Posting Ls: Tim Scott
A brief dissection of the senator’s online presence
Spend enough time with an elected official’s social media accounts and you’ll see the rough outlines of a communications strategy.
March Rubio, for example, likes to dis his enemies with carefully curated scripture readings from daily Mass.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses her Instagram Stories the way they were meant to be used (as a rambling personal diary) with staff-researched infographics sprinkled in.
Former President Donald J. Trump’s Twitter account was pure id — a stream of bitchy insults and self-congratulations that could only come from a man who watched 8 hours of TV about himself every day.
And then we have politicians like Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who possess no swagger whatsoever. Scroll through his posts on any platform and you get the feeling they were churned out by a team of under-caffeinated American Enterprise Institute fellows.
Since Sen. Scott has been milking billionaires for campaign cash lately in preparation to run for — I don’t know — vice president in 2024, I tried to get a sense of his online style. It was a frustrating experience.
If there is one signature move in Scott’s social-media playbook, it is to post something vague and anodyne that slowly drives you insane if you think too hard about it.
Here he is declaring, “The Republican Party is the party of parents”:
Here he is talking with the heiress Paris Hilton, 41, about “how we can better serve America’s youth”:
“I just signed, sealed, and delivered an amendment to ensure our nation’s students are able to get back on track,” Scott tweeted on Aug. 10, 2021. The tweet came with a nice picture of the senator holding a blue pen and looking at a piece of paper in a folder.
What’s in the amendment? He never said. I remember on Aug. 10 I looked around online for clarifying statements, a press release, news coverage, anything at all. I downloaded the picture, flipped it, and tried to zoom in on the paper. Too blurry. I felt like I was contemplating a Zen koan.
I returned to Scott’s riddle yesterday and found the answer (I think). On Aug. 10, 2021, Scott and 10 Republican cosponsors submitted Amendment 3073 to a concurrent resolution on the congressional budget. This was the amendment’s stated purpose, according to the Library of Congress:
To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to helping students, particularly students who are low-income or minorities or who have special needs, that suffered from school closures pushed by teacher labor organizations that ignored the science and ensuring that all schools should be open for in-person learning 5 days a week for the 2021-2022 school year. (emphasis mine)
It was a pointless and unserious amendment, and it immediately and predictably failed in a partisan vote. I assume the amendment was a rhetorical device for hectoring teachers’ unions, but he didn’t even manage to use it in public-facing statements. It was a pure waste of time. 1
Taken together, the tweet and the amendment highlight Scott’s true role in politics: as an empty vessel for the party line. Lying about medical science and pitting parents against teachers were the modus operandi of Republican education policy in the years 2020-2021; Scott took his plays straight from the playbook and didn’t bother with adding any personal flourishes.
In parliamentary terms he’s a backbencher. There is a place for backbenchers within a party; they can’t all be media hypebeasts like Lauren Boebert or sentient fracking pumps like Joe Manchin. Sometimes you just need a dependable foot soldier on the march to fascism.
Still, Tim Scott has the energy of a county councilman who just got invited to a Chamber of Commerce pancake breakfast. His one attempt at mustering a personal brand is to occasionally post pictures of his socks to an Instagram Highlights reel called “Sock Cam,” which he seems to have abandoned 103 weeks ago.
I am not naïve enough to believe that Tim Scott’s social media accounts are an extension or a true representation of the man himself. Any national politician’s social media stream (except Trump's) is a product crafted by a team of professionals. What we see online is a version of the politician that they and their team want us to see. For that reason, it’s worth scrutinizing.
This brings me to one last piece of Tim Scott’s social media strategy, or at least the strategy of his handlers. This year during primary season in South Carolina, I logged on to Facebook and was served a series of school privatization ads featuring Sen. Scott, apparently paid for by an organization called My South Carolina Education.
I’d never heard of this group before. The ads were pushing hard for “Education Scholarship Accounts” or “Education Savings Accounts,” the latest versions of school vouchers that could funnel up to $2.9 billion a year of public school funding into private schools by the state’s own estimate.
One nice outcome of the public outcry over Facebook’s complicity in spreading disinformation is that all of us now have access to a Meta database called the Ad Library that shows some general facts about the organizations behind the ads and how much money they spent. It’s how I figured out, for example, that Nikki Haley’s thinktank Stand For America had spent $1.5 million of untraceable donations on Facebook and Instagram ads as of November 2021.
So I looked up My South Carolina Education in the Ad Library. The page was created on Feb. 10, 2017, and it’s based in Columbia, the state capital. The page’s administrators have only spent about $32,000 on ads so far, which is a small sum compared to the money that right-wing party organs tend to blow on Facebook.
The Ad Library lists a registered phone number, so I Googled it and found the same number being used by a PR guy for another Columbia-based school privatization group, the Palmetto Promise Institute. No big surprise; you tend to see a recurring cast of characters in these organizations.
The overlap was interesting because one of the My South Carolina Education ads showed Tim Scott cheesing it with Ellen Weaver, founding president and CEO of the Palmetto Promise Institute. Weaver entered politics during the Tea Party wave, found work as a leading education bureaucrat in Gov. Henry McMaster’s orbit of Reformed Presbyterian conservatives, and is the current Republican candidate for state education superintendent. It turns out she was also serving as chair of My South Carolina Education at least as recently as 2020 according to the group’s IRS filings. She stays busy!
These facts don’t add up to anything illegal or even uniquely nefarious. Tim Scott finds himself plugged into a dull, half-hearted conservative messaging machine in a state where Republicans have grown complacent after two decades of single-party rule. He splits duties with the senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, who gets to be the War Guy and the Donald Trump Golfing Buddy while Scott works to undermine public schools on the home front.
It’s not glamorous or even especially challenging work; all he has to do is recite the lines. Go to a prayer breakfast; complain about taxes on behalf of the wealthy; go on Greta Van Susteren’s show and call it “Build Back Broker;” gladhand with Christian Zionist end-times preachers; praise the cops; bash the unions. It’s the same old slop reheated day after day.
I’m thinking about making “Posting Ls” a recurring feature. If you know of a Southern politician whose posting style would lend itself to obsessive analysis, reply to this email and let me know!
For an exhaustive look at Ellen Weaver’s campaign finance, check out Steve Nuzum’s July 24 newsletter issue, “Who’s donating all this money?”
If you’re on Twitter, I started a little side project this week. It’s a single-purpose account, @ludicrous_sc, documenting ludicrous moments in South Carolina politics. I don’t want people to forget that Mark Sanford gave a speech outside of an Arby’s holding a roast beef sandwich in the air, or that a Charleston alderman once took a big hit of morphine and tried to murder his nephew in the council chambers. This is our history and we need to remember it.