The most significant moment of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s failed presidential bid came in what turned out to be his last Republican primary debate.
It wasn’t the kind of headline-grabber against his opponents last week that could have resuscitated a campaign that had been doddering along for months. Instead it was the surprise appearance of a woman named Mindy Noce. At the end of the third debate, she walked on a Miami stage and stood next to Scott, who referred to her as his “girlfriend.”
Clearly this looked like a last-ditch attempt by Scott to placate Republicans donors who, according to an Axios story two months ago, had been withholding their dollars until Scott could explain why a 58-year-old man had never been married. So in a made-for-TV event that seemed plucked from the gossipy depths of 1950s Hollywood, Scott conjured Noce and received the biggest headlines of his campaign.
“Tim Scott’s girlfriend is, in fact, real,” Politico said. “Tim Scott’s Girlfriend Is Real, Not That It Matters Anymore,” New York Magazine blared.
That second headline was prescient — it didn’t matter. Days after Noce’s debut, Scott ended his presidential campaign.
“I think the voters, who are the most remarkable people on the planet, have been really clear and they’re telling me, ‘Not now, Tim,’” Scott said Sunday during an appearance on former House Republican Trey Gowdy’s Fox News show. “I don’t think they’re saying, Trey, ‘No.’ But I do think they’re saying ‘Not now.’ ”
Gowdy was visibly taken aback by his friend and fellow South Carolinian’s announcement. Apparently, so were most members of Scott’s campaign team and his donors. But they shouldn’t have been. In a Republican Party now defined by Donald Trump’s democracy-threatening calls for vengeance against his endless list of perceived enemies, there was no place for Scott, though he promoted policies that closely aligned with those of the disastrous Trump presidency.
Scott is awful. But he just isn’t awful enough for today’s GOP.
When he launched his bid for the nomination in May, Scott declared, “I’m the candidate the far left fears the most.” As the US Senate’s only Black Republican, Scott played a reverse Uno race card, parading his success and ascension from childhood poverty as proof that there’s no such thing as systemic racism.
“I disrupt their narrative. I threaten their control,” he said at the time in his usual attempt to lambaste what he calls the “radical left” and to absolve white supremacy. “The truth of my life disrupts their lies.”
In his campaign, Scott claimed he would “choose freedom and hope and opportunity.” But he was a bland candidate who tried to sell Trump extremism with a grin instead of a growl. Given Trump’s poll numbers, it’s clear what the majority of Republicans want. Through four indictments, Trump’s standing among GOP voters has only seemed to improve. Scott emphasized his faith and Christian values, but the needle never moved in his favor.
And with equally grotesque views on abortion and immigration, Scott was loathe to criticize the former president he voted with more than 90 percent of the time. What Scott was trying to sell, Republican voters weren’t buying.
Ultimately it wasn’t the guessing game around Scott’s confirmed bachelorhood that unraveled what was always, at best, a very long shot for the GOP nomination. Nor was it the disorganization of his campaign, or three primary debates where he often looked as inert as the lectern. When he did say something — like inferring that social welfare programs launched by President Lyndon Johnson were worse for Black people than slavery — it was pandering designed for white appeasement.
Beyond making Scott look as if he’d never read a history book, it didn’t work. Despite a slight Iowa polling bump in August, he never found traction in the race for second place even among those still window shopping for a GOP nominee other than the man facing 91 felony counts in four jurisdictions.
On Sunday, Scott said “being vice president has never been on my to-do list for this campaign.” It’s just as well since Trump seems unlikely to choose him as a running mate if he wins the nomination. A loser like Trump does not like losers.
Like former vice president Mike Pence and other presidential also-rans we’ve already forgotten, in the crazy world of the Republican Party, Scott’s campaign didn’t amount to a hill of beans. But at least, we’ll always have Miami — and the very odd memory of that very awkward couple, Tim and Mindy.