Scarborough On GOP's 'Last Best Hope'

Scott Simon speaks with former Rep. Joe Scarborough about his book, The Last Best Hope. In his book, Scarborough offers the Republican Party tips on how to bring itself into the 21st century.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Joe Scarborough joins us in our studios now. Of course he's former Republican member of Congress from Florida, now hosts MSNBC's "Morning Joe," a show that is to political wonks what "American Idol" is to normal healthy people.

Mr. JOE SCARBOROUGH (Host, "Morning Joe"): That's a good way to put it.

SIMON: And good morning to you too, Joe.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, there's a sickness among us political wonks.

SIMON: His new book, "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise." Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Oh, I love being here. It's great.

SIMON: And I mean this in a totally friendly way, if you want a best-seller, should you put the word conservatism in the title at this point?

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: You know, what's amazing is that Meek and I have gone out on a book tour over the past two weeks, and everywhere we go it is half Democrats, half Republicans. Actually in some places it's a third, a third, a third, Republicans, independents, and Democrats. The experience is dramatically different from the last book I wrote five years ago, which criticized the Republican Party. I would still have Democrats in the audience screaming at me, You're a Nazi. I said, Wait, I'm attacking my own party. You're a Nazi. This time though there's a more open-minded attitude on both ends of the political spectrum. So it's very exciting. I'll guarantee you, more Democrats and independents are buying this book than Republicans. It's spread across the spectrum.

SIMON: To put your argument in a nutshell, you suggest over the past few years, you think conservatives have lost a sense of realism.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Right.

SIMON: A climate change bill passed last night in the House of Representatives. You believe conservatives have really missed an opportunity by not being more outspoken on environmentalism.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, no doubt about it. I don't know if this is the bill that best fits a conservative approach to it. I personally prefer driving up CAFE standards so high that it forces American industry to innovate in a way that would radically transform the way that we build cars and the way we consume energy. But Republicans - as this bill goes to the Senate, what passes out of the Senate will look nothing like what passed last night.

Just think of the BTU tax of 1993. There's going to be a big, big change. That being said, Republicans can't simply take the position that we don't have to do anything on the environment. That is a losing proposition. As you know better than most Americans, the British conservative movement, coming back - and their slogan is - what is it? Go green, vote blue, save cash, or something like that. Republicans need to do the same thing here.

SIMON: You said that you - a few years ago you began to watch yourself on television and learned something from it that you think conservatives can learn from now.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Well, sure. We conservatives always talk about Reagan. We talk about his conservative ideology, but we forget his moderate temperament. And when I watched myself right after I got into Congress, I noticed I'd go on these cable talk shows and they would say, you know, basically we've got 10 people in this segment, you've got 15 seconds, shake it up. And so you'd, you know, yell and wave your arms.

And I realized after my staff forced me to sit down after about a year of that and look at what I was doing, that I wasn't getting my message out. And I just stopped going on those shows and started taking the tone that was really more natural for me, what I do now in the morning.

Which means I'm - anybody that watch "Morning Joe" knows I'm certainly not a liberal. I'm still a very conservative, almost libertarian guy on economic issues. But that being said, I try to be more moderate temperamentally. Republicans need to do that. If Reagan were alive today, he would not be calling Barack Obama a communist or Sotomayor a racist. That is not a way to win votes in the middle.

SIMON: Should President Obama be doing more, saying more about Iran in your judgment?

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: I don't think so. I think the president - and this is another example of how Republicans need to realize that sometimes it's okay to agree with the president. President Obama has done exactly what he's needed to do on Iran. He toughened up his talk on - last weekend, when it looked like the demonstrations were starting to face greater resistance from the government.

But I mean, us telling Barack Obama to be more aggressive in his statements, I mean that would have the same impact of Ted Kennedy getting on the Senate floor and praising me in a Northwest Florida campaign. You know, vote for Joe Scarborough. And I would pick up the phone, I'd say, brother, please, keep - if you want me to win, keep it to yourself. Really, do we really believe, does John McCain really believe that Ahmadinejad would be weakened if the great Satan sided with the protestors in the street? I've been very disappointed by what John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other Republicans have said.

SIMON: We…

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: And by the way, I've just got to say…

SIMON: Sure, sure, yeah.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Reagan took the same tack with Poland. During the 1980 campaign, Solidarity was on the move. Reagan bit his tongue. He said we're not going to interfere with the internal affairs of Poland, 'cause he knew if he came out, if Carter came out aggressively for Solidarity, at that point the Soviets, the Eastern Bloc would call it a capitalist plot. So we have to measure our words.

SIMON: We could both come up with the names of Democratic politicians who have been implicated in - and liberals who have been implicated in sex scandals.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Uh-huh.

SIMON: But are conservatives particularly vulnerable on that score? I don't mean personally, but politically?

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Right. Well, you know, the argument always is, yeah, you're for family values and you go off to Argentina. I'll tell you, by the way, Jenny Sanford - tough, tough woman. I know Mark and Jenny. I must say, she has taken a tough line and she's just an extraordinarily impressive woman. But on the bigger point, I think so. I think - and I write about it in my book.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: That social conservatism in the 21st - we need to be more libertarian. If we don't want the federal government involved in General Motors, in health care, in cap and trade, in Chrysler, in banks, in Wall Street, why do we want to federalize the issue of gay marriage? Why do we want the federal government involved in OB/GYN issues?

SIMON: You asked a telling question of someone when you were a congressman in North Florida.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Uh-huh.

SIMON: Well, I'm going to get you to tell the story.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Oh, well, yeah, I was - I went through my regular libertarian rant at one of my town hall meetings in 1995 and - that asked a question about education. I'd say, Abolish the Department of Education and bring all the money back home. You know, big cheers from the audience. Asked another question about the IRS. I'm for the fair tax. Abolish it.

You know, the whole audience cheers, and this guy stands up - and this older guy stands up and he's inspired by all the screaming. It's like the Beatles at Shea Stadium. And so he stands up and he goes, What are we going to do about them gay guys in Vermont? And everybody screamed and yelled, and I just stared at him. I said, Why do you care? And as I say in the book, the guy stared back at me like I had spray-painted his shotgun pink.

And I said, Why don't we make a deal with the gay guys in Vermont? We don't tell them how to live their lives in Vermont and they don't tell us how to live our lives in Northwest Florida. And believe it or not, that sort of libertarian hands-off approach was something that that conservative crowd applauded.

SIMON: We asked for questions from you, and I realize we're dwindling down to the last minute, but let me at least work in a couple of them if we can. Will the Republicans have to give up the social conservative base to reform, i.e., be successful?

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: I don't think so. I think they need to be, as I just said in my last answer, more libertarian, more hands-off. They need to be Constitutional conservatives and follow the 10th Amendment and let states worry about it.

SIMON: All right. Here's a good one to end on.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Okay.

SIMON: I would ask if there is one credible, doable, rational idea conservatives have that will benefit all mankind. Let's make it easier, let's just make it half of mankind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: Half of mankind. The conservative movement needs to provide a leveling wind to Barack Obama for the sake not only of all of mankind or half of mankind, but also for Barack Obama. It is - James Madison understood the genius of checks and balances.

We don't need - we don't have that right now because the conservative moment has so - and the Republican Party has lost their credibility because they haven't been conservative on spending or military adventurism. They've been radical. It's time to get back to their conservative roots. That's the best thing they could do. Start showing restraint and grow up.

SIMON: Joe Scarborough, his new book is "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise." Thanks so much for coming in.

Mr. SCARBOROUGH: It's great to be here.

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