Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has taken a big step toward entering the race for the White House — and that’s sharpening questions about how many people have a viable shot at being the GOP nominee in 2024.
Scott revealed Wednesday that he is launching an exploratory committee. Though he stopped short of an outright declaration of candidacy, such a decision looks to be only a matter of time.
His announcement was accompanied by a short, campaign-style video and a slogan, “Faith in America.” In the video, Scott contended that President Biden and “the radical left” had “chosen a culture of grievance over greatness.”
Scott, the sole Black Republican in the Senate, also contended that progressives “weaponize race to divide us” and claimed, “I disrupt their narrative.”
The more immediate question is whether Scott can disrupt a GOP nomination race that has so far been dominated by former President Trump, who appears to be seriously challenged only by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
DeSantis has not yet entered the race, though he is widely expected to do so in the coming months.
Scott’s fellow South Carolinian, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, jumped into the contest two months ago, becoming Trump’s first major rival.
Haley’s campaign is putting a lot of faith in the idea that retail politicking can enable her to move into real contention in the key early states. She has been on her third campaign swing through Iowa this week. That strategy could pay dividends over time but for the moment she’s struggling for traction in national polls — as is everyone not named Trump or DeSantis.
A Morning Consult poll last week put Trump far ahead of DeSantis, 56 percent to 23 percent, with no one else in double figures. Haley drew 4 percent support in that poll, and Scott, who had not yet launched his exploratory committee by that time, just 1 percent.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll, also last week, showed a similar pattern, with Trump at 58 percent, DeSantis at 21 percent and no other candidate reaching 5 percent.
Despite those bleak numbers for Haley and any other potential challengers, some Republican insiders believe it’s far too early to limit the viable field to those two.
“There is definitely room for another candidate — though perhaps only one, ultimately, if Trump and DeSantis suck all the air out of the room,” said GOP strategist Dan Judy.
Judy argued that a large swath of the electorate in the GOP primary can be best defined as “Maybe Trump.” These voters are not hostile to the former president in the same way as the more fervent but smaller “Never Trump” camp is, but they would nevertheless prefer some other candidate as nominee.
Judy pointed out that there is still some possibility, however small, that DeSantis might take a pass on the race. More pertinently, if the Florida governor does get in, there are no guarantees that he will live up to his supporters’ expectations.
“If he gets in and is not ready for prime time or does not make the impression that a lot of people expect that he will, then what happens? Is it, ‘Fine, ‘we’ll just give it to Trump’ or are we looking for someone else?”
In that scenario, Haley or Scott could have an opening.
Neither can be easily caricatured, for a Republican electorate, as a squishy moderate.
Scott indicated Thursday that he would support a national ban on abortion after 20 weeks. He is a strong gun-rights advocate and has previously called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
Haley is hawkish on foreign policy, talks on the campaign trail of the need to “seal off the border” and has contended that a controversial Florida ban on teaching gender identity before the third grade “doesn’t even go far enough.”
In short, the selling point for both Scott and Haley is that they can put a more appealing face on conservative policies than Trump or DeSantis — and, in doing so, become a more electable candidate in the general election.
They have a case to make, at least.
Trump famously failed to win the popular vote in either 2016 or 2020 — and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol has made him even more divisive since then.
An Economist/YouGov poll this week asked respondents whether or not they wanted Trump to run for president again in 2024.
A resounding 57 percent said no, while just 30 percent said yes. Even among Republicans, 27 percent said they didn’t want to see Trump run again and an additional 14 percent said they were not sure.
“That is the lane” for other Republican candidates said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.
Reeher further argued that DeSantis “is increasingly positioning himself as Trump Lite,” and so leaving room for a more clear-cut alternative.
To be sure, the GOP primary could take a simpler path. Trump might roll to the nomination — especially if there is a large field splitting up the Trump-skeptical vote. Or maybe DeSantis will become his only real challenger.
But right now, it’s much too soon to declare the battle a two-horse race.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.