Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Nov. 30, 2022, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. (Screen grab from YouTube video)
As Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s term nears its end, he’s taking nearly every advantage to polish his presidential bona fides. Just last week, former President Donald Trump gave Hutchinson an excellent opportunity to remind his party, and the nation, that true leaders don’t take meetings with public racists or antisemites.
In an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Hutchinson called Trump’s luncheon meeting with Kanye West and White Nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes “very troubling” and said it empowered extremists. CNN’s Chris Cilizza said Hutchinson’s comments “are in keeping with how he is positioning himself for a potential 2024 presidential bid: as the conscience of the conservative movement.”
In a speech at the Reagan Library and Institute in California on Nov. 30, Hutchinson continued in that vein. Though he didn’t criticize Trump by name, he made a direct reference to the Mar-a-Lago meeting after noting that as a federal prosecutor he had helped end a standoff between white supremacists and federal agents and then prosecuted the militants.
“I will never understand leadership that chooses to diminish or divide Americans, and I will never understand why a leader would give credibility to such hate-filled extremists by breaking bread with them,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson spoke as part of the Reagan Library’s “A Time for Choosing” speaker series and carried that theme through his talk.
American voters in the midterm elections showed “a remarkable pragmatism in their choices,” rejecting extreme candidates and voting “for democracy and the future,” the governor said.
Many voters, through their choice of leaders, showed their “dislike for a process that has gone from dignified leadership to the worst kind of schoolyard antics,” he said.
The election results “reflect a victory for democracy and a rejection of those candidates who failed to understand the time,” he went on. “It was time for taking a stand … Candidates must speak with clarity and work to unite rather than divide Americans.”
Hutchinson spoke optimistically about the lesson Republicans should learn after an expected “red wave” of GOP victories did not materialize.
“The voters did not reject Republican ideas. They rejected some candidates because they did not embrace Republican principles. Historically, Republicans do not attack America’s democracy; Republicans do not denigrate our political system; Republicans do not undermine confidence in America; and Republicans do not attack those institutions that are fundamental to the rule of law and preservation of our Republic.”
Referring to the cultural controversies embroiling many communities today, he said that “what we see today is not new … but the question always remains as to how do you contend for your beliefs.”
The Republican approach, he said, should be to “impact the culture through your individual actions, engaging your community, parents being involved in education decisions, and through your house of worship.”
Too many, he said, “are doing the wrong thing when they disagree with their neighbors. Too many on the right and the left are silencing opposition, and even worse, using and abusing government authority to do it.
“A conservative should not mimic the political left by using the power of the state to punish a business if the business is operating lawfully.”
Hutchinson touched on major issues facing the country — the rural/urban divide, health care, Russia, Ukraine, China, immigration — and the importance of individual responsibility, sounding very much like a Reagan Republican.
“We must aspire beyond our differences and create an America that is defined by our shared values of freedom, individual responsibility, equality of opportunity, and respect for the rule of law that allows us all to chase our American Dreams.”
Hutchinson said the GOP needs leaders who mirror Reagan: “consistent conservative, pragmatic in governing, and optimistic despite our challenges. We need leaders drawing us together based upon our shared values, not alienating us when we disagree.”
Hutchinson could have been describing himself. Whether his party and Republican voters see those characteristics as ideal in a future president the 2024 primaries likely will decide. The recent track record doesn’t make me optimistic.
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