NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Tim Scott, who officially launched his 2024 presidential bid on Monday, has so far been careful not to put too much distance between himself and former President Donald Trump.
But in his first interview since he jumped into the race, Scott made clear to NBC News anchor Tom Llamas that there was one area where the two were very different.
"Would you ever try to overturn an election you lost?" Llamas asked Scott during the wide-ranging interview at Charleston Southern University.
“No,” Scott replied, noting he was at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Speaking with Llamas for more than 25 minutes at his alma mater, Scott also drew contrasts with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on the war in Ukraine and in his personal demeanor and ability as a political messenger.
Real the full transcript of the interview here.
As he did in his Monday address, Scott talked up the need for a president who "persuades not just our base, but even on the other side of the aisle" and described himself as the candidate who can best do that.
"The truth is that what people really want is an optimistic, positive conservative who has a backbone but also believes that the best is yet to come," Scott said, adding, "So I don’t think you have to be a pessimist to be strong."
On Monday, Trump responded to news of Scott's campaign launch by warmly welcoming the South Carolina Republican into the expanding GOP primary field, and he used the opportunity to attack DeSantis, who is expected to jump into the race this week.
"It is rapidly loading up with lots of people, and Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable,” Trump added. “I got Opportunity Zones done with Tim, a big deal that has been highly successful. Good luck Tim!”
In response, Scott said he would "appreciate [Trump's] vote as well."
When it comes to the war in Ukraine, Trump has refused to say which side he would prefer win while DeSantis, currently second in the polls behind Trump, received heat from within his own party for calling the war with Russia a mere "territorial dispute."
Scott, meanwhile, called the U.S. role in Ukraine "essential," adding that President Joe Biden has done "a terrible job of explaining" what about the war is in "America's vital national interest."
He said that strategic interest "is degrading the Russian military."
"The more we degrade the Russian military, the less likely there is to be an attack on our sovereign territory. And it protects our NATO partners," he said. "I think that we should be in Ukraine. I believe that the truth is simple, that degrading the Russian military is in America’s best interest. And the more we do that, the faster we get it done, the better off the entire world is.
Scott said "obviously" the war is of greater importance than a territorial dispute and "of course" he wants Ukraine to win.
Scott was more vague in other areas, including on what federal abortion legislation he would want to see if he were in the White House.
Addressing supporters Monday, Scott name-checked the Mexican drug cartels and promised to "let the world’s greatest military fight these terrorists — because that’s exactly what they are."
Asked whether he would order the military to hit the cartels on Mexican soil, Scott said he would not get into specifics of his plan.
"Should we provide the resources necessary on our border to protect our citizens? Absolutely," Scott said. "Should we say exactly what we're going to do? Of course not."
"I'm simply saying that all options are on the table to protect American lives," he continued.
On TikTok, Scott called for the U.S. to "sever" the relationship between the app and its Chinese owners. Llamas pointed out that TikTok's servers in America are run by Oracle, a company co-founded by Larry Ellison, one of Scott's top donors. (Ellison was in attendance for Scott's Monday launch.)
"The ability to sever the relationship with China is absolutely essential," he said. "I've said this before. It doesn't matter who the donors are, but what matters is the American people."