What should Black voters think of Tim Scott’s run for president?

The U.S. Senator faces an uphill battle. In his home state of South Carolina, more than 90 percent of Black voters cast their ballot for Biden over Trump. 

The official launch of Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s presidential campaign makes him the leading Black candidate in the 2024 race. 

As a Black conservative and the lone Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, Scott is sure to be a standout vying for the nomination in an overwhelmingly white GOP.

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina
U.S. Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., announces his run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on May 22, 2023 at a campaign event in North Charleston, South Carolina. Scott, who is the ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, joins five other Republicans currently running in the 2024 Presidential race. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Scott, who touted his rise in politics as an American success story despite growing up poor and raised by a single mother, is a history-maker who was the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of South Carolina.

Despite his ascension in national politics, Scott’s chances for the presidency are “slim to none,” according to Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former chair of the Republican National Committee.

“I can’t seriously believe that the gods will move the mountains in a way that says, ‘OK, you’re going to be the last person standing, and the nomination will be yours,’” Steele told theGrio. 

According to a series of Morning Consult surveys of potential Republican primary voters, Scott consistently polls at 1% to 2% compared with former President Donald Trump, who continues to dominate the primary field with more than 50% of those surveyed.

Steele, who endorsed then-candidate Joe Biden for president over Trump in the 2020 contest, said he believes Scott doesn’t have a chance in the Republican primary because he has not demonstrated that he can stand up against Trump, and the GOP is beholden to the former president.

“I think it’s important to understand where the Republican Party is right now,” said Steele. “The Republican Party is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan and Bush 41 or Eisenhower, or hell, even Lincoln.”

Scott also faces an uphill battle as it relates to Black voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. In his home state of South Carolina, for example, more than 90 percent of Black voters cast their ballot for Biden over Trump. 

“Black voters in South Carolina know who Tim Scott is,” Christale Spain, chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told theGrio.  

Former President Donald Trump shakes hands with Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina
(Left to right) U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., during a signing event of an executive order to establish the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council on Dec. 12, 2018 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Spain, elected the first Black woman to lead the state’s Democratic Party earlier this month, said she believes Black voters will reject Scott for his record on critical policy important to the African-American community.

“Black voters saw Tim Scott vote against the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Black voters saw Tim Scott in 2017 be the architect of a tax scam that really did nothing for Black voters,” argued Spain. “It didn’t do anything for South Carolinians. It only helped the ultra-wealthy.”

Conservative political strategist Shermichael Singleton sees Scott’s record differently. As it relates to Republican primary voters, he told theGrio Scott’s work on the Trump tax cuts — which included a provision encouraging investment in “distressed communities” — and his leadership on passing the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, The First Step Act, will strengthen his chances.

Singleton, who has advised several Republican presidential campaigns, noted that Scott has a pretty good reputation on Capitol Hill on both sides of the aisle.

“Staffers on the Democratic side in the Senate … like Tim Scott. They actually enjoy working with his office,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t really agree with him on policy … but he is great to work with because he actually does want to try to find common ground on some things.’”

Representative Karen Bass of California, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey
(Left to right) Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speak briefly to reporters following a meeting about police reform legislation on May 18, 2021 as they exit the Capitol Hill office of Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., in Washington, D.C. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Scott’s bipartisan work on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, however, ended in a stalemate when he and Democratic lawmakers called to the negotiation table failed to come to an agreement related to qualified immunity

Singleton admits it was a long shot that Scott could get his Republican colleagues to budge on the issue of police reform but said he should get credit for trying. “Tim Scott went into those negotiations with other Republicans handicapped,” he said. “But the fact that he recognized this is important, we got to do something on this and tried, that should not be overlooked.”

He added, “It is difficult for one person to be able to whip enough support for one thing, especially when people are saying, ‘I don’t know about this.’”

Democrats and Black voters also criticized Scott for saying “America is not a racist country” in his 2021 Republican rebuttal to Biden’s joint address to Congress.

“Black Americans … when they have a Black leader, they want one that is going to stand up and speak the truth,” said Spain of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “Tim Scott is from Charleston, a place that has a very well-documented racist history … so to say that America isn’t a racist place is beyond me.”

Steele similarly slammed Scott for his remarks, telling theGrio, “Who honestly could sit there and look at 250 years of history and go, ‘Yeah, there’s no racism here at all.’ Jim Crow, anybody? I mean, what the hell are we talking about?”

Singleton said criticism of Scott for his comments on race in America isn’t a fair assessment compared with Black Democratic leaders who’ve made similar comments on race.

He noted that Vice President Kamala Harris said she also did not believe America was a racist country but that “we need to speak the truth about history.”

“If you’re gonna say that Tim Scott isn’t speaking truth to power, you must say the same thing about Kamala Harris,” said Singleton. 

Vice President Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris listens as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during the start of a meeting with the Biden administration’s Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access on April 12, 2023 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

He also recalled then-President Barack Obama telling the graduating class of 2013 at Morehouse College that racism was “no excuse” for Black men not to excel. “If you’re going to hold Tim Scott to this barometer, then you must do the same for the others,” Singleton argued.

Democrats in South Carolina wasted no time in organizing against Scott’s presidential campaign. On Monday, the state party erected a mobile billboard outside his rally in his hometown of North Charleston. The billboard featured a clip of Scott telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that there are “probably not many” differences between him and what the South Carolina Democratic Party characterized as “Trump’s dangerous policy positions.”

Singleton admits that Scott has a “tough road ahead” in his 2024 presidential ambition but believes entering the race gives him an opportunity to “elevate himself” and “work out some of the kinks that may exist for him as a potential national candidate.”

Given his chances based on polling, he believes Scott’s ultimate goal is to run in 2028 or perhaps be in consideration as a 2024 vice presidential running mate. “I would be surprised if whoever ultimately gets the nomination doesn’t consider him as a running mate,” said Singleton.

He also pointed to Scott’s $22 million war chest. “Scott is known as being a pretty good fundraiser,” he said. “Donors really like Scott, his story and his message.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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