OPINION

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Asa puts on his helmet


Also in the news: Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Sunday morning on an ABC news show that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination.

He said he will make a formal announcement later this month in Bentonville. There is as yet no confirmation that his successor as the Republican governor of the state, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, will introduce him at the event and embrace his candidacy.

I'm being absurd in that immediately preceding sentence. It's irony, making a point through the evident absurdity of utter contradiction of truth.

No two governors could be more different. He advanced measured, pragmatic, problem-solving and retro-conservative government, a Reagan-Romney kind of thing. He actually vetoed a few culture-war bills and tried in vain to get people of the state to accede to common sense in the pandemic.

She advances a talking-point bluster and extremism more about her beloved Donald Trump and her role model Ron DeSantis than the nuts and bolts of an efficiently run state. She professes that government ought to let people make their own decisions about the health and safety of the populace. She seems to believe people will pour in here as a conservative paradise as soon as Florida fills up.

Hutchinson told ABC that Trump should drop out of the race because of an indictment that Asa simultaneously finds troubling or even dubious. His point is that, either way, Trump's staying in the race makes a sideshow of the Republican presidential primary and trivializes ideas and serious alternatives, such as his and him.

He apparently timed the announcement to get at least a day's national focus on himself as the alternative to a man under indictment, not that Republican voters are troubled in the least by an indicted leader. It's quite the contrary. They, or many, see Trump as a persecuted martyr for the heroic cause of ripping the nation's guts out.

So, here comes Asa to ask Republicans to go with him back to those nice Reagan '80s when we cut taxes, hailed social conservatism, preached peace through strength and could get along with the poor misguided liberals.

We don't have any of Hutchinson's ideas yet. His calling card is that he is a genuine traditional Republican who disapproves of Trump as a person and politician. Bud Cummins, who was Trump's main person in Arkansas in 2016, calls that "virtue-signaling" that fails to grasp that what today's MAGA movement Republicans want is a Trump-style disruptiveness even if in a less-flawed person.

Hutchinson needs soon to embroider on his virtue-signaling to do some conservative signaling. He needs to make pronouncements that will irritate rather than charm a centrist commentator like me.

He seems to believe that at least some evangelical Christian groups will get behind him, though in Arkansas he criticized culture-war legislation as pointlessly destructive to efficient governing, even vetoing the bill to ban hormone treatments for gender-dysphoric minors whose parents and doctors were on board.

He may need to tout that Bob Jones University education. Segregation is big again in Republican circles.

Hutchinson will now encounter a different world where we'll hear about his nephew who is convicted of bribery and a son who has personal issues.

Anti-Trump commentator Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post said Sunday that Asa has a "bike lane" to the nomination.

It's an apt metaphor. Bikers are in a narrow lane and at risk from the faster, bigger cars swerving around them.

In the context of getting you where you're going, a bicycle will accomplish that, but somewhat later than an automobile will.

That's unless an automobile breaks down or has a crash.

So, let's consider a conceivable traffic scenario: Trump is stalled by an accident with a police vehicle that he claims was at fault. DeSantis' sports car just took a curve with too much speedy confidence and is needing a push back onto the highway. Mike Pence has the hood up because he's having to submit to a road inspection having to do with some differences he's had with Trump. Nikki Haley hasn't actually gotten her car started yet.

There are people well-back who are known to have been on bicycles--South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu ... and that older guy from Arkansas.

Sununu is of similar theme to Hutchinson, but younger with more personality. His distance-cycling skills are untested.

The older guy from Arkansas plays full-court basketball and has a certain winning-tortoise history. He hopped on a bike lane of Arkansas politics in 1986 and soon won a little local race for Congress. But that's no big deal. Rick Crawford is in Congress. Other than that, Asa pedaled through breakdowns and failures. Then, in November 2014, he, long forgotten, came along after nearly a 30-year ride, pedaling across a fading finish line to become governor.

He is all about getting in a bike lane to Iowa and reaping the benefits of exercise as he waits to hear of any high-speed wreckage on the freeway.


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.