Discover more from The Bulwark
Tim Scott Looks at Joe Biden and Thinks Civil War
Decoding the South Carolina senator’s presidential announcement.
SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR TIM SCOTT, one of those affable Republicans often touted as “the future” of an optimistic, inclusive GOP, carefully selected the timing and location for the announcement of his exploratory committee for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
Scott declared his ambition to seek the highest office in the land on Wednesday, April 12, with an ad filmed at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War rang out 161 years earlier to the day. He wanted people to pay attention to that fateful anniversary.
Because the way Scott sees it, America is on the verge of another civil war. And if you think Scott is talking about the threat posed by Donald Trump’s insurrectionist mob, well, HAHAHAHAHAHA. Wrongo! Scott, that winsome, uplifting, inspiring, rising star of the GOP, is launching his presidential exploratory bid on the notion that it’s Joe Biden who is leading a new confederacy that threatens to tear the country apart.
Walking past Fort Sumter’s cannons, Scott recalled how when the South Carolina militia fired on the U.S. Army base in 1861, “our country faced the defining moment.” Today, he said, “our country is once again being tested.”
“Once again, our divisions run deep, and the threat to our future is real,” Scott warned. All because “Joe Biden and the radical left have chosen a culture of grievance over greatness.” Scott said the Democrats are “indoctrinating our children to believe we live in an evil country” and weaponizing race to “divide us, to hold on to their power.”
“I know America is a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression,” Scott said. “I know it because I’ve lived it. That’s why it pains my soul to see the Biden liberals attacking every rung of the ladder that helped me climb.”
SCOTT’S REFRAMING OF JOE BIDEN as a soul-sucking Jefferson Davis is weird, willfully blind, and grossly dishonest. The only radicals talking about a national divorce nowadays are members of the party to which himself Scott belongs. He knows this. They attacked his place of work on January 6th.
But Scott has no outrage to spare for them. Instead, Scott, who is black, targets unnamed liberals in his ad who have called him a “prop” and a “token”—undoubtedly rotten labels. “I disrupt their narrative; I threaten their control,” Scott said.
You know whom Scott most definitely does not and will not threaten, however? Donald Trump, leader of the 2024 GOP primary polls.
Because how exactly does Scott plan to beat Trump? It’s a question so basic that even one of the Fox & Friends hosts had to ask it of Scott in an interview booked to bring attention to his announcement.
Scott’s answer? Mush about how he’s “heard that people truly want to have a conversation about their future” and how his upbringing shows how Americans can succeed. When pressed for more details, Scott said, “The field of play is focusing on President Biden’s failures. . . . We are better off having a conversation about beating Joe Biden.”
Scott’s dodge on Fox & Friends was no one-off mistake: Recall how, back in 2021, he said that “the one person I don’t blame” for January 6th is Donald Trump.
Scott also ducked a question about whether he’d support Trump as the 2024 nominee. He responded with the old chestnut “I plan on being the nominee.” But it’s ultimately an unavoidable question—it became explosively controversial in the 2016 campaign—and Scott won’t be able to get away with his non-answer for long.
In the run-up to the announcement of his exploratory committee, Scott tested the waters with Sean Hannity back in February. Hannity asked Scott what policy differences he has with Trump.
“Probably not very many at all,” Scott said. “I am so thankful that we had President Trump in office.”
SCOTT’S ANSWERS REVEAL THAT he doesn’t have a strategy to win the GOP primary. If he did, Scott would have something negative to say about the twice-impeached, one-term, newly indicted former president who oversaw the loss of the House, Senate, and White House.
Consider the idea that Scott is running to concede. If he can deliver a handful of delegates to the ultimate winner in his make-or-break primary home state, South Carolina, maybe he could become VP. To Trump, or whoever wins the GOP nomination.
Because that’s the only way Scott will likely find himself in any position to “disrupt” the left-wing narrative. And think about how badly Republican voters would like to see Scott on a debate stage with Kamala Harris. Especially when Scott is so keen to play up his own biography as a contrast to the Democrats’ handling of racial issues.
The Bulwark is a reader-supported publication. Consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The fact that Scott has a strong religious background makes it easy to see his longshot campaign as a tryout to be the new Mike Pence. Scott’s slogan— “Faith in America”—is a direct appeal to the evangelical voters whom Trump originally brought Pence onto the ticket to sell.
And it could work! All he has to do is not embarrass himself, go on raising money from the donors who want to imagine that the GOP is a big tent party, and keep his options open by being a Good Republican and staying silent about how the Orange Man is bad.
Scott’s fellow South Carolinian presidential contender Nikki Haley may be trying to occupy the same lane, with more of a foreign policy bent. (They have both made the same pitch in the past: “America is not a racist country”—see here and here.)
Viewed in that context, Scott’s screwy South Carolina-focused Civil War 2.0 talk about Joe Biden as a traitor ripping the country apart makes a kind of sense: It’s a way to appeal to the MAGA base while not having to alienate Donald Trump. It’s not like the riot crowd really concerns itself with the particulars of history, so long as Scott is on their side of the war Scott says is coming. Which is the whole point of Scott’s ad.
Maybe this is what GOP inclusion looks like in 2024. Welcome to the future?