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Washington Wednesday: Tim Scott’s bid for president


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Tim Scott’s bid for president

The Senator from South Carolina is appealing to pre-Trump Republican ideals, but polling far behind the leaders

Republican presidential candidate South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott speaks during a town hall meeting, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, in Sioux City, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall via Associated Press

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 31st of May, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Up next: Tim Scott’s presidential campaign.

Tim Scott was in Iowa last week, just an hour’s drive from our location where we’re holding the World Journalism Institute collegiate course. So, as part of the students’ education, we drove them down to Sioux City, Iowa, to cover a Tim Scott town hall, his first in the state after launching his campaign.

And we asked our student journalists their thoughts on what they saw and heard.

TIM SCOTT: I know what I'm talking about because I've lived the American dream. I've lived on both sides of the tracks. I understand what America can do for anyone is exactly what she did for me. So let's get busy and go to work. I appreciate y'all coming out.

ALLESANDRA GUGLIOTTI: I was super encouraged by Tim Scott's testimony and story of coming to where he is right now.

ALEX CARMENATY: You know, Senator Scott was very strong on a lot of issues. He, you know, focused especially on border control.

MARY HARRISON: Senator Scott received a lot of applause for his pro-life stance. But he never really articulated what his position was toward federal legislation and states positions.

NOAH BURGDORF: It was just standard practices or promises of just I'm going to do this but not really saying how so it felt like an empty promise to me.

MORGAN FARANOV: And he said he wasn't going to take questions, which again, I understand, but he said that this is for the people and I was just like journalists are still people. I would have liked a little bit more respect.

EICHER: So what’s Tim Scott’s background?

The 57-year-old Republican was born and raised in South Carolina and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Charleston Southern University.

Scott is not married. Nor does he have children.

REICHARD: He owned his own insurance agency in the 1990s, then launched his political career on the Charleston County Council.

He ran for Congress in 2008, and served two terms in the House before then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the U.S. Senate in 2013.

Voters elected Scott in a special election the next year. That made him the first black lawmaker elected to the Senate from a southern state since Reconstruction.

SCOTT: In America — in South Carolina — one lifetime, that’s all it takes. One lifetime to go from what my grandfather was doing, picking cotton as a kid, to having a grandson in Congress and now the United States Senate.

EICHER: His re-election in 20-16 was a cakewalk.

Joining us now to talk about Sen. Scott’s bid for the White House is Henry Olsen. He’s a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

REICHARD: Henry, good morning!

HENRY OLSEN: Good morning.

REICHARD: First of all, Henry, what do you think Sen. Scott brings to the GOP debate stage, and how do you size up his political strengths and weaknesses?

OLSEN: Yeah, I think Scott brings obviously a different personal experience growing up in a poor working class black neighborhood in South Carolina. I think that'll be an interesting story for him to tell that is distinct from Donald Trump's and Ron DeSantis and will attract a lot of attention. I also think he has a reputation for relentless optimism and practical conservatism. And those are on display in his early forays, and we will see whether or not there's a market for it.

REICHARD: What do you mean by “practical conservatism,” as opposed to what other kind?

OLSEN: As opposed to demonstrative or performative conservatism. The sort of person who will say many things, but produce nothing and be unwilling to make compromises in order to get half a loaf or even a quarter of a loaf and move the ball down the road. There are plenty of people who sound conservative but produce nothing. And Tim Scott walks the walk as well as talks the talk.

REICHARD: Mmh-hm. Let’s say on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most conservative, where do you think he falls on that scale?

OLSEN: Well, you know, I think that depends on what you mean by the word conservative. The thing is that conservatism contains many strands, I think, where Tim Scott, Tim Scott's voting record is very conservative, as scored by conservative groups. I haven't looked specifically but he's usually in the high 80s, or the 90s. But he doesn't tend to make the 100%, which is a sign of practical conservatism as opposed to performative conservatism. But Scott is not in the MAGA world, in the sense that he doesn't talk about decline. He doesn't focus as much on cultural issues. He doesn't talk as much about trade, or it's not that he's necessarily on the wrong side of those issues, from various accounts, but what he talks about is the things that unite strands of conservatism, rather than take a factional position. And that'll be interesting to see how that plays out. Because typically, in primaries, what you do is you build yourself up to be the favorite of a particular faction, and then you build out from that. And people who try cross faction appeals, like Marco Rubio did in 2016 tend to fail because they don't, they may be the second choice of many, but they have a passionate attachment of too few.

REICHARD: Senator Scott launched his campaign just a week or so ago. What’s his message so far and what kind of campaign do you expect him to run?

OLSEN: So far I think it's a 21st century version of Ronald Reagan's Morning in America. And I think Scott is likeliest to gain support if he gains it among the sort of person who yearns for the pre Trump Republican Party. The sort of person who would like to be cautiously internationalist, including support for Ukraine. The sort of person who likes traditional social values, but he's uncomfortable with modern culture war. The sort of person who still likes free trade, likes immigration, even if they don't think illegal immigration is a good thing. And generally would like to see government smaller. If Scott's going to have an angle, it's going to be in becoming the first choice of that group. And so far, his message is a soft sell that should be likeliest to be heard positively. by members of that group.

REICHARD: He is a longshot candidate right now. I mean, if your name’s not Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis that seems to be the lay of the land. Early polling has him at about 2% among GOP voters now.
Do you see him really going after Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis … or do you think he’ll want to angle for the VP slot or some other role in a future Trump or Desantis administration?

OLSEN: So Tim Scott is 57. If Tim Scott wanted to be a cabinet official, as the capstone to his career, he wouldn't be in the race, because that was the sort of thing that he could have got without being in the race. So clearly, he wants to be president or vice president. The question then is how do you do it? You never get to either position from weakness. In other words, if we're... if it's Thanksgiving, and he's still at 2% in the polls, barring a Rick Santorum like, Phoenix rise from the ashes, where he went from an asterisk to the winning of the Ohio caucuses in about a month, that would mean that Tim Scott's campaign has failed. So what he needs to do is he needs to get himself into the position so that by Thanksgiving, he's being talked about as somebody who's a serious contender. And again, there's two ways to look at it. You can try and build yourself up as a factional choice or you can try and be cross factional, and hope to get supports across the board, I tend to, as I mentioned earlier, tend to think cross factionalism does not succeed, and that he should focus on being the candidate of the disaffected Reagan win.

REICHARD: Well you’ve thought about these matters for a long long time now. Do you see Scott as an attractive potential running mate for either Trump or DeSantis?

OLSEN: Lots of people look attractive until you see how they perform under pressure. And he has performed decently under moderate pressure in the Senate, which tends to be a good calling card for vice president high profile senators in the modern world tend not to be picked. It's not 1960, when the Senate Majority Leader is tapped by John F. Kennedy to be his vice president. But how he performs on the trail will be much more important in how people assess him for the vice presidency. He's going to have to show that he can woo people, he's going to have to show that he can bear up under whatever presets come his way. And he's also going to be able to show that he can dish it out, because the typical role of the vice presidential nominee in an election is to be the attack dog. And if he's too much Mr. Nice Guy, you can easily see someone saying he might be fine to be vice president, but he couldn't help me running for vice president.

REICHARD: Donald Trump has welcomed Sen. Scott into the race, and I guess that’s indicative of the-more-the-merrier from Trump’s perspective – the more crowded the field, the better it is for him, correct?

OLSEN: You know, that is the conventional wisdom and I believe Trump adheres to that. So but here's my critique of that. The reason the crowd, the dispersed field helped Trump in 2016 is because they were dispersed in equal enough numbers that too many of them stayed in for too long. Had you had somebody emerge quickly, as a main challenger, say had Ted Cruz done well, finished a strong second in South Carolina instead of woefully behind Marco Rubio or if Ted Cruz had shown any strength in New Hampshire, then I think you would have seen people drop out after South Carolina. You know if Cruz had finished first in Iowa and second in the other three, he would have established himself early on. What happened instead was that Rubio and Cruz both had legitimate shots to be in the race. Carson was angry at Cruz, because of thing, tricks Cruz pulled on him in Iowa and he wouldn't drop out because he wanted to hurt Cruz. And Jeb Bush was angry at Marco and so he didn't pull out after New Hampshire so he could hurt Marco in South Carolina and John Kasich just decided that his 15% of the vote in the moderate wing of the party was just fine for him. These are all inexplicable decisions, but they were all made by people who were polled, who were receiving over 10% of the vote in polls. If all of these candidates come out of Iowa and New Hampshire getting 10% in the polls, then Donald Trump will be the nominee. There's no reason right now to think that's the case. And what we see is that most polls show that when candidates like Tim Scott, or Nikki Haley or Mike Pence drop out, almost all of their support goes to DeSantis. And this is why Haley is attacking DeSantis is because she knows that to have the chance to take on Trump she has to go through to DeSantis. And we could expect Haley's attacks to be more on DeSantis and less on Trump as the campaign gets underway precisely because she knows that she needs to be the person who's consolidating the non Trump early.

REICHARD: So much like a chess game, isn't it? Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the ethics and Public Policy Center. Henry, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

OLSEN: Thanks for having me on.

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