“The GOP must dump Trump.”
That was the headline of an op-ed appearing on the Washington Post’s website late Tuesday night. The most surprising thing about the piece’s incredibly logical argument was its author: Morning Joe host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough.
For the past year, Scarborough, and by extension his left-leaning co-host Mika Brzezinski, have repeatedly been accused of being Donald Trump apologists. Early in Trump’s unlikely bid president, Morning Joe was eager to host long, rambling phone interviews with the candidate, posing the type of softball questions that helped him rise above his more traditional competitors.
Scarborough was also prone to bringing up his personal relationship with Trump, casting himself as a sometimes-trusted adviser who could tell the candidate things he needed to hear. “I’ve actually called him up and said, ‘Donald, listen, you need to speak in complete sentences at debates,’” Scarborough told an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York last fall. Later, leaked voicemail messages appeared to confirm the cozy relationship between the two men.
Yet despite the fact that Trump has publicly referred to Scarborough and Brzezinski as “supporters” or “at least believers” during one of his live interviews on Morning Joe, the hosts have been eager to dispel that notion. At times they have protested a bit too much, for instance during a much-maligned town hall event they hosted with the candidate back in February when they called his previous debate performance “disastrous” and “terrible.”
The perception that Scarborough in particular is in the tank for Trump has been hard to shake. But this was the week he may have finally done it. It started on Tuesday morning when Scarborough described Trump’s racism and bigotry as nothing more than a “marketing ploy.”
“He doesn’t believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya and I’m not defending him. I say this is even worse that you play it cynically,” the host said. “I’ve known the guy for 12 years, I’ve never heard him say the first thing that even resembles a racist remark. And he’s just the type of person that if you were sitting around the table and somebody made a racist remark, he would raise his eyebrow and say, ‘Are you kidding me? Where are you from, the 1950s?’ This is all a scam.”
The next morning, Scarborough addressed his alleged support for Trump more directly. As he put it, a lot of “stupid people” have watched him and Brzezinski “predict Donald Trump’s success” and made the conclusion that they “supported him and enabled him from the very beginning.” He went to say that he has repeatedly asserted that he could “never vote” for Trump, dating back to his proposed Muslim immigration ban in November of last year and reminded viewers about that time he cut off Trump mid-rant, something he said other shows wouldn’t dare do.
“It wasn’t advocacy,” Willie Geist agreed. “It was explanation and analysis.”
Most forcefully, Scarborough used his WaPo op-ed to argue that Trump’s latest comments suggesting that “Second Amendment people” could stop Clinton from taking their guns away should “disqualify” him as a candidate.
Calling on the Secret Service to investigate Trump and for Paul Ryan and other Republican to “revoke their endorsement” of him, Scarborough concluded, “A bloody line has been crossed that cannot be ignored. At long last, Donald Trump has left the Republican Party few options but to act decisively and get this political train wreck off the tracks before something terrible happens.”
In the MSNBC host’s view, it is not too late to get Trump on track. Rather, the GOP needs to find a way to get him “off the tracks” before it’s too late.
If nothing else, Scarborough still has the power to get Trump’s attention. Earlier Wednesday morning, Trump once again used his Twitter account to attack Morning Joe’s ratings, calling the program “sad and irrelevant.” But apparently not too “sad and irrelevant” to ignore.
Just as Trump can’t help but frame his criticism of Scarborough around Morning Joe’s ratings, Scarborough’s attitude about Trump has always centered around his poll numbers. When Trump was ascendant during the Republican primary, Scarborough rewarded him with political praise and ample airtime. Now that all signs point to a humiliating defeat in the fall, perhaps Scarborough is simply hedging his bets.
Ironically, it’s a principle Trump should in theory support: Get behind the winner, but as soon as he starts to look like a loser, run the other way.