Asa Hutchinson may not actually be in the water--the water being the pool of legitimate Republican presidential candidates--but, if he were, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina strikes me as someone who could blow him right out of it.
Hutchinson's only hint of mild candidate traction is that he advocates a Republican Party that is about Reagan-esque conservative values, not Donald Trump's personal resentments. He's tried without much success, and tries still, to explain--to Iowa evangelicals, mostly--that he is in fact more conservative than Trump. He's tried, and tries still, to make the case that Republicans need to embrace a Trump alternative advancing a retro-conservatism that influences solving problems, not personal madness that creates, then fuels, problems.
It's a fine message for swing voters, but since Hutchinson entered the race, Trump has soared in polls of Republican preferences for the nomination in 2024. Trump's politics of grievance and resentment becomes stronger every time the Democrats indict him and give Republicans something new to resent. Republicans are more aghast that Trump is harassed than that he is of low character.
Asa seems mired as the what's-his-name the Sunday news shows call if they need a Republican who will speak ill of Trump. That leaves little time for Hutchinson's other message of conservatism as a founding principle of problem-solving. The interviewers don't ask about that because not many people seem to care, and there's another guest waiting in the green room.
At this point, wannabe longshot presidential candidates need three things--biography, message, and money. Scott has more than Asa of all three.
Scott has a clear advantage in that he advances anti-Trumpism without calling its name. He does that implicitly by citing his optimistic conservative message that is his life story. For him, biography and message are identical.
When Scott says his candidacy is about a poor Black kid growing up in single-parent poverty in the South and emerging even to think of being president, and when he says his candidacy is all about celebrating a great America that could nourish such glorious progress, he is declaring that nobody should be going around saying there is something racist or evil about this wonderful country.
He covers resentment of "woke" simply by saying, "Look at me." He covers "critical race theory" by saying, "Keep looking at me."
Standing in front of more than 2,000 family members, friends and supporters on Monday in his hometown of North Charleston, Scott, a former state representative and congressman who has emerged over the past decade as a popular and reliably conservative Republican senator, bellowed these questions: "Victimhood or victory? Grievance or greatness?"
"I choose freedom and hope and opportunity," he said.
He was talking about Trump without criticizing Trump. He was giving Republicans who appreciate what Trump accomplished but not the way he behaved a happy, positive option.
That's a better way to go at Trump and appeal to Republicans than to wait for the next call from a ratings-sluggish Sunday network news show. Republican primary voters hate those shows.
I was struck that Scott said he intended to appeal to evangelicals in Iowa. Hutchinson has been working on that for weeks now, convinced, or so he's said, that he has a shot. But most of the press I've read is that evangelicals are addled by his vetoing that bill in Arkansas to ban hormone treatments for gender-dysphoric minors even with the approval of doctors and parents.
Asa insists that respecting parental authority is the real conservative position. But Republican legislators in red state after red state seem to think keeping minor kids the way God made them by private parts is the real conservatism.
This column wouldn't be complete if it didn't cite race, specifically Scott's conceivable, if perhaps counter-intuitive, demographic advantage. In the Republican lane of not-Trump, there probably exists a genuine or tactical affinity for a Black candidate who might disturb the longtime and overwhelming Democratic advantage in Black votes, and perhaps even raise the prospect of redefining at least marginally the prevailing race dynamic of national politics.
Republican voters resentful of that longtime Democratic advantage could exercise that resentment and strike a blow for something they've long dreamed of--Black conservatism. It's a variation of the thinking that hiring a Black police chief would fix racial problems in local law enforcement. It's more complicated than that.
Perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Smiling positivity is not a natural Republican trait these days. Reagan was too soft for those loons breaking into the U.S. Capitol and the typical Republican voter who sympathizes with insurrection or chooses to disregard it.
Trump is probably going to get indicted at least one more time before primary season, and that probably will run him up to 70 percent. I'd best stick with where I was when I started, which is that Scott is Hutchinson's immediate problem over in the narrow no-Trump lane.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.