Sanders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson will appear together for the first time during “America Leads: An Ideas Summit.” It is scheduled for Oct. 19 and will be held at the Momentary in Bentonville. Former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was announced as the keynote speaker in June.
Hutchinson is term-limited from running for governor this year. He has frequently said he has national aspirations beyond the governor’s office, which may include a run for the White House in 2024, which could put him in a Republican primary race against Sanders’ former boss, Donald Trump. Sanders was the president’s press secretary from 2017-2019.
Hutchinson has been critical of the former president, who is also thought to be considering another run for office in 2024. In an August interview with the Washington Post, Hutchinson sharply rebuked Trump and said he had disqualified himself as a 2024 presidential candidate because of the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“I do stand by that,” Hutchinson told the Post. “I don’t drive that message every day. But I honestly answer questions when I’m asked. And so, yes, I stand by that. I believe that. What’s important to me is that we need to talk about 2024 after the election this fall. Now I know that the timeline is accelerating, and former President Trump is a reason for that. He’s out there talking about 2024 constantly. And whenever he does that, that becomes and he becomes the issue in this year’s election. And it’s not good for Republican candidates if Trump is the issue. We need to be talking about our solutions and our philosophy of reduce government and lower taxes, less regulation and driving our economy forward and controlling spending. Those are issues and solutions that we offer that are critically important, the rule of law and supporting law enforcement. If we get sidetracked on a personality that is as divisive as Donald Trump, then that does not bode well for the outcome in November. We’re going to do well. I have no doubt about that. But we lose ground whenever Donald Trump becomes the issue.”
When the Post asked if the Republican party needs to move beyond Trump, Hutchinson said it’s difficult to do so with “a visible former president that’s out there holding campaign rallies.
“He becomes a topic, and that’s probably what he loves. But in terms of the grassroots of our party, he’s got a significant following. And any candidate that wants to be president has to be able to identify with the issues that Donald Trump is able to drive. I mean, these are real concerns, ones I just articulated from a conservative message on crime and inflation. He’s talking about those same things. And so we’re all on the same page in terms of the major issues, but he distracts–it distracts the voters over to himself and it becomes about him versus the issues and the problem solving that we need to focus on.”
Hutchinson’s education and advocacy organization America Strong and Free Inc. is organizing the Bentonville event. Other newsmakers and thought leaders previously announced to participate at the summit include former Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, former Rep. J.C. Watts, entrepreneurs Steuart and Tom Walton, and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) senior fellows Dr. Kori Schake, Klon Kitchen, and John Bailey.
Haley Barbour will moderate a discussion between Sanders and Hutchinson. Barbour is a former two-term Mississippi governor, former chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Reagan White House political director and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
“We have an incredible slate of strong leaders who are passionate about putting America first and working to make sure our nation stays true to the principles of freedom and strength upon which it was founded,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The 2022 elections will be crucial in determining the future of our nation, and we plan on having productive discussions about the issues we believe voters care about most — maintaining a strong military, keeping taxes reasonable, prioritizing freedom in faith and education, and working with the private sector to invest in our communities.”
According to a news release Tuesday (Sept. 20), panel topics at the summit will include:
- Morning Coffee & Ideas in Diplomacy: with perspectives on China, Russia and America’s global leadership
- America Leads in Education: a look at the intersection of school choice, parental rights and the values of education
- America Leads in Securing our Future: protecting our interests, securing our border and safeguarding the next generation
- America Leads by Faith: the role of faith and freedom in policy and whether it unites or divides us
- America Leads in the Heartland: the power of ideas and entrepreneurial leadership
Tickets may be purchased at this link.