Discover more from The Bulwark
Senator Scott, Respectfully, Hit the Road
Refocusing on Iowa won’t help you win the Republican nomination. Better to get out of the race while you still have a shred of dignity.
THE CANDIDACY OF SENATOR TIM SCOTT, a great guy, was never a great idea.
GOP primary voters never wanted a happy warrior, and but for a small surge this summer Scott’s polling stinks, his debate performances were terrible, and his momentum has disappeared. What’s worse is that the beloved and earnest man of faith has sullied himself in the process. More than two months before the voting begins, he has racked up enough Awful Campaign Moments to make him cringe for the rest of his life—gratuitously blaming President Joe Biden for Hamas’s slaughter in Israel in a desperate attempt at a campaign reboot, watching his friends tell the press they don’t know anything about some nice Christian lady he insists is his girlfriend, and attacking Nikki Haley at the second debate over the cost of office drapes.
Last week a super PAC supporting Scott canceled millions of dollars of television advertisements scheduled for this fall because of the lock Donald Trump has on the race. In a memo the PAC co-chairman wrote, “we aren’t going to waste our money when the electorate isn’t focused or ready for a Trump alternative.”
And in pre-postmortem tones, friends are sharing their disappointment.
It’s time for Scott to bail out before he drowns. He is too nice for this game, and should start working on the numerous opportunities he can have in the future that don’t involve competing against Trump.
Get a Bulwark+ membership this week at a discounted price—just $80 for a year:
Scott’s campaign has already invested in $11.6 million worth of television ads, besting all other candidates on the airwaves, only to be stuck fighting for fourth place in Iowa and down in sixth place in New Hampshire, according to RealClearPolitics. His national polling is considerably lower than his standing in both of those early states. He is not next in line, and more niceness than all of the other candidates combined isn’t going to change that.
Like former Vice President Mike Pence, however—who is struggling to make it to the stage of the third debate, in Miami on November 8—Scott is content to drag his campaign out to a more dismal death, encumbered by more debt and less dignity.
When asked on CNN last week if he planned to end his campaign, Scott said “Oh, of course not. We believe that America’s ready for an optimistic positive messenger who is anchored in consistently conservative values.”
Scott is perfectly aware that the voters who decide GOP primaries have rallied to the least optimistic, least positive messenger not remotely anchored in conservative values—and that Trump’s lead is insurmountable. Barring an actuarial event, the race is over.
He has started a bus tour of Iowa, energetically committed to the grin grind with real voters who he hopes can still be swayed—and he does have the sweetest smile. In addition, after complaints from friends who criticized his low media profile, he’s suddenly on TV all the time defending Israel and arguing that Biden is complicit in terrorist atrocities—though that didn’t go well for Scott on Sunday, when ABC’s Jonathan Karl challenged him on his ugly remarks about President Biden having “blood on his hands.”
THE TRUTH IS THERE WAS NEVER a path for Scott. He entered the race without a lane and he hasn’t created one. What he had was plenty of money matched by plenty of people fond of him. And of course his candidacy has provided the cover that establishment Republicans in the Senate craved: Supporting him meant they didn’t have to choose between Trump or Ron DeSantis, back when the Florida governor was seen as capable of rescuing the GOP.
As DeSantis fizzled, and before Haley broke out, Scott had a moment. But his campaign likely ended at the first debate back in August when he disappeared and Haley bolted out of the gate. At the second debate, Scott’s attempt at a comeback was pitiful. When he politely launched his takedown of Haley, explaining the outrage of the offending curtains, Haley laughed, taunting him and saying “bring it, Tim,” as she blamed it on the Obama administration. Scott was left flailing his arms and spluttering “they’re your curtains.”
Scott genuinely seemed to expect that the base in Trump’s thrall was looking for something Trump doesn’t offer—and that up against a current governor in DeSantis and two former, experienced governors in Pence and Haley, there would be enough open minds to go around. Last week, he told the Ruthless Podcast he has learned during his campaign that voters “love character, they love optimism, they love people who want to make a difference in this country.”
Yes, a few of them do. Just not enough of them to make Scott the last man standing against Trump.
SCOTT’S FLAMEOUT UNFORTUNATELY happened while his home-state colleague and friend Haley rose in the primary polls. Now he is being encouraged to drop out and endorse her—from the Palmetto State’s Post and Courier to George F. Will, whose wife is advising Scott. It can’t be fun.
Scott doesn’t have to endorse Haley, or anyone right now. He could say he will be watching the Iowa caucuses carefully and will decide later. But he should leave the race now.
Pence’s campaign, no matter how sad, is imbued with intent. Its purpose is to rewrite Pence’s last chapter, a slow, drawn-out separation from Trump in which Pence has returned to the Republican he once was, free to denounce anti-constitutional populism. (Plus, Karen has a book out and they would like to hold a few more signings and sell a few more copies.)
There is no reason for Scott to stick around, he should instead preserve his dignity. He isn’t like Haley, whose principles follow her ambition, saying anything and then changing her mind. But it’s sad to see Scott employ hyperbole for outrage, or retreat from a principled priority like aiding Ukraine at this fragile moment, just because he has dragged his failing presidential campaign on too long.
Scott should have run for governor, and then one day—perhaps many cycles from now—he could have been chosen to be a great vice president for a good Republican, should GOP voters ever yearn for Reaganesque hope again.
But for now, it’s curtains. His curtains.