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South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott might emerge as GOP alternative to Trump

FILE - Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during an Iowa GOP reception, June 9, 2022, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during an Iowa GOP reception, June 9, 2022, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
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South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has the potential to emerge as a viable alternative to former President Donald Trump in the Republican Party's bid to retake the White House, according to one expert.

Scott isn’t officially in the race, as Trump is. But Scott announced Wednesday that he’s forming an exploratory committee for a presidential run.

An official race announcement might just be a formality.

“Looks like it's a go” for Scott, said Oklahoma State University politics professor Seth McKee.

Scott “has very few negatives,” McKee said.

What he lacks is name recognition outside his home state, McKee said.

“The thing about Trump is he has 110% name ID,” McKee noted. “You love him, or you hate him, and you know who he is. And so, there's no mystery with him. But the question is, what's the dynamic if certain people enter (the race).”

The field of official candidates is still relatively small.

In addition to Trump, former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have announced campaigns.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are expected to be candidates.

Others will likely emerge.

McKee thinks another seven or eight candidates will declare by summer, with the first Republican presidential primary debate this August serving as the de facto deadline.

“We have to see what happens when a Tim Scott puts his name out there and gets on a debate stage,” McKee said. “He's so fresh that polling means nothing to someone like that.”

Trump has a dedicated base of supporters, but McKee said it remains to be seen if it’s enough to carry the former president through to the nomination.

Trump might be down to the “bone” of his base, as opposed to the plurality of Republican support he got in 2016, McKee said.

DeSantis, seen by many as a potential front-runner, occupies the same section of the Republican Party as Trump and may need something to force the defection of Trump supporters in order to gain enough support for the nomination, McKee said.

Pence might be in a political dead zone. He may not be the pick for either Trump haters or supporters.

“If people jump ship on Trump, they're going to go to DeSantis, not Pence,” McKee said.

New Hampshire, which is early on the primary calendar and allows independents to vote in party primaries, will be a big test for Trump. McKee said Trump will be in much better shape with a strong showing there.

South Carolina is also early in the primary schedule. McKee said that could really help or hurt Scott and Haley. They could leverage a home-state advantage, but they risk splitting that support.

Todd Belt, Political Management program director at George Washington University, has previously said that a crowded field of contenders during the primaries could split non-Trump votes and spur the former president’s run to another nomination.

Trump’s viability in the general election is a question, with his loss in 2020, underwhelming support for candidates he endorsed in the midterms, and mounting legal trouble.

“There are going to be Republicans who think there is blood in the water, and they think that Donald Trump is weakened,” Belt said. “But what they don't realize is if they jump into the nomination phase, as well, then they're going to continue dividing up that vote. And it will make it more difficult for each of them.”

McKee said he could imagine GOP contenders stepping aside if they see support coalescing around a viable Trump alternative.

Hutchinson, according to McKee, would do whatever he needs to do to make sure Trump is not the nominee.

“If they realize they can't get it, and they don't want Trump to have it, but they want the presidency for their party, this is a very likely scenario,” he said.

McKee doesn’t think Trump could win the general election.

Trump, he said, is “kryptonite” to the Republican Party, and he’s “sucking up all the oxygen.”

But McKee does think a different Republican, especially one who isn’t seen as polarizing, can beat President Joe Biden or whoever the Democratic nominee ends up being.

Maybe Scott will rise up as that Trump alternative for the GOP.

“I think Tim Scott, if he actually were to get it, I think he’d probably clobber Joe Biden,” McKee said.

He’s young, “an American dream story,” positive, and a traditional conservative, McKee said.

Scott is the only Black Republican senator, which might turn out to help, too.

“It wouldn't have helped him in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, especially with white Southerners and their prejudice,” McKee said. “Nowadays, it's actually an advantage, because a lot of white Republicans say, ‘I want to vote for the Black guy who's conservative.’ There's just no question. I've done research on that, and Scott's been the beneficiary of that.”

There’s a long way to go before the Republican Party nominates its candidate in July 2024.

Scott is directing his criticism toward Democrats while positioning himself as an alternative to the “culture of grievance.”

He was asked on Fox News how he plans to beat Trump.

He talked about his background, raised by a single mother in poverty, and spoke about faith and opportunity.

Asked again about Trump, Scott deflected.

“As opposed to trying to have a conversation about how to beat a Republican, I think we’re better off having a conversation about beating Joe Biden,” he said.

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