Republicans brace for Tim Scott’s entrance into 2024 race

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Republicans are bracing for Sen. Tim Scott’s (S.C.) increasingly likely entrance into the 2024 presidential race, arguing that he could be a voice for unity in a party that has become dominated by grievance politics.

Scott hasn’t made a formal decision on a 2024 run but has moved quickly to lay the groundwork for a campaign. He’s begun hiring staffers and courting would-be donors, headlining the closing dinner of the Club for Growth’s annual donor retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., last weekend.

His message has, so far, been one of optimism. While he has railed against what he has called Democrats’ politics of “victimhood” and “despair,” he’s also laid out a lofty vision for “a new American sunrise.”

It’s a tempting message for some Republicans, who have grown weary of the grievance-driven politics of the era of former President Trump. Yet many Republicans say they’re unsure of Scott’s prospects in a GOP primary, arguing that his themes of optimism and unity may not get him far with a conservative base eager for a fight.

“Obviously, everyone is trying to figure out what lanes there are in the primary or how many lanes there are,” said one Republican strategist, who has worked on presidential campaigns. “But I think Republicans right now are angry, and I don’t know if Tim Scott captures that.”

Indeed, Scott’s political brand is a far cry from that of someone like Trump, who used his remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend to telegraph a 2024 campaign of “retribution.” 

In a speech at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, last month that some Republicans saw as a warm-up to a presidential stump speech, Scott criticized President Biden, accusing him of exploiting “the painful parts of America’s past.” But he also struck a note of unity, describing himself as a “messenger of hope.”

“I see 330 million Americans getting back to celebrating our shared blessings again, tolerating our differences again and having each other’s backs again,” Scott said. “This is what I see. A new American sunrise. Even brighter than before.”

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist who first met Scott during his time in the House, said that the South Carolina senator isn’t the kind of person to back down from a fight, but described him as a kind of happy warrior who could offer voters a much-needed change from Trump’s combativeness. 

“There are those voters, but that’s not the entire party or the entire primary voter makeup,” Heye said. “He is aggressive and he is a fighter, but he does so with a smile on his face. And after six years of Donald Trump, there’s an exhaustion for a lot of people who want new voices and fresh voices, and I think Scott represents that very well.” 

For now, there’s no solid timeline for a potential campaign announcement. Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, is on a “listening tour” of the country that’s set to take him back to Iowa and South Carolina over the next month or so, according to a person familiar with his plans. 

“The travel is going to continue to pick up,” the person said. “He’s been well received everywhere he’s gone so far. What that actual date means? I don’t know. But the listening tour is going to continue and help inform those decisions.”

Another source familiar with Scott’s plans acknowledged that he lacks the name ID of other current and prospective White House contenders, like Trump, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). But, the source said, “that means he has room to grow.”

“He’s probably the least known of the major contenders — obviously Nikki, Trump, DeSantis, [former Vice President Mike] Pence,” the source said. “But for folks that know him, he’s probably the most liked.” 

If he ultimately decides to jump into the presidential race, Scott would start with at least one clear advantage. He has nearly $22 million in his Senate war chest that could immediately be transferred to a presidential campaign. 

He’s also brought on two prominent Republicans, former Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Rob Collins, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to run his super PAC, Opportunity Matters Fund. As of the end of 2022, that super PAC had more than $13 million in the bank, and one Republican source said that it had raised millions of dollars more since then.

Still, Scott would likely have a lot of ground to make up. Polling of the 2024 GOP primary shows Trump topping the field of declared and potential contenders, while DeSantis — the combative Florida governor who’s preparing for a likely presidential campaign — is seen as the most serious threat to the former president.

Then there’s Haley, a former South Carolina governor who appointed Scott to his Senate seat in 2012. Her and Scott remain allies and friends, according to multiple Republican sources, but how the two would handle each other in a primary fight, especially in their home state, remains an open question. 

Both have cast themselves as a fresh face in GOP politics and have laid out a similar set of more traditionally conservative policy priorities, ranging from enacting school choice policies to cutting back on federal spending.

Dallas Woodhouse, a longtime Republican operative who heads up the conservative South Carolina Policy Council, said that Scott remains broadly popular in his home state — a critical early primary state that will be the third to hold a nominating contest in 2024. But, he added, even the most beloved politicians can’t always find their footing on the national stage.

“He definitely would bring a lot to the race. He’s a serious person and a serious thinker,” Woodhouse, who’s unaligned in the 2024 primary, said. “But he’s been on a very welcoming stage most of the time. This is going to be different for him. He is beloved for what he represents but that can change when you get in a rough and tumble campaign.” 

Nevertheless, Woodhouse said, Scott’s candidacy could help nudge the race in a new direction.

“You have to look at interesting ways and possibilities to change the direction,” he said. “And a candidacy like Scott’s — I think it would bring some new and interesting elements to the table.”

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Republicans brace for Tim Scott’s entrance into 2024 race

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