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The Tea Partier’s Progress

From the House to the Senate.

Apr 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 30 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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“When I think about tax policy, I don’t think [about] it simply through the prism of spending too much as a country. I think about it as having too little to spend as a family,” he says. “My mom was raising two kids on four or five dollars an hour, so every penny that she didn’t have was an incredibly valuable penny. So to me, tax reform that simplifies and empowers the individual is good for the community. .  .  . It’s good for the state. It’s good for the nation. It’s most importantly good for the person, because they get to keep more of their resources so they can be autonomous to the largest extent possible.”

His rhetoric has a Tea Party flavor, and that’s no surprise. Scott was one of South Carolina’s “Four Horsemen” of the Tea Party, a group that includes congressmen Mick Mulvaney, Trey Gowdy, and Jeff Duncan. Gowdy, Scott says, remains his “best friend,” and he still shares a house on Capitol Hill with Duncan. (“He thinks he’s a better basketball player than he is,” laughs Duncan.)

In the House, Scott had a consistently conservative record on the fiscal issues that gave rise to the Tea Party, supporting tax cuts, opposing increased government spending, and voting for a balanced budget amendment. Among that conservative freshman class of 2010, Scott rarely voted against the GOP conference and was a favorite of the leadership. He says he still speaks regularly to House majority leader Eric Cantor and majority whip Kevin McCarthy.

In the Senate, Scott has kept a relatively low profile, voting with his party more than 90 percent of the time. He spoke for two minutes during Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster in March but has yet to give his first major floor speech. Wyoming’s John Barrasso, the Senate Republican policy committee chairman, says Scott is an active participant who “speaks his mind” in conference meetings.

“He’ll tell you what he thinks and he’ll ask questions,” says Barrasso, who speaks highly of Scott’s optimism. Barrasso asked Scott, whom he calls a “man of faith,” to give the invocation at a recent policy meeting. Scott, who isn’t married, is an active member and lay leader at the non-denominational Seacoast church in suburban Charleston.

Scott is unlikely to take on his predecessor Jim DeMint’s role as conservative standard-bearer. Nor does he seem eager to be pigeonholed as a bridge between his party and the black community, though he says he’d be happy to play a role if asked. South Carolina’s deep red politics means that, like DeMint with conservative causes and Lindsey Graham with national security, Scott has the freedom to stake out an identity all his own during his Senate tenure.

A former insurance agent and financial adviser, he talks a lot about fiscal discipline and sanity, but there’s more than money to his mission. Scott says he wants to spread the message of individual opportunity to those who haven’t heard it, just as John Moniz did for a wayward teenager more than 20 years ago.

“I set my life’s mission to positively infect the lives of a billion people with the message of hope,” Scott says. “I’ve been trying to find the ways to impact people and now policy with the notion of the power of thought and the power of the individual.”

Michael Warren, a 2012 Robert Novak journalism fellow, is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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