There’s never been anybody in the history of the Republican Party quite like Tim Scott.
A descendant of enslaved people, the second son of a single mother, a bachelor, a teetotaler and an erstwhile insurance salesman, the convivial, 57-year-old South Carolina senator is a uniquely successful Black conservative from the South — a victim of racism in stores, on roads, online and even in the United States Capitol itself, who doesn’t see the country as racist and doesn’t see himself as a victim. It’s a message that now will undergird a compelling but likely longshot presidential bid.
What do people need to know about the man who has now joined fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley, outsider entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and soon-to-be-official-candidate Ron DeSantis (and others to come) in challenging former president Donald Trump for the GOP nomination? Here, culled from interviews, media coverage and Scott’s own books, is a primer on the life of Tim Scott.
Despite his stature in the Senate, Scott enters this race with little name recognition nationally
In recent polling he ranks well back in the pack of current and potential candidates, earning support in the low single digits. In contrast, former President Donald Trump’s support sometimes tops 40 or even 50 percent.
The first caucuses and primaries are still more than eight months away, so candidates looking to gain on Trump have some time. But in his announcement speech, Scott chose not to even mention Trump or any of his other rivals. He has said American’s want to hear from a candidate who expresses a positive and optimistic view of America. Presumably that won’t preclude launching political attacks, but there were no such broadsides Monday.
Scott also unveiled what will be one of the recurring applause lines in his campaign stump speech. With the focus for now squarely on Biden and the Democrats, he’s not shy about entering into the culture war battles that have been so prominent in recent years.
“I will lead a revolution for excellence in our schools. Less C-R-T and more ABCs,” adding a pitch for school choice for parents. “No child and no child should be forced to attend failing schools simply because they live in the wrong zip code.”
He is the second South Carolina Republican to enter the race for the GOP nomination
Scott joins former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who declared her candidacy in February. It was Haley who just over a decade ago appointed him to the Senate to fill a vacancy. Both are very popular in their home state, which is a pivotal early voting state for both Republicans and Democrats. The South Carolina primary is the first in the South and often sets a candidate on a path for the nomination. Even so, an April poll by Winthrop University shows both Haley and Scott doing better than they do nationally, but even in South Carolina both still trail Trump by a wide margin.
Scott did pick up one key endorsement as he begins his campaign. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota — the No. 2 Republican in the chamber — is backing his friend and colleague. Thune also appeared at the kickoff rally in North Charleston.
When his now-rival Nikki Haley appointed him to the U.S. Senate in 2012, Scott became the first Black senator from the South since just after the Civil War. In a 2014 special election to serve out the remainder of his term, Scott became the first Black candidate to win a statewide race in South Carolina since the Reconstruction era.
Before that, Scott had just been elected to his second term representing South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. He served a single term in the state House, as well as, beginning in 1995, nearly 14 years on the Charleston County Council, while also operating an insurance business. He also briefly ran for lieutenant governor, ultimately abandoning that pursuit to seek the congressional seat vacated by retiring Rep. Henry Brown.
At that time, South Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately; had Scott stayed in that race and won it, he and Haley would have served together as South Carolina’s top officeholders.
“When I fought back against their liberal agenda, they called me a prop. A token. Because I disrupt their narrative,” he said in an April video announcing his presidential exploratory committee, shot on the site of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, where the Civil War’s first shots were fired.
In his Reagan Library speech last year, Scott said that belief in conservative values had changed his life, arguing that his ability to succeed in politics had disproven critiques from liberals he said “you can call me a prop, you can call me a token. Just understand what you call me is no match for the proof of my life.”
Scott has maintained a generally cordial relationship with Trump, despite initially endorsing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 GOP presidential primary.
But he also spoke out against Trump after the then-president said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly clash between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Scott said that Trump’s principles had been compromised and that without some introspection, “it will be hard for him to regain moral authority.”
Scott also called it “indefensible” after Trump retweeted a post in June 2020 containing a racist slogan associated with white supremacists. Trump later deleted it.
In his 2022 book, Scott said that Trump “listened intently” to his viewpoints on race-related issues. And on the campaign trail, Scott has railed against political correctness in much the same fashion as Trump.
“If you wanted a blueprint to ruin America, you’d keep doing exactly what Joe Biden has let the far left do to our country for the past two years,” Scott said this year in Iowa. “Tell every white kid they’re oppressors. Tell Black and brown kids their destiny is grievance, not greatness.”
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