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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Asa waiting for his chance

by John Brummett | September 22, 2021 at 3:30 a.m.

There was Asa Hutchinson grinning and spinning on the premium cable channel called Showtime, trying to stay on the balance beam with his routine posing a high level of difficulty.

He seeks to emerge on the national scene as a Republican whom Democrats can stand while trying not to become one Republicans can't, or vice versa.

This was Sunday night on a new-age political series called "The Circus," which came of age during the Trump madness and does an engaging job showcasing its celebrity cast's pursuit of the story.

Hutchinson was chatting in his second-floor office at the state Capitol with Jen Palmieri, confirmed high-level Democratic operative for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton now turned "reporter" in this new age.

The story was that Hutchinson is a Republican governor trying to blend or finesse responsible attention to science with his party's coalescence against giving a darn about the covid-19 virus.

On her way to that story, Palmieri went to Doe's because she's a veteran Democratic partisan and the joint became famous in Bill Clinton's glory day. She found a couple of old boys lunching and saying they got the vaccine but that the government has no business telling them they had to get it.

That wasn't bad, I must say, getting the essence of Arkansas in one sentence.

Then Palmieri was up the hill at the state Capitol and Asa was telling her that, why, yes, this once was Clinton's office.

She wore a mask as she asked questions. Asa didn't as he answered, because, after all, this is Arkansas. His balance-beam routine is to talk a moderate game but walk a conservative one.

I've had people ask what Hutchinson is up to by appearing on national television so much. I answer that he has a high level of confidence in his political ability and wants to be a part of the national conversation. He wants to wait to see how Republicans shake out--whether they remain laden with Donald Trump or move past him.

He is seeking a seat in the green room awaiting a possible chance to go on stage. Perhaps he could run for president. Perhaps he could become part of some other Republicans' non-Trump administration. Perhaps he'll go home to Rogers in January 2023 and join a couple of enriching corporate boards.

He'll take any of those as long as he doesn't have to deal with Trent Garner and Bob Ballinger any longer.

National media people like him because he has a national resume--Congress, impeachment prosecutor of Clinton, high-level appointee in the George W. Bush administration, current chairman of the National Governors Association--and advances an amiable Trump-averse politics passing for Republican reason by the current grading curve.

His conversation with Palmieri was brief and notable more for occurring than for anything he said, which is the way he likes it.

He repeated that he opposes President Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers because he's had more success mildly cajoling, holding community meetings at which he enlists respected local medical professions to explain the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Arkansas has one of the lower vaccination rates in the country and one of the higher infection rates. Asa's point seems to be that the state could easily be even worse absent his mild manner.

Palmieri then asked whether Hutchinson would be saying something different if Trump were president and had mandated vaccines.

I expected Hutchinson to deliver the obvious answer, which was that Trump wouldn't have done that. But he instead chose the comfort of pleasant-sounding vagueness, saying, "I'd like to think not."

They used to ridicule Clinton as "Slick Willie" for such performances. "Slick Asa" doesn't have the ring, I guess.

But credit where due: Hutchinson said one radical thing. Asked by Palmieri how he would prefer to see his party proceed on the contemporary landscape, he said the GOP needed to become the party of "fact" and of "telling the truth."

My goodness. When you think about it--the pandemic, the election and the insurrection--the amiable governor of Arkansas was calling for a complete Republican revolution.

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

Print Headline: Asa waiting for his chance

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