Who Is Tim Scott, The GOP Candidate Who’s Combating Trump With Optimism?
Anna Rothschild: South Carolina politician Tim Scott just announced that he’s running for president. Scott is currently the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, and he has a long history of both fighting for racial equality and criticizing “woke” culture in America.
To learn more about him, I spoke with FiveThirtyEight politics reporter Alex Samuels.
Rothschild: What is Tim Scott’s background? Where did he grow up?
Alex Samuels: So Tim Scott has long talked about his personal story and honestly has turned it into this extended metaphor for both racial progress and triumph over adversity. He was born in North Charleston, South Carolina, and his parents divorced when he was pretty young. Scott often talks about how his family struggled to make ends meet and that he struggled in school. But the turning point for him came actually when he was a teenager. He met a manager at a local Chick-fil-A, who he said pushed him toward business and helped lay the foundation for Scott’s later embrace of the Republican Party.
Scott later went into business himself and ran for a seat on the Charleston County Council.
Rothschild: After rising to chairman of the council, Scott served in the state legislature. In 2010, he decided to run for Congress, and he served in the U.S. House for two years. That is, until a South Carolina senator retired, and then-Gov. Nikki Haley tapped Scott to fill the seat. Now, Scott will be running against Haley in the Republican primary for president.
How does Tim Scott fit into the fabric of today’s Republican Party? How conservative is he? Who are his allies?
Samuels: So Tim Scott is a conservative through and through. He’s long been seen as a rising star within the party. What differentiates him from, say, Trump or maybe even DeSantis is that Scott’s message so far has been one that is relentlessly optimistic, which is kind of an implicit rebuke of the grievance politics that have really taken over much of the Republican Party. He made waves in his response to Biden’s State of the Union for saying …
Tim Scott: America is not a racist country.
Samuels: … and that was something that got a lot of blowback from Democrats in particular. But then at the same time, he has this pretty strong record on pushing legislation that quite clearly addresses race. He helped pass legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime. And he was the Republican senator who was really pushing for major police reform following George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
Scott: The George Floyd incident certainly accelerated this conversation, and we find ourselves at a place with a package that I think speaks to the families that I spoke with yesterday who lost loved ones.
Samuels: That deal eventually fell apart, but he was kind of the main broker in the Senate really trying to negotiate these bipartisan negotiations to get something passed.
Rothschild: Scott has been a pretty popular senator. But compared to some of the big names who are expected to enter the race, he’s trailing considerably so far.
Samuels: The good news for Scott is that since he is well-liked among people in South Carolina, there is room for him to grow to be well-liked by the nation as well. But in order to do that he has to get in front of people, in front of cameras, and maybe that’ll help when he’s, you know, on the debate stage come August. But right now, he’s really just not super known to voters nationally.
Rothschild: Tim Scott will be running against another South Carolina politician, Nikki Haley. What do you think that will mean for his campaign?
Samuels: What’s also interesting beyond the fact that they come from the same state is that they kind of have the same message. They’re essentially fighting to be either king or queen of this non-MAGA helm of the party. And they might face competition, too, if Mike Pence decides to enter the race. So, if he really wants to tout this message of, you know, positivity and optimism, he’s going to really have to fight not only with someone in his home state, but probably others too, to be the one saying that.