Tim Scott threw his name into the presidential ring earlier this week, and it’s encouraging to note the generally positive reaction from Republicans, accounting, of course, for the 5-to-7-day honeymoon period that customarily follows such an announcement. Encouraging, because the good senator from South Carolina is a very attractive candidate: intelligent, well-spoken, infectiously positive and optimistic, not instinctively given to vitriol and spite, honestly conservative, and, well, honest. In other words, Tim Scott is, in many ways, the conservative antipode to Donald Trump.
Since 1988, the Republican Party has been scouring hill and vale for the incarnation of Ronald Reagan, to the point where in near desperation just about every half-decent presidential candidate has been held up to the plebiscitary gods of the electorate as a hopeful Reaganite offering, the second coming of the Gipper. Granted, holding candidates up to that almost mythically high standard is more profitable, and infinitely more estimable, than forcing them to shimmy under the low bar set by Trump and recent Democratic offerings; but such exercises do become grating after a while and so restraint is called for.
Still, it doesn’t escape notice Sen. Scott exudes a strikingly similar optimism, positivity and love of country that was characteristic of Reagan. It is difficult for a conservative to be an optimist — I rank my own healthy pessimism somewhere between that of Whittaker Chambers and Evelyn Waugh — which makes the genuine optimism of Scott stand out all the more.
Stay up to speed: Sign-up for daily opinion in your inbox Monday-Friday
He has a great deal going for him. To begin with, he has a quintessentially American story — one of humble beginnings, raised by a single mother, and defying the odds to make it to the upper rungs of society. “For those of you who wonder if it’s possible for a broken kid in a broken home to rise beyond their circumstances, the answer is yes,” he said during his announcement. It is precisely that experience of upward mobility that shaped his conservative optimism and visceral patriotism.
He is generally well-liked and well-respected by his Senate colleagues, and by voters, a trait that is by no means universal in that chamber. His intellect, friendly nature and natural communicative talents make him a worthy ambassador of the conservatism he professes.
And he is a conservative, by almost any measure. He has amassed an impressive record in the Senate on a variety of issues, including taxation, border security and the excesses of the welfare state. He is an outspoken supporter of school choice and excellence in education, as contrasted by the lowest-common-denominator-driven descent to mediocrity and foolish ideological experimentation to which modern American public education has largely devolved. All of these are points in his favor.
But he has drawbacks as well. The most obvious one is his lack of executive governing experience, a potential problem for one applying for the job as chief executive. Governors, as a general rule, make better presidents than do senators.
There is also the question of his experience in foreign relations and national security. Calvin Coolidge was the last president who could afford to concern himself nearly exclusively on domestic matters and keep international affairs at a safe but manageable viewing distance. The coin flipped around in the middle of the last century. Now, a president’s primary duty is to steer America through the difficult and ungainly seas of international politics and security. I have mentioned this in this space before, but have been told it resonates: bad tax policy can be repaired with good tax policy — a nuclear strike is much more difficult to fix. Scott has said some very good things about American defense and foreign policy, but he will need to shore up his vision and delineate more clearly what his ideas on foreign policy are.
He is also not the only contre-Trump Republican running for the nomination, if in fact he chooses to run on that mantle, which he would be wise to. Nikki Haley comes immediately to mind, and at this point I remain convinced of her relative strengths. I think Scott would make a fine president; I believe he would make an outstanding vice-President to a President Haley.
But for all that, Scott has the makings of an exceptional nominee, and his entrance in the race is on the whole welcome. He stated Monday he is the “the candidate the Left fears most,” and he may be right. He has his work cut out for him, but it would be good for the Republican Party, and for America, if he were to prove up to the task.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.
Welcome to the discussion.
Post a comment as Guest
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.