The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Asa Hutchinson shows up weak-kneed Republican presidential contenders

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a high school in Clinton, Ark., on Aug. 9, 2021. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

No one should expect Republican contenders for president to repudiate the National Rifle Association or the right-wing radicals on the Supreme Court, though both are amply warranted. But those who offer themselves as alternatives to former president Donald Trump must at a bare minimum condemn racists and antisemites and demonstrate some ability to uphold the oath of office they would take if elected.

Aside from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), there is virtually only one 2024 contender who has done this effectively. That is Asa Hutchinson, the unassuming Republican governor of Arkansas who has displayed how one can maintain staunch conservative policy credentials without sacrificing decency, honor and fidelity to democracy.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union" on Sunday, Hutchinson condemned Trump’s recent dinner with white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that's setting an example for the country or the party to meet with an avowed racist or antisemite,” Hutchinson said. “And so it’s very troubling, and it should not happen. And we need to avoid those kinds of empowering the extremes. And when you meet with people, you empower. And that’s what you have to avoid.” He added, “You have got to be absolutely clear in your communication that this is not acceptable dogma, it’s not acceptable conversation, it’s not acceptable history and you have to disavow it.” He reiterated that Trump had “failed to do that.”

This is in direct contrast to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who routinely tramples on the First Amendment and has refused to condemn a group of demonstrators who appeared in Tampa earlier this year decked out in Nazi regalia. Meanwhile, other potential GOP candidates, such as sniveling Trump sycophants former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former vice president Mike Pence, seem incapable of denouncing their former boss for egregious conduct.

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Hutchinson, in his CNN appearance, shared an excerpt of a speech he plans to deliver at the Reagan Library on Nov. 30: “Historically, Republicans do not attack America’s democracy," the excerpt reads. "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.” That’s a message that one rarely hears from Republicans these days.

Hutchinson has also been clear in rejecting election denial, saying Trump “disqualified himself” with his conduct following the 2020 election. He’s been unequivocal about President Biden’s election and he has scolded the GOP for lashing out at the FBI after it executed the search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.

In addition, Hutchinson has demonstrated willingness to at least abide by courts’ constitutional rulings. As he told The Post’s Leigh Ann Caldwell in August: “I believe, historically, and from my own personal viewpoint, that a marriage is between one man and one woman. That is my personal viewpoint. But I accepted very quickly the Supreme Court ruling. I made it clear that we’re going to issue the licenses in Arkansas to same-sex couples pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling, and that I see is continuing in future. I don’t see that changing.”

Hutchinson doesn’t deserve a medal for simply stating the truth, adhering to the law or recognizing the results of a democratic election. But he has cleared the bare minimum requirements for holding public office. He has chosen not to throw red meat to the GOP’s deranged base nor to cling to Trump for fear of raising the MAGA cult’s ire. That is something.

Hutchinson’s reaffirmation of the rudimentary values of our democratic system suggests he is at least capable of upholding the oath of office. That the same cannot be said about so many other Republicans vying for the 2024 presidential primaries speaks volumes about the state of the GOP. Hutchinson remains a long shot for 2024 precisely because he resembles the pre-Trump, “normal” GOP.

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