And then there were seven (leading Republican presidential candidates).
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott surprised everyone on Sunday – including, reportedly, some of his own collaborators – by abandoning the presidential race. It was a disappointing end to a campaign that, on paper, it looked like there was a lot of potential. But the debates really took a toll on Scott’s campaign, and rather than prolonging the inevitable, he left the race early enough to keep his options open for the future.
When Scott entered the presidential race in May, there was good reason to believe he was the third most likely Republican candidate, named after former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He had $22 million from his Senate campaigns that he could use for the presidential race… more than any candidate not named Trump. He had managed to stay on the right side of the party, both the pro-Trump and anti-Trump sides, thanks to his positive message about America. THE share of Republicans who had a favorable opinion of him was much higher (41 percent) than the share who had an unfavorable opinion (12 percent), and the fact that the other half had no opinion of him indicated that he had room to grow .
But all this potential never became reality. It never reached 4 percent in 538, national poll average. He invested much of his campaign money in television ads in early statesand it seemed to work at first: by mid-August, according to 538 averages, it was polling at 12 percent in Iowa, 12 percent in South Carolina (its State of origin) and 8 percent in New Hampshire.
But then came the debates. According to the three 538/Washington Post/Ipsos polls carried out from Ipsos KnowledgePanel after each debate, Scott failed to use the debates to make his points.
At first debate, only 4 percent of likely Republican primary voters who watched the debate said he had the best performance, which was tied for third among the eight candidates. But at the same time, only 2% said he had the worst performance – in other words, he just didn’t make much of an impression one way or another. He achieved average grades similar to second debate. And at third debateLast week, just 5 percent said he had the best performance, the lowest of any candidate. And 12 percent said he actually had the worst performance.
Our polls also found that Scott’s net approval rating among Republicans worsened after each debate. Clearly, voters weren’t buying what Scott was selling.
But by dropping out relatively early (other candidates with even worse results, like North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, remain in the running), he may have kept his options open open for its political future. He never went nuclear with any other candidate and he leaves the race with consistently strong favorable numbers, making him a viable future presidential candidate. At 58, he could run again in 2028, 2032, 2036 or even 2040 and be even younger than Trump (or President Joe Biden) is today.
As for becoming the Republican vice-presidential nominee – which is widely rumored – Scott said Sunday evening“Being vice president has never been on my to-do list for this campaign, and it certainly isn’t now.” Of course, it’s always possible that he will change his mind.
Now that Scott is out of the race, what other candidate(s) could benefit? Normally, this question is overrated: If a candidate drops out, it means they don’t have much support, which means no one else will benefit much from their departure. But Scott still has significant support in some early states. As of Sunday, he was averaging 7 percent in our polls in Iowa, 7 percent in South Carolina and 5 percent in New Hampshire. If the bulk of that support goes to a particular candidate — say DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — that could make them the leading alternative to Trump in early states.
The problem is that his support probably won’t go to any one candidate. Scott says he won’t support any of his old rivals. And according to a WPA Intelligence and FairVote September Survey, which showed what the GOP primaries could look like if they used ranked-choice voting, Haley had the most to gain nationally from eliminating Scott from the race…but DeSantis gained the most in the early States. (It appears, however, that these two will be the biggest beneficiaries of Scott’s withdrawal, rather than Trump and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.)
Something I wrote when former Vice President Mike Pence withdrew from the race but it bears repeating here too. Even if all of Scott’s support went to a single candidate, that candidate would still fall far behind Trump, who polls at 57 percent nationally, 50 percent in South Carolina, 46 percent in Iowa and 44 percent in New Hampshire. Overall, Scott’s withdrawal and where his supporters go won’t matter unless something fundamentally changes and Trump loses significant support.