You do a pretty good job analyzing political considerations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told me the other day. But he said I seldom if ever seemed to consider that sometimes politicians do what they think is right.
We were deep in a discussion of the governor's supporting a hate-crimes law and his attempt at balancing business interests in dealing with the pandemic.
Now Hutchinson has me thinking anew about U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton. And that, in turn, has me preparing to concede that, sometimes, the political calculation and the right thing can coincide.
It came to pass Sunday evening that Cotton put out a statement parting with Donald Trump for the first time I could recall.
Cotton announced that he would not support the action of a dozen or so fellow right-wing Republican U.S. senators in formally objecting to the electoral college report of Joe Biden's presidential victory, thus forcing a period of debate on bogus allegations that Trump got cheated.
The junior Arkansas senator and potential presidential contender in 2024 said it would be inappropriate and potentially harmful for Congress to presume at this juncture to try to undo or discredit the constitutionally established process for selecting a president that prescribes roles now completed for the people, the 50 states individually and the electors.
Cotton said he had no doubt there were voting irregularities. He said he was concerned about processes that states followed in relaxing mail-voting standards. He said those needed to be investigated fully by a commission.
But a commission would be long-term and bear not at all on Biden's inevitable inauguration or Trump's arduous removal by heavy crane from the White House.
Cotton was entirely right about the inappropriateness and the dangerous precedent. And there is nothing wrong with a commission studying the various mail-voting processes in the states and making recommendations for how states, who run their own elections independently, might improve those processes.
And I have no doubt that Cotton really believes all of that.
He deserves credit for principle and spunk if for no other reason than that he had to know Trump would tweet-attack him, as he did, and that social media would abound in Trump-cult denouncements of him, as it did.
In this case, though, declaring as right the thing he knew to be right happened to serve Cotton's savvier political calculation.
What you're looking for when pondering a race for a presidential nomination is a plausible pathway. One pathway for an ambitious national Republican is to seek to be Trump II and inherit his 35 percent base of know-nothings and the mind-misplaced.
In this case, Cotton might have chosen that path except that two of his key rivals, fellow senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, got out ahead of him. They took the lead in anti-democratic, despot-endorsing resistance to the certified outcome of a free and fair election.
Cotton was left either to sign on as a late-coming, me-too follower of his rivals or seek another path less soul-surrendered to Trump and his base.
It happens that a path could well exist for a sane version of harsh unyielding conservatism.
Trump is in the process of melting down fully. Genuine sane conservatives--like the editorial writers for The Wall Street Journal, the Koch network and right-wing radio stalwart Hugh Hewitt--tend toward a more intelligent harsh conservatism that is not only transcendent of Trump and his followers, but more genuinely conservative.
Trump is not ideological, but pathological. He is not intellectual, but narcissistic. His followers don't much know what they're talking about beyond superficial adoration of him and superficial disdain for everyone else.
Cotton can angle for the sane and smarter wing of contemporary Republicanism, and only hope it remains substantial.
Cotton seems less naturally suited to Trump madness than to scowling Dick Cheney conservatism, which was plenty conservative enough--and plenty frightful enough--back when America was more stable.
So, newly sensitized by gubernatorial admonition, I rise to praise Tom Cotton for doing the right thing.
And, still ever alert to political calculation, I submit that circumstances arose for Cotton by which he could, at once, do the right thing and politically calculate an advantage to it.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.