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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Whither pragmatist Asa?

by John Brummett | November 16, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

After fashioning for months a Trump-detached conservative Republican pragmatism--setting himself apart from most in his party by accepting the presidential election outcome--Gov. Asa Hutchinson backslid at warp speed last week.

First he joined every other establishment Republican officeholder in Arkansas--all the others confirmed servants of Donald Trump--in lining up for endorsements that pre-anointed Trump's famous falsifier Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the state's next governor.

The filing period hasn't opened. Sarah might yet get a Republican opponent. Maybe Asa and the rest were essentially saying there is no credible option.

Then, on Saturday night from the football game for the boot in Baton Rouge, Hutchinson posted on Twitter a picture of his happy red-blazered self with the LSU-attired U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, declines in subservience to Trump to accept the presidential election returns. He simply will not say that Joe Biden won.

To accompany the photograph, Asa wrote on Twitter: "So great to see my friend Steve Scalise at LSU v Arkansas game. What a great American."

I sent a message on Sunday to Hutchinson saying I'd have nothing to ask if he'd put on Twitter that he and Scalise were old friends or colleagues. But calling him a great American?

Can one be a great American and decline to distance oneself from America's sorest loser ever who is an unrepentant fomenter of an afternoon's insurrection against America?

I didn't even bring up the governor's endorsing Sanders without seeming regard for his own nephew, Jim Hendren, the state senator who departed the Republican Party months ago to found an independent group called Common Ground to promote a problem-solving legislative culture and perhaps run for governor as an independent. That's because it's highly doubtful Hendren would make the race.

Uncle Asa's joining the Sarah coronation march was probably intended in part to confirm or expedite evidence that Hendren is not going to go through with what appears to be a hopeless exercise.

Splitting the Democratic and independent vote with a Democratic nominee would be no way to defeat Sanders. Hendren might have a chance if only the Democrats wouldn't insist on fielding a candidate. But they have three or four, and they must nominate one to remain viable.

Anyway, Hutchinson professed to welcome my question about his beaming ode to the great Americanism of Scalise, the right hand to Kevin McCarthy.

The governor replied that the question was an important one in the current political climate, which is poisonously threatening to the nation in its deep and worsening divide.

The governor explained: "Steve has been a friend and I admire his comeback story after he was shot following the congressional baseball game. He was kind enough to stop by and visit me during the LSU vs. Arkansas game. Even though we disagree on Donald Trump's election loss, I still consider him a patriot. Even though I disagree with Joe Biden on most issues and I believe he is undermining our Constitution on mandates and border security, I have confidence in his love for America. Even though we have different views, we can still be collegial, civil and respectful. This is a good thing and not something to be dismissed."

Three things about that:

One is that Hutchinson equates undermining American democracy with seeking to use OSHA workplace-safety authority not exclusively for a vaccine requirement in large workplaces, but a testing option for people opposed to taking the vaccine. Asa's point strikes me as wholly lacking in any remote semblance of symmetry.

Over-reaching one's regulatory authority for public health is not as bad as trying to steal an election for personal ego.

The second is that it would be sufficiently civil and cordial to say that old friend Steve Scalise stopped by to visit and it was a pleasure to see him. But calling an election-denier a "great American" is beyond civility. It's a tacit glowing endorsement of profound un-Americanism.

Finally, my frequent recent extolling of bipartisanship has had to do with center-inclined U.S. senators negotiating an infrastructure compromise and then leveraging its passage from the center out. It has had to do with 13 House Republicans pushing that bill over the finish line and enduring the domestic terror of profanely threatening phone calls from the insurrection fomenter's stubbornly uninformed or misinformed acolytes.

Bipartisanship should make laws that leave both extremes whining in deserved defeat, from Scalise to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not to equate an insurrection appeaser with a democratic socialist.

Bipartisanship should marginalize an extremist, not extol his supposed greatness.

One would expect such extremist pandering from Sanders, since that is her political essence.

But I guess the point is that Sanders' governorship won't be quite the steep drop-off that a certain columnist has described.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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