Tim Scott insists voters don't care about Trump's defamation loss, plays down 'provocative' Haley attacks

"The American people are more concerned about tomorrow than they are yesterday."

January 28, 2024, 12:49 PM

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is playing down the potential political fallout from former president Donald Trump's latest legal setback -- after the 2024 candidate was ordered by a New York jury to pay writer E. Jean Carroll $83 million for defaming her when she said he sexually assaulted her decades ago.

Scott, in a new interview with ABC News "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, said voters will have other concerns and that average Americans are "not talking about lawsuits."

"The one thing I think the electorate is thinking about most often is how in the world will the next president impact my quality of life? How will America regain its standing in this world? They were better off under Trump," Scott said.

Trump continues to deny Carroll's account but, after a jury trial last year, he was found liable for sexually abusing her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store in the 1990s.

After another trial, jurors last week found he had defamed Carroll in the way he denied assaulting her. He has said he will appeal.

"Does that give you any pause in your support?" Raddatz asked Scott on "This Week." The Republican senator endorsed Trump earlier this month after ending his own 2024 campaign.

"Myself and all the voters that support Donald Trump supports a return to normalcy as it relates to what affects their kitchen table," Scott told Raddatz.

He went on to contend that the "perception that the legal system is being weaponized against Donald Trump is actually increasing his poll numbers."

In addition to various lawsuits, Trump is charged in four separate criminal cases. He denies all wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty.

Despite what Scott said, past polling has found Americans believe some of the accusations against Trump are serious: 63% said last year in an ABC News/Ipsos survey that the charges he faces in a Georgia election subversion indictment were serious or somewhat serious; and 65% felt the same in another 2023 ABC News/Ipsos poll about Trump's federal indictment related to Jan. 6 and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

On "This Week," Scott was also pressed about Trump's continued embrace of 2020 election denialism, which Scott has not echoed.

The lawmaker, who was present during the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks at the U.S. Capitol where Congress gathered to certify Trump's election loss, has said publicly that although he believes there was "cheating" in the last presidential election, he does not "believe the election was stolen." (No widespread evidence of fraud has ever been found.)

Raddatz pointed to Scott diverging from Trump and some other conservatives. "Does that concern you for the Republican Party, that they're denying something you said was true?" she asked.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump listens as Sen. Tim Scott speaks at a campaign event in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 19, 2024.
Matt Rourke/AP

"The American people are more concerned about tomorrow than they are yesterday. And because of that, the race that we're seeing coming to light today is [President] Joe Biden's four years versus Donald Trump's four years," Scott responded. "We don't need to litigate what happened in 2020. What I'm focusing on is what's going to happen in 2024 and beyond."

Scott's endorsement of Trump was seen as something of a snub to Trump's 2024 rival Nikki Haley, who appointed Scott to the U.S. Senate in 2012 when she was governor of South Carolina.

Although Trump easily beat Haley in the first two contests for the Republican presidential nomination, in Iowa and New Hampshire, exit polls indicated he had some issues with independent and college-educated voters and Haley has vowed to stay in the race as the last major opponent to Trump.

Asked why he believes Haley should end her campaign, Scott said, "My theory is a simple one."

"When I dropped out of the race in November, it was because the writing was clear on the wall then," he said. "It is now more clear that what Republicans, conservatives and a lot of independents want today is four more years of Donald Trump."

Still, Scott repeatedly dodged Raddatz after she pressed him on how Trump will win over independent voters in the general election despite the exit polls showing most of them backed Haley in New Hampshire.

Scott instead pointed to what he said was Trump's relatively notable support among women as well as Black and Hispanic voters. And he went on to attack Haley for her criticism of Trump's mental competency rather than defend Trump for calling Haley a "bird brain" and falsely claiming she can't be president because her parents were not yet American citizens when she was born in South Carolina.

"Both candidates, and all candidates, should focus on the issues without any question. But Nikki Haley talks about the president's age and a competency test. I think that turns off senior voters," Scott said.

Haley has said Trump's recent gaffes -- apparently confusing the former ambassador for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden for former President Barack Obama -- should be a "warning sign" about his mental fitness.

In response, Trump said on the trail that he feels like his mind is "stronger now than it was 25 years ago."

Scott focused on Haley's attacks when Raddatz asked about Trump's insults of her.

"His language is far more provocative than mine," Scott said. "But this is not about simply my opinion of one candidate. I also think that talking about someone's age is inappropriate when, especially, they are competent, qualified and ready to go to be the next president of the United States."

The focus, Scott said, should be on the general election: "This race is over from a primary perspective, OK. We should turn our attention to Joe Biden."