This story originally appeared on Medium.
In order to win a national election in this country, you have to have a few things going in your favor. First, you must have an electable persona. It sounds cliche but it is true in today’s media-driven world. Look at candidates like Mitt Romney and Al Gore; super-smart guys who were personally flawed. Second, you must have the right message at the right time. Look no further than Barack Obama’s 2008 Hope/Change campaign theme. Third, you have to have a bit of good fortune. Bill Clinton was able to latch onto the “read my lips” gaffe from then-President George H. W. Bush to beat a wartime president, an almost unheard of feat in American politics. Finally, sometimes you just have to be good.
As a politico, I have been reviewing the 2016 field and I have an announcement to make. After campaigning for Gov. Jon Huntsman in 2012 for the Oval Office, I have found my “horse” for 2016: former Congressman and MSNBC star, Joe Scarborough. You might only know him as MSNBC’s Morning Joe, but I know him as a leader, a thinker, a strategist, and a bipartisan problem-solver.
Sure, Scarborough isn’t as sexy as Senators Ted Cruz orMarco Rubio or have the largess of Governor Chris Christie and hasn’t held elected office since 2001 after resigning to spend more time with his family and brushed aside calls from his Floridian friends to run again for various offices over the past 13 years. But that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is what you bring to the table today.
So why, after six years of Barack Obama — who began his presidency with a 67 percent approval rating and who now sits around a 40 percent approval — would a man who has a hit cable television program toss that aside for a far-fetched long-shot run at the Oval Office; a room that then-candidate George W. Bush said “turns pride into prayer”?
Because he can win.
In 2008, after eight years of the Bush presidency, America was searching for a change in politics. But that did not stop WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) from playing a huge role in the Republican nominating process. For the record, I am a WASP … but I don’t attend their parties.
In the 2008 Republican primaries, we saw that those who labeled themselves as “very conservative” came out in droves to support Mike Huckabee while independent voters showed loyalty to those who remained loyal to free-thinking ideas (see: McCain). Those two facts are not a surprise.
But this quote from Sen. McCain rings true to who Congressman Scarborough is as a thinker and a politician: “We share the common principles and values and ideas for the future of this country based on a fundamental conservative political philosophy, which has been my record.” Finally, on election day the national voter registration was 40 percent Republican to 51 percent Democrat. That was in 2008 when there was a historic wave in favor of massive change and McCain didn’t stand a chance.
Over four years and a massive legislative victory with the Affordable Care Act, the political landscape continued to change in favor of independent minds; even as WASPs were growing in power within the GOP.
What happened in 2012 with the GOP is likely to happen again in 2016: no single candidate is the early front-runner. For instance, in Iowa, my home state, the die-hard Evangelicals came out in force for Sen. Rick Santorum in President Obama’s re-election year, propelling him to a surprising victory. The challenge for the GOP then, as it is now, remains those three factors of electability, message, and good fortune. Sen. Santorum in Iowa had the right message and good fortune that Iowa is a fairly religious state. But that does not translate well the further East candidates go.
Iowa Caucus entrance data showed that for voters, when experience in government was important, votes went to Santorum. If business was important, you voted for Romney. 76 percent said the budget and economy were the most important issues and 54 percent called themselves somewhat conservative or moderate.
Put that together with what was learned in South Carolina that year and you can begin to see how a Scarborough candidacy could pan out. The South Carolina voters wanted an established candidate and split 54-44 for Gov. Romney in the general election, and sent their primary delegates to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Romney. While only 54 percent in Iowa called themselves somewhat conservative or moderate, 64 percent claimed that label in South Carolina. Therefore, what a candidate needs to have is government experience with a focus on business and the economy.
On election day 2012, national voter registration was 42 percent Republican and 50 percent Democrat, a swing of 3 percent from just four years earlier. One last statistic to keep in mind, Iowa reports their voter registration to be 33 percent Republican, 33 percent Democrat, and 34 percent Independent.
The thing about all of these numbers is that they have continued to evolve. The latest Gallop poll about party identification says that Independents are more important than ever, making up 42 percent of the electorate. (Democrats make up 31 and Republicans 25 percent). Couple that with the “Yes she’s running,” and “No she’s not running,” rumors about Hillary Clinton and there is a perfect storm for someone with big, mainstram ideas to jump into the battle for the presidency.
The challenge Scarborough will face — aside from his name recognition problem — is that while he was a Congressman, he supported and sponsored some pieces of legislation that don’t have popular support in today’s America.
For instance he advocated the elimination of the federal Department of Education in the 1996 House Budget. He was also staunchly pro-life, supported U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations, and was against raising the minimum wage from $5.15 in 1996. Of course, anyone can change over the course of 13 years and he will have to answer to these if in fact he decides to run.
But he can run. And he can win.
In his book, The Last Best Hope, he wrote, “We cannot claim the constitutional high ground in our efforts to fight the nationalization of health care and finance while demanding that Washington become entangled in gay marriage debates and OB-GYN issues.” Perhaps he is a conservative for the 21st Century.
He has the unique ability to listen and compromise to find real solutions. That’s what we need in an American leader and with Independent voices clamoring for real change, perhaps it is him they seek.