May 23, 2023

Tim Scott is running for president.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) announced he is running for president. Image: Gage Skidmore
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) announced he is running for president. Image: Gage Skidmore 

Does he have a chance?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

Tim Scott is running for president. Plus, a question about the way pundits flip flop based on who is doing what.

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Quick hits.

  1. In a deal struck to protect the Colorado River, Arizona, California, and Nevada have agreed to cut their water usage by 3 million acre-feet through 2026 in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal payments. (The deal)
  2. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) announced he will not seek re-election in 2024. (The announcement)
  3. An AI-generated image of an explosion at the Pentagon went viral yesterday, briefly causing a dip in the stock market before social media users realized it was fake. (The image)
  4. TikTok has filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana over its new law banning the app. (The lawsuit)
  5. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen signed a bill that implements a 12-week abortion ban, a prohibition on gender surgeries for transgender people under the age of 19, and restrictions on the use of hormone treatment and puberty blockers for minors. (The bill)

Today's topic.

Tim Scott. On Monday, South Carolina Republican Tim Scott officially announced his bid for president in 2024. Scott, a 57-year-old who joined the Senate in 2013, was first sworn into Congress as a member of the House in 2011. Prior to that, he worked as an insurance agent and financial advisor.

Scott is one of the most prominent Republicans in the Senate, and quickly earned an endorsement from Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 2 ranking Senate Republican. Scott is the lone black Republican in the Senate, and the first African-American to have ever served in both chambers of Congress.

Scott, who enters the race with significant campaign cash on hand, is the latest GOP leader to declare their candidacy for the Republican nomination, joining former President Donald Trump and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to announce his this week, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence are also expected to announce sometime next month.

Scott’s political campaigning has centered on his faith and personal story, often emphasizing a more optimistic and positive message about the United States being the land of opportunity.

“Every single one of us are here because of an American journey where there were obstacles that became opportunities,” Scott said at his campaign kickoff event. “But unfortunately, under President Biden, our nation is retreating away from patriotism and faith.”

Scott has $22 million on hand from his last Senate campaign, and has already spent $5.5 of that on ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. He enjoys top ratings from the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization as well as the National Rifle Association. While Scott has avoided using race as a central theme of his political campaigning, he often references his race while accusing the left of hypocrisy in the way they treat and speak about him.

“I’m the candidate the far left fears the most,” Scott said at his first event. “When I cut your taxes, they called me a prop. When I re-funded the police, they called me a token. When I pushed back on President Biden, they even called me the n-word. I disrupt their narrative. I threaten their control. The truth of my life disrupts their lies!”

Scott has promised to push the most pro-life legislation he can get through Congress, though he stumbled on the campaign trail when asked about how he would regulate abortion nationally.

Former President Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, welcomed Scott to the race, saying he was a "a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable."

Today, we're going to examine some arguments from the left and right on Scott's candidacy, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left criticize Scott, saying he designs his messaging to make Republicans feel righteous.
  • Some predict he will have a brief moment of popularity before fading.
  • Others say he has transformed into a "Trumper."

In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore said Scott is making his autobiography central to his campaign.

"Scott argues that 'the truth of my life disproves their [liberals] lies,' particularly any claim that America needs to deal with racism or the legacy of racism. According to Scott, America always has been and remains 'a land of opportunity rather than oppression'; we just need to abandon liberalism in all its forms to allow people like him to flourish via hard work and personal responsibility grounded in patriotism and Christian faith," Kilgore wrote. "This is a message perfectly designed for MAGA audiences who view Scott as an unimpeachable witness for the defense of their own righteousness."

Scott has refined his talking points: "Biden and his lefty pals have opened wide the borders, demonized the police, persecuted religious folk, wrecked the economy, and trapped kids in failing schools run by 'union bosses.'" But Scott's own agenda is a "retro Reagan-Bush" messaging mixed with the "conservative flavor-of-the-month" proposals: Use the military to destroy drug cartels, shut down the border, tax incentives for inner-city investment and private school vouchers. "There is not much in Scott’s electoral history to suggest any particular appeal to Democrats in general or Black voters specifically, and it’s not clear whether swing voters will discern anything original in his extremely shopworn policy agenda," Kilgore said.

In The New Republic, Walter Shapiro said Scott is "sure to rise" and "surer to fade."

Scott does have "one underappreciated factor going for him," which is that despite "the Republican party's dismal record on civil rights," GOP primary voters have a "proven, if fleeting, affinity for Black conservatives running for president." According to Scott, "despite the Republican record of rolling back voting rights protections, opposing affirmative action, and slashing programs for the impoverished, despite a recent Republican president who trafficked in code words and hate-mongering, it is the Democrats who 'weaponize race.'

"And the virtue in embracing Scott’s candidacy is that he alone among the 2024 Republicans upends these Democratic talking points. Scott speaks to the prejudice-free purity of Republican hearts (or so they believe) when he says to camera, 'I know America is a land of opportunity—not oppression.'" That message may be appealing for GOP voters, at least "before any voter makes a binding choice for president in a caucus or primary."

In Esquire, Charles P. Pierce said Scott is now a Trumper "through and through."

"The reason why we heard so little about what Scott will do as president, rather than who he will be as president, is probably summed up best by Item 53" on Politico's list of 55 things you need to know about Tim Scott: "Policy differences with Trump? 'Probably not very many at all,' he said in February to Sean Hannity. 'I am so thankful that we had President Trump in office.'" Scott "swore allegiance" to Trump's wall and pledged to use the U.S. military to attack Mexican drug cartels.

Scott "never strayed far from the policy preferences" of the tea party, including many which have become more deeply unpopular, like "gerrymandered legislatures and renegade judicial nominees." Scott has endorsed a national abortion ban at 20 weeks and "has dishonestly accused Democrats of advocating for abortion up to the moment of birth." His "anti-choice rhetoric" has been "comically mendacious" at times, as when he told supporters that "Democrats would 'grant abortions up to 52 weeks' — 12 weeks longer than pregnancy lasts."

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mixed on Scott, though many welcome him into the fray.
  • Some are skeptical that his more optimistic message will land with voters.
  • Others argue Republican donors should not waste resources trying to win over black voters, but focus on their own base.

In The Spectator, Ben Domenech said Tim Scott is appealing "to a GOP of the past."

He's "the kind of candidate white Republicans like to vote for: a black conservative who directly undermines the left’s claims about the United States’ — and the GOP’s — innate racism." But Scott is "likely to have a ceiling to his own try for the presidency." He is a throwback to the George W. Bush era of "evangelistic conservative candidates, whose faith was front and center, coming off a period when the Republican Party embraced secularism in order to win. How high that ceiling is could be a test of how religious the GOP remains — and how much it wants a sunny, uplifting message instead of one animated by doomsaying."

Scott’s problem, much like fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley, is that his appeal is "out of step with the fire and brimstone talk of the current moment. Are Republican primary voters really interested in feel-good talk about the country, or are they more inclined toward messages in line with the constant toxicity of the culture wars?" Domenech said. "Do they want someone with a winning personality, or someone who promises to crush their political enemies? Unfortunately for the country, the latter seems a lot more popular these days."

National Review's editors said "welcome Tim Scott."

"Scott is an admirable figure with a proper understanding of what America represents," the editors wrote. "His aim in running for president, he said this morning, is to counter the 'lie that our country is evil,' to declare that 'America is not a racist country,' and to celebrate the 'goodness of our nation.'" His views are "not mere abstractions," as he was "raised poor by a single mother" and "his grandfather was an uneducated cotton-picker who grew up under Jim Crow. As a teenager, he almost failed out of high school." Indeed, as Scott says, he is "living proof" America is the land of opportunity.

"He is popular with his colleagues in the Senate. He presents conservatism well, in a manner that is likely to attract converts. He has a friendly, honest, and open affect, which helps him discuss the thorniest issues in America in an unusually constructive way. In a word: He is an optimist. Historically, Republicans have done well when they have run optimists," the editors added. However, with underdeveloped policy positions, "no public executive experience," and an electorate driven by anger and near despair, he is still a long shot.

In the National Populist Newsletter, Ryan James Girdusky said donors’ hopes are going to be dashed again.

"Within a few hours of the announcement that Tim Scott was running for president, I received calls from two donors," Girdusky said. "'“This could be it! Tim Scott could break through to black voters and destroy the Democrats coalition,' said one. Another told me, 'If Tim Scott is either President or Vice President, he can get 20-25 percent of the black vote, and Democrats will never win another presidency.' These are very well-meaning people who only have the best intentions, but they’re entirely wrong and frankly made me want to scream until I had no voice left."

Trying to win a presidential race by pulling black voters from Democrats is "like trying to suck the oceans dry by using a paper straw. It’s an absolute waste of time that will never work and, most importantly, has never worked," he wrote. Despite being "reasonably conservative" on several issues, the black vote is "inelastic" and older black voters are tied to the Democratic party "like they're connected to their church. It's an immovable population." Republicans should focus on winning over Asian and Hispanic voters in states like Florida and Nevada, and "still focus on non-college-educated white voters" in the rust belt.

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • We never endorse candidates in Tangle.
  • That being said, I like Sen. Scott, and appreciate what he stands for.
  • I actually think he is better positioned than most people assume.

You'll be hearing this a lot over the next year and a half, but — unlike many other news outlets — we don't endorse candidates in Tangle and never will.

So I'll say what I can. I like Tim Scott.

I think that the core of his campaign style is a breath of fresh air. When I watched his announcement speech yesterday, I thought there were several moving notes — and the tenor of it obviously stuck out compared to many of his rivals in the Republican primary.

Of course, he's entering a presidential race. So there were elements of the essential "Tim Scottness" that he seemed to be leaving behind, like when he suggested he was "the candidate the left fears most." I don't love the idea of a presidential candidate running on a platform of "pick me, because I'm the guy half the country hates!" but I suppose that is part and parcel of the moment we live in.

Scott's story is unambiguously remarkable, and his go-to line — that his family went from "cotton to Congress" in a generation — captures both the beauty and horror of our country in a single sentence. If you're a Republican voter with conservative bonafides, Scott is the real deal. He doesn't waffle much on his views and he is not a member of Congress who changes his ideology depending on his audience.

There are members of Congress, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who have reputations for being snakes and regularly flip-flop on their views when it is convenient. Then there are members like Scott, who are well liked across Congress and regularly at the center of bipartisan negotiations. He doesn't sacrifice his values, but is capable of being productive in a room with people who don't share them. Given how increasingly rare that is, I applaud the way he's carried himself to this point and the body of work that proves he can work across the aisle.

Does he have a shot? That's a different question. When you're running for president, you need to take stances on issues bigger than those that impact just your state. How would he approach China? Ukraine? Trade? The intelligence agencies? Military spending? Maybe those issues won't matter in a 2024 race that’s likely to be decided by culture wars, but in order to be in the race at the end he'll have to flesh them out.

I happen to think Scott is in a better position than most people assume. He has a cash surplus and is going to get a lot of media attention. His favorables are strong, he's so far managed to keep Trump on his side, he is beloved by the Republican establishment, he's already been endorsed by the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and his record of compromise is strong enough he might just be able to win over some moderates. Plus, the third state on the GOP primary map is South Carolina, and he's already investing heavily in Iowa.

His biggest obstacle is obviously Trump, but it’s also what the Republican party has done to make it easier for Trump to win. In 2019, some state parties canceled their primaries to clear the path for Trump, and the GOP essentially stayed out of his way. How will they act in 2024? Where the establishment throws its support — and how it decides to navigate Trump’s candidacy — will have a big impact on Scott's odds.

We're a long way from the first vote in the 2024 primary — certainly too far out to dismiss Scott's candidacy. Naturally, his biggest tests will be how he approaches Trump and how he could possibly beat him without the Republican base. I don't have a good answer to that problem, but — aside from Trump — I think Scott's odds are as good as anyone else's.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Sometimes I wonder whether pundits and pols on both right and left have thoroughly thought through their opinions or whether they simply have knee jerk reactions as the opposite of the opposition. For instance, when Biden said 'no F-16s' to Ukraine, did the right just jump to oppose? And if he had agreed to F-16s, would they have applauded, or claimed we were escalating and getting tangled in yet another foreign war?

— Rich from Seattle, Washington

Tangle: I think the knee-jerk reaction is very, very common. To be honest, Trump probably illuminated this better than anyone. He was so loathed by so many liberal pundits that sometimes he would propose things that drew seething rage from the left, and then you'd see an almost identical proposal handled differently when a Democrat pursued it. The Afghanistan withdrawal is a great example.

One of my favorite reporters who basically covers this exact thing for a living is Drew Holden, who tweets out comparisons of how the media covers Democrats versus Republicans. Holden looks at it through a conservative lens, but the knee-jerk reactions are obvious.

Of course, the reverse is also true. Trump was a great litmus test for the right. He did so many things conservatives typically oppose, but for the most part, right-wing pundits and elected Republicans ended up backing him until the end of his presidency.

However, it can be difficult to tell precisely why those positions change. An example: Trump was very big on a "made in America" push that was all about bringing jobs home, and he was often criticized for it by the left. But now Biden is basically mimicking those policies and he faces almost zero pushback. Why?

I'm sure it is in part because it's easier for folks on the left to support such a policy proposal coming from Biden. But maybe some have genuinely changed their minds — maybe Democrats have realized the proposal is popular, and so their own position has changed to match the electorate’s. It might not be quite as simple as “it’s good when Biden says it and bad when Trump says it.”

So, yes: I think a good chunk of the punditry is made up of knee-jerk opposition to politicians people don’t like. Calling that hypocrisy out is definitely important. But a change in position is not always as simple as who the messenger is.

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Under the radar.

Since last year’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, more than 1,700 gun-related bills have been introduced in state legislatures, and 93 have been signed into law. However, 56% of those bills have either expanded access to firearms or benefited the gun manufacturing industry, according to Axios. In 17 states, only bills that have loosened gun restrictions have been passed. In 14 of those 17 states, Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's office, while three of those states have GOP-controlled legislatures and Democratic governors. Axios has the data on how gun laws have changed.


  • 2%. The percentage of GOP primary voters who support Tim Scott, according to the latest Morning Consult poll.
  • 71%. The percentage of GOP primary voters who reported hearing nothing about Scott in the days before his announcement.
  • 42-42. The current polling tie between Biden and Trump in a hypothetical 2024 head-to-head, according to Morning Consult.
  • 58%. The percentage of potential GOP primary voters who said they would vote for Trump if the primary were held in their state today.
  • 20%. The percentage of potential GOP primary voters who said they would vote for DeSantis if the primary were held in their state today.
  • 48%. The percentage of GOP primary voters who said DeSantis would be their second choice.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Ted Wetzler, an Ohio resident, realized he needed a new method of agreeing to disagree after getting into a fight with his friends about politics. So he created "Dinner and a Fight," with the word "fight" crossed out and replaced with "dialogue." He's now hosted over 11 meetings inside a Greek Orthodox Church in Akron, Ohio, all with people who disagree about politics. They sit down for a buffet-style dinner before Wetzler introduces a divisive topic to discuss. People get to take a microphone and share their opinions, and after the dialogue everyone rejoins their table for dessert to chat some more and discuss the various opinions that were shared. Good News Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.