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March 17, 2014 12:21 PM The “When All Else Fails” 2016 Candidate

By Ed Kilgore

It’s been easy to dismiss Joe Scarborough’s self-generated talk of a 2016 presidential candidacy as, well, self-generated and buzz-motivated. But The Atlantic’s Molly Ball gives the idea a serious look, and the all-important rationale-for-candidacy seems to be to give the Republican Establishment a fallback option if indeed Chris Christie is toast and Jeb Bush’s last name is prohibitive:

Scarborough tells me that whether he plunges back into politics will depend on how the 2016 field takes shape. There are, he believes, two candidates who could plausibly capture the hearts of Wall Street and the GOP establishment: Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Of Christie, he says, “If he comes out of all these investigations unscathed, I think Chris’ll be a really strong candidate in 2016.” Of Bush: “He was a great governor and I think he’d be a great candidate, but there’s an awful lot of questions about whether Americans want another Bush.”
But if neither man runs, Scarborough believes there will be a void. “You take those guys off the playing field and suddenly it is wide open,” he tells me. “Who else is there? It’s the most open Republican field, my God, since Eisenhower was trying to figure out whether to run or not in 1952.”
And then, perhaps, just as it once implored a military commander and university president to be its champion, Scarborough’s party will seek him out as its only hope.

Now putting aside the dubious nature of the Ike comparison—is hosting a morning talk show after a few workmanlike terms in the House analogous to vanquishing Hitler?—the notion that “Wall Street and the GOP establishment” have the power to draft Joe Scarborough has to represent the absolute high-water mark of the Elites Rule theory of Republican presidential politics, at least since Wendell Willkie’s nomination in 1940. Ball acknowledges that Scarborough’s “base” extends no further than “the consultant-class elites and political obsessives who are Morning Joe’s target demographic.” As for a potential message, it’s hard to discern anything in Scarborough’s arsenal that wasn’t tried in 2012 by Jon Huntsman, who was, after all, a former governor and ambassador. If “Wall Street and the GOP Establishment” really get desperate, doesn’t it make more sense that they’d get behind a champion with some conservative movement street cred, like Scott Walker (if he isn’t taken down by his own ethics problems) or even Mike Huckabee, instead of trying to impose an MSNBC gabber on a party rank-and-file still at least half-convinced that Mitt Romney lost because he didn’t pander to “the base” enough?

I’m a bit handicapped on this subject because I rarely watch political TV. So maybe some of you who watch MSNBC regularly can explain it to me: is Joe Scarborough a shiny diamond? I’m perfectly willing to ignore him henceforth until he’s in double digits in some poll of actual Republicans in an actual state. But if I’m missing something, please do tell.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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