You could do worse than the South Carolina senator, but do you really want “a George W. Bush-style conservative” in 2024?
It’s not Tim Scott.
Whatever the Republican Party and the country need right now—a break from the populist revival of the Trump years or a continuation of the theme, a pragmatic administrator or another visionary, another disruptor or a steady hand—the Palmetto State senator is not the man.
Yet the donor class seems to think so. After a chaotic and mostly embarrassing few weeks, it seems safe to say that Ron DeSantis is about to crash and burn. The Florida governor has effectively admitted that he needs a complete and total reset, although he has not yet accepted the fact that a complete and total reset is impossible in political campaigns. He is finished; it is just a question of when he figures that out.
Most people won’t wait for that to happen. As reported widely this week, many of the GOP’s big-money power-players are rushing out of the DeSantis camp. Every dollar spent on Ron from this day forward is a dollar wasted.
Scott may not be the most obvious alternative. Mike Pence has much higher name recognition and much stronger non-Trump bona fides. Nikki Haley is a woman. They were not chosen. Whatever calculus led the money men to Scott over the others, cash is flowing in and out of his campaign at an almost breakneck pace. He has more ad time booked right now—over $3 million worth—than any other candidate in the race.
Ross Douthat, the token right-leaning opinion columnist of the New York Times, sees some sense in the idea:
Say this for Scott: He has an obvious asset that DeSantis is missing, a fundamental good cheer that Americans favor in their presidents. Say this as well: He has the profile of a potent general-election candidate, an African American and youthful-seeming generic Republican to set against Joe Biden’s senescence. Say this, finally: Scott sits in the sweet spot for the Republican donor class, as a George W. Bush-style conservative untouched by the rabble-rousing and edgelord memes of Trump-era populism.
Admittedly, you could do much worse than Tim Scott. Unlike DeSantis, he might even manage to scrape by in a general election—though it’s a long shot, to say the least, even if he pulls off a miracle in the GOP primary.
Douthat is not quite right that Scott has been untouched by Trump-era populism. In a number of key and often careless moments, Scott showed himself perfectly willing to throw in with the former president. To the kind of bleeding heart voter whom DeSantis exiles hope to convert, Tim Scott will always be too Trumpy—unclean not just by past association but by an ongoing unwillingness to break from the standard-bearer.
Yet Douthat is correct on balance that Scott represents “a George W. Bush-style conservative.” What exactly does that mean?
First and foremost for the readers of a magazine founded to counter W.’s adventurism, it means that he is woefully incautious in matters of war and peace. Scott is especially eager for conflict with Iran, a fight whose picking would reopen some of the worst geopolitical wounds yet incurred this century.
On China, meanwhile, which represents an actual rival if not an outright threat, Scott is able to talk the talk of America First Republicanism. But the record suggests a man more than willing to serve globalized capital, even over and against the interests of this nation and her people.
On economics, Scott embodies an admirably entrepreneurial spirit, a not-so-distant cousin of the ethos that made this country great. It is a corrupt branch of that tradition, though, which twisted the spirit of independence into the ideology of capitalism by which the senator swears.
Like many of the worst defenders of the dead consensus, Scott is a public and plainly sincere Christian. He cannot be held accountable for the recent (or less recent) missteps of his church-fellow and protege Nancy Mace. Yet he can and should be asked why his political vision is so lacking in Christian character, beyond the bare minimum objections to infant slaughter and sacralized sodomy.
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On race, it seems many of the senator’s backers hope he can be what Obama was not: not so much a reconciler as reconciliation itself, a liturgical closing of the book on darker chapters of our past. Yet it is astonishing how little distance there is between Scott’s political view of race and that held on the far left. More than once he has rebuked his own party and made open alliance with Kamala Harris and other radicals. Even now, he has aligned himself with Harris in the smear campaign against his opponent DeSantis’s efforts to ensure accurate history is taught in Florida schools. Here, at least, Scott seems closer to the politician Obama was than the one he wasn’t.
This is not what America needs, just as it was not in 2008. What we do need is restoration: a president who will help drag the U.S. economy from the gutter; who will argue for sense and prudence in world affairs; who will demand order on our streets and vigilance at our borders. What we need is at least a shadow of the political force that was absent from American life in the half-century between the hit on Nixon and the golden escalator. What we need is some faint hope that the ways of ten generations before us will not vanish when we go.
As far as I can tell, the only serious person on the national stage who has shown himself capable of filling that role is none other than Donald Trump. I may be wrong; it may be someone else. But I know it’s not Tim Scott.