Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who announced Wednesday he’s testing the waters for a presidential bid, will not say whether he’d support former President Donald Trump in 2024 if he’s the GOP nominee.  

Scott, who is forming a presidential exploratory committee, a precursor to running for president, twice declined to answer a question about supporting Trump in an interview with CBS News political correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns in Iowa.

“If Donald Trump is the nominee for the Republican Party, would you support him?” Huey-Burns asked. 

I plan on being the nominee,” Scott responded. “Obviously, I have an exploratory committee moving forward.”

“But if Trump is the nominee, would you support him?” Huey-Burns pressed again. 

Obviously, I’m looking forward to being the nominee, as I’m working on my own exploratory committee,” Scott said. 

Scott, the junior senator from South Carolina, very rarely criticizes the former president in public. Instead, he has focused on his vision for the nation, notably more upbeat than the darker grievance-laden pitch often voiced by former President Trump. Trump has more name recognition than any candidate running or considering a bid for the presidency, but Scott thinks there’s an opening for a candidate like him.

“I see that America is starving for positive, optimistic leadership,” Scott told Huey-Burns. “I want to provide that alternative not to any specific candidate, but for the American people.”

“The difference between me and others, I believe, is that my focus is on the fact that I used to be a kid who didn’t see a future,” Scott continued. “I used to be a kid that was angry about the cards that I was dealt. I was blessed by a mother who never surrendered. I was blessed by a mentor who always loved and supported my ideal self. And it’s because of those two individuals that I now have greater faith in the future for others. And I see my responsibility of sharing the good news of who we can be because we have been. If we can unite this country around the solutions, focusing more on those solutions than anything else, it’s my only path forward, and it’s the one I’ve chosen.”

MAGA Inc., the super PAC established by Trump allies, discouraged Scott’s possible candidacy. “Voters have rallied around President Trump, and are ready to take the fight to the Democrats,” said Alex Pfeiffer, spokesman for MAGA Inc. “This competition for second place is an expensive distraction and detriment to that ultimate goal.” 

Scott has events planned this week in the key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and his own home state of South Carolina. Scott said his trip to Iowa is his 12th or 13th visit to the state since 2016, when he traveled here to help boost other GOP candidates. 

“We’ve been supportive of the team here for, golly, almost eight years,” Scott said when asked if he’s laid any groundwork in the state for a potential presidential candidacy. “We hope so.” He’s counting on his message of a heritage of faith to resonate with Republican voters in Iowa, and he believes it already is. 

On the topic of abortion, Scott declined to take the same stance as his fellow senator, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has called for a federal ban on abortions at 15 weeks. Scott described himself as “100% pro-life,” but did not back a specific policy position. 

Scott also opened up about his mother, a single mom who challenged him to make a better future for himself, despite their poverty. He became emotional when he talked about telling his mom he was planning on running for president. 

“I think she kind of cried, honestly. I think it’s — wow, I get emotional,” Scott said. “It’s amazing to have such a miserable beginning and then have a chance to continue to represent not only your country, but your family. And her sacrifice — she’s my real American hero — her sacrifices along the way to get me to this place, it’s undeniable and it deserves to be celebrated. And one of the ways that you celebrate that sacrifice is to do all that you can whenever you can to share the good news that she shared with me that all things are possible. She used to say, ‘Timmy, if you just shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll be among the stars.’ And, you know, it took a long time for that to stick. I’m so thankful that she never surrendered. She never gave up on me.” 

— Aaron Navarro contributed to this report