Joe Scarborough: Finding Success Through Sweat and Public Service

Joe Scarborough: Finding Success Through Sweat and Public Service

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough spoke with The Cheat Sheet about hard work, his ever-evolving career, and the 2016 election. Football came up, too.

If you were to ask Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, what his favorite job was over the years, you probably wouldn’t expect the answer he gives. Scarborough has served in a variety of professional capacities, most notably as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Before that, he was a lawyer and high school teacher. But even those don’t take the top spot.

“Coaching football,” he says. “I can’t believe how much I loved that. It was such a blast.”

Now, decades removed from his days of calling plays on the gridiron, he mostly restricts his football intake to the college game – the University of Alabama in particular.

“I’m finally getting paid off,” he says of Alabama, which just won its fourth national championship in seven years, “after decades of watching my team lose to Hawaii.”

Outside of football, Scarborough says he now gets the most satisfaction from playing music. He’s even turned his office into a makeshift recording studio. But that doesn’t mean his attention is easily wavered from concentrating on Morning Joe.

Along with co-host Mika Brzezinski, Scarborough has put together television’s most original morning news show, airing every weekday from 6-9 am. That calls for an extremely early wake-up time, but the show itself offers a refreshing and oftentimes spontaneous alternative to its rivals on other networks. Morning Joe is largely unscripted, and Scarborough himself famously walks into the studio only minutes before going on the air. From there, he’s going toe-to-toe with many political heavyweights on a daily basis, as he recently did with Donald Trump, cutting the insurgent presidential candidate off the air to the surprise and elation of many. Even Republicans.

Scarborough himself is a conservative, and was elected to the House of Representatives from Florida’s 1st District in 1995, where he served as a member of the GOP until 2001. But that hasn’t stopped him from putting other conservatives on the hot seat, especially on his television shows.

And those are only a couple of reasons why Morning Joe is such a hit; not only with the MSNBC audience, but with beltway insiders as well.

In addition to becoming a member of the media, serving in public office, practicing law, and even coaching football, Scarborough is a best-selling author, proud father, and avid musician. He’s managed to morph his career fluidly several times, and remain a powerful and respected voice on the national stage. That’s not an easy thing to do, and is part of what makes Scarborough such an interesting guy.

He was kind enough to share some of his story – and a few of his secrets to success – with The Cheat Sheet.

Laying the Foundation

The Cheat Sheet: Can you tell us about your younger years and education?

Joe Scarborough: I was born in Atlanta in 1963, in a small part of Atlanta called Doraville, which was on the outskirts when I was born. But now it’s been swallowed up. And we moved around the South – my dad worked for Lockheed, and we basically lived in every Southern state – Georgia to Alabama, Mississippi, to Florida. We also lived in upstate New York for a few years.

I went to high school in Pensacola at Pensacola Catholic High School, went to college at the University of Alabama, and then went to law school after taking a couple of years off to write a musical, perform in a band, coach football, and about a thousand other things. Then I went back to law school at the University of Florida.

TCS: At what point did you become interested in politics?

Scarborough: It was at a young age. My dad always loved to watch the news. We would sit at dinner and watch … we would watch Walter Cronkite on CBS and follow the elections very closely.

One of my very first memories of my dad was him getting ready for work, and he was still looking at the returns from the 1968 presidential race between Nixon and Humphrey, which I guess wasn’t settled yet by the time he went to work. But every four years, he was an avid political junkie and I just picked it up … I’ve always been really interested in politics.

TCS: How do you make the jump from a career in law to politics?

Scarborough: I knew I wanted to get into politics pretty early. There was a guy in our district who had been around for a very long time, and I just sort of had the feeling, even though nobody else did, that if I ran, I could beat him. I got out of law school in ’90, practiced law for a couple of years, and started planning to run. I ran in 1994 and was the first Republican elected in the district since 1873.

I was the prohibitive underdog, so I ran a real insurgent campaign. A real grassroots campaign. I knocked on – I think we counted, at the end of the election, 10,000 doors – and really wanted it despite being underfunded and outspent the entire time.

Source: Miller Hawkins for MSNBC

“I found that a year and a half of hard work erases a multitude of sins.”

Source: Anthony J. Scutro for MSNBC

A Winning Strategy

TCS: What was the trick that helped you win a Congressional seat?

Scarborough:  After the campaign, since I was elected at such an early age, and really for the next eight years, everybody kept coming up to me and asking, “What’s the secret?” I told them that you really only have to do three things: you have to wake up earlier than everybody else, you gotta go to sleep a lot later than everybody else, and you gotta work harder between those two points.

I found that a year and a half of hard work erases a multitude of sins. I wasn’t the smartest guy in the race. I wasn’t the most gifted speaker. I wasn’t the most talented guy in the race. But I worked so much harder than everybody else, and I invested so much more sweat equity in it than everybody else, that my limitations were erased.

The campaign was about 18 months, as far as just hard work, knocking on doors… and people asked why I started so early, and I said that I wanted to make all my mistakes during the first six months when nobody is looking – and that’s what I did. By the time everybody started focusing, two or three months out, I had been doing it for a year, everyday, 10-12 hours per day.

TCS: How do you deal with a lot of the negativity and vitriol that come from viewers and critics?

Scarborough: It’s been an ongoing process. When I first got into Congress, I would get the newspaper every morning and read the articles, and it would drive me crazy. At the end, I’d be angry all day. By the end of it [his time in Congress] I’d read a letter to the editor that said “Scarborough’s a Nazi”, or “Scarborough’s a Marxist”, and I’d be eating my cereal and go, “Huh. Okay. Whatever,” and flip the page to sports – to see how Alabama was doing.

TV, when I started up, I had learned to shut out most stuff. But I will tell you the advent of Twitter made me relearn all the lessons I had learned in Congress. It took a couple of years to not let the anger and the rage out there get to me.

I would say that Twitter was responsible for growing five or six more layers of tough skin on me. Now? It’s really hard for me to read anything that affects me.

Source: Miller Hawkins for MSNBC

I would say that Twitter was responsible for growing five or six more layers of tough skin on me.”

The Election and Civic Responsibility

TCS: What do you make of the 2016 election so far?  

Scarborough: 2016 is a remarkable year like none other that I’ve ever covered, or can even remember. We’re starting to see in the Democratic Party the beginning of what’s been happening in the Republican Party for the past six months where you have an insurgent, an outsider, that nobody expected to do well, shake things up. And now the Democratic Party is waking up to the fact that Bernie Sanders is more than just a mild irritant to Hillary Clinton.

On the Republican side, we’ve spent the past six months laughing at people saying that Donald Trump was not going to be relevant to the race, that his ceiling was going to be 10%, 15%, 20% … But the guy is a marketing genius. He’s got a simple message, and he’s driving it home with discipline, and keeping his opponents on their heels.

TCS: Do voters have a responsibility to their country to approach elections as informed citizens?

Scarborough: A great responsibility. I think the greatest problem we face as a country right now has to do with the fact that too many Americans are demanding from their politicians and candidates things that they can never deliver on. The Republican Party has been putting candidates out for 30 years that have been making promises that they knew they couldn’t keep. And that’s in part why Donald Trump is doing so well.

We have an electorate right now that expects the tax-cutting policies of Ronald Reagan, and the big-spending policies of Lyndon B. Johnson. They want both the Great Society, and their Reagan tax cuts. And it’s why we’re almost $20 trillion in debt. It’s why our infrastructure’s crumbling. It’s why we’re extended across the globe. It’s why younger Americans are going to face increasingly prohibitive tax rates to pay down the debt, and why they’re staring at a future in which they won’t receive the same benefits that their parents and grandparents had.

TCS: What advice do you have for voters who are feeling apathetic toward government and the election?

Scarborough: We have to have an informed electorate, that’s where it starts. I’ve always recommended that people go and find a candidate that they believe in, and volunteer on a political campaign. Even if it’s only an hour per week, or an hour per month. Get involved, and try to make a difference.

Whoever it is, get involved in the process.

I think most people will have the experience that I had. They’ll find it very inspiring, and they may decide to get more involved down the road, and who knows? Possibly run for office, and try to make a difference.

“Get involved, and try to make a difference.”

Source: Louis Burgdorf for MSNBC

See Joe, Live and In Person

Are you a music fan? Catch Joe’s musical talents live in New York City at Prohibition (503 Columbus Avenue, between 84th and 85th in New York City) on February 25 at 8 p.m.

Also, be sure to watch Morning Joe weekdays from 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. ET on MSNBC for 2016 presidential election coverage all the way to the big day in November.

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