Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) discussed his upbringing and the future of the Republican Party, both within the context of the 2016 election and beyond, at an event hosted by the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service in the Healey Family Student Center on Monday.
Scott is the first African-American senator from the state of South Carolina and the first African American to have been elected to both Congressional chambers. Prior to his current position, Scott served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013 and on the Charleston County Council for 13 years.
GU Politics Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), who served as communications director for the Democratic National Committee, moderated the event.
William Treanor (COL ’19) introduced Elleithee and Scott, mentioning Scott’s upbringing in a poor, single-parent household in North Charleston and highlighting his accomplishments in public service.
“Scott has brought his ideals of economic freedom, lower taxes, higher-quality education and a commitment to helping American neighborhoods, who are most in need of our help through conservative values,” Treanor said.
Elleithee pointed out his conflicting political affiliations with Scott and explained why he extended the invitation.
“I’m a Democrat. I was at the Democratic National Committee before I came here. I have had a few thoughts about your party over the years,” Elleithee said. “But I thought today we could actually have a conversation about who and what your party is, what drew you to join the Republican Party, let you make the case to me to why I’ve been wrong all of these years and why young people should join the Republican Party and public service.”
Scott recounted the challenges he faced in his childhood, including his struggles in school.
“My parents got divorced when I was 7 years old. My father joined the Air Force, and we moved back from Michigan to South Carolina. Tough times. We moved into my grandparents’ two-bedroom house,” Scott said. “As a freshman in high school, I drifted in the wrong direction. I was flunking out, failed world geography. I think I am the only United States senator to fail civics. I also failed Spanish and English.”
Scott named his mother and mentor as positive influences on his life who motivated him to seek change through education.
“I had two major blessings and one of them was a mother who believed very strongly in the power of education. The other blessing was my mentor, John Moniz, who was a Chick-fil-A operator, who taught me that no matter where you start, no matter who you are, no matter what has happened, the power of education is the power for you,” Scott said.
Scott specifically referred to the life lessons he gleaned from Moniz and how they impacted his decision to join the Republican Party.
“He taught me that having a job would be a good thing in life and creating jobs would be an even better thing,” Scott said. “He taught me that you can think your way out of poverty. Not to suggest that those who are in poverty are not thinking, but to focus and to reinforce the value of education for me, a kid trapped in poverty.”
Scott elaborated on the reasons behind his decision to become a Republican in the context of his personal values and mission.
“I believe the Republicans do a very good job in issues relating to faith, issues of entrepreneurship and we are strong as well in the military. I represent the Republican Party and believe that the party has a very bright future,” Scott said. “I see the Grand Old Party as the ‘Great Opportunity Party.’ My focus has been the opportunity agenda, where the emphasis is education, work skills and apprenticeship programs. Those are some reasons why I became a Republican and I think this is how we refocus the party and take care of those who are receiving the least of these.”
In reference to the ongoing presidential elections, Scott stated that he was a strong supporter of former Republican candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who dropped out of the race March 15 after losing the primary in his home state of Florida to Donald Trump.
Scott credited the success of Republican front-runner Trump to the candidate’s ability to tap into the anger and frustration that has built up in the electorate over the past decade.
“What he has done, and in a remarkable fashion, is be successful in open primaries in a way that he has not succeeded in closed primaries. He has been able to literally bring over the old Reagan Democrats and has put together this amazing coalition of folks who have in many ways been disenfranchised from the political process,” Scott said. “We’ll see what happens. The question is whether he will be able to keep this momentum, which I think is very difficult.”
Georgetown University College Republicans Membership Director Hunter Estes (SFS ’19), who is also the former campaign manager for GU Students for Rubio, expressed admiration for Scott’s statements on the future of the GOP and the need for unity.
“Sen. Tim Scott spoke about the incredible potential of our party going forward to highlight its bright, hopeful, optimistic and pragmatic message. He was incredibly genuine in his responses and truly showed that he cared deeply about the policy subjects and bringing everyone together as Americans for the good of the nation,” Estes said. “He admirably denounced how some people choose to take advantage of people’s fear and anger and, rather, urged that we should look to what unites us in common goals as Americans, rather than what divides.”