Former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), the host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," tested his Republican bona fides at the National Review Institute summit on Saturday, and emerged a favorite of the conservative crowd.
Scarborough sat on a panel with some of the country’s top conservative writers - Reihan Salam of National Review, Ross Douthat of The New York Times, and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, among them – and got the panel’s biggest round of applause when he savaged the record of former President George W. Bush.
“Bush was a big-government Republican,” Scarborough said. “When you say this and start going down the list, some Republicans get offended…but he completely muddied the brand in terms of what has always been our core issue….we are the party of small government…what George W. Bush did over eight years was destroy our brand.”
Scarborough has been criticized by some on the right for breaking with the party on a variety of issues, including gun control and what he’s called the GOP’s tax increase “absolutism.” On Saturday, Scarborough criticized the GOP for not pushing to break up the big banks and for embracing fringe issues, like contraception, on the campaign trail.
“There is a pathetic troll prancing around as a conservative — even a conservative intellectual,” conservative radio host Mark Levin said earlier this year. “He goes by the name of Joe Scarborough, but I cannot believe that is really his name. So I’ve assigned him a name — ‘the morning schmo.’”
Levin blasted the National Review Institute for inviting Scarborough to its summit, saying they should have also invited MSNBC hosts and fierce liberals Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell.
But on Saturday, speaking on the panel “What’s wrong with the right?,” Scarborough logged the most speaking minutes and landed a handful of laughs and applause lines. Scarborough consistently cited National Review founder William F. Buckley, and urged party leaders to embrace the “pragmatism” and prudence in governance that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) lobbied for earlier in the day.
“It’s not just brand purity,” he said. “We’ve got to show…how we’re different from the Democratic Party….we have to make our core message relevant again to middle class Americans. The reason why Romney lost…it took about three minutes of listening to Mitt Romney talk about economics to realize he didn’t get it.”
It’s frequently speculated that Scarborough would consider leveraging his high profile for another political run, perhaps as a Republican presidential candidate in 2016. He’s so far denied interest but has kept the door open.