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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Asa takes a cautious step

by John Brummett | April 28, 2022 at 2:49 a.m.

Asa Hutchinson took his retro-sane conservatism to New Hampshire for an audition Monday before the New England Council, a business group and early Republican presidential cattle-show venue.

It went all right.

Hutchinson is not running for president. He's just at this point a political animal with striking confidence and a hankering.

I describe what he is doing as loitering outside the national Republican presidential ring in case space opens up inside the ropes. He thinks that might happen via the cannibalization to be committed by the Hannibal Lecters already busy in the ring soaking fava beans and looking for corkscrews for the Chianti.

Those would be sourpusses like Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Josh Hawley.

Asa is thinking there might be a lane, or at least a narrow back alleyway, for a civilized person, a kind of Kasich-Pence hybrid, trained with vital gubernatorial experience, un-sacrificed to Trump, moderate-leaning on a few compassionate things like John Kasich, but plenty old-school conservative like Pence underneath.

It's a conservatism that wants abortion stopped, but thinks a bill on transgender bathroom use addresses a problem not existing and serves only to get people distracted from actual problems.

Hutchinson understands that politics is ever-graded on a changing curve. He told the New England audience that he was considered right wing in the 1980s and is seen as less-so now, but that he was the same now as then and that only the labels had changed.

It's much like, say, a left-of-center commentator who thought Jimmy Carter meant well and that Bill Clinton was smartly a new kind of Democrat, and that Barack Obama was inspirational and measured, but that Joe Biden has blundered by ceding to a new impractical congressional left born of insulating redistricting that gives these uncompromising, ultimately inept "progressives" politically safe islands in a politically unfriendly country.

A left-of-center commentator finds himself having warm feelings toward Mitt Romney and Hutchinson, meaning the same conservatives they always were, and who he disdained as late as 2012 and 2014, but who he appreciates now merely for accepting election results and standing averse to anti-American extremism.

It almost appeared Monday that Hutchinson had quit pacing outside the ring and started trying to crawl in under the lower rope.

He unveiled to his New Hampshire audience what he rather presumptuously called his "national message." It is that one can still be in 2022--and 2024--a solid 1980s-vintage conservative, emulating Ronald Reagan, not Trump--and by behaving as a pragmatic "problem-solver," not "chaos-creator."

Asked to whom he was referring as a "chaos-creator," he declined to name anyone. I will. Trent Garner. Bob Ballinger. Jim Jordan. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Matt Gaetz. Trump. Cruz. DeSantis. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Asa contends, or hopes, that the madness of Trumpism has not taken full hold of Republicanism; that there still exists a market for Reagan's morning in America, for a newer version of a consistent full-right conservative but one friendly with liberal Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill.

Reagan never dispatched a scruffy band of anti-American criminals to invade the U.S. Capitol to try to stop democracy. He didn't have to try to steal elections. He became president the old-fashioned way, with two voter landslides. Only twice in nine elections since he left office has the Republican presidential nominee won the majority vote. Trump is zero-for-two.

Hutchinson reaped a golden introduction Monday from like-minded New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who praised Asa's pragmatic leadership of the National Governors Association and hailed him as a "rational conservative."

We in Arkansas have come to know the type. It's one who mandates masks during only a short period of the epidemic, but throws up his arms on enforcement, and who emphasizes business activity equally with public health protection, all in a calculated effort to navigate through a virus in a negotiated way deplored by the Trumpian right for overreach and disdained by the Democratic left for the real conservatism that permeates it.

Conservatives say people had their liberties taken away. Liberals say people had their lives taken away. Asa goes to New Hampshire and laments overheated rhetoric.

His biggest political complication will be that the Trump base wins primary after primary if undiluted because the candidate is Trump, or maybe the even-Trumpier DeSantis. And his political weakness is that we tend to elect presidents who communicate effectively.

I took me two sessions to get through Hutchinson's brief Monday speech on YouTube. I literally dozed the first time. (I admit it was after lunch.) I remember less of what Asa said than of what Sununu said in introducing him.

Reagan, if you'll recall, delivered lines quite well.

Oh, well. George W. Bush said "nuke-you-ler." Maybe it's all right that Asa puts the accent on the last syllable of "president" and sneaks a hint of "r" into "Washington." I may have mispronounced "imprimatur" in a podcast the other day.

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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