Why Trump Allies Don’t Want Tim Scott as a Running Mate

Why Trump Allies Don’t Want Tim Scott as a Running Mate

Republican Senator Tim Scott wants to be Donald Trump’s running mate. After Trump won the New Hampshire primary last week, Scott joined the former President onstage and professed his love for him. Trump was visibly flattered, but to get on the ticket, Scott will have to surmount an irredeemable MAGA World sin: He voted to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

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As Trump narrows his search for a second in command, some of his staunchest allies are mobilizing against Scott, sources close to Trump tell TIME. They cite the South Carolina lawmaker as among the dozens of Republican Senators who certified the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021. “There is no constitutionally viable means for Congress to overturn an election,” Scott said the day before the vote. Scott has also defended former Vice President Mike Pence for defying Trump’s push to block the transfer of power. Last August, Scott said Pence “absolutely” did the right thing on Jan. 6. 

The internal GOP skirmish is setting up an unusual dynamic as Trump shifts his focus toward the general election. While running mates are traditionally a calculation over who can best help the nominee win—and serve as president if necessary—the inexorable pull of Trump’s persona has turned the Veepstakes into a referendum on who’s the most unwaveringly loyal to the former President.

“Trump wants loyalty,” says a source close to Trump. “He wants someone who was with him in the tough times when it mattered. The person who exemplifies what Donald Trump does not want is Mike Pence.”

Scott declined to comment, but a source close to him says he has a “strong working relationship” with Trump. During the Trump presidency, the two collaborated on passing tax cuts and increased funding for historically Black colleges. More recently, they’ve been campaigning together. Scott endorsed Trump days before New Hampshire voters cast ballots. It was a notable repudiation of Trump’s last remaining GOP primary rival Nikki Haley. As South Carolina’s governor in 2012, Haley appointed Scott to his Senate post after Jim DeMint retired to run a leading conservative think tank. 

Other candidates on Trump’s short list include New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Scott is the only one of them who voted against Trump’s wishes on Jan. 6. Stefanik is the only other contender who was in Congress at the time. She was among the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s electoral votes from at least one state. 

Pundits have also floated the possibility of Trump picking Haley, who served in his administration as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. With Haley, the thinking goes, Trump could reach out to independent and moderate voters. “If it were me advising him, I would say to look for someone who can inspire some degree of confidence and calm leadership,” says Jon Seaton, a veteran GOP consultant who worked on John McCain’s 2008 campaign. 

But Haley has frustrated Trump by continuing her campaign after losing the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. A Trump-Haley ticket would also run afoul of America First adherents who see her as an establishment figure all too eager to engage the U.S. in military adventures overseas. The former president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. recently said he would go “to great lengths” to prevent her from joining the Trump campaign. 

Within Trump’s inner circle, the debate has raged over how important it is for Trump’s running mate to broaden his support beyond the MAGA base. “He needs a great complement,” another source close to Trump says. “I personally think it shouldn’t be someone who doesn’t need the spotlight.”

That was Trump’s strategy in 2016, when he chose Pence, a fiscal and social conservative who comforted Evangelical Christians and traditional Republicans who were wary of Trump’s brand of populism. For most of Trump’s White House tenure, Pence was a dutiful loyalist. That changed on Jan. 6, when Trump pressured Pence to  reject the certification of the Electoral College. Since then, the two have been estranged. 

In the years since, lawmakers’ subservience to the former President has determined whether they can rise in the Trump-era GOP. Last October, Trump World derailed Republican Rep. Tom Emmer’s ambitions to become House Majority Leader because he voted to certify the 2020 election. 

Now, they’re targeting Scott. The senator’s vote on Jan. 6 is not his only transgression. Some in Trump’s inner circle have resurrected his comments in response to Trump saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of clashes at a notorious white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump’s “moral authority is compromised,” Scott told Vice News in 2017. “There’s no question about that.” 

Trump has enjoyed toying with the media over who plans to pick to join him on the GOP ticket. At a Fox News Town Hall in Des Moines ahead of the Iowa caucuses, he told moderators Brett Bair and Martha MacCallum he already had a running mate in mind. “I can’t tell you that,” he said. “But I know who it’s going to be.” When he was flying back to New York on his private plane, Trump Force One, he was scrolling through his phone and laughing with top aides over the speculation he unleashed, according to sources who were with him. 

The stunt could foreshadow Trump’s strategy for the coming months. As Trump edges closer and closer to officially solidifying the nomination, he’s likely to continue trolling the press and forcing VP hopefuls to publicly audition for the role. 

During his New Hampshire victory speech, Trump asked two potential running mates to give remarks: biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Scott. After Trump said Scott must “really hate Nikki Haley” to endorse him over his own former governor, Scott stepped back toward the podium, pierced Trump’s eyes, and paused for dramatic effect. “I just love you,” Scott said.

It was the kind of fawning spectacle that Trump relishes. “He’s going to cart people out, he’s going to make people interested, people are going to get their trials,” says a Trump source. “It’s going to be Apprentice 2.0.” 

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