President Donald Trump’s tweets targeting the residents of Baltimore made U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a self-described a man of faith, cringe.
“I think anytime you leave the impression, intended or not, that you’re targeting vulnerable people, I say, ‘God have mercy on the party,’” the South Carolina Republican and evangelical Christian said in an interview with The State on Monday evening.
Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, was responding to Trump’s weekend Twitter attacks on U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the African American chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Retaliating against Cummings’ comments on the poor conditions of immigrant detainees at the southern border, Trump tweeted that Cummings should look in his own backyard.
“Why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings district when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States,” Trump tweeted later. “No human being would want to live there.”
At one point, Trump urged his followers on Twitter to “take a look” at one video panning over a trash-ridden backyard and alley, affixed with the hashtag “#BlacksForTrump2020.”
Cummings has a majority-black constituency. Though his district includes some poorer areas that have struggled with crime in recent years, it is also home to art museums, the National Aquarium and the renowned Johns Hopkins University.
While Trump countered that “there is nothing racist in stating plainly what most people already know, that Elijah Cummings has done a terrible job for the people of his district,” Trump’s tweets have been criticized as reinforcing stereotypes that all predominantly black communities are cesspools of violence and neglect.
Scott said he did not think Trump’s tweets were racist, calling the president an “equal opportunity offender” who simply goes after those who attack and criticize him — from Cummings now to the late-U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in years prior.
He added he appreciated that Trump’s later tweets over the weekend appeared to clarify that Trump was directing his ire at Cummings, not intending to disrespect Baltimore residents for where they chose to live.
“What his follow-up tweets did was to clarify that he was targeting Cummings and not the good people who live in Baltimore because you don’t always have the good fortune of being born into a household with a silver spoon. Some people are born into abject poverty,” Scott said.
But Scott conceded a hard truth: “These tweets make my life harder. There is no question about that.”
Scott has been actively working to improve the GOP’s image on race — he has penned op-eds criticizing colleagues’ racial insensitivity and helped launch a new nonprofit engaged in recruiting conservative candidates of color.
He has even confronted Trump.
Scott was famously invited to the White House in the fall of 2017 to educate the president about black history after he said Trump’s moral integrity was “compromised” by drawing an equivalency between Nazi sympathizers and counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Just weeks ago, Scott said Trump crossed a line in a tweet recommending that four Democratic congresswomen of color — three of whom were born in the United States — “go back” to their countries.
Scott insisted Trump’s controversial tweets and inflammatory rhetoric were not damaging his efforts to recruit minority candidates to run for Republican offices, arguing the president’s policies and accomplishments since Jan. 2017 were giving aspiring GOP politicians a compelling platform to run on.
Still, with these latest tweets, it’s personal for Scott: he grew up in poverty in North Charleston where he might have been judged by his childhood home and living arrangements.
However, Scott said, in this case, his disappointment with Trump came less from his background on race — less from his background of living in poverty — and more from his religious beliefs and the spirituality that motivates him as an elected official to defend the defenseless.
“I am fighting for people who cannot afford to hire help,” said Scott. “I am fighting for the people who cannot fight for themselves.”