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Hutchinson faults Trump for GOP schism

by Frank E. Lockwood | January 18, 2021 at 7:06 a.m.
In this file photo Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at the Arkansas Rural Economic Development Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

WASHINGTON -- After four years with President Donald Trump at the helm, a split Republican Party must emphasize conservative principles, not individual personalities, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, the governor blamed the 45th president for the recent splintering, and warned that the party will face challenges in the months that follow.

He spoke as officials in Washington, Little Rock and across the country braced for potential acts of domestic terrorism.

Arkansas National Guardsmen were dispatched Sunday to help tighten security in Washington.

"Right now, we are fractured as a result of President Trump and how he has handled it -- the postelection results -- and challenged the Electoral College and that has [left] some division, but our party will come back together," the governor told Fox News Sunday. "We're going to have a tough six months or more coming up. We're going to have a lot of soul searching that's going to be done."

Republicans will debate "the direction of the party" as well as "Trump's influence over it," he said.

The Republican Party in 2016 crafted a platform that reflected Trump's views; in 2020, it opted not to draft a new one.

[RELATED: Full coverage of elections in Arkansas »]

With Trump leaving, it's time to reexamine the party's stances on trade and foreign policy and other matters as well as its strategy for responding to President-elect Joe Biden's agenda, Hutchinson said.

"I welcome that policy debate and I think we ought to get back to the conservative principles that have made our party the majority party and, hopefully, it will move away from that personality-driven [approach] that's led us to where we are right now under President Trump," Hutchinson said.

The governor portrayed the Republican Party, overall, as ascendant, omitting any mention of his party's failure to retain control of the U.S. Senate.

"The GOP had a very successful election. Yes, we did not win the presidency but, at every other level, we had success and gained seats, so conservatism and the Republican Party is alive and well," he told Fox News' Chris Wallace.

Afterward, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said Hutchinson's assessment wasn't entirely accurate.

"They lost ground in the Senate. He ought to remember that. That didn't happen but a couple of weeks ago," Gray said.

Many of the Republicans who did pick up seats are on the fringe, Gray said.

"There weren't a lot of Asa Hutchinson Republicans elected in this election," he said.

While Hutchinson portrayed the party as strengthened after the November elections, Republican strategist Karl Rove argued that the party is badly damaged.

"The Republican Party is broken. It's fractured. It's in the midst of a civil war," he said. "It's not going to be six months. It's not going to be a year. It's going to be years before the Republican Party can put itself back together," he told Wallace later in the program.

With much of Washington locked down and Biden's inauguration nearing, states are also taking steps to prepare for potential unrest.

Hutchinson said state and federal intelligence reports have led to beefed up security in Little Rock.

"We're taking necessary precautions to make sure that we protect our Capitol and our citizens, he said. "You want to be over-prepared versus underprepared because we never want to see a repeat of what we saw on Jan. 6 in our nation's capital," Hutchinson said.

Violent Trump supporters, intent on preventing Congress from certifying the results of the Nov. 3 election, rioted on Capitol Hill, seizing the House and Senate chambers and assaulting dozens of law enforcement officials.

One member of the U.S. Capitol Police, Brian D. Sicknick, died after the attack. A second later committed suicide. More than 50 law enforcement officers were wounded during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Charges have been filed against at least two Arkansans who stormed the Capitol.

More than 20,000 National Guardsmen are being deployed to Washington ahead of Wednesday's transfer of power.

The National Guard hasn't been deployed at the Arkansas Capitol, Hutchinson said.

"It's not to the level that I'm bringing out the National Guard. We are using civilian law enforcement. We have response teams there. We'll have a beefed-up presence at the Capitol," he said.

Extra security was in place ahead of a rally outside the Arkansas Capitol that was scheduled for later Sunday, Hutchinson said.

"We don't have any specific intelligence that there's going to be violence associated with those rallies but we want to be extra precautious," he said.

Asked what responsibility Trump bears for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Hutchinson said: "He asked all the people to come to Washington for the rally. And then he used a very aggressive language in the rally itself. And he misled people ... [about] what happened during the election, that it was stolen, and that our checks and balances are not working."

During his appearance, Hutchinson addressed the dangers posed by extremist organizations.

"I think there is a historic threat from militia groups," Hutchinson said, noting that he had helped to prosecute neo-Nazis and white supremacist terrorist organizations when he served as U.S. attorney in the 1980s.

That danger has been diminished, but not eliminated, since then, he said.

"I would say most states have some element of that threat. It exists in Arkansas, as well," he said.

Hutchinson condemned the actions of the Jan. 6 rioters, including Peter Francis Stager, the Conway man videotaped beating a police officer with a flagpole, and Richard Barnett, the Gravette man accused of storming the Capitol with a stun gun, illegally entering the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stealing government property.

"It is critical that those [lawbreakers], including the two that's been arrested from Arkansas, meet the full measure of the law."

Hutchinson, as a U.S. congressman, voted in 1998 to impeach then-President Bill Clinton for lying to a federal grand jury about sexual relations with a White House intern, as well as obstruction of justice. The next year, Hutchinson served as one of the House impeachment managers, helping to present the case against the 42nd president.

Wallace, noting those past efforts to remove Clinton, asked Hutchinson: "If you were in Congress now, would you have voted for the Trump impeachment? It certainly was much more consequential than the case against Bill Clinton."

Hutchinson said he had opposed last week's impeachment by the House, but said the allegations against Trump are "very serious."

"Impeachment is something that is both a legal equation but it's also a political equation. And I did not believe that, with the remaining weeks that were left in President Trump's term, that that served our country well," he said.

Now that the House has impeached Trump, the Senate will be required to take up the issue, Hutchinson said.

"I think at this point the outcome is unpredictable," he added.

Hutchinson was one of the first Republicans, in November, to acknowledge the likelihood that Biden had defeated Trump. Since then, he has opposed efforts to overturn the certified election results and the will of the Electoral College.

The governor, who has expressed a willingness to work with the Biden administration, is scheduled to attend Wednesday's inaugural ceremonies.


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