CPAC 2016: Are Mia Love and Tim Scott shedding their conservative skin?

CPAC 2016: Are Mia Love and Tim Scott shedding their conservative skin?

Mia Love and Tim Scott are rising black conservative stars in the House and Senate. But are they shedding the conservative credentials that made them shine?

Mia Love at CPAC / Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons license
Mia Love at CPAC / Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons license

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., March 5, 2016 — South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Utah Congresswoman Mia Love, featured speakers at this year’s CPAC, were welcomed with much fanfare and applause. Love gave an eloquent speech on confidence and courage, and Scott laid out how the Obama administration’s soft foreign policy strategy has put us in danger and how we could overcome it.

Both hold the distinction of being firsts in their elected offices. Love is the first Haitian-American and first Republican black female to be elected to Congress. Scott is the first black from the South elected to the Senate since Reconstruction. Both wear heavy mantles upon their shoulders.

As elected officials, Love and Scott could hold a pivotal place in the conservative movement. Is their meteoric rise proof of Republican inclusiveness and diversity? Or are Love and Scott convenient tokens to let the Republican establishment show that the party is not full of old, white, racist men?

Or have Love and Scott used the conservative platform to get access into the halls of power, and are they slowly shedding those principles?

Conservatives fell hard for Love at the 2012 Republican National Convention, where she was presented as a rising star. At the time, Love was the first black female mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and was running for a congressional seat. Her compelling personal story, as well as her ability to present conservative principles easily and articulately, made for an attractive package.

Love lost her 2012 bid to unseat incumbent Jim Matheson, but when Matheson decided not to seek re-election in 2014, Love ran for the seat again and won handily—with financial backing and support of then-Speaker John Boehner and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Scott’s trajectory was less dramatic, but it was otherwise similar. As owner of his own insurance agency, Scott ran for the Charleston County Council and was elected in 1996. He served until 2008, ably learning the ropes of local politics. In 2010, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. There he took a stand and refused to join the Congressional Black Caucus, which is known for its liberal bent. Love, on the other hand, chose the opposite, becoming a part of the CBC soon after her swearing in.

Scott had served only one term in the House when in 2013, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley tapped him to fill Jim DeMint’s Senate seat after DeMint joined the Heritage Foundation. In 2014, Scott won a special election to complete the balance of DeMint’s six-year term.

Affable and self-deprecating, Scott often uses humor as a strategy not only to deflect criticism of him as a sell-out to blacks, but also to navigate the Senate. He is closely aligned with fellow South Carolinian, Rep. Trey Gowdy, chair of the Benghazi select committee. Scott, along with Haley and Gowdy, has endorsed Marco Rubio for president, a man conservatives feel has betrayed the cause by his advocacy for the Gang of 8 amnesty bill.

Love’s split from conservatives has been quicker and more obvious. Fresh off being sworn into Congress in 2015, she voted to keep Boehner as speaker of the House when many Americans expected her to vote with the conservative wing of the House to unseat him.

Love spoke to the Washington Examiner, defending her vote: “There will be a time and a place for me to stand as a lone voice of (dissent), but the vote for the speaker, is not that place. For me to be an effective congressman over the next two years it is important for me to be on the side of the elected speaker.”

Hard lines were drawn in the speaker battle and rancor was high. Conservatives saw Love’s move as standing with the establishment. Her campaign and election were assisted by Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, so she could be considered to owe a debt to them and the Party leadership; and the party did not wish to see Boehner unseated. Now that Ryan is Speaker Ryan, it seems Love made the right move for her career, but she left an indelible impression with the conservative base that she could not be trusted to fight for their principles.

That, coupled with Love’s criticism of the government shutdown over Obamacare and her rejection of the “tea party” label, is more evidence that Love is being molded less by her conservative principles and more by the party establishment.

Scott has had three years in the House and Senate combined, and has established a credible and consistent record of voting conservatively on both fiscal and social concerns. Conservative Review has given him a B grade on issues like immigration. Non-partisan organization NumbersUSA, which is singly-focused on the numerical level of U.S. immigration, has given Scott a B+ on their Immigration-Reduction Report Card rating this year’s Congressional work, and an overall Career grade of A+. However, while Scott has held his line on conservatism, he has been less of a leadership presence than his predecessor, who was often at odds with the establishment.

Love’s CPAC speech was articulate and polished, but lacked the passion and her former personal touch. It was clear that she has been groomed to express certain ideas and concepts and to downplay her own personal story, right down to the pauses to give space for applause at particular junctures. Love’s personal story was what resonated with Republicans in 2012 and what conservatives felt would guide her in her representative role. The fact that this has been dampened or extinguished suggests that a new narrative is being crafted.

Time will tell.

04-01-2016: This article has been updated to correct the role and ratings given by NumbersUSA for Senator Tim Scott, and now includes a link to their ratings scorecard.

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