Donald Trump’s presidency is ending with a Capitol riot, a second impeachment, a democracy in peril and the usual truckload of lies. With the transfer of power set to take place next Wednesday, now is a logical time to reflect on how we got here.

“Morning Joe” presents a helpful little case study. Co-hosts Joe Scarborough (a Post opinions contributor) and Mika Brzezinski spent the very early months of Trump’s first presidential campaign yukking it up with the candidate. The bonhomie was so thick that Trump, following his victory in the 2016 New Hampshire primary, told the hosts, “You guys have been supporters.”

Over time, however, “Morning Joe” has turned into a battering ram against the Trump presidency.

Enter a compelling discussion between political ace David Axelrod and Scarborough, a former Florida congressman and author of the recent book, “Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization.” On his podcast “The Axe Files,” Axelrod noted that Scarborough and Brzezinski had been friends with Trump, prompting the question, “Was he a different person then, or were there things that you didn’t see?” Scarborough responded that Trump coughed up money for charity events. “We could always get money from him,” he said.

“We also knew at the same time, there was an other side of him,” said Scarborough, who said he wasn’t a “nice guy” or the sort of man you’d want to work for. Then this:

We made the same mistake that — and people hate when you draw this analogy; I’ve just got to draw it. I think we made the same mistake that people made during Hitler’s rise. We kind of thought he was the class clown of New York City. We thought he was a joke, but at the same time, I think you saw what I saw: I thought he was going to poke the establishment. I never loved the Republican establishment, as you know. I never really loved the Democratic establishment. I thought he might shake some things up. But I never really thought the guy was going to win.

On that last point, Scarborough had plenty of company, all the way up to the evening of Nov. 8, 2016. The pundit class believed Trump wouldn’t capture the Republican presidential nomination, much less the White House. Once Trump did prevail in the electoral college vote, Scarborough made some forays out of journalism and into activism.

During the presidential transition, Washington hands such as Robert Gates, Zbigniew Brzezinski (Mika’s father) and Michael Hayden grew alarmed over reports that Rudolph W. Giuliani was in position to become secretary of state. They asked Scarborough and Brzezinski to intervene. “Our two goals were simple, and I know this will probably piss off journalists, but we did what we did. And our two goals were, one, to stop Rudy Giuliani from being secretary of state and two, to stop Kris Kobach from being [secretary of the] Department of Homeland Security. And we hammered on him nonstop, we kept suggesting more establishment-type figures.”

Hold on here: Isn’t Scarborough an anti-establishment kind of guy? Get some self-awareness, Joe!

Axelrod asked Scarborough whether he regretted giving Trump a platform in those early days of the campaign. “I’ve been asked that question since I’ve been going on the book tour, and I said, ‘Well what do you think about the guy that ran the radio show Germany Today in 1932? Did he regret having Hitler on?’ I mean, obviously there wasn’t a Germany Today. But of course, if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t want to do it,” said Scarborough, who noted that the show invited all the presidential candidates, though Trump was the one who “kept showing up at the door.”

The host’s biggest regret was focusing so much on Hillary Clinton’s emails. “You take that and compare that to what we’ve been through over the past four years, and it really does make me scratch my head and go, ‘Okay, wait a second: Why did we focus on that as much as we did?’”

The trouble with Scarborough’s defense relates to Trump’s long record of outrages. “If I knew then what I know now” doesn’t really work for a candidate who opened his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. In his chat with Axelrod, Scarborough even mentions Trump’s promotion of the “birther” lie about President Barack Obama. “We kept telling him if he was going to run, he had to drop it, and he would always sort of say, ‘Well, you know, I haven’t really done this, and it’s not me, it’s other people.’ And we’d say, ‘No, Donald, it’s you.’”

Racism mixed with mendacity: These have been Trump’s hallmarks all along, and yes: They were plenty in plain evidence at the time that “Morning Joe” started treating Trump so sweetly. Birtherism is all anyone ever needed to figure out Trump.

In June 2017, Trump launched a vile Twitter attack against Scarborough and Brzezinski. “The guy that’s in the White House now is not the guy we knew two years ago,” Scarborough remarked on the air, referencing the yuk-it-up days on “Morning Joe.” “The guy that’s in the White House is not even close.”

Actually, no: The guy that’s in the White House has been very stable. That is, stable in his penchant to destroy everything and everyone that doesn’t feed his ego. From his own experiences with Trump, Scarborough knows all about that.

The Erik Wemple Blog sent Scarborough an email noting that we’d be writing on his remarks and taking issue with the idea that Trump’s threat wasn’t clear as he launched his first campaign. The response from Scarborough:

Though I don’t know how you plan to write the article, your summation sounds like a generalization that glosses over a few points. I’m talking about a hypothetical Germany Today radio host from 1932, I said that I couldn’t imagine that he would be a fascist president. As you know, few even thought he would actually be elected president in 2015.
I also criticized his Birtherism and talked about how Mika and I both criticized him and told him he needed to stop lying about that and him saying Obama was not a Christian.
I think I also brought up that I compared his Muslim registry to a Nazi program from the 1930s in early December 2015.
I could go on but I suspect this will be another piece that takes cheap shots and uses misleading generalizations about what I said—much like Trump deploys. It’s the irony of these columns. They use many of the same Trump tactics to criticize our show’s early treatment of Trump.
I hope I’m wrong. History suggests I’m not.

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