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Why Tim Scott’s hopeful address was the RNC’s best speech

The senator offered the only glimmer of optimism during an otherwise gloomy night.

US Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) stands onstage in an empty Mellon Auditorium while addressing the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 24, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

The speakers during the first night of the Republican National Convention painted a fundamentally dark picture of America with the exception of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who had a hopeful message: that the “next American century can be better than the last.”

Delivering one of the night’s few appeals to moderates, the senator provided an affirmative vision of what he believes the GOP can offer voters and why reelecting President Donald Trump is the best way to make that vision a reality. Standing in contrast to Trump surrogate Kimberly Guilfoyle, who shouted warnings about a Democratic dystopia, Scott’s speech was measured and decidedly normal, embodying a kind of Republicanism that seems to have been drowned out in a party that has so tied itself to Trump — so much so that it is spurring speculation that he could run for president in 2024.

Scott rejected Democrats’ characterization of America as a country that has lost its way under Trump, offering up his own personal history as a testament to the nation’s greatness, arguing that his existence proves “a poor Black kid from a single-parent household” can achieve anything — even going “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.”

“Our nation’s arc always bends back toward fairness. We are not fully where we want to be, but I thank God almighty we are not where we used to be,” Scott said. “We are always striving to be better. When we stumble, and we will, we pick ourselves back up and try again. We don’t give in to cancel culture, or the radical — and factually baseless — belief that things are worse today than in the 1860s or the 1960s.”

While Scott stopped short of giving the same full-throated endorsement of Trump previous speakers had, he touted some of what he viewed as the president’s key achievements: a strong (pre-pandemic) economy, criminal justice reform, and a tax reform bill that Scott billed as a boon to working families, despite the fact it predominantly delivered savings for the wealthiest 20 percent of taxpayers. The senator also lauded Trump’s increases in funding for historically Black colleges and universities and his creation of “opportunity zones,” which aim to encourage investment in underresourced communities but have been criticized as a tax break for the rich.

Scott did hit on the common GOP critiques of Democrats that appeared in most of the evening’s speeches, including the dangers of “cancel culture,” which he said stamps out dissent, and what he characterized as socialist policies. The second was more in line with typical Republican attacks, like those on tax increases, which former Vice President Joe Biden has vowed to exact on businesses making “excessive profit,” and universal health care among those policies.

“If we let them, they will turn our country into a socialist utopia and history has taught us that path only leads to pain and misery, especially for hardworking people hoping to rise,” he said. “Instead, we must focus on the promise of the American journey.”

Scott made clear his own “American journey” was difficult. He spoke about how his parents divorced when he was young and how he lived with his grandparents while his mother worked 16 hours a day. He said he found success by pursuing football and by finding a mentor in the head of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Overall, while other speakers claimed a Biden presidency would bring unprecedented violence and chaos, Scott offered something more hopeful: Voters might find the same success he did if they reelect the president and embrace the GOP’s vision of America.

“There are millions of families just like mine all across this nation full of potential seeking to live the American dream,” he said. “I’m here tonight to tell you that supporting the Republican ticket gives you the best chance of making that dream a reality.”

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