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Joe Scarborough and Jonah Goldberg on Conservative Media

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough took out after conservative media on this morning’s “Morning Joe.” Many sent me the link to the clip, so I called Joe and Jonah Goldberg to comment on the commentary. The transcripts of both interviews will be posted here later today.

HH: So we called out to Joe Scarborough to join us, and he’s with us from MSNBC. Joe, welcome back, Merry Christmas to you.

JS: Merry Christmas to you. Great talking to you, Hugh.

HH: Now Joe, what Jonah and I both said is that today when you were talking about talk radio and the bloggers, and a lot of conservatives need a punch in the nose, we just wanted to know exactly who you were talking about. We might line up with you. But generally speaking, I’m going to defend Rush and Sean and Levin, and of course everyone on Salem – Bennett and Prager and Medved and Gallagher.

JS: Right.

HH: But who are you talking about?

JS: (laughing) Well, of course everybody on Salem.

HH: Yeah.

JS: Yeah, they are the best conservatives of all, Hugh. You know, actually, I’m talking more generally, let me start generally, then if we need to go specifics, we will. But more generally, I’m talking about people that make it harder for conservatives to win elections. I’m talking about people that sometimes say things that’ll shock the audience, that will drive the ratings up, that will maybe paint conservatism in a harsher viewpoint, and again, will make them a lot of money, will get them a lot of listeners, will help them in the demo, but will actually hurt us in the type of, the places that we have to win every four years to put people in the White House. And I always, on my show, I’m constantly talking about how we not only have to look at what we say, how we act, how we vote, what we do, on how it impacts us in Republican primaries. And I know a thing or two about winning Republican primaries. We also have to worry all the time about how we fare in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the I-4 Corridor, Tampa, Florida, St. Pete. That’s what’s critical. So you want specifics? I’ll give you a specific, and I talked about it this morning. It’s a specific I used an awful lot. When Glenn Beck a few years ago said that Barack Obama was a racist who hated all white people, I immediately went on the air and I said Mitt Romney, if you want to be the leader of my party, if you want to be the leader of the conservative movement, you need to step out, you need to criticize him for saying that, and you need to ask him to rescind it, because that sends the wrong message to America. I can name a lot of other specific examples. I’d prefer not to go person by person, but I will tell you, of course, a guy like Bill Bennett, he’s a conservative hero.

HH: The problem becomes, Joe, when there’s an old lawsuit about Neiman Marcus, and a fellow said everyone who works in the Neiman Marcus perfume department or jewelry department’s a hooker.

JS: Yeah.

HH: And they sued him, and they won, because of course there might have been a hooker in the Neiman Marcus jewelry department, but they all weren’t hookers.

JS: Right.

HH: And so when especially on your network, which is not, you are the only standard-bearer on your network.

JS: Right.

HH: I guess Willie is, is Willie a conservative?

JS: You know, Willie is, what I love about Willie is he’s like a lot of reporters that I’ve met even at the Times, the Post, the Wall Street Journal. They are very skeptical. First of all, I know Willie’s not a liberal. I don’t think he’s a Democrat. I don’t know that he’s a Republican. He is an independent guy, very fair-minded.

HH: Okay, so you’re the only conservative anywhere within spitting distance in that network.

JS: Right.

HH: And so some of your late afternoon colleagues have said about, I’ll just use evidence about me, such horrible things that I think to myself really?

JS: Yeah.

HH: This is where Joe has to do his cleanup duty on aisle 3, and it’s conservative? What do you think about that?

JS: Well, first of all, I don’t do cleanup duty on MSNBC. In fact, and if you don’t mind me saying it, I think it’s one of the great ironies. I’ve, as a conservative, I’ve somehow survived there longer than anybody than Chris Matthews. Our show is, certainly when it comes to new, when it comes to shaping news for the day, at least on the East Coast, it’s sort of the standard-bearer. I mean, we start it out, Politico picks up what we say, they follow it. We have a big impact in the news cycle, and I would say that we do a lot more than cleaning up aisle 3.

HH: No, I like Jon Meacham. Like for example this morning, talking about Jefferson, I’m very happy to watch that kind of an interview. But for you to pick as a target the conservatives’ problem is vitriol…

JS Oh, no, listen. Hey, okay, first of all, I need to be very careful about what I say here.

HH: Sure.

JS: Just as you would have to be very careful about Salem Radio.

HH: Except for Prager. We can agree that Prager should be banned, but go ahead.

JS: Exactly. Prager is a troublemaker. He may actually even be a Marxist. I’ve got to check into that.

HH: Well, he is, actually. It’s very sneaky how he…but go ahead.

JS: I’m going to call Allen West and see if he’s one of the 73 or 74 Marxists in Washington. But you know, listen, I watch, all I will say on that point is I a long time ago made a deal with Phil Griffin, who is the president of MSNBC, and that was that I would watch MSNBC from 6am to 9am in the morning, and that was it. Makes my life a lot easier. It makes everybody else’s life at MSNBC a lot easier. And it’s a formula that works well. That said, Hugh, and this is something that’s very important, I could talk about Bill Maher, and I do at times when liberals say oh God, Joe, how could you be in a party where everybody’s so hateful. And I’ll say well, you can talk about what Rush said. I don’t think what Rush said about Fluke was helpful, but I didn’t bring that up unless a liberal brought it up, and I said oh, really? Well, tell me about Bill Maher who gave a million dollars to President Obama. Are you as concerned about that and what he called female Republicans as you are on the other side? But Hugh, I’m concerned about both sides. I will be more critical, of course, on policy issues of Democrats, but I want Republicans to win elections. So if somebody goes out and says something that’s unhelpful to the cause, then I’m going to say something. In this campaign, back, you know, I guess it was early September, I said some things about I’m very concerned about the direction of the Romney campaign, because I had a lot of friends in the Romney campaign that were very concerned about the direction. I said a few things, I got absolutely hammered by conservatives. I was called a RINO. I was very concerned about Mitt Romney’s press conference the day after the ambassador was killed. I said so on the air. I said God, that is not what he wants to be doing right now, wait a couple of days. I got absolutely hammered by some people in the right wing blogosphere, and I think a guy who contributes to your program wrote a long column for National Review, which I’m a regular reader, started calling me a RINO. And so all of these warnings that I had, which by the way, I would hear back from Romney’s top advisors two days later, gee, we really screwed that up, didn’t we? You know, I wasn’t saying it…

HH: Again, it is possible…

JS: Hold on, this is an important point. I wasn’t saying it because I wanted to criticize Mitt Romney. I said it because I wanted Mitt Romney, a guy who I openly supported, I wanted him to win. And so yes, am I tough on my side? I am tough on my side. But Ronald Reagan was tough on his side in 1976 as well.

HH: But I’ve got a rule, Joe, and I hope you can stick one more segment with me.

JS: Yeah.

HH: My rule is there aren’t enough targets that we have to shoot at each other? And therefore, when rush gets assailed by everyone, my first reaction is to do whatever I can to rally to him. Now there are some people I will not do that for. Mike Savage is one of them.

JS: Right.

HH: I don’t even think he’s a conservative. He’s got nothing to do with what I do. He’s got nothing to do with what you do.

JS: Right.

HH: But if people come after Hannity or Levin, and I work on different networks from them. In fact, I compete with Levin. He’s just been a friend since 1983.

JS: Yeah.

HH: …or Hannity, I’m going to go and defend those guys, because our movement, we’d be lost, Joe. The other side holds everything. Everything.

JS: Well…

HH: Hold on, we’ll come right back from break.

JS: Yeah, I need to respond to that.

HH: Absolutely. I’m going to give you as much time as you want.

– – – –

HH: Joe, you were about to say as we went to break about how there aren’t enough targets that we have to shoot at each other, given how important talk radio and the blogosphere is to the center-right.

JS: Well, I mean, I think I’ve said to you before, and I’ve certainly said it to Rush a good deal, I got elected in 1994 as part of that class because of Rush Limbaugh and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. So there’s no doubt that when Rush Limbaugh said something that I think may not help the conservative cause, may not help Republicans win elections, you know, I’ve got a special place in my heart for him. So I do tend to bit my tongue a bit more on that. But at the same time, as I said to Newt Gingrich when 11 of us took him down because he wasn’t conservative enough, because he wanted to spend too much money, because he was working with Dave Obey and the Democrats in 1998, because he lost his way, I said Newt, this isn’t personal. If my mother were Speaker of the House and passed the largest omnibus appropriations act in the history of America, I’d depose her, too. I’d get her out. This is not…this is, Hugh, at the end of the day, about winning. It’s all about winning. And I think it’s a judgment call. I mean, obviously, you brought up Michael Savage. I think we all have to make the judgment call for ourselves who is helping the conservative movement. You will never ever, Hugh, hear me say you know what, that Hannity guy, I’ve got a problem with him because he wants to hold the line on taxes. You’ll never hear me criticize a conservative for ideological reasons.

HH: All right, let me use a for instance. Going forward, the immigration debate is going to break open in about a month here.

JS: Right.

HH: And that’s going to split our movement 50 different ways…

JS: Right.

HH: …because I’m sort of in the middle of it all. I’m…regularization is fine with me if we build a big fence. I don’t want to send anyone back. But other people will have sincerely held views that are opposite of me. As those views get expressed, Joe, the other side will come after us and attempt to pit conservative against conservative. You know this from the House floor. That’s what they’re going to do.

JS: Oh, sure. That’s what they do.

HH: So in your position and my position, what do you think is your responsibility to fairly represent even those who are sort of anti-regularization maximalists?

JS: Well, I think the responsibility, you know, first of all, I get paid a lot of money by MSNBC to analyze politics and say this is what’s going to happen. And part of what I did over the past year was say I don’t think Mitt Romney’s sufficiently conservative enough to energize his base and get people out. I think it’s going to be a big challenge. I think in this case, I will analyze the situation, I will talk about what I think the Republican Party needs to do, but you see, I don’t think we need to capitulate on immigration. I don’t think we need to capitulate on taxes. I think we just have to fight smarter. I think we have to fight to win. And let me give you a great example. Like am I going to criticize you if you decide that we need to be a bit more progressive on immigration? No, I’m not. But I don’t want you to tell me I’m not sufficiently conservative if I disagree with you, and I call what you believe to be amnesty. I think we can have a fair and open debate, and we can balance our conservative principles with what it’s going to take to get us back into the White House four years from now. I mean, we already have people saying Newt’s already saying that Hillary Clinton’s a lock in 2016. No, she’s not.

HH: No, she isn’t.

JS: We’re going to be $5 trillion dollars deeper in debt in 2016. Did anybody…and by the way, I hope you hear what I said about Nick Kristoff, too…

HH: Yeah, I did, and he’s a guest on this show whenever he comes on, whenever he’s in the country long enough.

JS: Hugh, I believe guys like you are absolutely critical to what happens over the next four years. Guys like you, guys like Pete Wehner, we need to flex our intellectual muscles again. We’ve forgotten how to do that. You know, back…

HH: Joe, who do you listen to on talk radio, because I don’t even know if you listen anymore, because you’ve got, it must be a six hour production schedule.

JS: Yeah, I mean, I go around the clock. I think like everybody else, I listen to Rush whenever I get a chance. I listen to you when I get a chance. I love Bennett. He’s in the morning, but sometimes I get snippets of Bennett. I’m a big Michael Medved fan, and have been for ages. But I will tell you, ironically enough, ideologically, even though he drives me crazy and I criticize him all the time because of the crazy, nutty things he says, I think ideologically, and please don’t tell anybody, I may be closest to Glenn Beck. I’m sort of, I’ve got a libertarian bent. I’m a 10th Amendment guy, and…

HH: But you do listen. You see, Jonah was wondering about people who criticize talk radio but don’t listen, and I assumed you did. Joe, we’re out of time. I’m just glad you didn’t listen to Prager, because then you would lose your edge.

JS: Well, I would, Prager has sold out, but I mean, but he sold out years ago.

HH: Years ago. Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe, MSNBC, thanks, have a Merry Christmas, we’ll talk to you in the New Year.

End of interview.

HH: Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online, and author of many fine and wonderful books, how are you, Jonah?

JG: I’m good. How are you, my friend?

HH: Good. I haven’t talked to you since the election. Have they taken those people away now on the 24 hour watch? Are they leaving you alone in your cell again?

JG: I’m still only allowed to use plastic sporks, but other than that, everything’s good. I got my shoelaces back.

HH: You see, slowly but surely, we’re all recovering. I’m allowed to go walking around the block now. It’s really nice. I’m not allowed on any tall buildings. Jonah, I’m going to have Joe Scarborough on a little bit later, and I wanted to talk to you about what Joe had to say on this morning. I want to talk to a few conservative intellectuals who are, who know the business and are unflinching about it. Here’s one of the things Joe had to say:

JS: Bill Kristol has a great column, and I’m going to retweet it right now, but he says, “Every great cause begins as a movement.” This is an Eric Hoffer quote that he applies to the GOP. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” And that’s exactly what happened. You had the great conservative revolution of 1980, and you had Heritage and a lot of other organizations grow up out of that. And all the, all the intellectual thrust, politically, was on the Republican side from 1980 to, say, 1990. The Democratic Party was tired, liberalism was exhausted. But that turned into a business. We saw a couple, this past week, a couple of Republican consultants got paid tens of millions of dollars, and then it becomes a racket, and that’s where you have a lot of people running around saying harsh things that sell books, and push ratings, and lose elections. And that’s where we are. Conservatism is a racket for a lot of people to get very, very rich.

HH: All right, Jonah, there’s another one, but let’s start with that. What do you make of that?

JG: Well, I actually think there’s some truth to it. I don’t think you’d be replaying it on the air if there wasn’t a little bite to it. But at the same time, I think it’s an overstatement. I think it’s indisputable that there are some scummy people out there raising money, all these emails from the Allen West campaign that aren’t from the Allen West campaign. I think that Dick Morris’ business model is one that we could use less of in American politics today. At the same time, I think it’s, and I think Bill would be the first one to acknowledge this, there are an awfully large number of very serious, very sober-minded intellectual conservatives, intellectual conservative institutions and organizations and publications that are not part of a racket. You can’t look at a magazine like the Claremont Review of Books, or National Affairs, or Commentary, never mind even National Review or the Weekly Standard, and simply say that they’re part of a racket. I don’t think Bill sees himself as part of a racket. But a the same time, I think one of the problems that we’re coping with is a problem is success. The conservative movement has gotten so big, so large in terms of a sizeable demographic of the American people that it’s possible to simply have an entire business model, and entire conversation amongst ourselves, and lose sight of the important point, which is that politics is about persuasion. And if you don’t persuade the people who disagree with you now, you are destined simply through the logic, the actuarial logic of death to get smaller over time. And one of the things I think conservatives need to do is refocus themselves on persuading people rather than telling the converted what they already believe or want to hear.

HH: I agree with 95% of what you had to say, particularly about the stuff at the beginning. Joe is right about some things. Then he went on to say this. This is part two:

JS: Now Mike Barnicle, there are people like Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner who actually do attempt to push forward this message in an intelligent way. But you take Pete Wehner, for instance, who worked on the Romney campaign. I haven’t spoken with him, but I get from press reports that he helped write Romney’s speech, which I was very excited, a Pete Wehner convention speech. And he threw it all away.

MB: Yeah

JS: These types of people who have the ability to make what Bush called the compassionate conservative argument, they’re thrown to the side, because they don’t sound enough like Glenn Beck or a blogger.

MB: Well, is there enough breathing room for a legitimate argument that Nick Kristoff poses, that Pete Wehner writes about for Mitt Romney to breathe in this culture of ours? I don’t know that there is because of the loudness and the shrillness of voices on both sides, left and the right. Look…

JS: Wait, wait, what do you do to a schoolyard bully? You punch him in the face. You think any of these people on talk radio if they’re punched in the face by a Republican nominee, do you think they would push back? No. They’re cowards. They’re bullies. Punch them in the face, and they back off. Bullies do that.

HH: Now I dare say he’s not talking about me, but what do you think he’s talking about, and what do you think of his comments?

JG: Yeah, I mean, and here I think he’s degenerating into not very impressive arguments, to be kind about it. You know, the problem with, as I understand it, Pete Wehner’s speech, and you know, the idea, I like Pete, and I know a lot of people who like Pete. But the idea that somehow he is the St. Thomas More of thoughtful conservatism and all this, I think is sort of nonsense. The problem with the Romney campaign was that from my lights is that it didn’t deal with conservatism seriously. You had someone like Stu Stevens who was the guru of the campaign, who was openly and honestly committed to the idea that ideas don’t matter. And you had Mitt Romney, someone who I think put his heart and soul into that campaign, and doesn’t deserve to become the poster boy of all the problems of conservatism or the Republican Party, but at the same time, he was not fluent in conservative ideas. He spoke conservatism as a second language. You and I know a lot of conservatives over a long period of time. No one we know refers to themselves as a severe conservative. That is something that you say when you’re buying into the assumptions of the other side about what conservatives are, and then sort of parroting them back. That was a big problem with the 47% nonsense as well. He was telling conservatives what he thought conservatives wanted to hear, which is like sort of parroting back Berlitz Phrases badly. My problems with Pete Wehner, and to a greater extent, someone like Gerson…

HH: Hold it until I come right back from break, Jonah. I’ll be right back with Jonah Goldberg.

– – – –

HH: We were closing out there, Jonah, and I want to finish on this, is okay, if Romney’s campaign was not fluent, and if the candidate was speaking conservatism as a second language, long discussion, what about the conversation that Scarborough was having, though, that the right can’t renew because the right is captive of talk radio and irresponsible blogs, because my guess is a lot of that is directed at Ann Coulter and you, and a group of people like me who are all in the idea business that Joe just doesn’t agree with how we go about it.

JG: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that, I mean, Joe has been living off of his apparently fabled record as a stalwart conservative some twenty years ago as if that somehow exonerates him from having to actually pay attention to what conservatives are saying or doing. And too often, I kind of like Scarborough, but too often the guy basically is rendering an image of conservatism that is pleasing to the ears of the Washington Post op-ed page, and the viewers of MSNBC. And you know, for someone to be denouncing the use of caricature and the like by the right, it doesn’t serve him well to be doing it from essentially the left. Look, I mean, do I…my view about all this is that the conservative movement is sort of like a symphony, and you need the big gongs and the loud horn section and all that for some things, but you also need the fine woodwinds and the little, you know, the violins for other things. And I think you can make a serious and sober argument that the voice of the intellectuals and the sober-minded gets drowned out from time to time. But that is not an argument for getting rid of the tuba guys. And it is an argument for sort of recalibrating the music that you’re playing. I don’t, I think a lot of people who demonize Rush Limbaugh don’t actually listen to Rush Limbaugh.

HH: I agree.

JG: I don’t agree with everything that Rush says, but it’s not like the guy is light on substance and light on serious arguments.

HH: You know, that is one of the best analogies I have ever heard. Have you used that before?

JG: Oh, in conversation, yeah.

HH: Have you ever, that’s not in any of your books.

JG: I don’t think so, no.

HH: Now I’ve got to find out where I’m in. Well, I’m obviously the first chair cello, but I just don’t know what anyone else is. Now I have to think that it’s just a beautiful analogy.

JG: Well, I mean, but that’s the thing, is look, I do, as you do, I speak to a lot of conservative audiences, and if it’s a purely conservative audience, I’ll do what could be called cheerleading. But if I’m in an audience where I don’t have the audience on my side from the get-go, I try to persuade them. You change the music depending upon the audience.

HH: And if you’re with Piers, you use the cymbals. I mean, nothing else is going to be heard. Well, Jonah, on that note, thank you, my friend. We’ll go out with a beautiful cello, reminding us of Stephen Maturin and other cello players. Thank you so much, Jonah Goldberg.

End of interview.

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