OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Getting beyond the tacky

This will make three columns in a row dealing with Asa Hutchinson. He never soared so high as in utter political failure.

Political failure is often, if not usually, nobler than political victory.

I should resist the urge to write that my goal is to publish as many columns in a row on Hutchinson as he got caucus votes in Iowa, and that I'm getting close. But that would be tacky, and Hutchinson tells me I have a regrettable tendency to be that way.

Tackiness is what this column is about--not mine, this time, but that of today's partisan political operatives in their culture of petty disdain for the sake of petty disdain. And it's about people in politics who sometimes rise above that culture.

It's a column about a story--"a single moment," as Hutchinson put it by phone Thursday--that offers reflexive political-party pettiness, a glimpse of humanity in politicians' personal interactions and a dash of smart political tactics.

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As you know, Asa dropped out of the Republican presidential race Tuesday morning because of the resounding sound of the deaf ears upon which his Reagan-esque message of yesteryear had fallen among Iowa Republicans. He ran as an ode to the time when Republicans believed in optimism and the rule of law rather than in a toxic cult of vile personality.

A press official in the Democratic National Committee thought it proper that afternoon to go on social media and make fun--of Asa. The post said Hutchinson's withdrawal "comes as a shock to those of us who could've sworn he had already dropped out."

Imagine: Somebody working in the national headquarters of the Democratic National Committee thought it would be cute, and presumably somehow advantageous to Democrats, to kick an anti-Donald Trump Republican while he was down, simply for being a Republican, one supposes.

Quickly, social media critics assailed this tone of mockery by the DNC toward this defeated Republican candidate who had devoted his campaign to resisting Trump.

On Wednesday morning, Hutchinson got a call from the White House chief of staff, Jeff Zients, who told Asa that he wanted to convey President Joe Biden's apology for that DNC statement. Hutchinson told me he expressed his gratitude for the call but told only his wife, and was prepared to treat the conversation as private.

The White House had a different idea. It must have tipped someone to ask during the White House press secretary's briefing about the president's reaction to the DNC statement. When the press secretary got the question, she instantly flipped to notes and glanced to a text to say the president held Asa in the highest regard and admired the race he ran and knew Hutchinson to be a "man of principle who cares about our county and has a strong record of public service."

That was the tactical part. A personal call for apology would have sufficed if the context had been strictly personal. But the White House knew that the general election may well turn on a relatively small number of votes from people not unlike Hutchinson in that they lean Republican except that they deplore the style and essence of Trump.

When I told Hutchinson on Thursday morning of my belief that the story showed that the behavior of the political parties was more offensive and damaging than the individual politicians (excepting Trump), he answered with a story from a book about Sam Walton.

As the story goes, a Walmart manager made an egregious error, after which Walton told the supervisor of that manager that he--the supervisor--was fired, and that the manager would be kept and retrained. The point was that the problem wasn't the manager, but the culture into which he'd been immersed.

The analogy is that some kid at the DNC had been trained by the culture that anyone with an "R" to his name was to be ridiculed.

Hutchinson said that, while he appreciated the overture by the White House, he was more gratified by the positive response to the publicity.

He said American cynicism could be eroded by more attention to civil personal relations among individuals in politics.

He said he knew Zients well from working with him and the White House through the covid crisis and during his time as head of the National Governors Association. That didn't mean they agreed. It meant they could work together.

Before letting him off the phone, I asked Hutchinson if he was taking any kind of look at No Labels, the nonpartisan group dedicated to problem-solving and threatening a third-party candidacy if Biden and Trump end up the choices.

He said he "obviously" would be inclined to look at something like that, but that, for now, he was still hoping his Republican Party would choose a nominee he could support.

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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