Bruise Brother

Supposedly Democrat-Friendly MSNBC Has Let a Clinton-Hating Joe Maul New York's Senator

A couple of days later, Scarborough blasted Crawford as "the only human being on the face of the earth" who didn't believe Bill Clinton's comments weren't "inappropriate," depicting Crawford as "eating glazed doughnuts" with Bubba. "You're setting up Democrats here," Crawford tellingly responded. "You're propping up Barack Obama." Crawford's MSNBC appearances then dropped from 19 in January to four each in February and March, a decline that he partially attributed in a Voice interview to ankle surgery, though he had the surgery almost two weeks before his blowout with Scarborough. "There could be other things going on," he acknowledged. Scarborough, for his part, alluded to a possible fee dispute, but Crawford said that he and the network had signed a new contract at the start of the year.

With Crawford seemingly on a short leash at the network, Scarborough has pushed on as the engaging man of balance, moving easily from a guitar performance with Mike Huckabee at an Iowa campaign rally to gushing over Obama's "incredible inspiration."

While he's largely dropped the Limbaugh-inspired acidity that he was hired to bring in his early days at the network, and has increasingly cultivated an image as MSNBC's morning-and-night centrist master of ceremonies, Scarborough has a remarkably partisan past that is steeped in deep Clinton hatred. And unlike his conservative colleagues at Fox and CNN, his message reaches far deeper into a party still considering a Clinton. It's the network's liberal image that camouflages Scarborough and allows him to influence an audience that he wouldn't ordinarily reach at all.

Alex Ostroy


Research assistance by: Kimberly Chin, Shaunna Murphy, Shea O'Rourke, Marguerite A. Suozzi, Adam Weinstein, John Wilwol

"It's funny," he tells the Voice, "because I never get a Republican saying they've watched me. It's actually Democrats who are coming up to me and saying they watch me."

By his own account, 29-year-old Joe Scarborough changed his registration from Democrat to Republican right after Bill Clinton won in 1992, and was elected two years later to represent the "Redneck Riviera" of Florida's panhandle, where his first MSNBC program, Scarborough Country, originated.

A Baptist who eschewed the mostly black public schools of Pensacola for a mostly white Catholic education for himself and his sons, Scarborough can race-bait the Clintons today, knowing that few remember his congressional efforts, for example, to urge the IRS to strip the NAACP of its tax-exempt status.

Many viewers block out—or simply don't know much about—a résumé so partisan that top Republican leaders tried to recruit Scarborough to run against Democrat Bill Nelson in Florida in 2006. Senator Elizabeth Dole, chair of the Senate Republican campaign committee, flew to New York to try and convince him to run. Had Katherine Harris (of recount fame) deferred to him instead of insisting on running and losing, Scarborough—who now owns an $8 million home and a 32-foot Sea Ray called Genevieve in Pensacola—might have single-handedly kept the Senate in Republican hands. In 2004, MSNBC allowed him to appear—in the middle of a presidential campaign he was covering—at the side of George W. Bush and John McCain at a rally in Pensacola, where the president singled out Scarborough, his wife, and his daughter to cheers. "I appreciate Joe Scarborough," Bush declared. "I'm glad to know he's still standing and making a living."

He then hosted a "Faces of Victory" panel for the Florida Republican Party during the inaugural celebration in Washington in 2005.

Scarborough's wife, Susan, was one of the regional co-chairs of Women for Charlie Crist in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign and did Jeb Bush's scheduling in 1999 and 2000. (She worked for Bush before marrying Scarborough, but after he had separated from his first wife.) Joe also remains involved in Pensacola politics, managing the 2007 Republican primary campaign of his brother George for the state legislature. George Scarborough's campaign literature featured the endorsement of Jeb Bush, whom Joe called "a future president" in a local interview that year. Joe was so close to Jeb that he raised half a million dollars for him in 1998, by his own count, and then traveled to Austin a year later with a group of Jeb Bush donors to meet George W. Bush for the first time. That visit put him at the forefront of the 2000 Bush campaign in Florida—including his leading a raucous rally in Pensacola during the recount battle.

When George Scarborough narrowly lost the primary election, Joe attributed it to "a negative mailer filled with out-and-out lies" by an ally of the GOP winner, Clay Ford. "It's indefensible to attack my family," Joe told a local paper just a year ago. "You can tell he learned his politics from Bill Clinton"—a deeply personal indication that Scarborough still uses the former president as a low-water mark in the sewer of politics. Asked by the Voice about the quote, Scarborough says: "I didn't just pull Bill Clinton's name out of the air. Ford served in the Arkansas legislature when Clinton was governor." (Ford did serve a term in the Arkansas House, but it was two years before Clinton became governor.)

Scarborough's disdain for Bill Clinton has actually been the single constant in his political life. According to his own memoir, when Scarborough started as an unknown, running for Congress in 1993, people were slamming doors in his face until he learned to quickly mutter the word "Clinton." Once he did, doors "flew open again," he wrote, "and the newly engaged Scarborough supporter said, 'I hate the bastard. Gimme your card.' Just like that, a new political marketing strategy was born."

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