Joe Biden compliments Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe.

Consider it a weird preview of an unlikely Joe vs. Joe 2016 presidential race: In a blast of blarney, Joe Biden gave Joe Scarborough an ego boost (and a possible campaign ad) that almost made Joe S’s already swelled head pop off.

At the end of a substantive roundtable discussion on gun control on yesterday's Morning Joe, Scarborough was thanking Biden and the other guests, when the ever-effusive vice president broke in:

Biden: Hey, Joe, thank YOU. [Scarborough laughs.] No, no, no, no. You have changed the debate in America. You!

Scarborough: Thank you so much.

Biden: You. The two guys that deserve, if anything gets done, an award here are you and Michael Bloomberg. [Biden plunks down his pen for emphasis.]…

Mika Brzezinski: Thank you.

Was Mika thanking the veep on Scarborough’s behalf, like the good helpmeet she so often plays, or was she trying to take some deserved credit for nudging him to evolve?

Either way, Scarborough didn’t notice. He soaked in the praise, his face beaming, and cracked the obligatory joke: “I don't know if that's going to help me in a future Republican primary, but thank you so much!”

Biden was right to praise Scarborough and Bloomberg. Each has done important work to alter the balance of power on gun control–Scarborough by relentlessly needling his fellow Republicans and the NRA; Bloomberg by funding ads against pols who kowtow to the lobby that protects gun manufacturers from little children.  

But in prematurely handing out awards, the ebullient Vice focused too narrowly on the two Big Name guys, to the point that it felt awkward to not mention the rest of the Morning Joe crew, the victims’ families, the lawmakers sweating the details—or himself. (After all, Biden heads up the adminstration’s gun-control effort and has been fighting the good fight for decades in the Senate.) Co-host Mike Barnicle seemed a tad miffed; in the “What Have We Learned Today” segment, he said he learned that “Governor Daniel Malloy should really be commended as well as the Connecticut legislature. The components parts of that [gun control] bill, every state in the union should take a look at what Connecticut has done.”

Maybe Biden recognized in Scarborough—whose “moderation” conservatives occasionally attack–an ego in need of a public pat on the back. For Biden, that’s an irresistible invitation to blarney it up.

But really, he needn’t bother. Scarborough’s ego has been riding extra high since he debated Paul Krugman last month on Charlie Rose; Scarborough seems to really believe that he “won,” and that most economists agree with him (they don’t) that we can cut our way to prosperity. Would that Joe Biden (and Obama!) praise Krugman as one of the two or three or four Big Names who’ve been fighting to turn Washington’s attention from the non-problem of deficits to the actual catastrophe of unemployment.

Now, I could be imagining it, but ever since January, when Scarborough snapped his fingers at Mika to get her to shut up, Morning Joe has had more moments of him snarking and her meeking, him talking over people, her staying quiet but pretty. Lately, co-hosts Barnicle and Willie Geist also seem more cautious if and when they contradict him. I say this as a sometimes fan, but the show is getting hard to watch.  

(A Today Show producer dubbed it “the least-watched and most talked-about morning show,” and that’s not far off. MJ’s daily average of 426,000 viewers is, as AP reports, pipsqueak compared to Today’s and Good Morning America’s 5 million to 6 million daily viewers each, and it’s less than half of Fox & Friends’ 1.1 million. And yet it may be true that, as GOP strategist Mark McKinnon says, “Anyone who is anyone in politics, or cares about politics these days, is plugged into the program most mornings.”)

For all their joking that Biden wasn’t doing Scarborough any political favors with his fulsome praise, Biden did nick Scarborough a bit by equating him with “nanny state” Mayor Bloomberg. And by nominating Scarborough for hero status while ignoring his own, vastly more significant role in gun control, Biden was being typically gracious–but it also made some of us think, “Wait, Mr. Vice President, you’re the important guy here.”

I hate all the media masturbation over 2016: Will Hillary run? Will Biden step aside if she does? What’s Hillary’s hair have to say? It’s a great way for the media to avoid today’s problems.

But a Joe vs. Joe race would be delicious. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible. “[W]hile Scarborough said he had no plans to run for president at the moment, he did not rule out the possibility that he might change his mind before 2016,” Politico’s Dylan Byers wrote last fall. Then, quoting Scarborough:

“But you never know what's going to happen,” he said. “Every two years, there's someone suggesting that I run for Senate. Every two years, the national party comes to me. I've always been really flattered.”  

And Joe Biden, wilier than he seems, knows how to spread flattery like black ice on a Beltway highway.

Leslie Savan on television: The politics of The Walking Dead.