Tim Scott has benefited from mentors along the way. He's hoping for another helping hand

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — When Tim Scott was a teenager, a Chick-fil-A manager named John Moniz offered him a sandwich, a job, and four years of indispensable mentoring about how to be a businessman and a citizen. Later, after that helping hand put Scott on a path that eventually led him into politics, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate.

Now Scott stands on the precipice of perhaps another breathtaking leap, but once again he will need an assist. The South Carolina senator is one of a handful of prominent people being considered by former President Donald Trump to be his running mate this year.

Scott, a rarity as a Black Republican senator from the South, tells his story with rags-to-riches flourish, crediting Moniz for helping to lift him from a dead-end life before Moniz died suddenly while Scott was in college. But Scott's own role in taking advantage of the opportunities that came his way is part of the story, too.

From Moniz, Scott says, he learned the ins and outs of business, how to be a good citizen, and less tangible lessons about how, in order to receive, one must first give. Scott put that guidance to use as he made his way from business into politics.

Haley named him to the Senate seat in late 2012 after Republican Jim DeMint stepped down. That appointment further propelled a political career that had seen Scott rise from county council to the South Carolina Statehouse to Congress. Since then, Scott has proved to be a force in his own right with South Carolina voters as well as the state's political class.

He topped 60% all three times he ran for his Senate seat, building a network of supporters as formidable as any in the state. He largely stayed above the fray of internal party fights, making more friends with the powerful than enemies.

In his wake, he has left a trail of true believers.

“President Trump, if you want a good, honest man who is not going to embarrass you or embarrass this country, Tim Scott is who you need,” said Robert Brown, the mayor of Hampton, a town of about 2,600 in the southern part of the state.

Republican state Rep. Bill Taylor, who got Scott's South Carolina Statehouse parking spot when Scott moved to the U.S. House, said one could not ask for a more compelling story.

“He’s like the embodiment of the American Dream," Taylor said. "He is a preacher for it.”

Still, not every step Scott has taken has ended in success. Scott had hoped his backstory would fuel his presidential run this year, but his campaign was quickly overwhelmed by the shadow of Trump.

Scott initially demonstrated a prowess for fundraising among donors uneasy with Trump, but then he virtually disappeared from the debate stage even without Trump there. Scott's candidacy was further complicated by the fact that South Carolina had a second candidate in Haley.

But after Scott dropped out, he turned against Haley, who had elevated him over friends and allies. Scott did not hesitate to criticize Haley's record in South Carolina and became one of Trump’s biggest backers after leaving the race.

That demonstration of where his loyalty lies was not lost on Trump, who has been known to measure fellow Republicans in terms of their allegiance to him.

“You know, you’re a much better candidate for me than you were for yourself. I mean it. He was like a different person,” Trump said at a February rally. “And I say that with admiration. because I’m the opposite. I’m much better for me than I would be for someone else.”

If Trump goes in another direction for his vice president, Scott faces an uncertain path forward. He promised when he took the U.S. Senate job to serve only two full six-year terms, a vow he reiterated in 2022 when elected to that second full term.

If Trump does not call or the ticket loses in November, Scott’s supporters have suggestions.

“I won’t hold him to that. Circumstances change. Tim could be one of Trump’s greatest allies in the Senate,” Taylor said of Scott’s promise. “I have been very fond of saying — Tim, when you’re done with all that stuff up there, come home and be governor.”

While the South Carolina governor’s seat will be open in 2026 and his supporters keep putting up Scott trial balloons, the senator himself has dismissed the thought.

At 58, there could be other presidential runs.

Lewis Brown, voting in South Carolina’s recent primary runoffs, said Scott’s campaign convinced him that Scott has the stuff for the White House.

“I look at one thing for a vice presidential candidate — can you be president?” Lewis said. “Scott passes that test with flying colors.”

No matter what Trump decides, Scott has another big life change on the horizon. He is getting married later this year.

As he waits for Trump to make a decision, Scott remains a regular presence on news shows on the former president's behalf, making headlines by dodging questions on whether he would accept the results of the 2024 election if Trump loses or ignoring Trump’s support of tariffs that the senator has long been against.

It’s another key test of loyalty for a man trying to take advantage of one more opportunity, someone who has always tried to burn as few bridges behind him as he can — though his relationship with Haley has certainly suffered.

But holding a grudge is not Scott's style, at least not publicly.

At another February rally in South Carolina, Trump rattled off criticism of Haley, who had become more forceful in her criticism of him. Then Trump motioned toward Scott standing behind him.

“She actually appointed you, Tim,” Trump said. “You must really hate her.”

The senator was not having it. Awkwardly, he stepped toward the microphone, then said simply: “I just love you."


This story was first published on June 30, 2024. It was updated on July 1, 2024, to correct that South Carolina Rep. Bill Taylor is a state representative, not a state senator.