Donald Trump has had plenty of volatile exchanges with the press since he announced his candidacy, but he's saved some of his most searing personal attacks for Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. In the course of the campaign, Trump went from promoting his many appearances on the show – and having off-the-record phone calls with the hosts – to calling Brzezinski "a neurotic and not very bright mess" and suggesting she "had a mental breakdown while talking about me" last summer.
But Trump unleashed one of his more vicious verbal assaults on the duo Thursday morning when he tweeted: "I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mike, along with Psycho Joe, came…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!" The tweets were widely derided on both sides of the political spectrum; Speaker Paul Ryan called them inappropriate. "It's a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job," a spokesman for MSNBC said.
"He claims he doesn't watch the show," Scarborough told Rolling Stone of Trump Wednesday in an NBC conference room after taping the show. "Everyone inside says he watches the show. He usually tweets in reaction to what we're saying on set. He did it this morning to Barnicle."
The host had sat down to talk about the new EP by his band Scarborough, but a conversation about the similarities between songwriting and speechwriting naturally drifted into Trump talk. Scarborough gamely answered questions about how and when he and Brzezinski transitioned from regular off-the-record discussions with the president to targets of his venom.
A friendly chat with Trump? "That hasn't happened in quite some time," he says. "To say we're disappointed would be a pretty dramatic understatement. We attacked him a lot in the campaign and it got really, really nasty. And then after he won, we were talking a little bit. But, you know, he gets into office and the first day he's talking about crowd size when he's got so many other problems. And every day it's something else where you’re just pulling your hair out saying why? Why's he [still] talking about Hillary now? Why is he saying there was no collusion with Russia, but then there's an article in the Washington Post, so now he’s saying there was collusion but Barack Obama was responsible? It’s absolute insanity."
Trump appeared on Morning Joe often during the campaign. But Scarborough remembers their relationship fraying as early as December 2015 when then-candidate Trump suggested all Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S. "That's when Mika and I said, 'I could never vote for him.'" On December 11th, 2015, Trump tweeted that the show "just went off the rails. I will beat Hillary easily – she does not want to run against me. I am tuning them out, waste of time."
Even after that though, Trump, Scarborough and Brzezinski maintained the semblance of a relationship. "Then we called him up the morning of the election, because we thought he was gonna lose," Scarborough continues. "And I said, 'Listen. I hope we’ll be friends after this. I know this wasn't easy for you. I know we didn't agree with everything you did. But it's tough for you and your family to stick your neck out there. And then he won. And it was like, 'Oh my god.'"
The hosts started talking to the President-elect. But Scarborough increasingly took issue with Trump's positions – "mainly the race stuff," Scarbrough says, citing Trump's attacks on the Khan family, who lost a son in Iraq, and Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump called a Mexican, despite being from Indiana. Scarborough says Trump's executive order restricting U.S. travel for seven predominately Muslim countries was "the final straw."
Still, Scarborough and Brzezinski visited Trump in the White House after he signed the order. Scarborough says it was the day adviser Stephen Miller, talking about the ban, said on NBC that the president’s power “will not be questioned” on February 13th. "We just exploded on set the next day. And then from that point on it just turned really ugly, really quickly."
Trump called Scarbrough out over the change in tone. "He screamed at me after we had lunch, because we were being so hard [on him]. He called me up yelling on the phone and said, 'I know you, I know all about you. You think you have to be tough on me because I invited you to have lunch at the White House. So you're trying to prove you can’t be bought.' I said, 'Donald, you should have known that a long time ago! We've been killing you for a year and a half! You do good things, we’ll compliment you. When you brought in the guys that ran the unions and talked about building the pipeline with American workers, we said, 'That's a good move!' He just hasn't given us a whole lot of reason to be overly optimistic about the directions he’s going in."
"The funny thing about Donald is he just doesn't understand," Scarborough says. "He doesn't understand that I don't care whether he invites me to the White House. Mika doesn't care whether he invites us to the White House. He expects to get better coverage because of access. And he's never understood that, particularly for our show, we don't need the big interview. We're like John Madden talking about football: 'I'm gonna talk about football whether the quarterback has dinner with me or not.' John Madden doesn't get paid to be a cheerleader. He gets paid telling who's gonna win the football game and why. And that's what our job is.
"It's a really troubling time," the host adds. "I think the best news is this country's institutions have proven to be pretty resilient. The courts have stood up to him. Congress has even stood up to him. I'm glad to hear Mitch McConnell is calling Reince Priebus and saying [the] president is being absolutely idiotic by the way he's handling things. He's tried to get health care through by intimidating Congress. I tried warning him a year ago when he was saying, 'Paul Ryan better do what I say or else he’s gonna be in trouble.' I said no, no, no, Donald - it doesn't work that way.' I said every President goes in thinking that they’re the person that's unlocked the secrets to Washington, D.C. and they learn pretty quickly that they're checked by Congress, by the courts, the bureaucracy, the intelligence community. Don't declare war on everybody out there – or everyone will declare war against you.' And it never ends well. And it's not going to."