During freshman orientation, while the rest of us were trying to figure out where lunch would be served, Tim was already interviewing potential staff members. Seriously, he once left an orientation lunch to interview potential legislative directors in the lobby of the hotel. He hit the ground running, analyzing which roles to seek on which committees far more strategically than the rest of us. When you're new to DC, the most enviable position is in the eye of the media, and Tim had daily opportunities for TV appearances. He was gracious, and he always had time for Mick, Jeff, and me, but he was light-years ahead of us in terms of exposure, prestige, and notoriety. The rest of us were never asked to go on television to discuss the issues, because nobody knew who we were. It wasn't the media's fault; they simply had never heard of Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Duncan, or Trey Gowdy. Nobody scrutinized our affiliations, as they
did when Tim chose not to join the Congressional Black Caucus. No one in the media asked whether the white conservative Republican congressmen from South Carolina would be able to connect with the first black president of the United States. All of that was reserved exclusively for Tim Scott. He had a perch that the rest of us could not attain. With it came pressures the rest of us could barely imagine.
I remember sitting one night with Tim, Jeff, and Mick in a DC restaurant, early in January 2011, when Tim politely excused himself to, as he said, "honor a prior commitment." As he rose from the table, he smiled a smile that I've since learned means he knows something the rest of us don't know. Twenty minutes later, I glanced up at a large-screen TV in the dining room, and there was Tim Scott, larger than life, being interviewed on national television. But Tim wasn't touting his own importance. He never even told us where he was going. He was almost embarrassed by the fact that he was famous. But he was, and fame comes with a cost.
I, on the other hand, was one of the least known members of our freshman class—and for many good reasons. There was nothing particularly special about my arrival in Washington, except to my mom. Middle-aged, gray-haired men with law degrees are a dime a dozen on our side of the aisle. I had never served in the South Carolina state legislature. I had never been anything other than a prosecutor—no county council, no school board, and no legislative branch experience.
I got to Congress by winning the Republican primary against an incumbent congressman, which is hardly the way to ingratiate yourself to others in the party. The media labeled me as part of the Tea Party movement, mostly because it was the easiest way to explain how I had won; but it was also because they viewed that label as a pejorative. But in actuality, no Tea Party group supported me in the GOP primary. The Tea Party supported my friend and fellow candidate Jim Lee. I wasn't anybody's favorite. I hadn't ever met John Boehner, Eric Cantor, or Kevin McCarthy before the 2010 Republican primary. So when I arrived in Washington after the election, there were few, if any, expectations for me beyond the lines of my district, and there was no spotlight seeking me out.
Riding into town with Tim Scott, the new hero of the Republican party, I knew I had a choice. I could mind my own business and try to figure things out for myself. I could be jealous of his fame and notoriety (which is a popular option in our line of work). Or I could ask myself some questions about this rising star from Charleston, South Carolina.
How did he get here?
What are the qualities that put him in this position?
How is it that he is always gregarious, always in a good mood, and always humble?
I watched him, and I took mental notes.
Tim could have easily won the job of freshman class president, except he didn't run for it. We tried to get him to run. He would have been the only candidate if he had run. No one would have challenged him. But he didn't run.
(Mental note: This guy has some humility.)
He could have dominated every freshman class meeting. We actually wanted him to talk more! But he spoke only when he believed he had something of real importance and significance to add.
(Mental note: This guy knows when to speak and when to listen.)
He could have had whatever position and any Committee assignments he wanted in that Congress, but he opted for a behind-the-scenes role where he would have influence even if no one else knew it.
(Mental note: This guy is strategic.)
I was intrigued by this up-and-coming colleague with unmistakable star power who seemed to break all the clichés and conventions of chasing the spotlight. Tim was a shining light in the epicenter of the political world, he was in constant demand from the media, and he had a cadre of young black conservatives seeking him as their mentor. And he was in the midst of a meteoric rise to prominence on one of the largest stages in American government. A confluence of factors like these would cause a lesser man to change his personality in a town fully capable of distorting one's perspective. But none of this changed a single thing about Tim Scott. From the very beginning, I knew one thing for sure: This man was different. He was at peace with who he was, and he wasn't going to change.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.