Tim Scott: The No. 2 Black Politician?
Now that the South Carolina congressman has been tapped to fill a U.S. Senate seat, he just might be.
But as a senator, he'll likely be called upon to be less agnostic on issues of race and more of an ambassador to voters of color from the Republican Party and for a farther-right worldview -- almost surely part of the calculus that went into Haley's decision to tap Scott for a Senate seat after just one House term.
To do that effectively, however, he'll have to find overlap between his view that "reducing the tax burden, decreasing government interference in the private sector and restoring fiscal responsibility" -- themes that resonate among black, Latino and Asian-American voters -- and some of the harsher stances that in recent years have put up a wall between the GOP and the voters it will need to win future national elections.
Like when Scott suggested last year that if Obama opted to sidestep Congress on raising the debt ceiling, he'd consider it "an impeachable act." Or Scott's 2011 proposal to deny food stamp eligibility for union members on strike -- stances that fall squarely within today's mainstream conservative thought but are generally nonstarters with black voters.
And ideologically, he'll stand in contrast with the last black GOP senator, Massachusetts' Ed Brooke, who was pro-choice, an advocate of the Fair Housing Act and arguably more liberal than Obama.
It's a contrast that underscores both the rightward drift of Republicans and the flight of black voters from the GOP over four decades.
But it's an opportunity for Scott to start trying to put his stamp on the post-Obama era -- if he figures out what Republicans so far haven't: how to pitch staunchly conservative policies to black and Latino voters. And it's an opportunity to see if there's an audience (inside or outside the GOP) to resurrect initiatives like Jack Kemp-style "empowerment zones" or some other type of small-government, free-market agenda in a way that has a meaningful impact on minority communities.
Or, as Jamelle Bouie ponders in Monday's Washington Post, it's an opportunity for Scott to find out that "the same conservatism that drives GOP enthusiasm for figures like Scott also drives actual nonwhites away from the party."
And as any conservative will tell you, all they'll ever ask for is an opportunity.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.