Scarborough: GOP must learn from Reagan, fight smart

The host of the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” spoke to Human Events about his new book “The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics–and Can Again,” and compared his days in Congress with then-speaker Newton L. “Newt” Gingrich with today’s Capitol Hill conservatives.

The genesis of the book was his feeling that today’s conservatives are losing important battles, not because they are wrong, but because of their tactics and tone, said C. Joseph “Joe” Scarborough, who for six years was a Florida congressman, before going in to private law practice and broadcasting.

It is Scarborough’s third book, but it is a continuation of the themes and concerns he wrote about it the first two books, he said.

His first book, “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day: The real deal on how politicians, bureaucrats, and other Washington barbarians are bankrupting America,” was a warning to Republicans, who in 2004 controlled everything, but they were not working for conservative goals, he said. Republicans created a $7 trillion prescription medicine benefit program, other domestic spending was exploding and the country’s foreign policy was losing focus.

“I would say to them: ‘You guys are so excited about being in power, but to what end?’” he said.

“All the things that I had fought for, and so many other conservatives had fought for in the 1990s, were getting washed away by big government,” he said.

C. Joseph "Joe" Scarborough

C. Joseph “Joe” Scarborough

Republicans in Congress ignored him, he said. “Their attitude was: ‘Hey? Why rock the boat?’”

The former congressman’s next book, the 2009 “The Last Best Hope” was both an I-told-you-so and a guide how to win back what was lost—after President Barack Obama led the Democratic takeover of the White House, Senate and House.

When he left Congress in 2001, the federal budget surplus was $150, eight years later when George W. Bush left the White House the deficit was $1.5 trillion.

“In my second book, I advised Republicans to go back to their roots and do some of the things we did during the 1990s,” Scarborough said. “Show restraint at home with less spending, show restraint abroad with less wars—and show restraint in rhetoric, and this was my real warning.”

Conservatives forgot that Ronald W. Reagan was a true conservative, whose demeanor was moderate temperamentally, the University of Florida College of Law graduate said. “He knew how to make his message apply, not only to 65-year-old hedge fund brokers in Greenwich, Conn., but also to the 18-year-old Latino voter in Los Angeles.”

Outside of Washington, Republicans are doing it right, but inside Washington the GOP went from the part of Big Republicanism to the Party of No, he said.

If Reagan is the example of what to do right, Gingrich is the example of both right and wrong. Scarborough served with Gingrich in Congress for four years. Four years of stunning success wrapped in failure.

“I talk about Newt Gingrich in the book,” he said.

“Newt and I are friends, we see each other an awful lot, we were politically against each other an awful lot when he was speaker and I was a House member,” he said.

“He had worked against me in my first campaign because he said I was too conservative to get elected in my own district,” Scarborough said. “I ended up getting 62 percent of the vote.” He was the first Republican elected to Congress from the Florida Panhandle district since 1873,

“I was seen as too much of a fire breather and too young and too much of a troublemaker,” he said.

“Yes, Newt and I didn’t start out on the best terms, and when I got up there, we worked together for a little while,” he said.

Four years into his speakership, Scarborough said he was one of the congressmen, who called Gingrich after the disappointing 1998 midterm election to say it was time for him to go. “He had forgotten why he was sent there.”

In the 1998 election, Republicans lost five seats after Gingrich assured his colleagues that his polls showed that the GOP would pick up House seats. Also that October, although there were four Republican congressmen running for Senate, Gingrich allowed the Senate to recess, allowing the four incumbent Democrats to go home and campaign, while keeping the House in session–and the four challengers in Washington. All four lost.

Before the election, Gingrich supported with the Democrats a massive budget bill that was full of pork that Scarborough and the conservatives opposed. In the fight, the speaker made a floor speech on the House floor ridiculing the “Perfectionist Caucus” of conservative opponents.

“A couple of us turned to each other and said: ‘It’s a pretty good bet that that’s the last floor he ever delivers as speaker,’” he said. “And sure enough, it was.”

In between when Gingrich trying to keep Scarborough out of Congress and when Scarborough was running Gingrich out of town, it cannot be denied that Gingrich did something no other Republican leader had done in a generation, he said. “He put us back in power again.”

Now 20 years after the Gingrich’s Contract with America, the GOP has controlled the House of Representatives all but four years, still using basic Gingrich model, he said.

“I say this in the book, Gingrich was the man, who brought the Reagan Revolution to Congress,” he said. “History will judge him well as far as being an historical force that made a difference—he really did.”

The cadre of conservatives, Sen. R. Edward “Ted” Cruz (R.-Texas), Sen. Randall H. “Rand” Paul (R.-Ky.), Marco A. Rubio (R.- Fla.) and Sen. Michael S. Lee (R.-Utah), trying today to replicate the Gingrich insurgency in the Senate has three major obstacles that the House Republicans did not have to deal with, he said.

First, with the exception of Lee, the other three are running for president, which means that in a year they will become rivals, he said. Among House conservatives, there was a unity, such that when Gingrich would punish a conservative, other conservatives would band together to back up their targeted comrade.

That will happen less and less in the Senate, as they start campaigning against each other in the primaries, he said.

Second, in the Senate, unlike in the House, just one person can gum up the works because there are so few senators he to the House.

The final problem the Senate conservatives have is that after shutting down the government and threatening not to raise the debt ceiling, they had no Plan B if Obama refused to cave on his signature legislation, he said.

Not having a Plan B was the mistake House Republicans constantly made dealing with Bill Clinton, he said. “Newt Gingrich would go up and stake out a firm position and Bill Clinton would respond and then we would just be sitting there—Gingrich would not have a response to Clinton’s latest brightest move.”

The federal shutdown was launched with the best intentions, but it is safe to say they will not do it any time soon, Scarborough said.

“There are a lot of smart things we could have done and we could have won the day,” he said. The GOP could have struck down the health care subsidies on Capitol  Hill, expanded the 30-minimum to a 40-hour minimum for Obamacare coverage rules for small businesses.

“It ended up not being about ideology, but about tactics,” he said.

“We have to get it right and stop losing,” he said. “We cannot afford to keep losing to Harry Reid and keep losing to Barack Obama and we can’t afford to just fight. We have to fight smart and fight to win.”

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