CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Tim Scott is quickly rising up the ranks of contenders to be Donald Trump’s running mate, and a Trump ally who’s spoken with both men about the matter now says it’s “a real possibility” that the senator is tapped.
“It’s real,” this person said. “And he’d take the job in a second.”
NBC News spoke with roughly a half-dozen Republicans about the potential for Trump to tap Scott, R-S.C., as his vice presidential nominee, most of whom said Scott would be interested in the position but would not try to outgun other contenders behind the scenes.
Scott’s ascendance on the list of potential running mates comes as he endorsed the former president ahead of the New Hampshire primary and has quickly turned into a frequent surrogate, offering full-throated support on the trail and on television that has been so fulsome it’s caught the attention of Trump and his allies.
“We need a president who will unite our country — we need Donald Trump,” Scott said in endorsing Trump before a rally of supporters in Concord, New Hampshire, last month.
In a recent interview with Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, Trump himself name-dropped Scott when asked about potential vice presidential picks.
“I called Tim Scott this week, because a lot of people like Tim Scott,” Trump said. “I called him, and I said: ‘You are a much better candidate for me than you are for yourself.’”
“It could be a lot of people,” he continued of his potential choice. “But it was interesting. I watched him over the last two weeks. As you know, he endorsed me, fully endorsed me, gave me a beautiful endorsement, and he has been really strong in terms of that, but … I don’t want anybody to take even any inference. But it’s incredible.”
A person close to the senator pointed out that Trump and Scott have a long-standing relationship from Trump’s time in office, when they worked together on tax cuts, opportunity zones, increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities, criminal justice reform and other legislative goals.
“He’s enjoying the surrogate role,” this person said, noting Scott may be doing more media now on Trump’s behalf than he was during his presidential run. “He’s having fun with this process.”
Trump still has a ways to go to clinch the Republican presidential nomination. But so far, he has won all four of the first contests and he’s set to notch another win Feb. 24 in South Carolina, the home state of both Scott and Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor and the only remaining major Trump challenger in the race.
Trump has already started giving attention to taking over the Republican National Committee once he becomes the nominee, and the question of whom he may tap as a running mate has received increased scrutiny. That he would not have to make the pick for months only adds to the intrigue as contenders could spend months auditioning for the job.
Speaking with CNBC on Thursday, Scott said Trump has neither offered him the job nor “indicated to me anything whatsoever” about being his running mate.
“He’s not inferred anything whatsoever, but what I can tell you is working towards four more years of low interest rates, low crime, low inflation, is something I’m really interested in doing,” he said.
The Trump ally who’s spoken with both men said Scott is seen as a potential asset for a ticket both on a policy front and in helping to cut Democratic margins with voters of color, particularly Black and Hispanic men. What’s more, this person said, the two are “compatible” with each other and don’t have a “forced” relationship.
“I don’t think [Trump] needs anybody who is a distraction,” this person said. “Tim Scott’s not a distraction.”
Scott is one of a number of potential picks, including Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem — whom Trump also name-dropped in that Fox News interview — and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.
“He’s not auditioning, he’s out there helping,” this person said, adding that one potential negative for Scott is that his name was floated too early. “Other people are definitely in the ‘pick-me’ adulation mode.”
“But you can’t be overly eager with Trump. … Obsequiousness bores him,” the person added. “The idea he needs yes men and women was never true. It bores him.”
There are items on Scott’s resume that could hurt him in a vetting process at a time when Trump is not only looking for long-standing loyalty, but also continues to falsely insist the 2020 election was stolen from him. Scott was one of many Republican senators who voted to certify the 2020 election Jan. 6, 2021, saying the day before that Congress had “no constitutionally viable means” to “overturn an election.”
In May, he told NBC News “no” when asked in an interview after his presidential campaign launch whether he would ever try to overturn an election he lost. During the first GOP primary debate in August, Scott said former Vice President Mike Pence — whom Trump excoriated for not agreeing to overturn the 2020 results — “absolutely” did the right thing that day.
Years prior, Scott, the Senate’s lone Black Republican, said Trump’s “moral authority” was “compromised” after he said both sides were to blame for violence during the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.
Trump and Scott will “focus on the 98 things that bind them on which they agree,” the Trump ally said.
Then there’s the idea that Scott is not a terribly strong debater, reinforced by his performance in the first presidential primary debate last summer. Trump is likely to closely consider debate chops when making a pick, wanting someone who matches up well against Vice President Kamala Harris in the event of a debate this fall. Meanwhile, Scott represents a safely red state, not one that will be at the forefront of this fall’s general election campaign.
A former senior Scott campaign official noted that in the early days of his bid, Scott took offense at the assertion that he was running only to boost his veepstakes chances.
“There was no chess game being played,” the official said. “He wouldn’t dedicate all of that time, effort and resources if he wasn’t serious about being president.”
Scott expressed a similar sentiment at the end of his campaign as well. After suspending his campaign in November on Fox News, he told host Trey Gowdy, “Vice president has never been on my to-do list for this campaign, and it’s certainly not there now.”
Two Trump advisers either declined to comment for this story or did not respond to a request for comment.
In Scott’s home state, a number of Republicans expressed excitement at the possibility that he could be tapped.
Steven Wright, chairman of the Dorchester County GOP, said he felt Scott would make a “phenomenal vice presidential pick,” pointing to his Senate resume and life story of overcoming childhood poverty.
“But I think it’s premature to begin wondering,” Wright said. “As we know, President Trump is pretty unpredictable. And he may pick somebody that we can guess, or he may pick somebody that nobody even thought of.”
But the timing of Scott’s full-throated endorsement of Trump ticked off some Haley supporters, who noted that she was the one who appointed him to his Senate seat when she was governor. At a campaign event in the Palmetto State on Saturday, Haley’s son, Nalin Haley, referred to Scott as “Senator Judas.”
The annoyance and disappointment increased after Trump said at his election-night event in New Hampshire that Scott must “really hate” Haley since he didn’t endorse her.
“I just love you,” Scott responded.
South Carolina state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, a Haley backer, said he “lost respect” for Scott after that moment, saying the senator is now “kissing the ring and hoping [he] gets something out of it.”
“How degrading is that?” Ballentine said of the moment in New Hampshire. “I can’t even imagine what his friends told him after he did that. If Trump somehow wins and somehow names Tim Scott VP, well, then Tim got what he wanted.”
Scott seems to have relished criticism from Haley following his endorsement. Responding to a tweet in which a reporter noted Haley questioned if Scott can “sleep at night” after endorsing Trump, Scott responded: “only 8 hours.”
Maureen Bulger, a Republican voter and Haley supporter from Bluffton, South Carolina, who spoke with NBC News at a Haley event last week, said she was “appalled” by Scott’s endorsement and suggested it had to have something to do with the potential for being tapped as vice president.
“I think Trump suggested you’ll be my vice president like he did with Chris Christie [in 2016],” Bulger said. “And then he threw him out. Once he gets South Carolina, Tim Scott will be distant. I’m sure he probably cringes when he goes back and watches that bit where he goes ‘I love you’ onstage. Trump emasculated all those guys” up onstage with him.
Trump supporters, though, had nothing but love for Scott, with some thinking it’s all but a done deal that he will be the former president’s running mate.
“He’s going to be the guy,” said Ron Clack, a Trump supporter from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. “Without a doubt.”