Elections

The 2020 presidential campaign is about to kick off. Is SC Sen. Tim Scott in the mix?

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. just won an election to keep his current job in the U.S. Senate, but he’s already being talked about for two new jobs.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. just won an election to keep his current job in the U.S. Senate, but he’s already being talked about for two new jobs. AP

There are cloak-room style whispers in Washington these days that South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is being thought of as a Republican Plan B in case the yet to be formed Trump administration doesn’t find its footing.

Scott’s office dismisses the talk as idle chit-chat, though admits they’ve been hearing such questions. But it’s now been a full week since the last presidential election ended. Washington being Washington, it’s time to get the rumors going for the 2020 election. There are experts and insiders who think this one makes a bit of sense.

“This was an, um, unusual election,” said Julian Zelizer, an author and public affairs expert who’s a professor at Princeton University. “It makes sense that there would be a Plan B, and one that would be antithetical to Plan A.

The rumor goes like this: Senator Scott will return to South Carolina to run for office in 2018. Fellow S.C. Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy will join him on the ticket as lieutenant governor. They would be expected to win, handily. Then, if needed, Gov. Scott would launch a presidential bid from a position of considerable strength in 2020.

“It’s important to remember, though, that Plan B is always predicated on things that haven’t happened, while Plan A is still in effect. Right now for Republicans, the reality is that it’s Plan Trump.”

Of course, the rumor that Scott is preparing, and being encouraged to prepare, himself for the presidency follows another similar rumor: As Gov. Nikki Haley is reaching her term-limit in the state capitol in 2018, the junior senator from South Carolina could return to snaffle up the seat.

The rumor goes like this: Senator Scott will return to South Carolina to run for governor in 2018. U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy will join him on the ticket as his lieutenant governor. They would be expected to win, handily. Then, if needed, Gov. Scott would launch a presidential bid from a position of considerable strength in 2020.

The thinking is that there is a reason for Scott to consider giving up the security of the six years to which he was just elected in the U.S. Senate. That reason goes beyond the notion floated, that he’s always wanted to be governor.

Instead, the reason: He needs executive experience to complete the perfect resume for a presidential bid. Ask about this in the halls of Congress these days and people give you knowing looks and nods and respond, “That’s what we’re hearing…”

Zelizer said that this early in a rumor season, it’s tough to know whether anything makes sense.

“But the demographic issues facing the Republican Party that were talked about for this election are real,” he said. The nation’s minority populations are growing, he pointed out, and Republicans will need some way to appeal to a bigger tent at some point.

In this sense, Winthrop Poll Director Scott Huffmon said the Scott rumor works in a connect-the-dots sort of way. If the Trump administration implodes, Republicans are going to want the sorts of things Scott brings to the table.

He’s worth thinking about. There are real doubts about whether the Donald Trump magic of 2016 is repeatable. The party needs a Plan B.

Winthrop Poll Director Scott Huffmon, on Sen. Tim Scott as a contender in 2020

He’s African-American, and the growing concerns revolving around the racial divide in the brutal campaign appear to have re-opened. He’s conservative, appealing to both tea party and traditional Republicans. He’s extremely popular in a Southern state. And, if he left the Senate to govern South Carolina, he would have experience in the two places that are most likely to lead to the White House.

“He’s worth thinking about,” Huffmon said. “There are real doubts about whether the Donald Trump magic of 2016 is repeatable. The party needs a Plan B, and a popular-in-the-South, African-American conservative with experience both in the U.S. Senate and executive experience would be a very good plan B.”

On the other hand, Huffmon reminds that even if Scott has presidential ambitions, and there is no indication on that either way, he has another factor in his favor. The senator is fairly young. He’s 51. That means when the 2020 election rolls around, he will be 55. If Trump succeeds in claiming a second term, the party could look to Scott in 2024 knowing that he’d still be only 59 when he entered the White House.

As Huffmon said, time is on his side.

As is his popularity in his home state. In this just-passed election, he collected six of every 10 votes, Huffmon said. The main challenger, Democrat Thomas Dixon, collected just shy of 38 percent of the vote, and Huffmon said a decent percent of those were straight ballot votes for Democrats.

“He’s solid at 60 percent,” he said. “He’s well liked.”

Huffmon added that if the rumor about Scott running for governor is correct, he would redefine the race.

“He would enter the race at a substantial advantage over anyone else I can think of,” he said.

On the lieutenant governor side of the rumor, in which South Carolina Republican congressman Gowdy also leaves Washington, Gowdy’s office emphasized his focus on current congressional work.

Gowdy spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez said that “Rep. Gowdy is currently focused on continuing his work in the House through his various Committee assignments as well as a robust legislative agenda, which begins immediately.”

Gonzalez did say: “He does believe Senator Scott is a unique kind of leader and he looks forward to seeing what the future holds for him.”

Of course, for his part, Scott is having none of this, at least right now. He’s just completed a successful campaign. He hasn’t yet served a single day of the new term. He is in no mood at the moment to kick off another campaign cycle.

Asked for comment, Michele P. Exner, press secretary for the senator, replied in an email: “Absolutely no decisions have been made regarding the governor’s race. He is solely focused on the first 100 days of the Trump administration and working to bring opportunity to all Americans.”

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews

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