Washington (CNN) – Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host who has flirted with the possibility of running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, offered a candid assessment of the potential White House field during a closed-door session Tuesday with South Carolina Republicans.
Scarborough made the quiet, last minute trip to South Carolina, an early primary state, to address a weekly luncheon held by Republican legislators and to promote his new book about the future of the GOP.
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His remarks at the Palmetto Club in Columbia, to roughly 70 members of the House Republican caucus, were greeted with warm applause, multiple people in the room told CNN. Attendees lined up after the appearance to get signed copies of his book.
Scarborough, who also spoke to New Hampshire Republicans last month, demurred when one audience member asked if he was interested in seeking the White House.
“Joe was very well received by our Republican caucus, and said some things that Republicans need to hear, which is that we need to be electing the most conservative person who can win in November,” said South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
During a question and answer session following his afternoon speech, Scarborough was asked to handicap the likely Republican field. He obliged, referring to several of the potential GOP contenders as his "friends."
“Jeb Bush came up. Rand Paul came up. Ted Cruz came up. Marco Rubio came up,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine. “He was just kind of sharing stories about their strengths. He was mostly positive about them.”
But the former Florida congressman also outlined each of their vulnerabilities, sometimes in blunt terms.
“He said he felt like Chris Christie is surrounded by some amateurs,” said state Rep. Dan Hamilton.
According to two Republicans in the room who declined to be named, Scarborough suggested that Cruz and Rubio, two 40-something senators eyeing the GOP nomination, are too young to seek the presidency.
He said Paul, with his strong grassroots support, would run strong in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but predicted the Kentucky senator would flame out in later contests.
Scarborough spent several minutes talking up Bush. But he said his brother, former President George W. Bush, would prove to be a liability both in a Republican primary and the general election, pointing to the growth of the federal deficit under the 43rd president.
“He was pretty critical of George W., and the way it hurts Jeb,” said another Republican who did not want to be identified. "He was pretty pointed."
Ed McMullen, a public affairs strategist who helped organize the event, said Scarborough’s trip was not political.
“The guy is there to talk about his book, and how to elect Reagan-esque conservatives,” McMullen said. “He was talking about how Republicans win elections and build the party rather than build an ideology. It’s about winning.”
As for Scarborough’s comments about the potential White House contenders, McMullen said “he was giving the pros and cons of the guys who have talked about running."
"But it was all positive," he added.
Scarborough’s visit to South Carolina was first reported by U.S. News and World Report.