CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Tim Scott didn’t announce he is running for president here at the Charleston County GOP’s Black History Banquet on Thursday night. But at times, it sounded like he was already a candidate.
Scott is one of a handful of Republicans widely believed to be considering a 2024 campaign, and the speech he delivered Thursday seemed to offer a preview of the themes he might center in his bid.
Scott, the first Black senator from South Carolina, spoke at length about his personal story of overcoming childhood poverty, his family's perseverance through generations of racism and his entrance into politics, arguing that his experience is evidence that the country’s progress on racial issues outweighs modern-day racism.
I refuse to be considered a second-class citizen because of the color of my party.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Scott also promoted the tenets of his agenda — promoting opportunity zones, conservative police reform, curbing federal spending and enacting school choice policies.
“There is a way for us to unify this country around basic principles that lead us forward, but we have to put behind us a lie that this is the worst time in American history — only if American history started today," Scott said.
“I’m sick and tired of people telling me how bad it is,” he continued, adding: “I’m not here to suggest things can’t get better. I’m going to work every single day to make sure all Americans play on a level playing field. But today is not 1865. Today is not 1923. … We have made tremendous progress, and it’s time that we as a people celebrate the progress we are making.”
Scott's speech came a day after one of Scott's fellow South Carolinians — Nikki Haley, the Republican former governor — kicked off her presidential campaign in the state.
Like Haley, Scott used his experience as a person of color to push back against what conservatives have derided as “woke” calls for social change. And, also like Haley, the policies he promoted would have significant buy-in across a potential GOP presidential primary field.
At one point, Scott suggested conservatives are under siege and increasingly subjected to discrimination. His comments drew loud applause.
“Listen, I understand how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen because of the color of my skin,” Scott said. “I refuse to be considered a second-class citizen because of the color of my party.”
Watch Nikki Haley's full speech announcing presidential runFeb. 15, 202325:41
A Scott presidential campaign would mark the entrance of another rising GOP star into the race to face off with former President Donald Trump after Haley’s announcement this week. And more still, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, could announce in the coming months.
Speaking on local radio Thursday morning, Scott wished Haley well in her bid but said he feels there “certainly” is room in the race for more than one prominent elected official from the Palmetto State. He’s embarking on a listening tour after his Charleston speech that will take him through Iowa, the first state in the GOP’s 2024 primary calendar, next week.
Scott, whose voting record ranks him among the party’s more conservative senators, appears to be building up the infrastructure for a presidential campaign, as The Wall Street Journal and Axios have reported. First elected to the Charleston County Council in the mid-1990s before he served in the state House and the U.S. House, Scott was tapped by Haley to fill Sen. Jim DeMint’s seat in 2012. He later won the election to fill the rest of his term in 2014 and won full terms in 2016 and last year.
Speaking Thursday evening about his approach to policy, Scott called for “turning the federal [spending] spigot off,” improving training and resources for police departments and aligning the GOP to be “the party of parents.”
Attendees at the dinner expressed interest in a Scott presidential bid but said it was far too soon to opine on how well he might perform.
Rhonda Coleman, who was at the dinner, said she crossed paths with Scott in high school and believes he would make a formidable presidential candidate.
“I’m not surprised he is where he is today,” she said.
Marvin Arnsdorf, the board chairman of Oceanside Collegiate Academy, and his wife, Wendy Arnsdorf, a local real estate agent, said they’d be intrigued by a Scott presidential campaign but are waiting to see how the field further develops before they commit to any one contender.
“It’d be great to have a choice that you’re comfortable with,” Wendy said. “And not just one.”
Marvin said he expects Haley and Scott to run on a message of generational change. But, he added, Trump “is very strong” in the state.
“I love his policies. I’m not a fan of the behavior,” Marvin said of Trump. “I think that’s hurting.”
“Take away his Twitter account forever!” Wendy added. Twitter reinstated his account this year after it had banned him following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Should Trump win the GOP nomination, however, the decision about whom to back at the ballot box won’t be a difficult one.
“If he was the candidate,” Marvin said. “I’d vote for him.”