OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Asa, we hardly knew ye

My favorite moment of Asa Hutchinson's quixotic and easily forgotten run for the Republican presidential nomination was the time he quoted Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

I sent the former governor a text saying it had occurred to me that he was staying in the race without a prayer or money or mainstream attention simply because he thought his positions were right and that espousing them was the right thing to do.

He replied by texting the chorus of the Blue Notes' soul music hit of 1972: "If you don't know me by now, you will never, ever, ever know me."

He essentially acknowledged he had no chance. He wondered why I had to ask. And he did it all in a generational musical context and with a spirit of whimsy.

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If you believe you are right and that your position needs to be heard in the Republican Party, and if you have no pressing business otherwise, then why not stay the course and allow yourself a little fun in the process?

But when you scour an entire flat farm state for nearly a year trying to tap into friends in old evangelical networks, and then wind up getting only 191 people to stand for you at caucuses statewide while 56,260 stand for the man you've run to warn them about, Donald Trump, then you may as well blow off that plane ticket to New Hampshire for Round Two and rent a car instead and drive home to Bentonville.

And that's what Asa announced Tuesday morning he would do.

Sharing your message becomes less imperative when empirical data arises to suggest the people who need to hear that message don't want to hear it.

As more than one pundit put it after beholding the Iowa caucus results: When modern-day Republicans tell you their hearts and souls belong to Trump, indictments and madness and all, believe them.

Hutchinson need not be embarrassed. What happened to him happens to anyone in the contemporary Republican Party who understands and declares the truth about the outrage and threat of Trump and Trumpism. What happens is you get out of politics, either beaten like Liz Cheney, or retired on account of weariness like Mitt Romney, or retired to head off imminent primary defeat like Jeff Flake, or withdrawn from the Republican presidential race like Mike Pence, then Chris Christie, and now Asa.

Only the Democrats and swing-state undecided voters can save us now, which is the scariest thing I've ever written.

In the long-term sense, covid is a bad cold compared to a vengeful megalomaniac who believes only in service to self and not at all in the great principles of this country that he'll raise his hand and pretend to pledge to protect.

Now that we've reached an apparent obituary moment for Hutchinson's long political career, since neither Joe Biden nor Trump seems likely to appoint him to anything, it strikes me as appropriate that we consider Asa's contention that he never changed from the time he burst on the scene as a perceived right-wing extremist in 1986 to his political demise in 2024 by suicidal attempt of sanity in the American Republican Party.

I'm inclined to think he was consistently and sensibly inclined all along.

I recall his early aversion to school vouchers for Arkansas because there was no call or population density for them in rural Arkansas.

He got maverick-y like John McCain to push for national campaign- finance reform, though, at the time, Republicans were doing better than Democrats in the campaign-finance culture we had.

Then there was the revelation early in his governorship, while I was warning that he would end an era of political moderation and economic modernization that had begun with Winthrop Rockefeller in the late 1960s.

Hutchinson had his chief of staff call me to ask if I'd maybe want to write about his overture to Bill Clinton to try to get past that impeachment matter--Asa as a congressman prosecuting Clinton's presidential impeachment trial--for the good of the state.

Clinton, ever a conciliator, took him up on it.

Imagine Sarah Sanders making such an overture now. You can't. The destroyer of the era of modernization and moderation was not Asa, but Sarah, which is why she is currently politically viable, and he isn't.

And the very idea that she might have her chief of staff, or anyone, call me to tout a column ... that's fanciful. She and her traveling Trumpettes probably think I died in 2021 from a covid vaccine overdose combined with the suffocating effects of wearing too many masks at once.

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 protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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