early and often

Asa Hutchinson: The Ideal Candidate for a GOP That No Longer Exists

Hutchinson’s running for president not just in the wrong year but the wrong era. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

When writing about the 2024 Republican presidential field, it’s a judgment call as to whether you mention candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy or Larry Elder, who have never held public office and have no plausible path to the nomination. These people are counting on members of the media to include them in the 2024 conversation because we are supposed to believe that in 2016, Donald Trump forever abolished minimum qualifications for the presidency.

But whatever you think about candidates in the “Some Dude” lane, it’s impossible to entirely ignore the equally implausible presidential aspirant Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Ol’ Hutch (he’s 72, youthful by Biden-Trump standards but still a bit long in the tooth for someone entering national politics) served two terms in Congress, occupied two significant sub-Cabinet positions in George W. Bush’s administration, and then was a two-term governor of his state until he hit term limits and gave way to the more carnivorous MAGA favorite Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He’s by far the most vocally anti-Trump candidate in the 2024 field without being totally off the conservative ideological reservation like Larry Hogan or Liz Cheney or other Beltway heartthrobs who wisely chose not to run.

Despite being an announced candidate with a serious résumé and a “lane” to himself, Hutchinson is nowhereseville in 2024 polls (in the RealClearPolitics averages, he’s in tenth place with 0.9 percent). To put it simply, he’s selling something Republicans don’t want, which is a repudiation not just of Trump but of Trumpism and the culture-war mentality epitomized by Trump’s most serious rival, Ron DeSantis. But presumably because it had already scheduled an interview with Hutch, Politico Playbook created a fantasy world in which the Arkansan is “the 2024 candidate Democrats should fear.” It built the case for Hutchinson ’24 on the foundation of what it had heard from unnamed “Democratic strategists”:

If you talk to Democratic strategists about what kind of candidate they fear in 2024, there are a few things on their checklist:

* Someone who knows how to speak in the language of inclusion

* Someone who can discuss abortion and guns in a way that doesn’t alienate suburban voters in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia

* Someone who has a record of standing up to his own party on certain issues dominating the culture wars

* Someone who can argue that he or she has almost as much governing experience as Joe Biden himself, but is still younger

* Someone who handled the pandemic in their state in a way that avoided some of the most unpopular decisions of both Democrats and Republicans

* And someone who spends a lot of their time explaining to Republicans why the GOP should leave Trump in the past.

Reading this list of desiderata, I wanted to add, “Someone who is totally unrepresentative of the Republican Party as it exists today.” Maybe such a candidate is theoretically quite electable, but being nominatable is a condition precedent to the Hutch-Whoever ticket. Put aside his heretical actions as governor on both anti-trans and “religious liberty” legislation. You can read this passage from Hutchinson’s interview with Playbook and judge for yourself whether it sounds like anyone in close touch with the GOP Zeitgeist:

To me, how we approach politics should be: We have our disagreements. We fight hard for our cause and our beliefs. But, you know, we don’t impugn somebody’s integrity; we don’t impugn somebody’s motives and say they ‘hate America.’ You know: Bill Clinton cares about people; we just have a different way of approaching solutions.

In multiple ways, this attitude is way out of date. Hutchinson’s candidacy is reminiscent of the old jibe: “If he had some ham, he could make a ham sandwich, if he had some bread.” He would be a star in a very different Republican Party than the one that actually exists. But his conventional conservative extremism on issues like abortion and guns mean he’s not going to draw new “moderate” recruits into his MAGA-addled party. He should, however, be given credit for realism about his actual prospects of coming out of literally nowhere to win the nomination:

Sure, it’s a long shot. But, you know, I do duck hunting. I like duck hunting. And my best shot is a long shot. I could hit that bird from a long ways away.

It is indeed a long, long way from here to the alternate universe in which Asa Hutchinson is a viable presidential candidate. But if he sticks around, he could make the debates interesting.

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Asa Hutchinson: The Ideal Candidate for an Imaginary GOP