Subtext, anyone? Tim Scott framed his entry into the 2024 GOP presidential primary in part as the antidote to a “culture of grievance” and “victimhood.” Scott explicitly accused Joe Biden of fostering those corrosive trends, but both may well be intended implicitly for his upcoming fight against fellow Republicans — and perhaps one in particular:
Our party & our nation are standing at a time for choosing.
Victimhood or victory?
Grievance or greatness?
I choose freedom, hope, opportunity. Will you choose it with me? pic.twitter.com/qMVQX800UY
— Tim Scott (@votetimscott) May 22, 2023
Sen. Tim Scott kicked off his 2024 Republican presidential campaign Monday afternoon in his home state of South Carolina, in a speech that focused on his personal story and hit President Biden and the “radical left” for fostering a culture of “grievance” over “greatness.” …
“Joe Biden and the radical left are attacking every single rung of the ladder that helped me climb. And that is why I am announcing today that I am running for President of the United States of America.”
“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,” he also said, calling himself “the candidate the far-left fears the most.” …
“The Biden administration has us retreating away from earned success, aspiration and accountability. He wants to make waitresses and mechanics pay the student loans of lawyers and doctors making six figures,” Scott also said.
“This administration has taxed, borrowed, and spent trillions of dollars trying to replace a hand up with handouts. All they bought us was crushing inflation that has devastated families like mine.”
Scott has long fought against the culture of “grievance” and “victimhood” over greatness on a meta scale. It is almost certainly no coincidence, however, that Scott highlighted these issues in the middle of a Republican primary in which the essential question is whether voters should nominate Donald Trump as an answer to the grievances they have over the 2020 election and Trump’s status as the “victim” of that and the Russia-collusion hoax. The argument for every single candidate not named Trump is that the party should nominate a candidate focused on the present and future rather than those “grievances” of the past.
So, is this a coincidence? Either Trump thinks so or he missed the subtext of Scott’s attack:
Trump's constant ranting about DeSantis is really fear, Exhibit #985,679. pic.twitter.com/9En1sYjt1G
— Calvin Freiburger (@CalFreiburger) May 22, 2023
Best guess: Trump missed the subtext, although there’s another explanation that may be closer to the mark. Trump likely sees Ron DeSantis as a much bigger threat in the 2024 primary and wants to boost Scott’s status in the Not Trump lane. That may not be “fear” based, as Freiburger argues above, but simply a cold strategy to focus infighting amongst the other candidates. More than the other declared candidates, Scott has more potential upside than other contenders with long track records on the national stage (although Scott certainly has that). Trump is likely betting that boosting Scott will subtract little from his own support but will dilute the anti-Trump vote in the primaries.
Scott wisely directed these themes at Biden for his explicit messaging today, and remained on the outward rather than the inward attack:
At the same time, Scott has also shown a willingness to campaign in more combative tones. He has accused Democrats and liberals of pushing a “blueprint to ruin America.” In a video earlier this year announcing his intent to formally explore a run, Scott said he is uniquely suited to reject the “culture of grievance” and “victimhood” he said has been fostered by President Biden and “the radical left.” …
Scott is the only Black Republican senator and at the moment is poised to be the only senator to enter a presidential race that’s set to include a former president, governors and a former vice president.
His status as a Senator presents a likely hurdle for Scott, along with the smaller fundraising and activity thus far in comparison to Trump and DeSantis. Republicans usually prefer to pick outsiders for presidential nominations, not Beltway insiders; John McCain was an obvious exception, but he basically outlasted a weak field to win in 2008. (Fun reminder: The great conservative hope in that cycle was former governor Mitt Romney.) So was Bob Dole in 1996. Neither did well in their election cycle, as they both ran against perceived outsiders — Barack Obama had barely begun his first Senate term, and Bill Clinton was a supposed Southern moderate governor from Arkansas running for re-election.
That reluctance to reach inside the Beltway will likely be amplified in this current conservo-populist moment in the GOP. Scott won’t be seen as an insider to the same extent as Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and others, but he’s not exactly free of DC in the same way DeSantis and Trump both are. Scott’s bio cushions him from that perception to an extent, but the other problems of the Senate remain: procedural votes and a lack of clear accomplishment for which he can take full credit. Even Trump subtly made that point by taking credit for Scott’s work on opportunity zones. Both Trump and DeSantis have significant track records of executive success, which Scott lacks.
However, Scott’s entry does offer Republicans a real boost. First off, as we see in today’s launch, Scott is very good on the stump. He’s also known for his optimism and inspiration. If anyone can help make the GOP primaries sound like a Reaganesque “morning in America” opportunity, it’s Tim Scott. And that’s what makes him the most likely of all the candidates to end up on the GOP ticket — in one slot or the other.
Here’s the full speech from today’s event, or at least close to it. The exchange with his mother is especially touching, and you won’t want to miss it.
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