"I wouldn't count me out," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday on Talk Business and Politics on KATV when asked if he still carried the fire for another political race.
He would be 72 when this four-year gubernatorial term ends. That's young compared to the miles that Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden bring to the presidential race for 2020. The 70s are the new ... late 60s.
It is Hutchinson who has been the eternal political candidate of the modern era in Arkansas--more than Bill Clinton or David Pryor or Mike Huckabee.
He ran for the U.S. Senate and lost in 1986; for attorney general and lost in 1990, and for governor and lost in 2006.
He ran successfully for Congress from the 3rd District in the '90s, winding up an impeachment prosecutor of Clinton, and now has run successfully twice for governor.
In the 2000s, he achieved high jobs in the George W. Bush administration, heading the Drug Enforcement Administration and holding the second-ranking job in the new Homeland Security Department.
You could chart the modern political history of Arkansas--from one-party Democratic tradition with liberal congressional representation in the 1980s to the overpowering redness ablaze now--by writing Hutchinson's political biography. Somebody ought to do that someday.
Maybe it's simply that he wouldn't know what to do if he wasn't running or angling to run.
There aren't many ways to advance or move laterally from governor. The most plausible scenario has Hutchinson seeking a vacant U.S. Senate in 2022 because John Boozman would be retiring, though that's mere idle speculation about any such intention in the state's quiet senior senator.
For that matter, while we're at it: Two of the state's last four governors ran for president--of the whole country--and not ineffectively. Asa could always take on Trump in the Republican primary in 2020.
But he also said in the interview Sunday that Trump's record of accomplishment is good on taxes, deregulation, economic performance, defense, social policy and court appointments, if not necessarily trade, on which he sees the jury still out.
Yet there's still a chance the Mueller investigation will damage Trump to the point that an open question arises as to the nomination in 2020.
In that event, Hutchinson would be a better presidential candidate than Mike Pence or Tom Cotton, if not John Kasich, who has become so good that he's probably not a Republican anymore.
I well recall Hutchinson telling me once that we need to get our presidents from governorships rather than the Congress because that's the right training. But that was before we got our president from reality-show celebrity.
But I'm getting much too far ahead, to the point where remote likelihood meets fantasy.
For now, the plight of any viable national Republican politician is to negotiate the mad force that is Trump. In that regard, Hutchinson told Talk Business that Trump got elected in 2016 on his style but must now run from his style and toward his administration's substantive accomplishments.
He came as close to criticizing Trump's behavior as I've heard him come. He said it will be a political loser for Trump to let the race become about his rhetoric and style that is "an affront to some people." He said both that he wished Trump didn't tweet so much and that he wished he didn't tweet in the tone he often uses.
Trump uses that tone because he can't help himself. He is a child, a buffoon, an egomaniac, a liar. And Twitter is entirely too accessible for his real self and instincts.
Satiric comedy about him wounds his ego, so he tweets. His mind turns to resentment of John McCain, so he tweets.
The problem isn't tweeting. Asa tweets. Trump's problem is that what he tweets is connected to his brain.
But he is the president during a good-enough economy who keeps his base well-pelted with raw red meat.
At the moment, I'd predict Boozman's retirement in 2022 before I'd predict that Republicans would turn on their preposterous second-place and Russian-endorsed president. I see Hutchinson's early-70s politics in a Trumpian orbit.
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@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
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