OPINION

OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Educating the answers


They badger me in the weekly retirees' class on politics to repeat the question. It is irksome. I can't seem to remember to do it.

A class member down front poses an excellent question that engages me instinctively and I begin responding only to have people elsewhere in the sanctuary interrupt the spontaneity to demand that I repeat the question, after which I've lost momentum and probably forgotten what I was saying.

But I know they're right. The questions are generally better than the answers. Dialogue tends to be a better experience than soliloquy.

So, let me share a gentleman's question from Wednesday morning. It merely framed this uninspiringly epic and high-stakes presidential election.

The man noted that I'd made a point of mentioning that 26 percent of the Michigan Republican primary voters the day before had supported Nikki Haley and that 13 percent of that state's Democratic primary votes--many from Arab Americans protesting Joe Biden's alliance with Israel even as innocent Arabs get slaughtered in the Israeli counterattack on Hamas--had voted "uncommitted."

What, the gentleman asked, did I think those voters would do in the general election, considering that Michigan is as much a nail-biting battleground swing state as any. As Michigan goes, so goes Hillary Clinton back to Chappaqua and so goes Donald Trump, via an afternoon insurrection, back to Mar-a-Lago.

There it was--a question that educated the answer.

I'd previously had a handy if deeply distressing construction for this Trump-Biden contest. It was that independent swing voters in battleground states would decide, and that Biden won in 2020 in places like Georgia and Arizona because of fervor for him that was fervor against Trump. Now Biden's age and unpopularity threaten to leave those people at home this year, which would elevate Trump to key electoral victories.

The man's question completed that analysis. Beyond swing voters, there are Republican and Democratic primary voters--true partisans--expressing dissatisfaction with both Trump and Biden and doing so in a decisive state like Michigan. What might they do in November?

I don't remember what I answered, exactly, but I think it was, in some form, that the issue for both sets of voters was not how they would vote this fall, but whether.

The stay-home swing voters will hurt Biden more. But these Arab American Democratic protesters might come home grudgingly by fall. Many, anyway. And it could be that Haley's voters either are old-style Republican conservatives who like her for herself, or simple anti-Trump Republican voters in the Asa Hutchinson-Chris Christie mold who voted for her only because she was the last alternative standing.

I found myself saying it would be great if Hutchinson would come down and talk to the class and discuss his thinking on that very question. What will he do with a Trump-versus-Biden ballot? Might that be representative to some extent of a relevant broader answer to the question?

The class of mostly moderates and liberals thought that would be swell. They have a current warm spot for Hutchinson, which explains why he came home early and bloody from his GOP presidential bid.

Primary seasons are one thing--preliminary intraclub squabbles. General elections are something altogether different and more important. With all due respect, and I extend him plenty, Hutchinson didn't matter a darn in the GOP primary. But he and those Republicans like him might matter a lot in 10,000-vote and 11,000-vote margins in Georgia and Wisconsin, not to mention Michigan. And Arizona. And Nevada.

Heck, Asa got 1,030 votes in the Michigan Republican primary Tuesday.

So, I emailed the former governor and invited him to address the class. He agreed for a time in April, at which point, he said, we ought to know about Trump's claim of immunity and a schedule for his trial in the events of Jan. 6.

He has said he's never failed to vote for a Republican for president, but that he could not vote for a convicted felon. He has not said what he'd do about a Republican nominee who might deserve to be a convicted felon but hadn't gone to trial yet.

Later Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take Trump's appeal on whether he's immune. The justices set up a time frame that will extend at least until summer or later, and probably beyond the election.

That means Asa and a small but potentially decisive number of Republicans in his predicament may have to decide how to vote absent any help from a judge and jury.

Can they vote for a non-convicted pro-Putin candidate? Can they vote for a non-convicted anti-NATO isolationist?

If not, can they vote for a Democratic president whose border policies alarm them? Whom might they write in? Could they fathom not voting at all?

I look forward to Hutchinson's thinking and for more good audience questions that educate the answers.


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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