I’ll start this with a quick confession, though most regular readers are already aware of it. I’ve been a fan of Morning Joe for years… pretty much since the beginning. (Also, by way of full disclosure, I’ve actually met and spoken with Joe Scarborough on a number of occasions, though not so much with Mika, and even did the show once.) This has been the subject of many bizarre interactions with readers leaving comments and people I engage with on social media. The feedback ranges from the humorous to the incendiary, mostly from people who don’t watch the show and fail to understand why I always did. But that’s been changing over the past year or so.
I’ve found myself increasingly unable to simply sit back and enjoy the MSNBC morning gab festival while I work. Some days I sit through it anyway (often with the sound down so I can focus on writing but still keep an eye out for breaking news on the chyron). Other days I haven’t been able to make it through five minutes before changing the channel. I’ve actually gotten to know a lot more about Fox & Friends this year, though sometimes I flip over to CNN Headline News.
If you’d pressed me as to why my viewing habits shifted I would have been hard-pressed to effectively put it into words. But now, someone else has come along and done the job in a way which left me stunned when I came across it last night. Alex Castellanos, writing at the Daily Caller, has summed up the entire experience in a way which left me saying, “Oh… Wow. That’s really it.”
His essay has a title which is far more harsh than the actual contents of the piece. “IT’S OFFICIAL: The Ranting Anti-Trump Monotony Of ‘Morning Joe’ Is Now A Disastrous Failure.”
As I said… a bit harsh, but it does grab your attention. And we should be clear here that the “failure” part has nothing to do with ratings or commercial success. The show is actually doing better in the ratings, likely because they now attract a lot more fans of Maddow and Chris Hayes who no longer have to worry about hearing anything that might offend them. If there is a “failure” here it is of purity, not rankings in the key demos.
Alex starts with nine paragraphs of praise for Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and the rest of the crew which made the show tick. He talks about how he too was a regular viewer for years on end and he describes all the elements of the program which made it so worth watching, whether you were a liberal, a conservative, or anything in between. The chemistry of the main characters in this play was fully as important as the policy discussions and reporting which unfolded around the table. And then he gets down to the meat of the matter and explains where the wheels came off the wagon during the age of Trump.
Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski used to represent the political battle of the sexes, daddy-bear Republicans versus the mommy-party Democrats. The couple simmered: Mika and Joe were a flesh-and-blood version of the age-old evolutionary conflict that drives human progress. They fought, embraced, and respected each other in smoldering discussions that left viewers envious of make-up sex. Matlin and Carville could not touch them.
Their clashing views gave show dramatic power. As their relationship grew stronger, viewers found Morning Joe was also their home: a safe space for political conflict. Now, that Morning Joe is no more. As our President might tweet, #Sad. #FailingMorningJoe.
The conflict between mom and dad is gone. The relationship that once ignited sparks has been dimmed and homogenized. Every cast member reads the same script, disowning differences and drama. Morning Joe has become a sea of sameness. The performers play indistinguishable parts, predictable bobble-head dolls that hate Donald John Trump.
Every morning, Joe trods the same path: “Can you believe what Trump has done? He does not respect the institutions that we, the establishment, have been running. He does not understand the principles that we, the establishment, have been upholding. He is disrupting the status quo that validates our superiority. When will Republicans in the Senate say “enough” and stand up to Donald Trump? And when will someone pass the Grey Poupon?”
You really need to read the entire article to fully appreciate this exploration of the metamorphosis we’ve witnessed. It’s the story of how Morning Joe spent years as the happy caterpillar of political commentary, chewing its way through the leaves of the Washington swamp. But last year it spun a cocoon, emerging as a sad, angry moth that now endlessly flits around the flame of the Trump presidency.
Castellanos isn’t a fan of Trump. For that matter, I couldn’t call myself a “fan” either. I criticize the President on this site on a nearly weekly basis when I disagree with him on this or that policy point, often on things like the Renewable Fuel Standard or privatization of ATC. I also praise him when he’s doing solid conservative work on issues such as immigration, law enforcement and eliminating wasteful regulations. But while Castellanos may not be wearing a MAGA hat, he actually is a fan of good political television coverage. I’ll just chime in and say that I feel the same way.
The Trump presidency offers the chance for both supporters and opponents to debate how the President is changing Washington. What needed to be changed and what might we miss when it’s gone? Those are the things that Joe and Mika used to do regularly and they would bring on guests from all across the spectrum of political opinion to fuel that discussion. But too many in the news business this year missed out on one fact which Castellanos drives home: “Donald Trump was a hand grenade thrown under Washington’s door. Millions of Americans saw Trump, with his gargantuan failings and excesses, and chose him anyway over the world Morning Joe continues to defend.”
It would have made for a great debate. (And out there on the web, that debate is actually taking place, though cable news cameras shy away from it.) Sadly, as Alex points out in closing, Morning Joe is now entirely predictable. If you miss one show this week, don’t worry. The same show will run again tomorrow. I seriously hope that changes because I remain a fan of Joe and Mika and I’d love to see the game afoot once again around that table.