Scarborough: ‘I’m somehow a RINO because I’m being the Cassandra here!’

by Jim Geraghty

Also in today’s Morning Jolt . . . 

Morning Joe Speaks to the Morning Jolt!

I had a chance to speak with Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, recently, about his new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again. I’ll share more of Scarborough’s policy prescriptions later this week, but I thought I’d begin by asking Scarborough about his pitch to those who dismiss him as a RINO.

Jim: As you no doubt are aware, in the world of Twitter and in comment sections of websites, there are some folks who are a wee bit skeptical of your assessment of the Republican party. So I wanted to give you a chance to give your elevator pitch, your short pitch, to someone who’s skeptical of the criticisms you made of Republicans recently, and why should they listen to you and why the ideas you’re articulating would move the party in a better direction.

Scarborough: (laughing) Yeah, why should they listen to me?

Why in the world would anyone in the Republican party listen to me? Because they have absolutely no idea how to win elections! You know, I was only the first Republican to get elected in my [House] district since 1873. I started out a campaign against a 16-year incumbent. Everybody said I was going to lose. Newt Gingrich said I was too conservative for my own district. He and the entire Washington establishment threw all of their weight and power and K Street behind my moderate pro-choice opponent. And I ended up winning the election with 62 percent of the vote. And how did I do it? I ran as a conservative, pro-life, pro-gun Republican. I wasn’t extreme on any of the issues. I talked about economics. I talked about tax reform. I talked about getting rid of the income tax and reforming the tax code, going to a tax system that actually encouraged hard work and economic development. I’d get a lot of people coming up to me saying that they disagreed with me on a lot of issues, that I was more conservative than they were, but they liked me and they voted for me because they knew I was going to go to Washington and I was going to fight for them.

You can trace a straight line from what I said on the campaign trail in 1994 in northwest Florida, to what I have said throughout my congressional career, what I voted in thousands and thousands of congressional votes, what I said on “Scarborough Country” every night — in 2003, I started warning about George W. Bush’s big-government spending ways — in early 2003, everybody else was turning a blind eye to it. In 2004, I wrote a book, Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day. I predicted that big-government Republicanism was going to lead to the destruction of the GOP majority and wreck the economy.

The only people who were talking that way in 2004 were Tom Coburn, myself, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. In 2009, I wrote another book, where I said the same exact things I said years back.

Over the past several years, I’ve been branded this RINO, for basically calling the people that our party keeps putting up for elections “amateurs.” I was right when I criticized Mitt Romney, and I was attacked for being a RINO. I was right when I kept saying to people like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain and Rick Perry and a lot of these other contenders that were getting a lot of national media attention, I said they’re amateurs, they’re not going to be able to win a national general election. I said time and time again, on air, that this happens to us every four years, where we get amateurs. They run on the extreme right. I don’t just mean ideologically, I mean temperamentally, in a way that offends voters in all the swing areas we need to win, whether it’s the suburbs of Philly, the I-4 corridor [in Florida] — areas Republicans need to win in order to win national elections.

[getting excited]

In spite of all these predictions that always turn out to be right, I’m somehow a RINO because I’m being the Cassandra here, who has been saying the same . . . exact . . . thing! I almost swore!

There is one issue where people can say, “Joe Scarborough has changed,” and they would be right. That has to do with guns, specifically background checks. I support background checks, that puts me with 90 percent of Americans, that puts me with Ronald Reagan. If that one issue alone that I’ve changed on, since 1994, if that makes me a RINO, and these people say I don’t fit in the party, I think they’re sadly mistaken. It’s always been my party, it is my party, and it’s going to be my party. I believe in small-government conservatism and that’s what drives me every day.