CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. Tim Scott got into a tense exchange with a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher Friday during a campaign stop, focused on his resistance to criticizing former President Donald Trump.
Scott was making his way through the Windmill Restaurant, a small diner, when customer David Coffey called him over to the booth where he was eating and confronted the South Carolina senator with a question about Trump.
“You don’t stand up to Trump, how are you going to stand up to the president of Russia and China?” Coffey asked.
As Scott tried to talk around the question and Coffey pushed back, Scott said, “Do you want to have a conversation? Or do you want a monologue? I’m happy to listen, but if you want to have a dialogue, I’ll be speaking as well.”
Scott rejected Coffey’s characterization that he is unwilling to stand up to Trump. “The premise of the question is why don’t you stand up to Trump, you’re just wrong that I don’t,” Scott said. “I was one of the few people that actually stood up against those major issues whether it was Charlottesville or other major challenges he had. I’m the guy that stood up and talked about the disagreements that we had.”
At the Republican debate on Wednesday night, Scott was one of six candidates on stage who raised their hand when asked if they would support Trump in the general election should he win the GOP nomination and is also convicted of crimes. Trump faces numerous criminal charges across four indictments this year.
Coffey later called Scott out for not condemning Trump’s actions on Jan. 6. “The president on Jan. 6 wanted to destroy our country, do you agree with that or not?” Coffey asked.
“I do not,” Scott answered, later adding, “I believe that the people who were responsible for threatening my life were the people who were outside the chambers forcing their way into the Capitol.”
“Your leader, your leader of this country did nothing to help you out for two hours,” Coffey shot back.
In an interview with reporters after his back-and-forth with Scott, Coffey appeared dissatisfied with Scott’s responses to his questions.
“He’s a politician. Right? He avoids direct questions, because he doesn’t want to lose a lot of Republican voters by saying what Christie is saying and some of the others are saying,” he said.
The interaction provided another glimpse into how Scott and other candidates are reacting to tough questioning, particularly about Trump.
Throughout his campaign, Scott has been hesitant to directly criticize the former president over his legal troubles, his actions on Jan. 6 or his repeated claims that the 2020 election was stolen, often instead deflecting to highlight what he refers to as the weaponization of the justice system.
Coffey says that hesitancy fails to take into account the voice of voters who are ready to move on from Trump.
“The bottom line is that a lot of people like me, they’re sitting here saying, 'I don’t want that person as president,'” Coffey said.