Senator Tim Scott: The rise of the GOP's next great hope

The 55-year-old senator was praised by top GOP leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell over his speech and was referred to as the future of the Republican Party


                            Senator Tim Scott: The rise of the GOP's next great hope
South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott has made the headlines with his response to President Joe Biden's address to a joint Congress session on April 28 (Getty Images)

South Carolina GOP Senator Tim Scott recently caught national headlines after delivering his party’s response to President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of the Congress last week. Top Republican leaders from both the chambers of the Congress praised the 55-year-old lawmaker over his speech and expressed hope that he could be the future of the red party, which has found itself battling serious inner divisions of late. There is even speculation that Scott, the GOP’s only Black senator, could feature in the GOP’s presidential run in 2024. Former President Donald Trump has already said that he is considering running for the White House again that year. 

But why suddenly Scott has caught so much attention and there are even talks that he could be in the race for the White House three years later? While the senator himself has not spoken about that, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Fox News last week that Scott’s response “upstaged the president” and that people will soon start talking about Scott running for the presidency soon. 

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“The part that made the most history tonight—this will be the first time the response has upstaged the president,” Scott told Fox host Sean Hannity, adding: “People are going to start talking tomorrow that Tim Scott should be running for president. Could you imagine him on the debate stage versus Joe Biden? It’s not even close.”

He's the future, Mitch McConnell says about Tim Scott

A day later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed McCarthy’s words. Speaking to Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, he called Scott “the future”. “Well, look, we’re looking to the future, not the past,” McConnell, 79, said. “And if you want to see the future of the Republican Party, watch Tim Scott's response to President Biden last night. He’s the future. That’s where we’re headed. We’re not preoccupied with the past, but looking forward,” he added. 

Senator Tim Scott with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Getty Images)

'America is not a racist country'

McConnell also said: “He laid out what the Republican Party today and tomorrow is going to look like. He’s very popular, not only within our party, but among Senate Democrats, as well. He’s brave, courageous, and tells the truth. And when you do that these days, a lot of people come after you. He’s a courageous leader, the most inspirational leader we have in our party looking forward.”

In his 14-minute rebuttal to Biden, Scott said the US needed policies and progress that brought it close together but in the three months since Biden took over, his actions and party were “pulling us further apart”. He said: “Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”



 

 

Scott also outlined his own history of being raised by a single mother and benefiting from “opportunities that are only possible here in America”. He said his grandfather had a newspaper in front of him daily at the kitchen table but came to learn years later that he did not know to read. “I remember every morning at the kitchen table my grandfather would open the newspaper and read it, I thought, but later I realized he had never learned to read it. He just wanted to set the right example,” Scott said. McCarthy was elated over his GOP colleague’s assertion of American exceptionalism. 

Another statement that Scott made to leave the audience impressed was: “Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you, the American people, Black, Hispanic, white and Asian, Republican and Democrat, brave police officers and Black neighborhoods.”

The possibility of Scott joining the next GOP race for the presidency has also been fueled by his announcement that the 2022 Senate race will be his last. It may be noted here that Nikki Haley, who had appointed him to the Senate in 2013 as the then governor of South Carolina, is also being seen as a presidential contender in 2024. 

Scott backs Georgia's recent GOP election law

Scott, in his speech, also criticized the Biden administration’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal and tried to boost the GOP base by comparing its policies with the Democrats’ “socialist dreams”. He though mentioned the previous Trump administration only once. He recalled his own story about race and not-so-happy experiences that he went through while being treated by law enforcement. Yet, he said America is not a racist country and also backed the GOP’s recent moves in Georgia where the new law was brought into play recently that many accused would disenfranchise minority voters.

“If you actually read this law, it's mainstream. It will be easier to vote early in Georgia than in Democrat-run New York. I’m an African-American who has voted in the South all my life. I take voting rights personally,” Scott, the first African-American senator to be elected from southern US since 1881, said. 

Though Betfair, which runs the world’s biggest online betting exchange, told Newsweek last week that the chances of Scott winning the GOP nomination for the presidency in 2024 are very low, yet the hope around him is not going to die too soon. The very move made by the GOP to pick Scott to respond to President Biden’s address makes that evident. 

Who is Tim Scott?

Scott, who was born to Frances and Ben Scott Sr in North Charleston in September 1965, was a member of the Charleston County Council between 1996 and 2009. He then became a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2009 and served till 2011. He then served as a House representative from South Carolina for a term (2011-13) before taking up as the senator. This February, he also took over as a ranking member of the Senate Aging Committee. The man is an evangelical Protestant, unmarried and owns an insurance agency. 

Scott, unlike the staunch Trump allies, has stood firmly in the GOP which is deeply divided between Trump and the mainstream Republicans. While he spoke at the Republican convention in 2020 where Trump was endorsed as the party’s presidential candidate, he has also condemned a controversial video that the former president had shared once showing a supporter shouting “White power”. He later voted against overturning the election withstanding pressure from the former president and his allies to do the opposite. 

New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker (Getty Images)

More recently, Scott, who graduated from Charleston Southern University in the late 1980s and has a Bachelor of Science in political science, also took part in a bipartisan compromise on police reform with Democratic senators Cory Booker and Karen Bass, even though his party alleged that the Dems blocked his bill to back banning chokeholds and collect data on no-knock warrants against them. 

Scott’s colleagues in the GOP believe he is good in sharing moving stories from his personal life. Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman told Forbes that Scott has “the ability to tell a story about his own life experience… that’s very compelling”. The SC senator is known for sharing his family’s stories and during his Republican National Convention speech last year, he said that his grandfather was “forced out of school as a third-grader to pick cotton, and never learned to read or write.”

Other GOP senators like Lindsey Graham said Scott is “the best of what we have to offer” while his Iowa counterpart Chuck Grassley called him “better than anybody of the other 49 Republicans,” Forbes reported. 

Even the opponent camp praised Scott. Booker said in an interview with Forbes that his GOP counterpart is a “really capable leader” and an “honorable guy who’s a good faith negotiator”. He predicted that Scott will rise to the occasion.

Will his rebuttal speech catapult Scott to the big league?

Though it is a tradition to pick rising stars to give response to presidential speeches to Congress, it is not a guarantee that the speech would automatically launch one into the higher league. In the recent past, only two of the dozen Republicans who rebutted former president Barack Obama -- Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal -- were seen running for the presidency in later times. In the Democratic camp, none of the leaders who responded to Trump’s addresses to Congress were found running for the top office in 2020.