early and often

Is Failed Candidate Tim Scott a Kingmaker Now?

Nikki and Tim: Could they be friends again? Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of the consolations of being a failed presidential candidate is that if you show some significant voter support, your endorsement of a surviving candidate will probably be solicited and may pay later dividends. In 2020, the joint endorsements of Joe Biden by defeated centrist rivals Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke was thought to have given the future president an important pre–Super Tuesday boost. And a defeated Biden challenger who came aboard a bit later, Kamala Harris, wound up as his running mate.

Among the growing group of 2024 Republican dropouts, only two have endorsed other candidates (Will Hurd is backing Nikki Haley and Larry Elder has endorsed Donald Trump), though neither nod moved any needles. Perhaps a couple of calls have been placed to Mike Pence requesting his support, though he’s too unpopular to help much and he doesn’t have a thriving political future. At some point before North Dakota’s March 4 caucuses, Doug Burgum might be able to make a North Dakota–size stir if the race is still competitive.

But at the moment, the clunker candidate who is actually getting attention as a potential kingmaker (or at least king-crown polisher) is Tim Scott, who packed it in before his support dried up entirely and without too much damage to his political aura, which was pretty bright not that long ago. As Yahoo News reports, the four remaining viable candidates (sorry, Vivek, your failed mini-me imitation of Trump killed your limited viability) have been in touch with the junior senator from South Carolina:

Nikki Haley called Sen. Tim Scott on Friday seeking his endorsement, according to a source familiar with the situation — and she’s not the only candidate courting him …

Donald Trump has also privately pushed Scott for his endorsement, the source told Semafor. The two have kept in touch since the senator ended his campaign — Scott was one of the only opponents who seemed able to remain on Trump’s good side as he ran against him for office.

Chris Christie previously reached out about an endorsement, as well. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, has been in touch with Scott, too, though the exact nature of their conversation remains unclear.

Perhaps the most relevant question is what support from Scott might bring to the table for these worthies. He’s a generally likable politician (a quality that enabled him to say nasty things about Joe Biden and the “radical left” and unions on the campaign trail while still invariably being called “sunny” by the pundits) and is squarely in the right-wing ideological center of his party. But the best answer to Scott’s value is pretty simple: a significant bloc of voters in South Carolina, a primary on February 24 that could be decisive in 2024.

In the last public poll of his home state before he dropped out (mostly because he had gained no traction in Iowa), from Winthrop University, Scott had 10 percent of the vote. Let’s just say for the sake of argument Scott was able to “deliver” these voters to an endorsee: It might be enough to (a) clinch the Palmetto State for former Governor Nikki Haley; (b) clinch the state (and perhaps the nomination) for Donald Trump; or (c) keep Ron DeSantis alive long enough to get to campaign in his home state of Florida in March.

That’s a potential prize that’s worth a number of phone calls and maybe a promise or two.

But the other question is what Scott would get from committing himself to a candidate. You could argue that by endorsing Haley he could renew an old alliance (she appointed him to his Senate seat, after all) that was disrupted when both of them ran for president. They did not say anything unforgivable to or about each other as rivals. But Trump is a better bet, and no one would accuse Scott of treason to his state by backing the candidate already endorsed by his senior Senate colleague Lindsey Graham and his current governor, Henry McMaster. It’s also worth noting that Scott is the only 2024 Trump rival who isn’t totally out of the question as a running mate for the 45th president; Trump hasn’t even given him a derisive nickname.

I’m sure there is some reason Scott could decide to embrace DeSantis, other than the fact that the Floridian would probably promise Scott the sun, the moon, and the stars for a boost if he survives New Hampshire. But no other reason occurs to me.

Scott could always keep his powder dry and his options open; he could enjoy Senate service (his party has a good shot of regaining a majority next year) and his recently revealed relationship with a girlfriend. He’s said his current Senate term is his last. He’s 58 years old, so another presidential run in 2028 is hardly out of the question. It would probably be wise for him to make no enemies by withholding or extending an endorsement. But his phone could light up soon.

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Is Failed Candidate Tim Scott a Kingmaker Now?