Now that Tim Scott’s exited the presidential contest, what’s next?
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s surprise announcement that he’s dropping out of the Republican presidential contest kicked off speculation on what’s next for South Carolina’s junior senator.
The shocker came during an interview on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Night in America with Trey Gowdy,” a former GOP congressman from Spartanburg.
“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,” Scott told Gowdy. “I don’t think they’re saying, Trey, “No,” but I think they’re saying, ‘Not now.’”
The timing stunned donors as well as campaign staff who found out by watching the show, according to the Associated Press.
Even Gowdy, a close friend who co-wrote a book with Scott in 2018, seemed taken aback.
“I’m trying to process this information, and I’m trying to do it on live television, so forgive me,” Gowdy said, before running through Scott’s accomplishments.
“Maybe I shouldn’t ask you,” he continued. “Maybe I should ask the voters what it says about the Republican Party that someone with that resume is suspending his presidential campaign.”
It’s unclear what Scott will do next. He’s dismissed several of the obvious political possibilities, though elected officials have a habit of walking such statements back.
Scott, first appointed to his Senate seat in 2013 by then-Gov. Nikki Haley — an ally-turned-rival in the presidential contest — previously said his 2022 re-election race would be his last.
He told Gowdy he doesn’t want to be vice president. He also declined to endorse any other candidate in the still-crowded GOP field. The one hint he gave Gowdy about his future: He plans to spend time on college campuses fighting antisemitism.
Neither Scott’s campaign nor Gowdy responded Monday to SC Daily Gazette’s requests for comment.
Scott distinguished himself as a formidable fundraiser, entering the race in May with $22 million in the bank. And he tried to win with a positive, optimistic message that centered around his life’s story.
But he didn’t stand out on the debate stage, as his quarreling rivals took the limelight. A recent national CBS survey put him at 4% of likely Republican primary voters.
Despite his dismissal of the idea, Scott undoubtedly is on candidates’ short list for vice president, said Rob Godfrey, a Republican strategist who was Haley’s chief spokesman and an advisor to Gov. Henry McMaster.
“The way he ran his race for president, rather than personal attacks, he focused on the policies he cares most about,” Godfrey said, referring to Scott as a “happy warrior.”
Those still in the running can’t help but respect and like him, he added.
After a decade in the Senate, Scott can navigate Capitol Hill better than any candidate in the field. Endorsed by several of his Senate colleagues, Scott can put his relationships to work for any Republican who wins the nomination, should he or she get elected, Godfrey said.
He’s also more likely than others in contention to be picked by former President Donald Trump, who remains miles ahead in the polls despite his legal troubles. When Scott officially entered the race, Trump sent out a statement welcoming the senator while bashing his closest rival, Florida Sen. Ron DeSantis. But second place in the polls still means 40-plus points behind.
Trump seemingly has an insurmountable advantage. There’s also speculation on who Scott’s supporters will back now. But even if all of them moved to the same candidate — which won’t happen — it might not matter.
Scott Huffmon, who runs the Winthrop Poll, said both vice president and governor are realistic possibilities for Scott.
Scott also still has his Senate seat. With its six-year terms, that’s “one of the best jobs you can have,” said the Winthrop University political science professor.
“No matter what he decides, he will have an unlimited pool of people who will be his ally,” Godfrey said. “I think the sky’s the limit for Tim Scott.”
The 2026 governor’s race in South Carolina will be wide open, as McMaster can’t seek a third full term. He’ll already be the longest-serving elected governor in the state’s history, with 10 years in office, after ascending to the job in 2017 when Haley became Trump’s United Nations ambassador.
Speaking to reporters Monday, McMaster speculated that Scott might become a traveling preacher.
“Tim Scott is a fascinating individual, and lurking in there somewhere is a notion to preach the gospel, and I think in a lot of his speeches he does a little of that right now,” the governor said in Columbia.
“So, I wouldn’t be surprised if after he gets his term finished with the Senate — if he doesn’t go into the new administration — you might find him roaming the countryside as a preacher,” McMaster continued.
Asked if the Governor’s Mansion would be a suitable place to share the gospel, McMaster said, “That’s a pretty good place to preach it from as long as he doesn’t hurry too much.”
Reiterating that he continues to back Trump, McMaster said he still liked having two South Carolinians in the running for president.
“Tim Scott does a good job. He’s a friend. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Tim Scott,” McMaster said. “We’re proud of his work and respect his decision.”
Haley, who formally entered the race in February, also praised Scott on X (formerly Twitter) after his announcement.
“Tim Scott is a good man of faith and an inspiration to so many,” she wrote. “The Republican primary was made better by his participation in it. South Carolina is blessed to continue to have him as our senator.”