Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, and four former Arkansas state legislators are founding signatories of “A Call for American Renewal,” a movement that says it is “pushing for the Republican Party to rededicate itself to founding ideals—or else hasten the creation of an alternative.”
Hendren was joined by former Speaker of the House Davy Carter and former Rep. David Meeks, both Republicans, former Rep. Nate Bell, who served as a Republican from Mena before becoming an independent in his final term, and former Sen. Bruce Maloch, a conservative Democrat from Magnolia who was defeated in his bid for re-election last November.
The group’s website says that “forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism” have arisen, and it calls for a “rebirth of the American cause.” It seeks political reforms and ethical government. It calls for American leadership in promoting freedom by example and with “the judicious application of power.”
The group’s website says it is an initiative of Stand Up Republic and the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform (REPAIR).
Stand Up Republic was formed by Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn, who ran for president as independents in 2016 and won 1.17% of the vote in Arkansas. McMullin was a Republican policy director in the House of Representatives.
REPAIR is composed of former senior U.S. government officials and conservatives who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.
Hendren said he signed the document after being contacted by Bell and Carter.
The former Republican Senate president pro tempore left the Republican Party and became an independent after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
He formed an organization, Common Ground Arkansas, that seeks to support nonpartisan solutions and candidates. Carter is a board member.
“Something has to change,” Hendren said. “Our system is broken and especially the Republican Party is broken. I am going to work to build a home for those who want common sense solutions based on truth and facts.”
Carter, a former Republican speaker of the House who represented Cabot, said the political discourse the past four years has “driven me towards more of an independent mindset.”
“I want the dialogue to go back where it’s done in a professional manner and away from this eye-poking stuff that goes on today,” he said.
Meeks, who served eight years as a Republican representative from Conway, said he is concerned about the nation’s political direction and lack of civility. While he agreed with many of President Trump’s policies, he did not support Trump’s rhetoric, which he said was divisive. He said a bipartisan commission is needed to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“I basically consider myself a Republican in exile at this point and hope that through this group that we can again turn the tide or turn the conversation back to where it needs to be,” he said.
Bell said the group’s purpose is, “The Republican Party will return to its founding principles … the principles of conservatism, and if they don’t, we’re making preparations to prepare an alternative.”
Maloch, the lone Democrat among the state’s signatories, said he agreed with the group’s founding principles.
“I just don’t see how anybody can disagree with those,” he said. “Truth, ethics, civil responsibility, opportunity – I agree with those principles and think that’s what both parties ought to work toward.”
Among the more than 150 signatories were former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who opposed Trump in the Republican Party primary in 2020 but won only 2% of the vote in Arkansas; White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci; and George Conway, the husband of former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway.
Jonelle Fulmer, Republican Party of Arkansas chair, said in a statement, “There are many voices in the Republican Party, and this is the time to join together to strengthen our party, not divide ourselves.”
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said groups like this appear more out of a desire for attention and media coverage than to advance principled policies. He said Trump will remain an important figure in the Republican Party.
“These people aren’t a majority in Arkansas,” he said. “They aren’t even really a minority. They get loud and they get a lot of media coverage, but as we see when elections (occur) when people have a chance to vote, they soundly reject these kind of extremist outside groups that care more about their own ego than they do the people of Arkansas.”
Dr. Hal Bass, Ouachita Baptist University professor emeritus of political science, said the Republican Party’s anti-Trump faction is looking for a space in which to operate, but “there’s not much space for them there.”
“Trump has claimed the Republican Party base, and it’s a reciprocal relationship,” he said. “The Republican Party base has in fact embraced Donald Trump.”
Bass said Trump gave voice to Republican voter concerns that conventional politicians weren’t providing.
“There’s clearly some indications that Trump hit a note in the Republican primary electorate that the more, I guess, conventional voices weren’t hitting,” he said. “He provided a voice for Republican voter sentiments out there that wasn’t being loudly enunciated. Now whether that voice persists, whether that voice endures, I’m not a futurist.”
Bass said that in a place like Arkansas where Republicans now dominate and Trump is popular, the group won’t make much of a difference. The Republican Party could be hurt in a swing state where the margins are narrower, but that would depend on voters’ willingness to either not vote or vote for Democrats. Historically, the party that wins the White House – in this case, the Democrats – suffers a defeat in the following mid-terms.
Bass said breakaway groups like this can shift a party’s direction. They will more likely move the party rather than create a new one.
The longer historical view, he said, is that parties shift over time – ultimately doing what they must to win elections.
He said Republicans will only modify if they keep losing elections rather than just the one in 2020, when Trump lost but Republicans made gains in the House of Representatives and almost held the Senate.