MSNBC's morning news duo Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have become some of Donald Trump's most vociferous critics in recent months. Amid all of their criticisms of him, however, they have yet to apologize for their own role in helping his presidential campaign be viewed credibly by the press and the general public.
During Friday's episode of "Morning Joe," Scarborough flat-out stated that Trump had somehow, magically morphed into a different person from the guy he used to know.
"The guy that’s in the White House now is not the guy we knew two years ago," Scarborough told his panel.
"Not even close," Brzezinski agreed.
"The Donald Trump we knew for the better part of 10, 12 years was always in on the joke," Scarborough continued, saying that the future president would frequently engage in outrageous behavior but then wink and nod to signify that it was all part of the show.
"This guy is not even the same person he was a year ago," Scarborough added, claiming to be repeating an armchair psychiatric diagnosis of a Trump insider who was worried about the president's health.
That's their story and they're sticking to it. Too bad it's completely false, at least according to Tony Schwartz, the man who wrote "The Art of the Deal" -- the book that made Trump into Trump. New Yorker writer Jane Meyer quoted Schwartz in a 2016 profile that illustrates Trump has long presented himself in the same manner:
“I was shocked,” Schwartz told me [upon meeting the future president for the first time]. “Trump didn’t fit any model of human being I’d ever met. He was obsessed with publicity, and he didn’t care what you wrote.” He went on, “Trump only takes two positions. Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest. I became the greatest. He wanted to be seen as a tough guy, and he loved being on the cover.” Schwartz wrote him back, saying, “Of all the people I’ve written about over the years, you are certainly the best sport.” ...
“Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said. ...
This year, Schwartz has heard some argue that there must be a more thoughtful and nuanced version of Donald Trump that he is keeping in reserve for after the campaign. “There isn’t,” Schwartz insists. “There is no private Trump.” This is not a matter of hindsight. While working on “The Art of the Deal,” Schwartz kept a journal in which he expressed his amazement at Trump’s personality, writing that Trump seemed driven entirely by a need for public attention. “All he is is ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’—recognition from outside, bigger, more, a whole series of things that go nowhere in particular,” he observed, on October 21, 1986. But, as he noted in the journal a few days later, “the book will be far more successful if Trump is a sympathetic character—even weirdly sympathetic—than if he is just hateful or, worse yet, a one-dimensional blowhard.”
One of Trump's several biographers explicitly disagreed with Scarborough and Brzezinski's claims that Trump, in his 70s, somehow became a different person.
“I think he has the capacity to speak in different ways to different audiences and if the TV folks have noticed a difference, it may be simply a difference in context,” Marc Fisher, a Washington Post reporter said in an interview with a colleague this week. “Most of the people we talked to [who] worked closely with him in ’70s and ’80s adamantly argue that he is unchanged in any important way.”
The idea that the Trump of 2017 isn't able to make winking, barely cunning jokes or distractions is also completely false. Just look at the hubbub he embraced after accidentally tweeting the non-word "covfefe" at the end of a late-night bout of social media usage. After the internet erupted in jokes, conspiracies, and absurd articles about his messaging genius, Trump embraced the non-controversy with a follow-up tweet.
This pattern of distraction is classically Trumpian behavior, fully in line with his decades-long behavior of calling up journalists under a fake name to spread amusing or even occasionally embarrassing stories as a means of getting his name in the headlines.
And even if everything Trump said was in jest, it's worth recalling that one of the "jokes" Trump was fond of making during the presidency of Barack Obama was to falsely accuse him of engaging in a coverup to hide his foreign birth. According to one report, Trump's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner once told a colleague that Trump was only using the birther conspiracy theory as a means to appeal to "stupid" Republicans. Scarborough and Brzezinski routinely had Trump on their program when he was promoting this racist lie.
As Trump's presidential campaign moved from sideshow to reality, the trio's relationship became the subject of much mockery. Trump himself acknowledged Brzezinski and Scarborough's loyalty during the night of the New Hampshire primary, telling them, "You guys have been supporters. And I really appreciate it. And not necessarily supporters, but at least believers.”
A few days later, Trump and Scarborough were overheard in a surreptitiously recorded conversation discussing how to make him look good. That is indeed what the MSNBC co-hosts did for the better part of a year.
Trump clearly appreciated their flattering even after his election, telling Vanity Fair that he would be happy to officiate the upcoming Brzezinski-Scarborough wedding at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump has not changed his behavior. Scarborough and Brzezinski have changed their perspective. They ought to admit it instead of ridiculously pretending that the man they once knew and fawned over no longer exists.