A Q&A with Joe Scarborough on how the GOP can win back the White House

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Joe Scarborough — the former Republican congressman and host of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ — argues in new his book that he knows how the GOP can win back the White House in 2016.

In a Q&A with The Daily Caller, Scarborough elaborated on his arguments, pointing to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a rising star who fits the mold of the sort of Republican who can win again.

“It’s sunny, optimistic, constructive conservatism,” Scarborough said of Walker. “And that’s what can win the day.”

– Asked about the argument from some Republicans that New Jersey Chris Christie is not sufficiently conservative, Scarborough called that sort of thinking “absolute insanity.”

– Asked who he would support if Republicans nominated Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – someone he criticized during the government shutdown fight – to run against Democrat Hillary Clinton? “Oh, that’s easy,” Scarborough said. “Ted Cruz.”

– And asked about whether he’d run for office again, Scarborough said: “I got a 10 year old girl who has said I can’t do it until she’s out of high school” before adding, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it that long.”

Scarborough discussed “THE RIGHT PATH: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again.”

TheDC: You write in your book that the Republican Party needs saving. What’s one thing Republicans can do right now to put the party back on the right track?

Scarborough: It sounds simple but it’s not. It’s a mindset. They’ve got to focus on winning. They got to obsess on winning. They’ve got to understand that you can’t change the world and you can’t make the country a more conservative place if you don’t start electing presidents. We’ve lost five out of the last six elections in the popular vote. We keep nominating the next in the line. We keep nominating people from the Washington establishment wing of the party. And we keep losing. Time and time again.

And so the book is a history of the Republican Party. And it focuses on not only what Reagan did right in 1980 but what Reagan did right in 1966, two years after the calamitous collapse of Goldwater’s campaign. It focuses on what Eisenhower did in ’52 and ’56 and how we used to be the party — we were the ones to beat. We were the party that won 49 states two times in 12 years. We were the party that won five out of six elections. And we did it because we elected people that were able to be conservative ideologically and moderate temperamentally. And figured out a way to make lower taxes and less regulations and the celebration of free markets and free enterprise — they figured out a way to connect that not only with 65 year old hedge-fund brokers in Greenwich but also 18 year old Latino voters in Los Angeles.

Reagan did that. And we did that in the nineties. We got to figure out how to do that again.

TheDC: You also argue that if “the GOP wants to regain its place as the decisive force in national politics, it needs to reengage with its real legacy, which is one of principled conservatism combined with clear-eyed pragmatism.” In your mind, what Republicans today do you think fit that mold?

Scarborough: I think Scott Walker. You got to put Scott Walker at the top of the list. Here’s the guy that had a confrontation not only with the Democrats in his legislature but also with unions. It was an ugly battle. He was mocked, basically, in the state Capitol for quite some time. And it was a real political blood bath. It was a fight to the end. And when we interviewed Scott after he won that battle, I asked him if he learned anything from it. And he said yeah, you know what I learned. I learned that I should’ve listened first. I should’ve gone around the state. I should’ve sat down with those who opposed me and I should’ve been more attuned to not only their needs but the needs of everyone around me. This is a guy that was saying this in victory. And he understood that it’s not just enough for us to be right. We have to be right in a way that makes middle class voters see our path as the right path forward.

You know, Reagan was very conservative ideologically. But he was moderate temperamentally. And he struck deals with Democrats all the time. Rather than getting nothing. There’s this quote that we all use. That all Republican politicians have used from time to time. And of course, we get it wrong because we’re politicians. And the quote supposedly is Ronald Reagan saying, “just because I’m your friend 80 percent time doesn’t make me your enemy 20 percent of the time.” Well Reagan actually never said that. [Historian] Craig Shirley educated me on that a couple weeks ago. What Reagan said is, “I’ll take the 80 percent that I can take now and I will come back and try to get the 20 percent later.” But Reagan was a genius in never having perfect be the enemy of the good.

And I think sometimes we think that the fight is sufficient. But it’s not enough for us to just fight. We got to keep fighting smart again. And we’ve got to start winning those fights. I had a conservative blogger who is a friend of mine say we’re missing a lot of layups. Forgive all the sports analogies. But it’s true. We’ve got to make the lay ups. We’ve got to put the points on the board. And finally we have to understand that it’s not just enough for us to say we’re against Obamacare and we’re against the president’s approach on budget and we’re against the president’s approach on the debt and we’re against the president’s approach on entitlement spending.

We got to do what guys like John Kasich did in 1994. When they said, “we don’t like the president’s budget. So you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to give you our budget.” And so there was a conservative budget that allowed guys like me to go around America and go around our own districts and say “yeah, we’re against Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s approach to spending. But that’s not all. Here’s where we’re going to take America in the future.”

And people responded to that and they will respond to that again like they are with Scott Walker. It’s sunny, optimistic, constructive conservatism. And that’s what can win the day.

TheDC: What do you think about the argument from some that Chris Christie is not conservative enough?

Scarborough: It underlines that we as conservative movement have had over the past decade or so. And the problem is not the ideologically witch hunts, it’s not the people shouting down other Republicans claiming they are RINOs – Republicans in Name Only. The bigger problem is that it chills the sort of intellectual debate that you saw at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1980s when Reagan became president — what you saw at Heritage and other conservative think tanks even through the nineties, where you would actually have fierce debates over education reform. I mean, I put a bill on the floor that actually got passed through a budget resolution that abolished the Department of Education and took the money out of Washington and took it back to the states and to the classrooms. And you would think that they would lift me up on their shoulders, all conservatives, and march me around Washington. No. We had fierce debates with what we did with block grants and what we did with charter schools and what we did with homeschoolers. And it was that debate and it was the diversity of ideas and it was the fact that we were all working together and debating together to come up with the best conservative approach on education reform and tax reform and healthcare reform that made us so successful.

When you have a governor like Chris Christie who is the first pro-life governor since 1973, since Roe v. Wade was passed, to get elected in New Jersey, and win by as large a margin as he wins by, to have people try to shove him out of the party because you and I may disagree on two or three issues, that’s just absolute insanity.

Reagan did an awful lot of things back in 1967 and 1968 after he was elected governor of California that caused some conservatives to be very critical of him. William F. Buckley was forced to go out there and actually stump for Reagan after he was governor and tell everybody that the idea is to elect the most conservative person that we can elect. It’s not to vote for the most conservative person. We’ve got to win elections if we want to make the country more conservative. Buckley understood that. Reagan understood that. Ike understood that. And we need to understand that.

TheDC: Here’s a hypothetical: Fast-forward to 2016. And it’s Hillary vs. Ted Cruz. Who do pragmatic Republicans — like you — support?

Scarborough: Oh, that’s easy. Ted Cruz.

I think also, Ted Cruz himself learned a valuable lesson from what happened over the last several months. You know, Mitch McConnell said something, a quote that I absolutely love. He said there’s no education from a second kick from a mule. Which is you get kicked in the head the first time. That’s an education. The second time, you’re just stupid. And if Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and a lot of guys who I consider to be really good friends, if they didn’t know how this was going to end, they could be forgiven because guys like me went through it years ago. But I think everybody’s a lot wiser now because of it.

The reason I was so outspoken against what they were doing was because we had been through it before and we knew how this story ended. And it did end that way again. I had somebody who was very very involved in the shutdown strategy and afterwards he said to me, “a lot of you guys who went through the shutdown back in the nineties, it was like you had post traumatic stress disorder.” I said, “yeah we did, but you know what, we know when to duck. And you guys will now know when to duck.” And like I said, it’s not enough to fight. We’ve got to fight smart. We got to beat Democrats if we want to push our agenda forward.

TheDC: What would it take for you to leave TV and run for office again?

Scarborough: A need. I ran for Congress for the first time in 1994 because I couldn’t keep practicing law while Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the White House and moving the country too far left. And they were, for the first two years, lurching left on the biggest tax increase in the history of the country and Hillary’s health care plan and one international disaster after another. And so, it didn’t make any sense for me to run. I was 29 when I started. Nobody knew who I was. I was running against a 16 year incumbent. But I just knew I had to get off the couch and do it.

I suspect in the future, if that happens again, and I feel the calling to do it, I’ll do it with the one hesitation that I got a 10 year old girl who has said I can’t do it until she’s out of high school. I don’t know if I’m going to make it that long. But I don’t think I’m going to be jumping in anytime soon.

But that said, the reason I wrote the book and the reason I’m going around the country talking about these issues is because 2016 is going to be an extraordinarily important year. We can’t lose another election. You look at the Supreme Court and whether you’re talking about the issue of guns and the right to keep and bear arms, or whether you’re talking about a lot of other federalism issues, having a Clinton in the White House for eight years after having Barack Obama in the White House for eight years will effectively shift the balance of power on the Supreme Court and the Washington bureaucracy for the Democrats for a generation. So we’ve got to win.

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