Who Is Joe Scarborough Voting For?

At first blush, this question might seem a no-brainer. Elected to Congress in 1994 from the Florida panhandle as one of Newt's "Contract With America" foot soldiers, the host of MSNBC's Morning Joe labels himself a conservative who was dissatisfied with George W. Bush for not being conservative enough! Co-host Mika Brzezinski likewise wears her Democratic brand on her sleeve, letting people know whenever possible that she favors Obama for president. So, surely Scarborough favors Romney.

But beneath the surface lurk some complications. In the first place, having moved part-time to New York City for their MSNBC morning show, Scarborough now runs into many more liberals on the street than he ever did in Pensacola or Tallahassee. Even for a strong-willed individual like Scarborough, social pressure plays a role. One example of his new peer group in New York and among the media is evident in Joe's attitudes towards gay marriage. While Joe's official position -- enunciated in his book, The Last Best Hope -- is that states be allowed to determine whether same-sex marriage should be permitted, he seemed to realize his position was self-contradictory (do gay people have a fundamental right to be married or not?) almost as soon as his book was published in 2010. Gay marriage is simply not something Scarborough speaks forcefully about on the air.

On the other hand, Scarborough's brand of conservatism -- one that harkens back to Taft and other post-World War II non-interventionists -- actually puts him to the left of Obama on Afghanistan and potentially elsewhere around the world. If there is one thing that makes Scarborough emotional, it's imagining American young people dying in Afghanistan when, Scarborough frequently asserts, the deal we'll get will be the same whenever we leave -- in two years, ten years, or tomorrow -- and it's not an outcome, now or then, worth sacrificing more American lives to achieve.

One issue that calls into play both of these factors -- Scarborough's true-blue conservatism and the type of company he's been keeping lately -- is health care. In this case, these factors work in opposite directions. Thus Joe is predisposed to the Republican notion that a free insurance market will serve to provide adequate health care coverage for Americans. That this approach has failed in the U.S. and has been abandoned in every other economically advanced country in the world is often presented on Morning Joe by Obama health policy adviser Ezekiel Emanuel and liberal economists like Jeffrey Sachs. As a result, Scarborough is muted on the health care reform issue. He is more likely to say that Obama took some positive steps towards limiting overall health cost rises, but not enough, than he is to put down government involvement in health care.

So one wonders what Scarborough thinks about Romney's claim, both idiotic and cruel, that poor Americans are well-served by going to hospital emergency rooms when they become ill!

No, I don't see Joe marching proudly to cast his ballot for anti-gay-marriage, let's-not-get-out-of-Afghanistan-too-fast, who-needs-health-insurance Mitt Romney, despite his supposedly being Scarborough's conservative fellow-traveler.