Scarborough for President

Fall brings some dark horses into Mark McKinnon’s 2012 GOP contender rankings, including a general (Petraeus), a whack job (Bachmann) and a congressman-turned-TV host: Joe Scarborough.

The lower President Barack Obama’s approval ratings drop, the more names we will see surface as possible contenders for the GOP 2012 nomination. The latest crop includes the unlikely, the improbable, the impossible, and the plausible.

The Unlikely: David Petraeus. Nothing gets the Republican juices flowing like the thought of a military man running for the GOP nomination. And had Colin Powell run for the nomination in 1996, he would have likely won the nomination and possibly won the general election. In a hypothetical matchup in exit-polling Election Day, Powell defeated Clinton 50 percent-38 percent. The problem for Powell is that while he was a great general and diplomat, he never had much of a stomach for the messy art of politics. And while Petraeus looks great on paper and in theory, no one knows his politics, he’s never shown any ankle of interest, and as pointed out by Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations on Politico, it would be a hell of a tricky move to be advising the current commander in chief on Afghanistan and Iraq and then turn around in a couple of years and run against your boss.

Petraeus fulfills the Republicans' perpetual desire for an authoritative father figure, but that's a psychological issue among Republicans, not an actual job qualification. It's hard to see what else recommends him for the job. Beyond that, it's hard to see how he "did a great job in Iraq" really creates a public demand for a President Petraeus. If he's won the fight for Iraq, then he's rendered his major skill set (counterinsurgency warfare) obsolete.

The Improbable: Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. I’ll just quote Daily Beast columnist Michelle Goldberg: “Michele Bachmann has always been on the far right of her right-wing party, but for the past year, her lunacy has been particularly vigorous. First was the McCarthyite demand for an investigation of ‘anti-American’ members of Congress. Then came her fear that Obama was creating ‘re-education camps’ via the AmeriCorps program (a program her son has since joined). There was her call for Minnesotans to be ‘armed and dangerous’ revolutionaries” against cap-and-trade legislation and her paranoid opposition to the Census. And on Monday, railing against health-care reform in Colorado, she implored a crowd ‘to make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing.’ This will not pass.

“In August, she told World Net Daily that should God call her to run for president, she would oblige. ‘If I felt that’s what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it,’ she said. Given God’s previous encouragement for her political career—she ran in 2006, she said, because He called on her to do so—such an outcome is not altogether unlikely.”

Sarah Palin similarly said God has guided her political choices. God is certainly keeping us entertained. Bachmann could make Palin look like black-and-white TV.

The Impossible: Dick Cheney. Well, you have to give The Wall Street Journal credit for floating a good laugh. Just the thought of the absolute apoplexy a Cheney candidacy would create with Democrats and the media make this notion worthy of throwing out there. God knows he would galvanize the base. But 35 percent does not a majority make. And a truly bad ticker does not comport well with the stress of a presidential campaign. But I’d buy pay-per-view to watch a debate between Cheney and Obama.

So much for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Plausible: Why not Joe Scarborough, the former Florida congressman, author, and entertaining host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe? Scarborough is telegenic, has a quick wit, legislative experience, and may have the most important factor of all, though he won’t admit it. Yet. He may have the “want it” factor.

Scarborough could be a strong candidate against Obama. He’s a terrific communicator. He’s media savvy. He has strong conservative credentials especially on fiscal and foreign-policy issues—strong enough to satisfy the base in a general election. But he has evolved and moderated his views on issues important to centrists and independents, such as the environment, immigration, and human rights. He reminds me a bit of George Allen, but more moderate, cosmopolitan, and heterodox. And boy, does the Republican Party need more heterodox. Plus he’s young, 46, iconoclastic, unpredictable, a reformer, plays guitar, and dropped the F-bomb on TV, so he can attract younger voters.

Scarborough left Congress five months into his fourth term because he wanted to spend more time with his children, saying that he’d rather be judged as being a good father than a good politician. And for that alone, he shows he has his priorities in place and deserves some credit and consideration. But now the kids are older, so...

With Palin, Huckabee, Santorum, Gingrich, and others likely stampeding to capture the far right of the Republican primary, there’s a big opening for an attractive moderate. Like someone who’s bringing the morning coffee and driving the political gabfest every day on MSNBC.

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2012 Top 10 Contenders:

1. Mitt Romney 2. Tim Pawlenty 3. John Thune 4. Mike Huckabee 5. Sarah Palin 6. Newt Gingrich 7. Haley Barbour 8. Rick Santorum 9. Joe Scarborough 10. Mitch Daniels ( Long shot: Michele Bachmann)

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.