While the Republican Party has presented itself as the home of the Moral Majority for decades, most black voters don't feel the GOP has an upper hand when it comes to race issues. But in the Trump era, one lawmaker has emerged as one of the go-to individuals for the conscience of the party — particularly when it comes to matters of race: Sen. Tim Scott (R.-S.C.).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on Thursday that the nomination of Ryan Bounds to the highly influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit would be withdrawn after the Republican leadership realized it did not have the votes needed to confirm him.
Scott's opposition was one of the reasons.
Bounds's nomination was criticized after articles he wrote as an undergraduate for the Stanford Review criticized multiculturalism and organizations that focus on race-related issues. He previously wrote:
During my years in our Multicultural Garden of Eden, I have often marveled at the odd strategies that some of the more strident racial factions of the student body employ in their attempts to ‘heighten consciousness,’ ‘build tolerance,’ ‘promote diversity’ and otherwise convince us to partake of that fruit which promises to open our eyes to a PC version of the knowledge of good and evil. I am mystified because these tactics seem always to contribute more to restricting consciousness, aggravating intolerance and pigeonholing cultural identities than many a Nazi bookburning.
Bounds's attempts to apologize for those writings this year were unconvincing to Scott. Multiple political journalists reported that Scott lobbied fellow Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), not to back Bounds because of those statements. And with unanimous Democratic opposition all but guaranteed, Bounds's confirmation was sunk.
Scott has spoken up before when other members of his party turned a blind eye to words and actions that would offend both black Americans and those who have no tolerance for racism.
After President Trump blamed “both sides” for the tragic violence in Charlottesville, during which an anti-racism protester was fatally struck by a car, The Fix wrote that Scott said Trump’s “moral authority” was “compromised.” The senator sought to remedy that by meeting with the president at the White House.
“Racism is real. It is alive. It is here,” Scott told Vice News after Charlottesville.
While Scott was able to stop his fellow lawmakers this week from supporting a judicial nominee who made racially insensitive comments, he was not as effective in persuading the president to see things differently.
The day after Scott met with Trump, the president doubled down — as he often does — on his criticism of the liberal activists protesting white supremacists. Trump told reporters:
We had a great talk yesterday. I think especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that’s what I said.
And this matters because core GOP voters remain very much with Trump, even on issues related to race. While Trump is often criticized for opposing NFL players protesting racism or for debasing immigrants from predominantly black countries, conservative voters remain overwhelmingly beside him. Scott surely recognizes this.
If Republican attitudes are going to change, the most visible black Republican in politics right now might have to push harder, even going up against the president and GOP leadership.
As GOP strategist Shermichael Singleton told The Fix:
He's the sole African American Republican senator — and then there's only two others. I obviously think considering the issues related to inclusiveness that the current GOP is facing, you have to have a strong voice to sort of oppose those things and bring some type of rational thought to these types of policies and individuals that have obviously supported or made comments that I would argue are anti-ethical to what we would like to see for our country.
I think he has to be willing to perhaps show more force on some other issues by saying, 'If you guys are going to support these individuals or policies, not only am I not going to vote for it, I'm going to filibuster until you guys understand why I'm not supporting this.'
While Scott might be praised today for keeping Bounds off the appeals bench, others question whether he will be consistent in applying those same standards to other judicial nominees, including one hoping to join the most important bench in the country. The Fix previously wrote that activists and civil rights organizations that deal with issues prioritized by black Americans have expressed concern about what the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court could mean for the future of civil rights.
Eyes will be on Scott when it comes to a host of issues affecting black Americans, including in his home state.