A new Fox Business Iowa poll is the latest survey showing the South Carolinian Republican gaining on RON DeSANTIS in early-voting states. Since launching his bid in May, Scott’s been on a slow but steady rise and has consistently notched the highest favorability ratings in the field. He’s also amassed an impressive war chest that’s already allowed him to bombard early states with his story of going from “cotton to Congress” — with more to come this fall.
Rival campaigns have noticed. And now, like the proverbial crabs in a pot, they have started plotting an effort to arrest Scott’s momentum and drag him back into the pack.
In recent days, super PACs associated with DeSantis and NIKKI HALEY have singled out Scott for criticism. Operatives in multiple campaigns, we’re told, are beefing up their oppo files on the senator, and some briefed Playbook in recent days about the likely lines of attack.
“He’s never really had a real challenger in terms of a serious primary or general, so in that sense he’s pretty unvetted,” said one ally of a rival candidate. “The scrutiny will come.”
Yes, there are reasons to doubt it will fundamentally alter Scott’s trajectory. The underlying material has already, by and large, been publicly documented. And none of his rivals have so far been willing to go on the record taking a punch at the man who’s become the Mr. Congeniality of the 2024 field, let alone spend money to amplify the attacks.
“It does show who they are most afraid of,” former Sen. CORY GARDNER (R-Colo.), who is co-chairing a super PAC backing Scott, said of the threats. “It does show that he is eating into their support.”
Still, with Scott already ensconced on the debate stage and rising in the polls, he’s certain to see incoming fire from his rivals in these three areas:
— FOREIGN POLICY: After Scott appeared at the TUCKER CARLSON-moderated Christian Family Leadership Summit in Iowa last weekend, some conservative commentators bemoaned that he dodged tough questions — such as whether to arm Ukraine with cluster munitions — with the Washington Examiner’s BYRON YORK chiding him for trying to “joke his way out of difficult situations.”
The performance fueled a perception that Scott is a step behind on foreign policy experience in a field that includes a former president (DONALD TRUMP), a former vice president (MIKE PENCE) and a former UN ambassador (Haley).
Will it stick? There’s no doubt that Scott’s focus in Congress has been on domestic issues. But he’s recently joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is seeking to use his post as the top Republican on the Banking Committee, which oversees tariffs and sanctions, to burnish his credentials — particularly by cracking down on China. One speed bump is that he’s alone among major candidates in not supporting a total ban on Chinese-owned TikTok — raising questions about his close ties to Oracle CEO LARRY ELLISON, whose company hosts TikTok’s U.S. data.
— CRIME AND POLICING: With 2024 contenders racing to out-tough each other on crime, expect Scott’s rivals to highlight his record as one of Capitol Hill’s greatest champions of police and criminal justice reform. Scott was an original cosponsor of the 2018 First Step Act, which reduced some mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes and allowed some already in prison to seek shorter sentences — a bill that has since become a bugaboo for Republicans.
Even more sensitive was Scott’s work on police reform after the death of GEORGE FLOYD in 2020. While he ultimately pulled out of negotiations with Sen. CORY BOOKER (D-N.J.) and accused Democrats of seeking to “defund the police” with the legislation, he’d previously supported exactly that approach — conditioning federal grant funds on reforms.
Another episode ripe for campaign scrutiny surrounds Scott’s effort to secure a pardon for his cousin, OTIS GORDON, who served six years in federal prison after a 1991 drug conspiracy conviction. Questions were raised about the propriety of Scott seeking a pardon, which Trump granted in 2020, for a blood relative who also worked on his campaigns.
Will it stick? Anyone who wants to argue Scott is soft on crime would have to say the same of Trump, who signed the First Step Act, as well as the scores of fellow Republicans (such as DeSantis) who voted for it or similar bills in Congress. The policing reform issue is dicier — Scott spoke urgently about the need for reform after Floyd’s death and spent months exploring proposals but ultimately walked away.
— RACE AND AMERICA: Scott has made his rise from poverty to the Senate the centerpiece of his campaign, arguing “my life disproves the lies of the radical left” that America is a fundamentally racist country. In an attempt to undercut that message, his rivals have reached back nearly 30 years, to a 1995 story in the Charleston Post and Courier where Scott took a swipe at his own party early in his political career.
“The Republican Party by and large has been a racist organization and still to this day exists as a racist organization to a large extent,” he said, adding, “Being a Republican shouldn’t mean being a racist. I don’t think it should be an oxymoron for a black to be a Republican. It should mean that you are pro-business, pro-family and that you are anti-tax.”
Will it stick? Scott’s critics think the remark could be potent at a moment where Republican primary voters are hyper-attuned to so-called “woke” ideology. But it could be a stretch to slag Scott for a comment made at a very different point in his career as a part of a broader critique — “Democrats kept blacks out [of politics] completely,” he added in the interview. Moreover, Scott claims the quote was miscast — recalling through a campaign rep that the interview centered on public perceptions of the party, not his own perceptions of the party.
Said NATHAN BRAND, Scott’s communications director: “This bottom-feeding oppo is so weak and dishonest that even Tim Scott’s political opponents won’t put their names on it. Clearly, those seeking to slow Tim’s momentum are seeing the same polling we are.”