A lot of people have been on Tim Scott’s case this past week — Democrats, reporters, even some Republicans — because he passed on the chance to endorse Lindsey Graham on national TV.
When Scott appeared Wednesday on CNN’s “Crossfire,” South Carolina’s junior senator was asked twice if he endorsed Graham’s re-election campaign. He would not say “yes” or “no.”
“You know, as you three have heard recently, I am up for … up for re-election myself,” Scott said. “I’m going to make sure Tim Scott gets out. I’m going to allow all the other folks on the ballot to represent themselves very well, and I’m going to continue to work hard for my re-election.”
On the surface, that seemed like tepid support for Graham. At best.
But by all accounts, Graham is not upset, and no one else should be either. Truth is, Scott is just running his race.
Graham gets it. And with a little reading between the lines, anyone can see what’s going on here: typical South Carolina politics.
Neal Thigpen, the dean of South Carolina political scientists, nails it.
“He’s trying to play it safe with the tea party people,” Thigpen says. “He’s well aware that there are a lot of people after Lindsey’s head, and he doesn’t want to get into that.”
Yep, that’s it in a nutshell.
Look, Scott has never been on a ballot in six of the state’s seven congressional districts. He was appointed to fill the seat of Sen. Jim DeMint, who jumped to the Heritage Foundation, and he is now running to finish the last two years of the term.
And a recent Winthrop University poll suggests that, outside of the activists, a lot of people in the state don’t know who Scott is. It would be politically dangerous to introduce himself to voters by tying himself to any politician, let alone one as polarizing among GOP voters as Graham.
The two senators play different brands of politics. While Scott appeals to the tea party folks who got him elected to Congress in the first place, he does not rain hellfire and damnation on anyone.
Graham, conversely, is a pretty candid guy. If he disagrees with a position, he’ll let you know. And that makes some people pretty mad. And truth is, some people in this state are so radical that if you disagree with them on one thing, you are automatically a heretic. Not politically astute, but that’s the way it is. And both senators know it.
Frankly, Scott and Graham get on pretty well, better than Graham and DeMint did. Maybe because Scott hasn’t done anything as boneheaded as try to stop money for Charleston’s harbor dredging.
“Lindsey and I have a good working relationship,” Scott said Friday. “We don’t always agree, but we have a great working relationship and that’s what you want.”
As for the endorsement, “I am on the ballot,” Scott says, “and my consistent policy has been stay in your lane, run your own race.”
He’s right. Remember back in 2012, Scott hosted town hall meetings for nearly all the major Republican presidential contenders.
He never endorsed a single one of them.
Some people have made hay out of the fact that, in the same week, Gov. Nikki Haley took a different tack.
Haley — who appointed Scott, and was elected with the help of those same tea party folks who hate Graham — went out of her way to praise the senior senator’s conservative record.
So why could she do it?
Well, she is in a different boat than Scott. Haley has no primary opposition, but she has a tough — albeit winnable — re-election campaign against her old foe, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
The last thing Haley needs on the ballot is one of these far-right knuckleheads running against Graham on the general election ballot. No telling what they would say to fire up Democratic voters. Right now, Graham is Haley’s best friend.
And he’s Scott’s best friend, too — drawing all the opposition so that Scott, so far, is running unopposed in his primary.
This whole non-endorsement thing is going to blow over quickly. Thigpen predicts that in two years, when Scott is running for a full term, “10-to-1 Lindsey endorses him.”
Bank on that, because Graham knows how the game is played.
And it’s pretty clear Scott does, too.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.