South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, announced on Sunday that he was suspending his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination after months of struggling to gain ground in polling with an uplifting message that was out of step with today’s party.
Scott, who focused his campaign on his success in vaulting from poverty to political power and providing a “happy warrior” in the White House, told Trey Gowdy, a former congressman from South Carolina and a longtime friend of Scott’s, that he was quitting the campaign trail. Appearing on Gowdy’s Fox News show, Scott, 58, did not endorse any other candidate, and he declined a suggestion that he might be a vice-presidential candidate.
“The voters who are the most remarkable people on the planet have been really clear, and they’re telling me, ‘Not now, Tim,’” Scott said.
Scott is the latest candidate to drop out of a Republican race dominated by former president Donald Trump, highlighting the profound difficulty in gaining traction in the current Republican Party, which has appeared to prefer Trump’s brand of combative rhetoric. His departure follows the recent exit of former vice president Mike Pence, who ended his campaign last month after spending months mired in the low-single digits in public polls. With two months until the first nominating contest in Iowa, Trump holds a wide lead, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, a fellow South Carolinian, battling for a distant second. Other minor candidates who have failed to qualify for recent debates have stuck around, even as they face pressure by anti-Trump forces to end their bids.
Scott’s campaign bid had initially appeared promising after he had amassed a sizable war chest from his Senate campaign. But his polling declined after the first debate, and voters said they didn’t see him pushing past the other candidates. Since announcing his bid in May, Scott had fought for relevance at a time when Trump has dominated the field.
During the third Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, Scott was able to gain more speaking time than his rivals, but polling afterward showed that voters thought others, including Haley, performed better. Still, Scott’s favorability numbers, which had remained high throughout the campaign, rose after the debate.
Scott made race a core part of his campaign. He also frequently invoked scripture on the trail and described his life as proof that Democrats were wrong about the difficulties of growing up as a poor Black man in the South. He focused most of his attacks on the left, while sidestepping opportunities to criticize Trump.
DeSantis, Haley, business entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and others marked the end of Scott’s campaign late Sunday with posts on social media, wishing him the best as he continues to serve as senator.
“Tim Scott is a strong conservative with bold ideas about how to get our country back on track,” DeSantis wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I respect his courage to run this campaign and thank him for his service to America and the U.S. Senate. I look forward to Tim continuing to be a leader in our party for years to come.”
It was not immediately clear how Scott’s departure would alter the race. He had focused much of his operation in Iowa, buying more ads than any other candidate until recently. The announcement also came as a shock to some staffers and donors, who had invested time and resources on Scott’s campaign and revamps, including his latest “all in” approach to Iowa. Most of the campaign staff received no heads-up, said a person familiar with the campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about internal discussions.
Underscoring the abruptness of Scott’s announcement, an email from his campaign went out at 9:21 p.m. on Sunday night, shortly before his announcement, with the subject line “one last chance.”
“Tim is the most conservative candidate in the race for president, and we seriously need his strong leadership and optimistic, positive vision to lead our country forward,” the email read.
“The timing was certainly a shock, but the writing has been on the wall for a while,” said one donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Scott. “Tim has kept his powder dry and preserved his status as a party star. He has options moving forward.”
Another person with knowledge of the Scott campaign said that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’s endorsement of DeSantis was a setback, along with the expectation that evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats is also likely to endorse DeSantis, given Scott’s focus on winning over evangelical voters in the state. (Vander Plaats has not made an official endorsement.) That person described Sunday night’s announcement as “totally shocking.”
For the field staff “who need their paychecks to make rent over Thanksgiving and Christmas, there was no guidance …” the person said. “It was just handled terribly.”
A senior official on the campaign said Scott spoke to those issues in a call with campaign staff immediately after the interview. A small number of staff had advance knowledge of the announcement — including campaign manager Jennifer DeCasper, who helped Scott prepare, according to a person familiar with the matter.
It had appeared Scott’s campaign and supporters had faced troubles ahead of the suspension: Before his campaign announced it was refocusing its efforts on Iowa, Trust in the Mission PAC, which supported Scott, said it would cut fall ad buys, after earlier saying it would reserve $40 million in TV and digital ads in early primary states, citing an electorate that “isn’t focused or ready for a Trump alternative.”
After entering the race with $22 million from his Senate campaign, Scott raised more than $10 million over less than three quarters of the year. But his spending far exceeded what he was taking in: In the third quarter, he spent about three times what he raised. As of the end of the quarter, he had about $13.3 million in the bank.
Scott had caught the attention of major donors — foremost among them Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison, who has given tens of millions in recent years to a group aligned with Scott. Ellison was expected to make a substantial contribution to the super PAC backing Scott’s presidential bid earlier this year, according to two people familiar with the group’s strategy. But the money did not appear to come through, and the super PAC canceled its fall ads.
Scott had recently canceled post-debate campaign events in Iowa, citing a bout with the flu. Spokesman Nathan Brand told the Des Moines Register at the time that Scott would be resting in South Carolina and “looks forward to being back in the Hawkeye State next week.”
The suspension of Scott’s campaign seemed to also surprise Gowdy, who started off by asking Scott when he would get back on the trail, considering his illness.
“I’ve been drinking a lot of water, I’ll be down for another couple days, but I’m looking forward to getting back on the campaign trail,” Scott started, before recommending that anyone who can run for president should do so and then announcing his campaign’s suspension.
Gowdy, appearing taken aback, asked him again if he was suspending his campaign, considering his war chest and favorability ratings. Gowdy said he was trying to process Scott’s news. He also asked whether Scott was considering joining another ticket, which Scott turned down.
“Being vice president has never been on my to-do list for this campaign, and it’s certainly not there now,” Scott said.