Tim Scott’s inside track
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is getting publicity lately as a possible 2024 Republican presidential candidate with donors and GOP grandees circling. But politically it makes more sense for Scott to position himself for the vice-presidential nomination — which is essentially his for the taking. Of course, Scott would have to back away from the heady encouragement for the top office — not an easy thing for any politician to do. And he has to handle Trump. One false move on that front could be fatal.
Identity politics may be less of a problem for Republicans than Democrats, but it still powerfully impacts Left and Right. For the GOP, facing large polling deficits with women and minorities and yet close to having won across-the-board in 2020, picking up modest gains in those two demographic groups could yield huge dividends.
After decades of trying to shave off more than a token share of the Black vote, hardly anyone could have predicted it would be Donald Trump who could prise out the best margin of the Black vote since 1980 for Republicans. And that share was built on Black males who handed Trump 19 percent, likely the largest GOP share since the historic destruction of George McGovern by Nixon in 1972. If only Trump had lost by the same margin with women in 2020 (15 points) as he had done against Clinton (13 points), he would have won the Electoral College vote.
Combined with a modest recovery in the Hispanic vote, an popular minority candidate could be just the ticket to put a Republican over the top in 2024.
But Scott faces the same problem that hurt Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Scott Walker (R-Wis) and the rest of the 2016 GOP field (except Trump): he is a rookie on the national stage. Since World War II, Republicans have only had four nominees who had not been a national candidate previously: Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
In the cases of Eisenhower and Trump, both were already national figures, and Eisenhower was perhaps the most popular American at the time. George W. Bush shared a former President’s name and had intimate involvement in his father’s national campaigns. As for Goldwater, he suffered the worst trouncing since Alf Landon. Unfortunately for Scott, he has more in common with Goldwater at this point than the others.
Going national is a huge and difficult leap to make — and the vast majority founder at key points.
In 2016 both Cruz and Rubio were strong and attractive candidates, but both made critical mistakes at vital moments in the primaries. In addition, neither had the national following and gravitas that amasses enough big donors and VIP support that can push out nuisance, no-hopers.
Alternately, the vice president slot would be an easy score for Scott, provided he does not make the mistake of running for president. Unlike in the Democratic Party, where pushing aside the female minority Kamala Harris as the next presidential nominee would be politically impossible, Republicans have no such qualms. Nobody is going to step aside for Tim Scott. In addition, only once has a GOP nominee selected a former primary opponent for VP.
For Scott, the shrewd move would be to stay out of the presidential primaries and carefully position himself for the number two spot. Other than Scott, only Nikki Haley offers helpful identity politics credentials, but her criticisms of Trump, followed by pleading to get back in his good graces has damaged her significantly. That leaves Scott, by far, in the best position.
And then there’s Trump…
Navigating the Trump factor
Tim Scott’s main priority should be to stay out of the Trump orbit. Anyone who gets drawn into Trump-world inevitably is expected to toe the Trump line, whatever that is on any given day. Whether his various vendettas, impulsive endorsements or spurious election-theft complaints, Scott would be saddled with all the Trump baggage — and never treated as anything but a useful appendage by Trump.
The fact is a Trump 2024 candidacy will need Tim Scott more than Tim Scott needs Trump.
Unlike most presidential nominees, Trump will not need to find a Mike Pence to placate part of a skeptical party and will be able to look to expand his vote base. Few can do that like Tim Scott, and those who could (like Nikki Haley) are on Trump’s “cannot fly” list.
Trump has a simple strategy: attack and bluff. Go after anyone who threatens his position (attack) and promote himself as always right and unstoppable (bluff). These tactics have been very effective to date, but they are not as effective now that Trump is out of power. Trump has notably been more cautious about his attacks. As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s profile has increased with many in the GOP wanting him to run instead of Trump, Trump has chosen not to attack and instead suggested DeSantis as a 2024 running mate — purposefully diminishing the Florida governor.
Scott has enough political strength to stand away from the diminished Trump. And he should do so, avoiding Trump rallies, fundraisers and private meetings.
There is plenty for Scott to do, not only his own re-election, but campaigning for GOP mid-term candidates. Being tied too closely to Trump could damage Scott’s future, given the former president’s erratic behavior and toxicity amongst the majority of the country.
Tim Scott has managed to navigate his way into prominence and political power. He is the Republican Kamala Harris — if you add charisma and political savvy.
If he wants it, the 2024 Republican VP nomination is his for the taking.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.