Nice guys always finish last.
The meaning of the saying could be disputed or interpreted in a few different ways. First off, who qualifies as “nice” – or in these days of mass gender confusion, who counts as a guy (ask Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson for a definition?)? And, unless said “nice” guy is engaged in a sports league – or a political election – how can “last place” even be determined?
The thought came to mind the other day as South Carolina Senator and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott announced he was suspending his campaign for the White House. Scott’s admission came as no surprise to those who’ve regularly followed the back-and-forth of the 2024 campaign and the polls, where the gentle mannered South Carolinian never seemed to establish himself as “the one” who could consolidate the not-Trump vote and make a real play for the GOP nomination.
From the beginning, Tim Scott was lumped in with a handful of other contenders – at least the ones who aren’t Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis. If there is such a thing as “running lanes”, Scott’s was closest to the ill-defined Washington establishment lane. Scott is not exactly known as a boat-rocker in the same style as a Ted Cruz or a Josh Hawley, nor is he regarded as a rubber-stamp neoconservative like Mitt Romney or the late John McCain.
“The South Carolina Republican made the surprise announcement during a televised interview with Fox News on Nov. 12, just days after the party held its third primary debate featuring five candidates. ‘I love America more today than I did on May 22. But when I go back to Iowa, it will not be as a presidential candidate. I am suspending my campaign,’ Mr. Scott told the news outlet. “’I think the voters, who are the most remarkable people on the planet, have been really clear that they're telling me, 'Not now, Tim.' And so I'm going to respect the voters. And I'm going to hold on and keep working really hard and look forward to another opportunity,’ he added.
“Mr. Scott, the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, also said that he would refrain from endorsing any of his remaining Republican rivals. He formally announced his bid for president on May 22.”
May 22? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Tim Scott didn’t even make it to the half-year mark of his campaign, but he still deserves credit for recognizing the writing on the wall and exiting the scrum before it got truly embarrassing for him. Don’t forget that he barely qualified at the last minute for last week’s debate, and with another step-up in criteria for making the stage in the next “official” forum, he had next to zero chance to take part.
If there is no “path to victory”, donors pull their money out and the grassroots shrugs and says, “Yeah, I like Tim Scott, but he wouldn’t be my first or second or third choice…” – and then leaving the field sooner rather than later saves face, which, in the end, is the only thing left worth saving.
Scott can now go back to spending full-time in the senate doing his job instead of heading from campaign event to campaign event, reciting versions of the same speech, making the same set of promises and smiling for pictures with anonymous strangers who may or may not support you when the time comes. The game is over. But at least Tim Scott made an effort.
After his announcement, Scott was immediately asked if he was one, interested in the running mate slot, and two, whether he would accept an invitation from the eventual nomination winner. Tim gave the standard, “I wasn’t running for vice president” answer, but didn’t completely dismiss the possibility should the opportunity arise, either. Here’s guessing Scott isn’t thinking about it too much since Donald Trump is the probable winner, and, even if Trump did take identity politics into consideration during vetting, would be much more prone to pick a woman veep to campaign with. But I could see Scott in the cabinet, definitely. Analysis will continue for a while, but why did Tim Scott’s presidential campaign falter? Was it indeed because he was too nice?
Most objective observers would either dismiss the notion outright, or accept it wholeheartedly, but just like Donald Trump isn’t leading the 2024 GOP presidential race by such a wide margin because he’s “not nice”, Scott didn’t catch fire in the field attributable to his personality alone. And he certainly didn’t fail because of his race, though liberals and Democrats, when they first heard the news last week, probably snickered, high-fived and hooted something to the tune of, “Of course the Republicans would never nominate a black guy! They’re a bunch of racists, sexists, xenophobes, homophobes, trans-phobes, anti-Semites, Islamophobes – and every other ‘phobe’ you can find listed in Crooked Hillary Clinton’s book of hating ‘deplorables’.”
Unlike with Mike Pence, who exited the race a couple weeks ago to his own special set of Democrat derision and jokes at his expense, Tim Scott didn’t have the specter of Donald trump hanging over his campaign from day one. Because Scott was pretty much a blank slate – meaning lots of people understood he was a senator but a much narrower subgroup knew anything about his record – the senator was free to define the outlines of his agenda.
Pence had to contend with perpetual questions about January 6 and his feelings on the legal proceedings plaguing Donald Trump. Scott could say nice things about Trump and still tell folks that he himself should be president instead because America and the Republican party needs a “new start” and, because he had friends on both sides, that he was the one to initiate the healing process.
But was Tim forceful enough? Was Scott too nice and destined to exit over two months before the first official ballots were cast in The Hawkeye State?
No, personality is only one factor voters weigh when assessing candidates in a multi-person field. Some would call it “likeability” or “relatability”, but it’s kind of like the same thing. Tim Scott is a nice guy, and yes, he happens to have pigmented skin. “Niceness” and Tim’s race had little to do with his shortcomings, however. Scott’s main problem, as I’ve written on a number of occasions, is he lacked a “brand” or a set of issues that he’s renowned for.
Ask yourself a question: If we elected Tim Scott for president, what are we likely to get? Here’s thinking half of the respondents would say, “unity”, or something like that. Others could answer, “A return to the George W. Bush years” when everyone supposedly got along, right? Aggressive foreign policy? A bigger defense budget? A serious concentration on “compassionate conservatism” and helping the poor? School choice? A heavy concentration on social conservatism? Was Scott closely associated with these things?
Many have noted that Scott ran on his life story alone – the son of a single mom who worked multiple jobs to keep the family intact, a potential high school screw-up who straightened out thanks to the help of caring business owners who recognized ability and potential in him and gave him a chance, etc. We’ve heard it all before. The repetitive nature of Scott’s background doesn’t take away from its quality or inspiration, but is/was it sufficiently satisfying to elect him president?
Trump has/had an interesting life story, too, but he supplemented it with real policy gravitas – and a brand (Make America Great Again) that everyone, including his enemies, could recognize at the drop of a soundbite. As Richard Viguerie would say, Trump had a “tune you could whistle”.
Scott isn’t the only 2024 Republican who struggled to separate himself from the others. Nikki Haley, for example, isn’t known for much else other than being the Republicans’ lone female candidate, which has helped get her noticed, but there isn’t a whole lot below the surface other than regurgitated GOP establishment dogma on foreign policy, spending, taxes and military strength. When you see Nikki Haley, you see nastiness. At least I do. Governor Ron DeSantis has Florida as his brand, and that’s enough in his case. Most Republicans and conservatives associate DeSantis with a fairly straightforward style identifying issues and acting on them. DeSantis sent planeloads of illegal aliens to Martha’s Vineyard, for example. Gov. Ron took on Disney. He also battled to keep “groomers” out of Florida’s public schools.
Tim Scott didn’t have any of these types of headlining things to stand on.
Nikki Haley has her time in the United Nations, but her tenure as South Carolina’s governor was a long, long time ago, seemingly in a galaxy far, far away. DeSantis’s name is connected to a solid handful of conservative agenda items. Is Haley’s? She’s hit the Floridian on energy hypocrisy, but is anyone else aware of this apparent contradiction? How does Haley gain ground on Trump using something other than the “woman” or “age” card?
Will DeSantis and Haley divide up what little Tim Scott support there was, or will it simply go to Trump? Common sense suggests Trump will get probably about half of Scott’s voters. The not-Trumpers aren’t getting their wish here – there still isn’t a single not-Trump candidate who is left free and clear to take their solo shots at the frontrunner.
So no, Tim Scott didn’t fail to succeed in the 2024 Republican race solely because he’s “too nice”. And he won’t be remembered as finishing last. But the not-Trump candidates appear to be missing a chance to make up ground in the polls, too. They need to be viewed by the voters as closely associated with one, two, or perhaps three issues, and they need to make the switch quickly. Donald Trump is out there… and he’s not going to finish behind everyone else, either.
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