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Not ready for prime time

Tim Scott faces challenges to make it into the top tier of 2024 presidential candidates

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivers the keynote address at the Charleston County GOP Black History Month Banquet at the Citadel Alumni Center in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 16.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivers the keynote address at the Charleston County GOP Black History Month Banquet at the Citadel Alumni Center in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 16. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The question was simple, straightforward, and predictable: “Would you support a federal ban on abortions?” And yet, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who has formed a committee to explore running for the GOP presidential nomination, responded as if it was the first and only time that he had heard the question.

Scott’s answer was mostly gobbledygook: “I would simply say that, the fact of the matter is when you look at the issue of abortion, one of the challenges we have, we continue to go to the most restrictive conversations without broadening the scope and taking a look at the fact that I’m 100 percent pro-life, I never walk away from that, but the truth of the matter is that when you look at the issue of abortion, I start with a very important conversation I had in a Banking hearing where I was sitting in my office and listening to Janet Yellen, the secretary of the Treasury, talk about increasing the labor force participation rate for African American women, who are in poverty, by having abortions. I think we are having the wrong conversations.”

Excuse me? What the heck did he say? And how the hell did Yellen get into Scott’s answer?

Scott was appointed (by then-Gov. Nikki Haley) to fill a Senate vacancy in 2013. He won a special election in 2014, as well as two other Senate contests, in 2016 and 2022. This is a guy who is experienced and, yes, even thoughtful. He’s not part of the “crazy caucus.” He’s low-key and willing to work across the aisle.

But if you have been in the U.S. Senate for years, have run multiple campaigns, and want to be president of the United States, you must have a better answer to whether you would support a “federal ban on abortions.” Even if you are trying to duck and cover to avoid answering the question, you certainly should have something reasonably coherent in your reply.

Scott’s gibberish was made worse by his comment that he is “100 percent pro-life.” 

What can that mean other than that he favors any and all restrictions on abortions including in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother?

In fact, Scott doubled down on his opposition to legal abortion when he told NBC News a few days ago that “If I were president of the United States, I would literally sign the most conservative, pro-life legislation that they can get through Congress.”

So that means he would support a federal ban on legal abortions if it got through Congress, doesn’t it?

That’s not a terrible place to be in many Republican primaries, when each contender is trying to get to the right of his or her main adversary.

But Scott has all kinds of challenges as he enters the GOP presidential contest. Haley, who went on to become then-President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN, is already in the race, which means that the two Palmetto State conservatives are competing for the same home team donors.

And while Scott is a consistent conservative, he isn’t angry and confrontational. He doesn’t call people names, mock them, or humiliate them.

Normally, you would consider that is an asset, especially if you are running for president of the United States.

But these days, in the GOP at least, the most engaged voters are looking for a nominee who is all about being aggressive and confrontational. They want someone filled with grievances, someone who will destroy the establishment. 

Stylistically, Scott is simply too reasonable. 

But on abortion, Scott doesn’t seem all that reasonable.

When he talks about being “100 percent pro-life,” he is playing to the base. That positioning had some political muscle behind it before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, and before GOP-controlled state legislatures (with the help of extremely conservative governors and judges) started enacting legislation that all but eliminate legal abortion in some states.

Now, the political anger is with the abortion rights forces, which is why Republican strategists are so worried about swing and suburban voters in 2024 and beyond.

Scott needs to come up with an answer on abortion that will appeal to his party’s conservative base but at the same time doesn’t scare the broader electorate. Politicians have done that in the past, but the current political environment — with Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Andy Biggs of Arizona speaking for many in the GOP — makes that difficult. 

Making abortions legal in cases of rape and incest is an obvious place to start, but that certainly won’t be enough, given the extreme positions taken by conservatives who want to eliminate abortion nationwide.

Instead, expect more gobbledygook and contradictions from Tim Scott, who surely knows better.

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