Can He Save the GOP from Itself?

Joe Scarborough
Joe Scarborough; drawing by James Ferguson

The current Thing to Say about Republicans is that they are caught in a civil war—the Tea Party against the Establishment, “wacko birds” against “the adults,” fringe against mainstream. One of the most clamorous bearers of this message, on his TV show and in various other media, is Joe Scarborough. He has denounced Republicans for putting up outré candidates (like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle) to indulge their resentments, not to win elections. He has, in turn, been called a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by the objects of his criticism. He protests that he is the true Republican, principled and pragmatic like the heroes of his new book.

There have, by his estimate, been two miracles of Republican moderation—Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. They set the standard nationally, though Scarborough, forced to look for some model on a more modest scale, can find one in “the one brief shining moment” that was Camelot-on-Pensacola-Bay, his own three and a half terms as representative from Florida’s First District:

By carrying a 95 percent conservative rating while making strategic alliances with Democratic allies, I boxed out the competition. I also assured myself a place in Congress for the rest of my life if that had been my goal. Because I focused around the clock on building broad coalitions that would also do the nation good…. I constantly studied the political realities around me and asked what I could do to reach out to those who would not naturally support me. If there were something I could do that would help my constituents, be good for the district, and be consistent with my conservative beliefs, I focused like a laser on getting the job done. And I always tried to remain pragmatic, able to adapt to changing conditions.

This book, then, tells the Republicans how to cure their troubles. Simply go and be Ike and Ron—and Joe.

To drive home this recommendation, the author gives us his theory of everything that has happened in American politics since 1945. (He dates all recent history, for reasons to be gone into, from “the sellout at Yalta.”) For Scarborough, the systole and diastole that give our political life its pulse are alternating extremism and pragmatism. This beat is the same for both parties. When Democrats become extreme—as when George McGovern (by Scarborough’s telling) championed “acid, amnesty, and abortion”—Republicans win. When Republicans put up an extremist like Barry Goldwater, Democrats win. Through it all, the good sense of the public is vindicated—it prefers the middle to either extreme. Scarborough puts the law in an interesting way:

Whether it was Hillarycare or Obamacare, the government shutdown or the Iraq War, politicians in both parties have fed the worst instincts of their most extreme party factions and then paid for it at the voting booth.

This seems evenhanded until one notes the specifics. Clinton launched Hillarycare…

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