Asa Hutchinson had a moment Sunday. CNN invited him back on "State of the Nation" where, for a while, he'd started to resemble a regular.
They called him this time because Donald Trump had dined with a white supremacist, and Hutchinson, per usual, was a rare Republican with a demonstrated willingness to criticize Trump. Even better, in this case Hutchinson was a former U.S. attorney who had gone face-to-face with a white supremacist group up in the Ozarks in the '80s that the FBI caught engaging in paramilitary training and attempted terrorist actions.
Asa, still pre-positioning himself for a bid for the Republican presidential nomination that seems implausible but not to him, pounced. And he doesn't normally like to pounce verbally. Sometimes you can ask him something over the phone and get the idea you've lost the connection. But eventually he comes in, having thought out the question and arrived at a safe response.
But, yes, he blurted without hesitation, that, when it came to dealing with white supremacists, his last personal occasion was when he put on a bullet-proof vest and entered the compound of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Law to negotiate a blessedly nonviolent close of an armed standoff. Then he prosecuted the leader and got a conviction. Then the group faded.
Hutchinson said he hoped for a day when we don't have to respond to Trump, but that this dinner Trump willingly shared with Kanye West, or Ye now, who has said antisemitic things, and an avowed white supremacist brought along by Ye--by the name of Nick Fuentes--necessitated strong denouncement.
Hutchinson said you empower these extremist and dangerous types when you meet with them as if they're normal or acceptable. And he said Trump couldn't deflect by saying he didn't know Ye was bringing this other fellow he didn't know--because he agreed to meet with Ye of antisemitic rhetoric in the first place.
While saying he didn't know Fuentes, which would be bad enough, Trump has failed to say he disapproves of him. That apparently comes from his fear of offending the crazies in his base--or, perhaps more precisely, the craziest. And we know from Charlottesville that Trump likes to take note of "good" white supremacists.
So, since Sunday morning, I've seen a spate of national references to Hutchinson's comments, which, it seems to me, enhances the prospect of Asa's pre-positioning coming to amount to something possibly real. His plan has been to hang around and try to get himself identified as a rare vocal non-Trumper as Trump loses steam, and, in this instance, do so with a little sting and some stark direct contrast.
It all serves to remind that Hutchinson told me he was getting "traction" in his presidential contemplation, even as I gave away dubiousness, and has told others who have told me that he thinks Iowa is a good place for him.
The emerging curiosity is whether Asa might find a primary-campaign path as the Republican who basically called Trump a wuss in saying he stared down and arrested and convicted white supremacists and antisemites rather than had a fancy dinner with them.
I even find myself contemplating an early debate of the GOP presidential candidates in which a journalist asks all the candidates to say whether they'd commit to support the eventual nominee. Asa would undercut his entire campaign essence if he said, sure, I'd support Trump if it came to that.
I suspect he'd try a finesse, saying the right question was whether independents and swing voters in key states would vote for Trump, and that the answer to that from the last two elections was clearly "no."
Or he might be direct and bold, as with the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord. He might put on that old bullet-proof vest and answer simply that he could never support Trump.
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.