer is to educated suburbanites what NASCAR is to southern conservatives. Signaling makes a difference. And MoJo ain't stupid. Incidentally, ESPN's soccer analysts have noticed this, remarking on how insightful his soccer analysis is.
Something else to notice: Scarborough remains tight with the Mark Sanford political machine in South Carolina, which, despite the indiscretions of its namesake, is still the reigning power in the party. Finally, there's Jeb. If Jeb Bush runs in 2016, it's hard to figure that Scarborough would challenge him. They're different, but they've got a similar skepticism toward the Republican establishment ... a skepticism that has kept Bush out of organized politics. But the moment Bush wants back in, he's going to be able to raise $200 million, easy.
It's a fantasy at this point ... something for Scarborough's colleagues to tease him about. But it's not grounded in unreality. The guy could be a contender.