COLUMBIA, S.C. – Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said Wednesday that conservatives are “starved for hope,” as he tried to present a more positive vision for the future than many of his potential rivals for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Scott, who announced plans earlier in the day to form an exploratory committee for president, told The Associated Press that voters he has spoken with respond favorably to his optimistic outlook for the country and his conservative ideals.
“I think my candidacy is really designed around what the American people want to talk about, what their priorities are and what their issues are,” Scott said in the interview in Marion, a suburb of Cedar Rapids.
Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, was in Iowa for a day of political meetings with evangelical pastors and Christian home-school parents, both subsets of the influential Christian conservative base of Republicans' leadoff caucus state.
He declined to say whether former President Donald Trump, who remains the most popular Republican nationally, is offering a less-than-unifying message in his own 2024 bid for a White House comeback. But even without mentioning Trump, Scott's comments stand in sharp contrast to the former president's typical political speech, which usually includes broadsides at people he considers his enemies.
Bemoaning Democratic leaders as needlessly dividing the country by fostering a “culture of grievance,” Scott positioned himself as the antidote to the “the radical left,” a self-made success story as the son of a single mother who overcame poverty.
“When I fought back against their liberal agenda, they called me a prop. A token. Because I disrupt their narrative," he said in the video, which was shot on the site of Fort Sumter in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, where the Civil War's first shots were fired. "I threaten their control."
Despite the drama of the Trump years, early-state voters including onetime critics say he delivered on promises such as making conservative judicial appointments that helped lead to the overturning of Roe. vs. Wade last year, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that had established a federal right to abortion.
Scott argued that he offers a record of delivering on conservative priorities, pointing to his leading role on the 2017 Republican tax overhaul, which cut taxes for some but also benefited businesses and the wealthy.
“Being a part of that process, having my hands in there, I think is a critical part of the success that we had,” Scott said.
Although Trump signed the bill and counts it among his administration's top achievements, Scott said, “It's good to have partners that believe that the legislation that I'm writing is worth signing.”
If he formally enters the field, Scott would join another South Carolinian, former Gov. Nikki Haley, as well as former President Donald Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and “anti-woke” biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Others, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, are considering launching campaigns in the coming months.
Scott said he had not communicated with Haley before announcing his plans and dismissed suggestions of any awkwardness in running against the former governor who appointed him to his Senate seat.
“We were friends before. We will be friends after,” he said.
Asked what would keep him from running, Scott indicated he was likely to move ahead with his bid.
“So far, so good. I hope that we continue to have the same kind of success we’ve had so far," he told the AP. "And as long as we do, we’ll continue to move in the same direction.”
For months, Scott has been developing the infrastructure to accompany a bid for the White House, building out his political action committee and visiting early voting states. In addition to his trip to Iowa, Scott will swing through the early voting state of New Hampshire this week before heading back to South Carolina for “breakfast, policy discussions, and political update” with donors.
Those donors could become key to an exploratory committee, which gives Scott the ability to raise money directly for a possible bid, cash that can fund polling and travel.
Scott has already shown the ability to attract significant money. Opportunity Matters Fund, a pro-Scott super political action committee, spent more than $20 million to help Republicans in 2022, reporting $13 million-plus on hand to start 2023. Tech billionaire Larry Ellison has donated at least $30 million to the organization since 2021, according to federal filings.
He has signaled how he might distinguish himself from the others in the race by leaning into a more hopeful message than the grievance-based politics advocated by others.
During a February visit to Iowa, which holds the first GOP presidential caucuses, Scott spoke of a “new American sunrise” rooted in collaboration.
“I see a future where common sense has rebuilt common ground, where we’ve created real unity, not by compromising away our conservatism, but by winning converts to our conservatism,” he said.
Kinnard reported from Columbia, S.C.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP