On Monday, Twitter users woke up to another installment in the ongoing feud between Donald Trump and the hosts of MSNBC’s flagship news show, "Morning Joe."
First, Trump tweeted that Morning Joe was "unwatchable," and called co-host Mika Brzezinski "off the wall, a neurotic and not very bright mess," and said that he would someday "tell the real story" of Brzezinski and her longtime co-host, Joe Scarborough—"two clowns!"
Returning blows, Scarborough tweeted back.
It was not always this way. In fact, before they were his antagonists, Scarborough and Brzezinski were once some of Trump's best friends (and biggest enablers) in the mainstream media.
As recently as last year, "Morning Joe" was one of Trump's favorite cable news shows to appear on. When he did, he was typically greeted by softball questions like "Why are you saddened for the plight of Jeb Bush?" and flattery like calling him a "masterful politician."
Trump returned the praise, telling a radio host that Scarbourough was "a great guy, and he has a great show … and we have a lot of fun."
They were also friends outside of work. CNN reported that "Both Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski are close friends with Trump and members of his family," and that "Scarborough…often stayed at Trump's Mar-A-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, Florida, with his family."
Clearly, their relationship has soured. But why?
The most likely explanation is also the simplest: after months of treating Trump with kid gloves and hyping his political acumen, the Morning Joe hosts started talking about his policies. (To hear them tell it, Scarborough and Brzezinski were critical of Trump’s policy positions from the start, but respected his political skills. But anyone who tuned in to the show during those early months were more likely to catch a fawning discussion about Trump’s skillful mastery of the primary process than any real, substantive criticism.)
In early February, as the primaries were officially kicking off, CNN reported that many journalists and producers within NBC and MSNBC were growing uncomfortable with what they saw as the show’s attempt to promote the candidate.
In background discussions, NBC News and MSNBC journalists, reporters and staffers said there was widespread discomfort at the network over Scarborough's friendship with Trump and his increasingly favorable coverage of the candidate. "People don't like that Joe is promoting Trump," one MSNBC insider said. Others described Scarborough's admiration for Trump as "over the top" and "unseemly."
Scarborough’s adulatory tone got even more controversial in March, after Gawker uncovered a voicemail message left on Trump’s personal phone, in which Scarborough and Brzezinski profusely thank Trump (whom they refer to simply as “Donald”) for his contributions to a charity event.
But during a segment on May 6, Scarborough suggested that the Trump candidacy might help create the space for a third-party candidate. Later that day, Trump began attacking Scarborough on Twitter.
Scarborough returned fire:
A few days later, Trump declared that he would no longer appear as a guest on Morning Joe, a boycott that lasted all of two weeks. When Trump called in to the program, the conversation was far less convivial than it had been in his previous appearances. The interview ended with Brzezinzki saying, icily, "Donald Trump, thank you so much for joining us—I think."
Still, Trump’s willingness to come on the show suggested that the Trump-Morning Joe relationship might have been on the mend.
But a few weeks later, Trump was back at it on Twitter.
This time, Trump appeared to be responding to Brzezinski’s admonition of House Speaker Paul Ryan for endorsing Donald Trump despite his discomfort with the candidate.
As the feud heated up, Scarborough continued criticizing Trump on the air, declaring that he could not bring himself to vote for Trump in November as long as Trump maintained his support for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. (The two had previously disagreed on the Muslim ban, but it never tipped over into outright hostility.)
Even until last week, it looked like Scarborough might have been attempting to extend an olive branch to Trump. Reviewing one of Trump’s more toned-down teleprompter speeches, Scarborough reverted to praising the billionaire and highlighted their personal relationship.
[T]his is an interesting pivot because as he goes to teleprompter, he's actually becoming more of the Donald Trump that Donny and Mika and myself and everybody else has known for decades, which is really bizarre, that he's got to go to teleprompter to be more naturally himself. I'll ask you this question, again. Because the list of offenses are so long. The Mexicans, the Muslims, John McCain, Megyn Kelly, etc., etc. Have you in 20 years of knowing Donald Trump behind closed doors — and I'm not asking for you to vouch for his character, I'm just trying to make this point — have you ever heard him say the first thing in private that was close to being racially insensitive. Never, right? Never.
On Monday, after Brzezinski accused Trump of having “belted” his most recent speech and claimed that the teetotaling candidate “looked like he’d had a lot to drink,” Trump once again began attacking the show on Twitter.
With his latest volley, which included an allusion to a gossipy romantic relationship between Scarborough and Brzezinski, the Trump/Morning Joe romance is probably dead for good. But who knows? A rekindling could be days away. Stranger things have happened.