NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Tim Scott entered the 2024 presidential race on Monday as “the candidate the far left fears the most,” rallying with hundreds of supporters at the college that started his journey from aimlessness to becoming the only Black Republican in the Senate.
It was a proper Southern affair at Charleston Southern University; a country music playlist blared in the background as volunteers passed out “Great Scott!” and “Tim Scott Country” signs, patriotic pom-poms, and fans with a faceless Scott cartoon, designed by a teenaged supporter.
“We live in the land where it is absolutely possible for a kid raised in poverty — in a single-parent household, in a small apartment — to one day serve in the People’s House and maybe even the White House,” Scott, flanked by two jumbo-sized American flags, told the crowd on Monday. “This is the greatest country on God’s green Earth.”
In a high-energy speech, Scott laid out an agenda that overlapped with other Republicans seeking the White House — ridding schools of “critical race theory,” using the military to destroy drug cartels, and making it “a federal crime to kill, ambush, or assault a cop in this country.”
But the bulk of his message, workshopped over a month of traveling to early primary states, framed the election as a choice between “victimhood or victory” and “grievance or greatness,” with an optimistic “kid raised in poverty” offering an alternative to President Joe Biden.
SHELBY AND DAVE'S VIEW
As we’ve reported before, Scott faces a steep uphill battle for the presidency. He’s polling around 2% nationally, and trails Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis in his home state, where fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley — who appointed him to his Senate seat – has been campaigning for months.
Scott's talent is not in doubt and he’s found a warm reception from conservative audiences in the run-up to his launch, where he’s pitched his up-by-the-bootstraps biography and unabashed patriotism as an antidote to complaints on the left about systemic racism. As one Trump ally texted after his event: “Tim Scott doesn’t have to write ‘Be Likeable’ at the top of his notepad.”
For now, though, he seems to be operating in an interesting and delicate position: As a safe haven of sorts for notable politicians and donors who aren’t fans of Trump, but aren’t yet sold on DeSantis, who currently sits in far second from Trump.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford, who represented Scott’s old Charleston-based seat in Congress, said he’d shown up to support the senator “along with a lot of other people” who found him inspiring.
“I think there are a lot of people who are worried about what's become of the party, and the way that we communicate,” said Sanford.
His strong popularity in the Senate gives him a credible base of potential endorsements, starting with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who praised Scott’s work on the GOP’s 2017 tax cut law and said he’d bring “boundless optimism” into the race.
“I don’t know about you,” said Thune, “but I think our country is ready to be inspired again.”
He also enters the race with a $22 million war chest and plenty of friends to add to it who he’s cultivated after years in the spotlight as a rising star inside the party.
“Larry Ellison is here today,” Scott said from the stage, acknowledging the Oracle co-founder who’s expected to play a major role funding his campaign from the sidelines. “I am lucky to have so many mentors in the house.”
Some of that money is already going to use: Scott appeared via video at the South Carolina GOP’s convention on Saturday, and the pro-Scott super PAC Trust in the Mission sponsored a delegate breakfast. Haley had no presence at the annual convention, which Vivek Ramaswamy was the only presidential candidate to appear at in person, and where state chairman Drew McKissick fended off two MAGA challengers to retain his position.
Voters at Scott’s speech on Monday cited topics like his “faith-based platform” and positive conservative record as a lawmaker as reasons for their interest. As is common at events this early, many remained undecided about their official vote for president, but were interested in Scott as a viable alternative to the two frontrunners. Others were diehard Scott fans, arguing that he’s the only choice for office.
“He's one of the most inspiring men I've ever met. He's one of the smartest men I've ever met. He’s one of the most courageous and authentic men I've ever met,” said Tim Taylor, 53, who described himself as a friend of Scott’s for 25 years. “He’s assaulted all day long because he breaks with the narrative: An African-American man in what's ostensibly supposed to be just a white tribe.”
While Scott’s team has swiftly shut down any speculation that he might be running for a vice president slot (theories that have also been raised regarding some of Scott’s opponents), some attendees also told Semafor that they’d love to see the South Carolina lawmaker in that role.
“I think a Trump/Tim Scott ticket would be excellent, because I think Tim Scott could bring to the ticket a little more palatable public speaking,” Deetz Orlowski, a founding member of the Horry County Conservative Alliance, told Semafor.
Michael Creel, 49, said that he’d been a fan of Scott since his 2010 campaign for Congress, and called him a “viable vice president nominee” who’d make a good pairing with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “He’s got a great record, and has a lot of depth in his thinking.”
Haley, he said, wasn’t “really on the radar.”
The View From Trump world
Trump welcomed Scott into the race — literally — in a Truth Social post shortly before the South Carolina lawmaker took the stage at his event. “Good luck Tim!” Trump wrote.
Not content to leave anything to interpretation, Trump made crystal clear that he saw Scott’s entrance as bad news for the candidate he’s actually fixated on: Ron DeSantis.
“It is rapidly loading up with lots of people, and Tim Scott is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable,” Trump added.
In doing so, Trump again showed he’s warmed up to the theory that has been strongly held by his advisors for months now: The more candidates, the merrier for his campaign.
The View From Nikki Haley
As Tim Scott gathered Republican voters for his official entry into the race, Haley was also in the Palmetto State: This evening, she’ll be courting donors at a fundraiser hosted by Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, a well-known figure in local politics, and her husband, Brown, according to a source familiar with Haley’s campaign. Bethune’s husband previously donated to Trump, and she’s recently endorsed Haley’s presidential campaign.
Room for Disagreement
Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher offered a harsher look at Scott’s announcement speech on Twitter, tweeting that its criticism of “resentment over personal responsibility” amounted to “very sophisticated dog whistling” that played into longtime conservative attacks on social programs. “Just like the 2 top GOP candidates, he’s also leaning into tribal politics,” Belcher wrote.
- The Washington Post recently detailed how Scott’s entry into the race has sparked uncomfortable conversations within South Carolina politics, where prominent Republicans and donors are now having to choose between him and Nikki Haley. “It was a hard, hard conversation. And it was very uncomfortable for me,” GOP donor Mikee Johnson, who went to high school with Haley but told her he plans to back Scott, told the paper.