Thursday, December 2, 2010

Scarborough vs. Palin

The betting window has been open for weeks — certainly since the election — on how long it’d take before the fissures within the edifice of the Republican party would start to appear, how soon before the 112th Congress takes office that the wood filler and paint of a cosmetically unified GOP would chip off … and we’d see the shamble and disarray of timbers underneath.

Thanks to Joe Scarborough, maybe now we know.

Warming to his new post as a columnist for Politico, Scarborough on Tuesday took off the gloves against an adversary on his side of the aisle: Sarah Palin®, the political personality and emerging media industry reportedly considering a run for the presidency in 2012 or maybe not.

Scarborough (assuming a role not unlike that of Peggy Noonan, who went upside Palin’s head in a recent Wall Street Journal column) proposed to call the empress on her new clothes, whether his counterparts in the party did so or not.

“Republicans have a problem. The most-talked-about figure in the GOP is a reality show star who cannot be elected. And yet the same leaders who fret that Sarah Palin could devastate their party in 2012 are too scared to say in public what they all complain about in private.

“Enough. It’s time for the GOP to man up. ...

“What man or mouse with a fully functioning human brain and a résumé as thin as Palin’s would flirt with a presidential run? It makes the political biography of Barack Obama look more like Winston Churchill’s ...”

◊ ◊ ◊

With some of his customary unctuous sarcasm, Scarborough took Palin to task for basic party insubordination, and not paying due respect to its philosophical elders.

“In the past month alone, she has mocked Ronald Reagan’s credentials, dismissed George H.W. and Barbara Bush as arrogant “blue bloods” and blamed George W. Bush for wrecking the economy.

“Wow. That’ll win ’em over in Iowa.

“One can only guess what comes next on Palin’s bizarre road show.”

Scarborough rushes to the defense of Presidents Reagan and, especially, Bush #41:

“I suppose Palin’s harsh dismissal of this great man is more understandable after one reads her biography and realizes that, like Bush, she accomplished a great deal in her early 20s. Who wouldn’t agree that finishing third in the Miss Alaska beauty contest is every bit as treacherous as risking your life in military combat? Maybe the beauty contestant who would one day be a reality star and former governor didn’t win the Distinguished Flying Cross, but the half-termer was selected as Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.”

The column is as much a dismissal of Palin’s political ambitions, whatever they might be, as it is Scarborough’s sharp ethical line in the sand over criticism of the party’s modern icons.

◊ ◊ ◊

And it could be something else again: Media reports circulated within the last few weeks reporting on speculation that Scarborough might be in line for the veep spot on a prospective presidential ticket with, dear God, New York City mayor and real media industry Michael Bloomberg.

Scarborough has denied it, of course. But Scarborough brings experience to the table. Currently the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he represented Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the House from 1995 to 2001 — three times longer than Palin’s tenure as governor of Alaska.

And there’s no escaping the value of a little presumptive combativeness against a possible future foe, especially if it's the kind of principled feistiness that reflects respect for past GOP leaders and shores up your own bona fides with other like-minded souls — like voters.

◊ ◊ ◊

But we’ll see. Many of the rock-ribbed Republicans who pledge allegiance to the builders of the modern GOP are the same people who are firmly in her corner for any presidential aspirations she might harbor. Even right-wing mandarins like Grover Norquist acknowledge she’s earned the right to run if she wants to:

Norquist, writing in Politico with Christopher Barron of GOProud, a gay conservative advocacy group, said: “If we want a GOP nominee prepared for the rough-and-tumble of the general election, then we need a rigorous primary. To ensure we nominate the best our party has to offer, we need as many of our leaders as are willing to throw their hats in the ring. If we want to guarantee that our standard-bearer reflects Republican values and priorities, then we need a diverse field to choose from.

“The presidential primary process isn’t a coronation — even when it’s expected to be. Just ask Hillary Clinton.”

Norquist and Barron are right on that: Much of the concern over Palin’s running for the presidency manages to forget or overlook the fact that first, she’d have to win the nomination. If the GOP primary field’s as crowded as it was in the 2008 sweepstakes, Palin could be crowded into the rail on the first turn. Or not. Either way, Scarborough’s objections notwithstanding, she’s earned the right to try.

Whether doing so would scuttle the Republican hopes for the White House is anyone’s guess. What’s clear in Scarborough’s column, and in recent columns by Noonan and conservative columnist Mona Charen, is that the gloves are off over which form of contemporary Republicanism will set the tone, the baseline, of the new Republican identity we’re led to believe will be unveiled in the new Congress. That battle royal — from the undercard bouts to the title fight — begins in January.

Image credits: Scarborough: MSNBC. Palin: C-SPAN.

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