The appointment propels Scott, 47, into the front ranks of a Republican Party trying to demonstrate that it can speak to a broader, non-white constituency. He joins Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in putting a more diverse face on the GOP.
“It is a great day for South Carolina. It is a historic day for South Carolina,” said Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants who broke her own ground as the state’s first female governor, speaking at the statehouse in Columbia.
As the only black U.S. senator, Scott will become one of the most visible and important conservative figures in the country, one whose new prominence will require him to navigate a new set of political realities.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R), the state’s senior senator, advised Scott that the way to deal with that is to stay true to himself.
“You got here by being Tim Scott — not Lindsey Graham, not Jim DeMint,” Graham said after Haley announced her pick. “You have a unique opportunity for the conservative cause. You have unique burdens.”
Scott credited the mentoring of a Charleston businessman and the tough love of his mother. “I am thankful to the good Lord and a strong mom who believes love has to come at the end of a switch,” he said.
His rise to the Senate would be historic had it happened anywhere in the Deep South. That he has come to power in South Carolina — home to an especially brutal tradition of racially charged politics and where the Confederate flag still flies in front of the statehouse — gives the story even more resonance.
But state political observers said Monday that Scott’s voting record and close tea party ties made him an unsurprising selection to succeed DeMint, a godfather of the conservative insurgency who is leaving the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation. Others Haley reportedly considered include Reps. Trey Gowdy and Joe Wilson, and former state first lady Jenny Sanford.
“In terms of temperament and philosophy, he was a natural choice,” Robert Oldendick, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina, said of Scott.
Conservative leaders hailed the appointment. “Kudos to Governor Haley for choosing a proven fiscal conservative to continue the legacy set by Jim DeMint,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “We are confident that Tim Scott will be a leading voice to advance the principles of individual freedom and limited-government, and he will be an excellent addition to a growing caucus of fiscal conservatives in the Senate.”