Tim Scott nice-guy image raises doubts he could be Donald Trump's pick as a bulldog VP (2024)

CHARLESTON, S.C — Sen. Tim Scott has been one of Donald Trump's biggest boosters since abandoning his own 2024 White House campaign late last year before Republican primary voters had even cast a single ballot.

By all accounts, the South Carolina senator's transformation from the sunny-upbeat-optimistic presidential aspirant into a MAGA champion has been part of the audition process as Trump sizes up potential running mates.

But those who know Scott well from back in his home state told USA TODAY that they're skeptical the 58-year-old lawmaker is going to be Trump's vice-presidential pick. Their primary reason: Scott, who ended his own White House run with an eye toward his prospects in 2028 and beyond, doesn't have the capacity to be the dogged defender Trump says he wants as his loyal No. 2.

Former Greenville County GOP chairman Nate Leupp said Scott is "about as good of a person as you get in politics." South Carolina political strategist Chip Felkel called him a "happy warrior." FOX News host Trey Gowdy, a former congressman and also a long time friend said, “most of his colleagues think he is too good for politics.”

More than a dozen Republicans have been jockeying for months to be on Trump’s VP short list. They've campaigned for the presumptive 2024 nominee and former president at rallies. They've promoted him on cable television and helped fundraise millions of dollars for his campaign.Trump has said he has made his choice and plans to make an announcement around the Republican National Convention that starts July 15 in Milwaukee.

Scott has shown he meets some of the basic criteria Trump is looking for. He can tap into the network of billionaires whose money is the lifeblood of a presidential run, holding an event in June that included some of the mega-donors who had not yet signed on to Trump’s campaign.That same month, a political action committee associated with Scott announced it will spend $14 millionbefore Election Day in November to turn out Black voters for Trump.

The South Carolina senator also did make one notable endorsem*nt move that turned heads back home. After declaring "now now" upon the end of his own White House run, Scott backed Trump over Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who appointed him to the Senate in 2012.

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Trump has noticed the turnaround.

"He has been one of our great advocates," the former president said of Scott in February during an event in Columbia, S.C., after the primary polls had closed. "He has been doing things that are unbelievable, and I am very happy he did not have that same energy, drive because I think I probably would have been out of the race a long time ago."

Traditionally, a president and his campaign look for a running mate who can help them win the general election. The thinking goes that a VP pick should either be an exciting addition to the ticket, sooth an important constituency or hail from a state or region that can help to bring a critical swing state into their Electoral College column.

But Trump has also demonstrated again and again that he's no normal politician and his pick could differ widely from expectations. Those in his inner circle have hinted Trump wants a vice president that will be among those voraciously defending him on cable news, but who won't steal the spotlight.

Felkel said going mean or tough is so contrary to Scott's disposition that he struggles to pull it off.

"I guess it really comes down to what Trump's looking for," said Felkel. “If Trump's looking for somebody to be a balance to his aggressive and less than civil positions and rallies and language and so forth, then I think Tim Scott would get that consideration. It depends on whether Trump wants a cheerleader or whether Trump wants a hitman.”

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Religion as cornerstone

The cornerstone of Scott's life, and campaigns, has been his faith.

Raised by a single mother and his grandparents, Scott drifted in middle and high school, nearly failing out. He dreamed of playing professional football as a running back until an August 1982 car crash when he fell asleep at the wheel. Injuries kept him from playing most of his senior year and he received just a partial scholarship to one school: Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.

There, his life changed during a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“I’m not sure I ever would have found Jesus if my ego took me where I wanted to go. God didn’t cause the accident, but he used it to deliver me into his kingdom,” Scott said at a 2017 Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet at Piedmont Technical College.

Scott graduated from Charleston Southern University in 1988 with a degree in political science and opened an insurance company.

His political career began in 1995, when he ran in a special election to the Charleston County Council. He held the seat for nearly 15 years, and made national headlines for hanging the Ten Commandments outside the Council's chambers, though the posting came down after a judge sided with a lawsuit from three residents.

Posting the Ten Commandments was a "real testament" to Scott's faith that showed "courageousness throughout the community blowback," said Maurice Washington, a former Charleston City council member and a longtime friend of Scott's.

Scott served one term as a state lawmaker.In 2010, he became the first Black Republican in more than a century to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina. He got a promotion from Haley two years later to the Senate to replace Republican Jim DeMint, who stepped down early to run the Heritage Foundation. Scott then won a special election in 2014 to serve the final two years of the term and again made history as the state's first Black elected U.S. senator.

Throughout Scott's tenure in the Senate, he has focused on domestic issues. He's the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. After the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in 2020, he was the lead Republican negotiator on a proposed bipartisan overhaul of policing standards and legal protections. The bill failed in the Democratic-led Senate, with senators saying it did not go far enough.

In 2022, Scott worked with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on a bill designating lynching a federal hate crime, an issue Scott had worked on for years. President Joe Biden signed the measure into law later that year.

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'A political evangelist'

In May 2023, Scott entered the presidential race in a field that would grow to include Trump, Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a half a dozen others. His core promise: to take on “the radical left” and bring faith and conservative, business-friendly policies to Washington.

Watching Scott's rise from county council to the White House campaign stage "was like watching Opie skip a rock across the lake in Mayberry," said South Carolina GOP strategist Dave Wilson.

Scott isn't known for his glad-handing presence across the state the way as his counterpart, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Voters also haven't gotten to know him well, Wilson said. But voters do respect Scott's focus on helping the Republican Party and on electing conservatives across the country.

“He's a political evangelist,” Wilson said of Scott while making a comparison to Christian televangelist Billy Graham. “Even his mannerisms and his styles are very evangelistic in the way he talks, the way he presents, the way he gets down with people. He talks to them face to face."

Beyond talking about his mother and his faith, Scott has always held his private life off limits. He's 58 and never been married. South Carolina politicos were shocked to learn he had a girlfriend when his now fiancée, Mindy Noce, appeared last November at a Republican presidential primary debate in Miami.

“When his girlfriend-now fiancé-popped up on stage we were like, 'Oh!' We didn't know who she was or that she even existed,” Wilson said. “He keeps himself out there a lot. He is out doing the job. But there's a very, very private side of Tim Scott and that area is kind of roped off and reserved.”

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An unexpected pair

Despite a multi-state tour, early television ads and a massive war chest, Scott's presidential campaign was short-lived. His 2024 message that oozed optimism and hope for the future didn't resonate with voters who remain captivated by the Make America Great Again movement. Scott quit in mid-November, two months before the Iowa Caucus got the voting started. He snubbed Haley four days before the New Hampshire primary by endorsing Trump .

Some onlookers question why a senator whose piety, moral compass and optimism hangs prominently before him has embraced the twice-divorced and four-times-indicted former president whose campaign rhetoric has so heavily focused on doom.

"Tim is the epitome of a Christian conservative, which also is a weird juxtaposition when he stands next to Trump with adoration," said Bakari Sellers, a Democratic commentator who served alongside Scott in the South Carolina state legislature.

“I believe he thinks he can better change the world by being vice president of the United States," Sellers said, but “I think Tim probably knows there's not a good chance of him being vice president."

Washington, the first Black chairman of the Charleston County Republican party, echoed this sentiment, noting South Carolina is already a predominantly red state and that Trump's "poll numbers among African Americans are already moving in the right direction."

"What is happening now makes the selection process more competitive. And I'm not naïve to think otherwise. Nor is Senator Tim Scott," Washington aid.

Scott criticized Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries and supported Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is now among the VP contenders in the mix for Trump in 2024.

“If Donald Trump can’t take a stand against the KKK, we cannot trust him to stand up for America against Putin, Iran or ISIS,” Scott said at the time.

The South Carolina senator also took issue in 2016 with Trump’s attack on a judge’s Mexican heritage, saying it was “racially toxic.” And Scott joined other Republicans later in the fall who denounced Trump after audio leaked from the “Access Hollywood” set where the reality show TV star said that he could freely assault women because he was famous. Scott called those Trump remarks “indefensible” and “disgusting.”

But in the 2016 general election, Scott took sides with Trump, saying he was the “lesser of two evils” compared with the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Scott started his movement toward Trump following one of the Republican president's earliest and most controversial first-term statements.

Trump had saidmany sides were to blame for the violence at an August 2017 neo-Nazi rally inCharlottesville, Virginia. Scott, at the time the only Black Republican U.S. senator, blasted the president's comments, saying his fellow Republican lacked "moral authority" and that he had been "compromised."

Soon afterward, Trump invited him for an Oval Office meeting where the two men talked about race relations. "He wanted me to share with them my perspective. He listened, and after we finished talking he said, ‘Help me help those I have offended,'" Scott recalled in a recent FOX News interview.

That fall, the GOP-led House and Senate combined forces to pass Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Included in the major new law because of that Oval Office meeting was a Scott-authored provision creating what they called "Opportunity Zones," which allow governors to designate "economically-distressed communities" that are candidates for federal tax incentives as a way to encourage investment. Trump in last week's debate against President Joe Biden credited Scott's work from more than six years ago for his current support among Black voters, deeming it "one of the most successful economic development acts ever in the country.

Democrats criticize the Opportunity Zones as primarily benefiting wealthy investors. A 2023review by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, found mixed-to-no impact on employment and job creation in the zones.

But Washington said the program is a sign of Scott's ability to find common ground.

“There are some drastic differences between Scott's personality and Donald Trump's personality, but the magic is how you understand those contrasts but find those common interests, common ground, and still create magic,” he told USA TODAY.

Trump's campaign welcomed Scott's entry into the presidential race last year. Notably, Scott never attacked Trump directly during his short-lived run for the White House, which concluded with a speech pledging to "hold on and keep working really hard and look forward to another opportunity."

Gowdy, who met Scott when they both entered Congress in 2010, said he's not shocked his longtime friend meshes so well with Trump.

“He is an evangelist trapped in politics," Gowdy said. "He is not a politician. How can they be friends? You know, Jesus talked to people that other folks probably didn't think he ought to be talking to. He talked to people that you could argue he didn’t have a lot in common with and that's kind of the model for the way Tim leads his life.”

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'A mollifying effect'

People who know the senator said he'd bring a lot of strengths to a potential 2024 ticket.

Scott would bring a sense of sobriety and lack of vindictiveness to a Trump presidency, Gowdy added, noting the senator is the type of person who prays for those who criticize him - rather than directly respond.

“I think he would bring a mollifying effect,”Gowdy said.

Several of Scott's friends said the biggest strength Scott would bring to a Trump campaign is the same thing that didn't resonate in his own White House race: optimism for the future.

"There's a general sense of angst of whether or not our best days are behind us or not," Gowdy said. "It is impossible to be around Tim without feeling hopeful that things can be better."

Scott has always been this way, said Darryl Ray Griffin, CEO of the Charleston-based Neal Brothers. They both ran in similar crowds in high school playing football on opposing teams. "He's the same way today, the same way. He's never changed.” Griffin said.

To Griffin, the idea of a VP pick being "too nice" is not sensible.

"How can you be too nice?" Griffin said. "He hasn't got to where he's at without having some very good analytical thoughts and making decisions. But, you can tell it a nice way too, right?"

Scott does have some VP credentials that could help Trump in November, Sellers said, listing evangelicals, Christian conservatives, Black voters, establishment Republicans and Haley voters who continued to support her by significant margins in the primary even after she dropped out.

“This race is going to be close, so even what Tim Scott's able to do around the edges will be helpful,” Sellers said."Outside of Marco Rubio, he probably would be the most frightening [vice president pick for Democrats]. But Trump ain't doing that."

Joe Mulé, a resident of Mount Pleasant, S.C., who is also originally from Brooklyn, said if he had to choose a person to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, he would choose Scott.

Scott is "sincere," said Mulé, who describes himself as an "apolitical" person who votes "conservative regardless of party designation."

“Not only is he nice," Mulé said of Scott, "but you know, if there's got to be a difficult decision, he can make it and stand by it."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Could Trump VP pick be nice-guy Tim Scott? South Carolinians doubt it

Tim Scott nice-guy image raises doubts he could be Donald Trump's pick as a bulldog VP (2024)
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