‘I’ve seen better run city council campaigns’: Tim Scott’s allies fume after exit

When Tim Scott announced the end of his presidential bid from the studio of his house in Hanahan, S.C., some campaign aides and allies of the senator joked among themselves that the abrupt exit was fitting.

For months, Scott’s campaign, mired in low single digits, had been beset by a lack of organization and poor communication about the campaign’s strategy, said one Republican operative supporting Scott. And compared to some of his Republican rivals, Scott had hardly been aggressive with campaign travel. It made sense, the operative said, that “Tim, from his home studio, made this announcement without the staff knowing.”

But even if it might have been on brand for a campaign lacking clear direction, and with a principal who frustrated some of his own top allies for his reluctance to do more retail campaigning, Scott’s abrupt departure from the race was no less bitter for those staffing him, nine staff members and other allies of Scott’s campaign told POLITICO.

“I think this was handled incredibly poorly,” said one Scott campaign official, who found out after being alerted by others watching Scott’s interview on Fox News.

Few of this year’s longshot presidential campaigns began the cycle with as much optimism as Scott’s. The South Carolina senator not only carried with him a sunny disposition, but the admiration of his colleagues and voters alongside a well-regarded acumen at raising hard dollars. His departure on Sunday night illustrated the difficulties in translating a candidate who seems formidable on paper into one who can actually hit those marks on the trail.

For weeks, there had been a brewing sense that things weren’t going well. At a private lunch in Scott’s home state last week, a table of political operatives and longtime allies had discussed the dire straits of the campaign. One ally jokingly asked the over-under of whether the campaign would last another 12 days, according to a person present for the lunch.

No one was expecting it would be just three.

This past weekend itself had been quiet on the campaign. Hours before his TV pronouncement, Scott spoke with various advisers without mentioning any plans to call things off. Other members of the Scott team held calls that day about ballot access and delegate operations. Plans were still on for Scott to visit Iowa this week. Fundraising emails were still going out moments before Scott appeared on air with his longtime friend Trey Gowdy.

And then, suddenly, it all came to a screeching halt.

On Sunday night, Scott told just two campaign staff members — campaign manager Jennifer DeCasper, and communications director Nathan Brand — of his plan to drop out, according to a senior adviser granted anonymity to speak freely. The rest of the team, including high-level advisers, found out on live television, or as their phones were bombarded with messages.

“The tears I've seen in the mirror on my cheeks is because I never want to disappoint the team that has moved around the country for this vision and for this mission, sacrificed lunches and friendships, just so you can be available to work hard for this country, and through me as a conduit of that,” Scott told his team on a Zoom call immediately after his announcement, according to a recording obtained by POLITICO. He was scheduled to visit staff at the campaign headquarters on Monday.

Tearing up on the call, DeCasper, Scott’s longtime aide who was running her first presidential campaign, assured staffers that they would receive more information Monday about their severance packages. She said she would “make sure everything is taken care of.” Scott himself promised the team that as they “depart from this campaign, we are not going to just cut you off,” vowing to “do our very best to take care of the folks here.”

Since Sunday night, Scott has spoken by phone with Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie, and has swapped text messages with his fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley, according to a person with knowledge of the calls and granted anonymity to speak about them.

As of this past weekend, the campaign had roughly $5 million in cash on hand, according to two people with knowledge of the operations. But without the previously expected financial support of Scott’s billionaire friend, the tech guru Larry Ellison, the super PAC supporting Scott’s bid was forced to make significant cuts to its plans. Trust In the Mission PAC’s cash reserves had dwindled to just a couple million dollars in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the super PAC’s finances. A spokesperson for TIM PAC did not immediately confirm or deny its alleged financial position.

The outside spending group had slashed nearly all of its fall ad reservations a month ago after initially reserving nearly $40 million worth of ad time ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Despite a lackluster third-quarter campaign fundraising haul, money was not the primary driver of Scott’s decision, according to several campaign advisers. But Scott figured there was no sense in lighting what was left on fire, said a senior campaign adviser granted anonymity to speak freely.

Payments for the next round of TV ad reservations were due on Monday, and the campaign had spent more than $400,000 last week alone on television, according to AdImpact. There were more state filing deadlines coming up for Scott to secure access to the ballot, costing tens of thousands of dollars in each state.

All of that could go toward paying staff through the holidays, said the senior adviser.

But as of Monday afternoon, staffers were still wondering how long their paychecks would continue.

And many joined the broader world of Scott allies in questioning why the senator chose to handle his exit in the way that he did.

Several staffers had already moved from South Carolina to Iowa after the campaign announced last month that Scott was going all-in on the first caucus state. Additional waves of staff relocations were scheduled for before and after Thanksgiving, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.

“I’ve seen better run city council campaigns,” quipped a GOP operative supporting Scott in the primary. “A lot of people were pissed last night. The right thing to do is give your staff 30 minutes of notice and have a conference call beforehand. It was typical of the whole effort.”

On the Sunday night call with staff, Scott, who was just reelected to the Senate last year, teased that he might try again on a future presidential run.

“I meant when I said, by the way, I believe that the voters simply said ‘not now, Tim,’ I don't believe they said ‘not ever,’” Scott told staffers after his announcement. “And so we will work every day to make sure that ‘not now’ becomes sooner than later.”