MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough joined me today, and of course talked turned quickly to his rumored run for the presidency as well as to the dysfunction in the House GOP Caucus of which he was a part for eight years, and other routine questions of presidential candidates:
HH: Big news today. The debt limit has been lifted by the Senate, and the military, career military COLA cut has been repealed, all good news. Joining me to discuss that and much else, Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough. I want to begin, Joe, by saying when your friends had me in to your show on January 2nd, they were the most gracious, professional, wonderful people, from your Columbia intern through your make-up people, right down to Mika. It was wonderful.
JS: Yeah, they were very excited to have you on. Mika absolutely loved the book and said you were a great guest. I’m sorry I missed it, and I hope you come back again. I know, I mean, it’s awful early in the East Coast, even earlier in the West Coast, but yeah…
HH: Mika had actually…
JS: Everybody loved you. Come back.
HH: Mika had actually read The Happiest Life, so I was very impressed. But Joe, I understand taking a week off when you’re getting ready to run for president.
JS: Well you know, it’s a long run. I mean, I’ve got to rest up. I’ve got to pace myself, Hugh.
HH: Joe, I want to know what qualities are you going to look for in a running mate?
JS: Well, I mean, I would love to be your running mate. If you run for president, I’ll be your vice president, and I think we’ll have all wings of the party – East Coast, West Coast, of course, I’m a small government conservative, you’re a moderate sort of squishy guy. I think we’d get all wings of the party. It’s great.
HH: Now Joe, I honestly have been reading this with great interest, and am musing to myself that you actually could go pretty far in that lane, as they refer to it. Are you actually thinking about this?
JS: No, I’m not. You know, I will tell you what I’m obsessed with, and I think I’m going to obsess with it a little longer than a lot of people, and that is getting the Republican Party back into the White House. And I’d love to talk about that and obsess about that, because as we’ve talked about it before, we can’t afford to lose the White House for eight more years. We can’t afford to lose the Supreme Court for eight more years. We can’t afford to lose the bureaucracy for eight more years. I’ve got to say today, though, I’m a lot more concerned about what’s going on in the House, like you.
HH: That’s what I want to talk to you about. Absolutely.
JS: I’m glad you called my good friend, Paul Ryan, out on what they did to military retirees. But right now, I’m concerned about us passing the debt limit at least on the House side without any leadership.
HH: I want to go there, but one more question, Joe…
HH: …because I’m a highly-trained professional journalist. Did you just rule out running for president in 2016?
JS: No, I’m not going, I won’t rule anything out. I’ve always said, and I’ve always been very open about the fact that the greatest job I ever had, and the greatest honor I ever had, was being in the House of Representatives. And it was an absolute thrill. I had to get out, because you know, I had young children to raise who wanted me back home in Pensacola. But no, I’ve always said I wanted to get back in. It’s just a matter of timing, and we’ll seen when it happens.
HH: You know, Reince has told me I’m going to moderate one of the GOP primary debates. Do you mind if I loosen up a little bit with just a couple of practice questions with you?
JS: Yeah, so long as it’s not the type of questions that Republicans usually get asked at a Republican debate.
HH: Well that’s what…I wanted to do a Stephanopoulos question. Why do you want to take contraception away from women?
JS: Yeah, exactly. And if you could, after you ask that question, if you could a question about evolution, and why we’re all knuckle-draggers? That would be great, too. And also, if you could ask a question and say okay, raise your hands, are you for or against evolution.
HH: Joe, who would you actually trust in the MSM to run one of the real presidential debates in the fall when it’s between the Democrat and the Republican? Who do you think ought to be the moderator of that? You’ve been on the inside of both the Republican Party and of big media. And who is far?
JS: You know, I don’t mind a balance. Like I wouldn’t mind a George Stephanopoulos on one side if you had the Republican version of George Stephanopoulos on the other side, but my question to you is who is that version in the mainstream media?
HH: Brit Hume.
JS: It used to be Brit Hume. You know, not so long ago during the Reagan years, you could always look at ABC and see Brit Hume. You know, actually, Jake Tapper is a pretty tough guy down the middle. There’s some other ones. I’ll tell you who’s really surprised me, who’s gone after both sides, is Ron Fournier is just…
JS: …sort of…
JS: He’s just sort of turned into this cranky, tough journalist who’s the sort of journalist that you and I always probably loved reading, you know, because he’ll take on Republicans, he’ll take on Democrats. He’s tough and he’s fair.
HH: I tried to book him today, in fact, and he sent us to one of his reporters, because he’s in snowbound D.C. But Ron Fournier for the National Journal, good stuff. Now let’s get to the House. Now I wrote a long piece at Townhall today, Joe, that the Speaker is obviously crippled as a leader. And I hope he will soon announce that he’s not going to seek the gavel again, and the Republicans can start to get organized. You’ve been in functioning GOP caucuses, you’ve been in dysfunctional GOP caucuses. This looks to me to be about the worst it’s been. I’m 57. I’ve been following this since I was 16, so I’ll say 40 years of GOP caucuses.
HH: What do you think?
JS: Well, it’s the most dysfunctional caucus I’ve ever seen. You know, we supported Newt when Newt was conservative. By ’98, we thought that he’d gone too far left on spending and went along with Democrats too much. There was a time, though, in ’95 and ’96 where Newt could say give me your vote, I am your leader, and if you can’t give me your vote, then get somebody else to be in here. And that puts you in a position where you’re like okay…and sometimes, a leader bends to people that vote him in to their will, and sometimes, it goes the other way. John Boehner had six months, six months, to prepare for this. You and I talked about what a disaster the government shutdown was for the Republican Party. Okay, fine, that was the equivalent, as Jon Meacham said this morning, of political nuclear war. Today, or yesterday, was basically the equivalent of just waving a white flag before the first battle. Now I know that we can’t default on our debt. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t come together as a party over six months and figure out a way to at least make Democrats take an uncomfortable vote before we go ahead and pass the debt limit. And I had a lot of people saying this morning, including Peter King, saying well, Joe, this is the worst right-wing House Republican caucus ever. Well, if that’s the case, then let’s get somebody that has the confidence of those caucus members so we can, you know, make one uncomfortable vote after another for Democrats, because that’s what Democrats do when they’re in power.
HH: Yeah, they have actually no strategy. That’s what I wrote about. And I don’t think…
JS: And that’s the biggest problem.
JS: The thing is, yeah, I understand, and you understand, and your listeners understand, Democrats control the Senate and Democrats control the White House. But we can control the purse strings. Let’s have a strategy. Let’s have a plan going forward. John Boehner doesn’t have that. And you know, I was talking to a guy that runs one of the biggest conservative websites in America who said that he spoke to Boehner six months ago and said please, just put a bill on the floor that the base will like, that independents will like, and that will make the other side uncomfortable, every month, one a month, just focus on it. And Boehner said oh, come on, that’s just showmanship, and that’s not the way I do business, and then he went out to smoke a cigarette. We need somebody that actually is going to be able to do what you talked about in your column. At the end of the day, it’s about strategy. It’s about figuring out how to shape the debate.
HH: There are…
JS: And John Boehner can’t do that anymore, and I think we need to find somebody who can.
HH: And I don’t mind, you know, this Congress is effectively done now, Joe. I don’t know if you agree with that.
HH: They’re finished, and nothing is going to happen for the rest of the year.
JS: It’s over.
HH: So they’re done. The Speaker could say I’m giving up the gavel, and you guys can start to organize for your next speaker elections. There are three possibles out there – Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling and Tom Price. They’re all good conservatives. Cantor’s got the inside track, but he’s also tarred by this fiasco of the last year and a half. Who do you think ought to be the Speaker?
JS: I don’t know. I mean, I won’t wade in that, because I don’t work with them. I will tell you that I’m impressed by all three of those guys. I like them all for different reasons. I will tell you that I think Jeb is probably tarnished a little less, and I think Price is really, if you’re talking about just pure strategy, I think Price may be the guy.
HH: And do you think the Republicans, do you think Cantor sits uneasy on his throne of majority leader looking to the speakership?
JS: I don’t know. I really don’t. What do you think?
HH: Yeah, I do. I can’t imagine anyone saying by acclamation, Eric Cantor is going to succeed John Boehner, and I can’t see John Boehner being the Speaker in 2015. I can’t imagine if after this.
JS: After what happened yesterday, I can’t imagine it, either, because again, it was just a complete capitulation. And the problem is, and we always say this about generals, they’re always fighting the last war, well, these guys in the House, and women in the House, went from one extreme, which again, was a government shutdown that was doomed to fail from the very beginning, to the other extreme. Now you can blame 218, 220, 230 Republicans if you want to, but at the end of the day, it comes down to leadership. And the only reason Republicans retook control of Congress in 1994 is because Newt Gingrich and the minority from ’88-’89-’90, all the way through ’94, he had a vision, he followed the vision, he had great lieutenants, they followed him, and they were able to crush Democrats on one vote after another. Even though it didn’t pass, they embarrassed Democrats. They made them take difficult votes that they could campaign on through the entire fall campaign. And I know, because I did it, and I ran against a 16 year Democratic incumbent, and I pummeled him every single day with the votes that he took. John Boehner’s not doing that to Democrats.
HH: And, I would add, they’re not messaging, they’re not using social media, they’re not engaged on television. They are absent.
JS: You know what else they’re not doing? They’re not talking to their members. Boehner and the leadership don’t talk to their members. A lot of times, I’ll call my buddies and I’ll say hey, what’s going on? What are guys doing? And they go, ‘we wish we knew.’
JS: I say well, when’s the last time Boehner told you what the strategy was, because Newt sometimes talked, as you know, too much. They say well, Boehner doesn’t talk to us. Well, what do you mean he doesn’t talk to you? They say he never tells us what’s coming next. We’re guessing half the time. That’s not leadership. He needs to go. I mean, John Boehner needs to move to Pebble Beach. He needs to golf and do whatever he wants to do. I worked with the guy, and like the guy, but if my mother were running the House this way, I would say the same thing about her. We need somebody that has the confidence of the conservative caucus, because we’re going to retake it. We may even add seats. And that person has to have a strategy. And I will tell you what. For me, like you, which you talked about in your column, strategy, if they’re a conservative, that’s the most important quality. We have to get somebody who can be…
HH: And they’ve got to decide whether, and I’m curious of your thoughts, between 2015 and 2016, assuming the Republicans get the majority in the Senate, and I believe they will do that as well, they have to decide whether they want a little compromise like the welfare reform of ’96, a big, grand deal like Paul Ryan’s been pushing for with the President for a long time, or just confrontation. And I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that the folks around Eric Cantor and Tom Price and Jeb Hensarling ought to be working with McConnell and Cornyn’s team so they don’t start from cold in November of next year, Joe Scarborough.
JS: They’ve got to do it. They’ve got to do it. We have got to figure out, and I learned this through the years. I used to think everybody could run their office, and everybody could vote the way that a conservative guy from Northwest Florida voted in one of the most conservative districts. But you know what? It takes a different skill set to elect House members than it does to elect senators than it does to elect presidents. And everybody’s got to talk every, we’ve got to take the Senate back. And you’ve got to have a Speaker that can work with the majority leader, and they can work with a goal of getting conservative programs passed, but at the same time, you also have to work towards the goal of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. We just can’t give up the White House for 16 straight years.
HH: Well, since you came back to the presidential run that you’re planning…
HH: Let’s talk about Hillary for a second.
HH: Does she intimidate you at all as a candidate? Could you go toe to toe with Hillary?
JS: Oh, yeah (laughing) I mean, Erick Erickson was talking about the fact that you know, that when he had to prepare for debate prep at the Oxford Union, it helped him more with debating than anything else. I’m on a television show three hours a day, and I’m usually outnumbered about five to one, which hopefully is a fair fight.
HH: Oh, I actually think that if you run, if you do this, that you’ll have a skill set that only a couple of the others…John Kasich knows TV pretty well from his time at Fox.
HH: And a couple of the other ones know TV pretty well. Marco Rubio’s pretty talented in this regard. But Mika keeps you on your toes every day, so you’ll know how to counterpunch. Now will she endorse you if you run? Will she cross over, reregister and vote in the Republican primary in New York?
JS: She’d better.
HH: All right.
JS: I mean, I would be disappointed if she didn’t. I expect her father to do the same thing.
HH: Could you raise money, Joe, for a presidential run?
JS: What’s that?
HH: Could you raise money for a presidential run? It costs, you know, at a minimum, $5-6 million bucks to be serious through the fall debates of 2015.
JS: Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. There are a lot of disadvantages with being in New York and dealing with the snow and dealing with the weather and being separated from a lot of my friends and family members in the Deep South, but there’s advantages, too.
HH: Yeah, but there’s also the unpleasant.
JS: You work in New York long enough, you meet people that have a good bit of money. And if I decided to run, raising money wouldn’t be the problem.
HH: All right, now the unpleasant part, though, Marco Rubio got asked two days ago if he smoked dope. I’m not going to ask you that. But are you prepared for that kind of inspection, Joe Scarborough?
JS: Again, I’m not planning on running, but I already announced on TV to the shrieks of my friends who live in Brooklyn, Brooklyn hipsters, that I don’t, I haven’t, I’ve been a very boring guy for the most part over the past 30 years. I work, and I raise my kids.
HH: Then let me give you the one you cannot…you’re an undergraduate from Alabama, so you’re a Crimson Tide, but you went to law school at the Gator land. So when the Gators play the Tide, who do you root for?
JS: Well, that’s, I’m sorry, you can’t politicize football. I root for Alabama all the way.
HH: Okay, just checking.
JS: It’s not even a close call. And you know what? I’m so far out on the limb on that one right now, I wouldn’t be able to convince anybody in Florid that I cheered for the Gators anyway.
HH: All right, now I want to talk seriously about immigration. Now that is one issue that a Republican Congress could actually negotiate with the President. What’s Joe Scarborough think is the right solution?
JS: Well, you know, I think Republicans, again, talking about always fighting the last war, I think Republicans just have made the same mistake on immigration they made a couple of days ago on the debt ceiling, yesterday in the debt ceiling, thinking that the reason that Mitt Romney lost the race was because he didn’t support a comprehensive immigration reform bill. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think Romney sat himself out in the Iowa debates, and took too harsh of a position on immigration that turned a lot of Hispanic voters off. But I don’t think that means that we have to grant a pathway to citizenship in the short term to anybody that got here illegally. I’d personally support a pathway to a legalized status, but I’m very concerned about Republicans that have been talking about letting immigrations, letting illegal immigrants get citizenship ahead of hundreds of thousands of other people across the world that want to get here and want to get here legally.
HH: Now last couple of questions, Joe, if you imagine that stage, there are going to be a lot of talented Republicans running. Ted Cruz has won and argued nine cases before the United States Supreme Court. That’s not because he’s lucky. Marco Rubio, you know his skill set, Scott Walker, John Kasich, you know, Rick Perry has retooled completely.
HH: How do you fare in that? Who’s the Joe Scarborough constituency with 12 guys and gals on stage who have different appeals?
JS: I don’t know, but you know what the great thing is? If you’ve got 12 people on the stage, you may only need 20%. (laughing)
HH: (laughing) Joe, you sound like you’re running.
JS: No, no I’m not. No, I’m not, but I’ll tell you this. I want to find, I want to find the candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton. And I don’t know who that candidate is right now. Certainly Chris is, Chris Christie’s having a lot of problems, Jeb, I don’t know if Jeb’s going to jump into the race or not. I don’t know, I don’t know who that candidate is, yet, but I’ll keep looking.
HH: It could be Scarborough. I heard you. You didn’t do Sherman on me. There was no Shermanesque statement there.
JS: I don’t do Sherman.
HH: All right, you don’t do Sherman.
JS: I just don’t do Sherman, and you know, here’s the great thing, too. You know, I have been in the public eye, and I’ve been, for instance, 1994, for 20 years, I’ve got thousands of votes, I’ve got hundreds of thousands of words in the Congressional Record. I’ve been, you know, my transcripts sine 2003 being on TV for ten, eleven years. It’s all out there, and it’s all pretty consistent. I’m a small government conservative, and I’ve always been very blunt about it, and I figure that’s a lot easier way to go than flip-flopping, because I don’t have to try to figure out what I said in 2006-2007 or 2008. I’ve always said the same thing.
HH: Joe Scarborough, as we get closer to your declaration, keep coming back. Thank you, Joe.
HH: Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough.
JS: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.