Tim Scott, a conservative, Christian southerner, is now giving the official Republican response to Biden’s speech.
He has walked the fine line between the establishment and Donald Trump wings of the Republican party with more aplomb than most. His status as a rising star is one of the few things that Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, still agree on.
The only Black Republican in Senate, Scott is leading the party’s efforts to craft legislation with Democrats on police reform in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
He has also previously joined with Democrats Cory Booker and Kamala Harris to work on a bipartisan bill that would make lynching a federal crime, and led the way in creating Opportunity Zones – aimed growth and jobs in low income communities – in Trump’s 2017 tax reform package.
Once hesitant to focus on race in his political career, Scott has increasingly talked about his lived experience as an African American. He has been pulled over by law enforcement “more than 18 times” while driving, he told the Associated Press last year.
All of this has made him an invaluable asset to a party establishment that recognises the need to diversify and broaden its appeal. When it was announced that Scott would respond to Biden on Wednesday night, McConnell described him as “one of the most inspiring and unifying leaders in our nation”.
Yet the senator has somehow managed to square the circle of also staying in Trump’s good graces. His speech at last year’s Republican national convention was a case in point: it praised party orthodoxy on low taxes and school choice, and condemned Democrats and “cancel culture”, without saying much about Trump himself.
And although Scott has on occasion publicly dissented from the former president, for example criticising Trump’s promotion of a video of his supporters shouting “white power”, he usually backs him and stays loyal to his agenda.
The acid test came at January’s Senate impeachment trial when Scott voted against convicting Trump for inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol, tweeting: “An impeachment vote will only lead to more hate and a deeply fractured nation.” He has also played to the Trump base by denouncing “woke supremacy”.
His fealty has been rewarded. Last month Trump endorsed Scott’s 2022 reelection bid, stating: “He is both an outstanding Senator and a person who works tirelessly for the people of his great state, and the USA. Strong on the Military, Law Enforcement, loves our Vets, protects our Second Amendment and our Borders.”