(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley are pushing back after former President Barack Obama criticized their stances on race relations.
The two South Carolina Republicans dinged Obama for his handling of race during his presidency, with Scott, the only Black candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination, arguing on “The Mark Levin Show” that Obama missed an opportunity to unite the country as America’s first Black president.
“Let us not forget we are a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression,” Scott tweeted Thursday night after the radio appearance. “Democrats deny our progress to protect their power. The Left wants you to believe faith in America is a fraud and progress in our nation is a myth.”
“The truth of MY life disproves the lies of the radical Left. We live in a country where little Black and Brown boys and girls can be President of the United States. The truth is – we’ve had one and the good news is – we will have another,” the tweet continued.
And Friday morning, Haley, who is of Indian descent, followed suit, tweeting, “[Obama] set minorities back by singling them out as victims instead of empowering them. In America, hard work & personal responsibility matter. My parents didn’t raise me to think that I would forever be a victim. They raised me to know that I was responsible for my success.”
Earlier Thursday, Obama defended people who are “skeptical” of Republican presidential candidates such as Scott and Haley when it comes to race, suggesting they turn a blind eye to past and present racial inequalities.
“If somebody is not proposing, both acknowledging and proposing elements that say, ‘No, we can’t just ignore all that and pretend as if everything’s equal and fair. We actually have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.’ If they’re not doing that, then I think people are rightly skeptical,” he told Axelrod.
Obama said Republicans skate over racial inequities when they need to tackle the issue head on.
“I think there’s a long history of African-American or other minority candidates within the Republican Party who will validate America and say, ‘Everything’s great, and we can make it.’ Nikki Haley I think has a similar approach,” Obama said Thursday on “The Axe Files with David Axelrod.”
“I’m not being cynical about Tim Scott individually, but I am maybe suggesting the rhetoric of ‘Can’t we all get along?’ … that has to be undergirded with an honest accounting of our past and our present,” he continued, noting that he has yet to see “somebody in the Republican Party that is more serious about actually addressing some of the deep inequality that still exists in our society.”
Scott typically presents race relations in America with an optimistic tone, often telling of how his grandfather who picked cotton in the deep South lived to see his grandson “pick out a seat in Congress.”
After “The View” co-host Joy Behar suggested Scott doesn’t understand “the systemic racism that African Americans face in this country, and [faced by] other minorities,” Scott went on the show to push back.
“I believe America could do for anyone what she’s done for me: restoring hope, creating opportunities, and defending and protecting the America that we love, it’s such an important combination,” he said on “The View” earlier this month.
There isn’t much incentive for Black Republicans to adopt stronger stances on racial politics, according to Dr. Leah Wright Rigueur, author of “The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.”
“The first thing to keep in mind is that for Black Republicans that have high ranking or highly visible positions, there’s no reward right now for them challenging whatever the standard narrative that is of the Republican Party,” she told ABC News. “In that respect, we know that the standard for the Republican Party right now is that there is no such thing as systemic racism.”
But Scott has made overtures to racial justice activists in the past. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the senator went before Congress to give a passionate speech on his own racial experiences. He also pushed for police reform in his failed legislation, the Justice Act.
Still, Scott seems keenly aware of his place in the discourse, declining to join the Congressional Black Caucus in 2010.
“While I recognize the efforts of the CBC and appreciate their invitation for me to caucus with them, I will not be joining at this time. My campaign was never about race,” he said at the time.
More than 60% of Americans believe racism against Black people is widespread in the United States, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. However, about two-thirds of U.S. adults believe that when it comes to racism against Black people, racism by individual people is a bigger problem than racism in laws, a 2022 Pew Research poll says.
ABC News’ Abby Cruz contributed to this report.
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