The third and final part of my recent chat with Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, about his new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again.
Geraghty: For a while, you stood out from most Republicans in your views on foreign policy. You would describe it as non-interventionist, I’m sure you’ve had the term “isolationist” thrown at you. It does seem there’s been a shift in the party — you see in dealing with Syria, an exhaustion with Iraq, a frustration with Afghanistan. How different is your idea of a good noninterventionist policy from what President Obama is doing now, and how big an issue will this be in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, for Americans who want to find an alternative to what we experienced under Bush but also may not be happy with what they’re getting with President Obama?
Scarborough: I actually think the biggest fight is going to be within the Republican party — and I say fight, I really mean debate, and it’s going to be a positive debate.
Hillary Clinton is the biggest neo-con that there is out there. Democrats are basically going to be putting a candidate out there who’s going to be in agreement with my friend [former Bush official and Romney-Ryan advisor] Dan Senor the majority of the time. So we’re going to try to figure out whether we want to do what Bush said he would do in that second Inaugural Address, and end tyranny in all four corners of the globe, or whether we’re going to be tough realists like Ike was, and yes, like another Republican general, Colin Powell, was. He followed up on the [Caspar] Weinberger Doctrine that the United States of America only sends troops into battle as an absolute last option. And when we go in there, we go in with overwhelming force. As Colin Powell said in the 1990s, we don’t want a fair fight. We want to go over there, we want to kill the enemy, we want to achieve our objectives, and we want to bring our sons and daughters back home.
I think it’s funny that the New York Times and the other progressives will attack George W. Bush for eight years about being a neo-con, and then the second that Republicans start talking about restraint, suddenly we’re isolationists. What I’m talking about is not isolationism. It’s realism. We can’t keep spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan, which we’ve been doing for years now, and rebuilding Afghanistan instead of rebuilding our own country.
Geraghty: The costs of interventions are crystal clear in a situation like Iraq, where we spent a great deal of blood and treasure, and then see inconclusive or dissatisfying results. But there’s also a cost of not intervening, and you see it in places like Syria, where we’re not involved, and the death toll has passed six figures and it’s getting messier. Is America, and or the world, ready for the consequences of a world with a non-interventionist America?
Scarborough: We’ve got to choose our strategic targets carefully. Afghanistan was doomed to fail from the beginning when we moved beyond what George W. Bush had [originally] planned for Afghanistan to be, which was an anti-terror campaign. When it stopped being an anti-terror campaign, and began being a counter-insurgency campaign, and we started trying to rebuild Afghanistan instead of hunting down the terrorists who blew up our buildings on September 11, killing them or bringing them to justice, then we had mission creep. Then Obama tripled the number of troops. That’s insanity. I said it in real time, and I’m still saying it today.
You brought up Syria. If you look at a map of the Middle East, over the past 25 to 30 years, you see our two enemies — and I use that term specifically — have been Iran and Syria. There are times where there are strategic battles to be fought. If Barack Obama had gone into Syria six months ago, nine months ago, a year ago, things would have been different. If the president had actually had a plan to do that, I would have been supportive of it.
I wasn’t supportive of him going into Libya. I wasn’t supportive of it, because I didn’t see that as central to U.S. foreign-policy interests. I do see Iran and Syria and the checking of those regimes as central, not only to long-term U.S.-foreign policy objectives, but also to our biggest ally in the region, Israel.
Geraghty: I live in Virginia, where Ken Cuccinelli just got demolished on the airwaves, accused of wanting to ban birth control, ban divorce, and so on. Are social issues a liability for the GOP? Is it just a matter of avoiding Todd Akin moments, or do they have to approach these issues differently?
Scarborough: Avoid a Todd Akin moment, but understand that Chris Christie is pro-life. He’s the first pro-life guy to get elected in New Jersey since 1973, since Roe v. Wade passed. He used an approach to social issues that I used in northwest Florida. He said, “I could have been very outspoken and aggressive and ideological about it.” He let people know he was a Catholic, he let people know he was pro-life, and he let people know he wasn’t going to waver on that position. That’s a great approach.
Let me say also, this idea that Ken Cuccinelli was defeated because of his positions on social issues is absolutely ridiculous. Cuccinelli will tell you that, and the polls and the numbers show it. The first thing that killed him was the government shutdown. Cuccinelli will say that, and all the people close to Cuccinelli will say that. The other thing was that the Republican polling killed them. Republican pollsters got it wrong in 2013 the way they got it wrong in 2012.
All the polls showed him down seven, eight, nine points. That kept the money out. . . . With a little more money, and without that government shutdown, which Cuccinelli’s people say totally got him off his game and really hurt him in northern Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli would have won.
You would be hard-pressed to find a race where a candidate being pro-life cost them an election. We’ve got a pro-life senator from Pennsylvania [Pat Toomey], and we’ve got a pro-life governor in New Jersey.
A lot of this has to do with temperament and emphasis. If a Republican candidate can convince middle-class voters and working-class voters, that he’s the one who has the best ideas for getting them back to work and strengthening the economy, they’ll vote for a pro-life candidate.
Geraghty: What is the one most important thing that Republicans need to do between now and the 2014 midterms?
Scarborough: They need to come together. I’ll be the first to take my share of the blame. I was very critical of some guys who are actually friends of mine, leading up to the government shutdown. I was because I thought it would hurt the party, and I think I was right. But one of the things that exasperated me after the election this year was that everybody was sniping at each other. Cuccinelli was the bad guy, or Christie was the bad guy. We’re going to start winning elections when we get the Christie supporters and the Cuccinelli supporters on the same side. And we’re going to start winning elections the way Reagan won elections when we get a candidate that both Ted Cruz and Colin Powell can vote for. . . . We can do it again. But we’ve got to stop the ideological witch hunts, and we’ve got to start focusing on beating Hillary Clinton in 2016.