Asa’s resolve

by Paul Holmes ([email protected]) 739 views 

If we’ve learned nothing else about former Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the past several months, it’s that he’s demonstrated considerable resolve and his own sense of timing.

In January 2022, speculation was that Hutchinson would announce a bid for the Republican Party’s nomination for president of the United States. He would be finishing up his two terms as governor, and couldn’t seek the office again because of Arkansas’ term limit law.

Hutchinson addressed a crowd of state government officials and local leaders at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Big River Steel facility near Osceola in January 2022. National media reps were on hand. No one knew if the big announcement from Hutchinson would come that day, but the network types wanted to be sure that if it came they didn’t miss it.

Hutchinson, with his usual aplomb, spoke at length to the media after the groundbreaking for the huge steel mill that will build on Mississippi County’s reputation as the largest steel-making county in the United States. but didn’t reveal whether he was in or out of the Republican race to become the nominee.

It wasn’t until a year later, in April 2023, that Hutchinson, a former U.S. Representative from the 3rd Congressional District, a former U.S. attorney and former director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, announced what was by then a foregone conclusion — he was joining the crowded field of candidates for the GOP nomination.

Seven months hence, the speculation now is Hutchinson will soon be gone from the field because of his low polling numbers that kept him out of the most recent debates. Hutchinson has said he planned to stay in the race until Thanksgiving and if he wasn’t polling at least 4% by the time some of the early state primaries rolled around, he’d “re-evaluate” his campaign. Some took that to mean he’d drop out of the “Super Tuesday” primaries, but no, that’s not what he said, the presidential hopeful reiterated.

The Republican caucus is set for Jan. 15 in Iowa, with the Republican primaries set Jan. 23 in New Hampshire, and Feb. 24 in South Carolina, home of presidential candidate and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Haley, who has served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said she’s not interested in the vice presidential spot on the Republican ticket, but only in top billing.

Hutchinson is entered in the Arkansas Republican primary, which is one of a number of so-called “Super Tuesday” primary elections slated for March 5. At present, he is polling at less than 1%.

Frontrunner and former U.S. President Donald Trump, who has strong support in Arkansas and elsewhere, is expected to outpoll Hutchinson in Arkansas. Trump far outpolls all other GOP candidates seeking the nomination.

Hutchinson has positioned himself as the only “true conservative” in the GOP primary field. He says he wants the Republican Party not to be the party of Trump, but the one that espouses the principles of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan — the party of equal opportunity, individual responsibility, and a limited role of government.

Hutchinson has previously said that by the time the four early Republican primaries have been decided, he may have to make a decision.

“They ought to let the first four states vote and let’s see, you know, where the strength is then. And there’s certainly adequate time to make sure that we have the organized opposition to a Donald Trump presidency,” Hutchinson told NBC’s Jillian Frankel.

However, in the week before Thanksgiving, Hutchinson said because of changing world conditions, he should stay in the race. Due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, now is not the time for someone with his background and experience to drop out of the Republican primary race.

“Now we’re at war in the Middle East, there’s more regional conflict. There’s a greater need for me to be in this race for president now than even 30 days ago,” he said.

It seems unlikely that the war between Israel and Hamas will be settled before, during or after the early states hold their primaries. Nor does it seem likely Hutchinson will improve his standing in the polls in those early states nor will his campaign coffers suddenly become filled with contributions.

Even though his nomination is extremely unlikely, perhaps Hutchinson will attract enough money and attention to stay in the race long enough for his fellow party members to listen to what a candidate with composure, a calm demeanor and significant government experience has to say, even if they don’t choose him as their standard-bearer.

Editor’s note: Paul Holmes is editor-at-large for Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.