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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Presidential dreamin'

by John Brummett | April 15, 2021 at 3:02 a.m.

There was a profound moment on national television last Sunday morning.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was making his weekly appearance. Jake Tapper of CNN asked him without guffawing if he was running for president. Of the nation, not his local civic club.

Asa answered without scoffing or pooh-poohing, as if he were Mitt Romney or Mike Pence or John McCain or somebody. He said that he had a virus to manage and a state to run for two more years and couldn't possibly say what might happen after that.

He could have said, "Oh, Jake, I'm just a country boy honored to be governor of my home state and a guy who puts an 'r' in Wa(r)shington and gets hung up trying to say 'ethnickicity,' or, well, you know," but he didn't.

Two things have happened to Arkansas politics in my lifetime.

One is that it went to hell about 2010. The other is that Arkansas once was considered too small and backward and inconsequential to produce a presidential prospect, but now everyone here is one.

Wilbur Mills tried it. Dale Bumpers pondered it. Bill Clinton executed it. Mike Huckabee had a moment in its sun. Wesley Clark had a flash in its pan.

And now we are given to contemplate with some degree of seriousness that, if Donald Trump would please just go away, the Republican presidential nomination fight in 2024 might pit Tom Cotton carrying the Trump banner as the ideologically pure senator and Asa Hutchinson offering the more moderate and pragmatic Trump-divorcing alternative as the non-ideological governor.

It indeed may be that there is something in our water. It's not fluoride in all jurisdictions, but it's ... something.

Cotton has a better resume than either Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley, having gone both to war and Harvard, but not having thrown in with the insurrection. In a moment of historic truth, he had more sense than they.

Hutchinson ... well, I'll simply refer to Tapper's mention, as he phrased the presidential question, that Asa has a "deep political resume."

Think about it: Asa was a Reagan-appointed U.S. attorney who, in that role, did direct battle with white supremacists. He was a state Republican co-chairman advancing joint primaries that foretold the GOP's rise. He was a congressman from the 3rd District. He was an impeachment prosecutor of Bill Clinton. He was head of the DEA and second in command of the new Homeland Security Department.

He is now a second- term governor of Arkansas solicited each week by national talk shows. Late this summer, he will replace Andrew Cuomo as chairman of the National Governors Association. In between, he's been in private practice of law and doing it well enough that even liberal Democratic lawyers tell me he wasn't bad in the courtroom.

Compare that to Barack Obama's pre-presidential resume, or Bill Clinton's, or Jimmy Carter's, or Ronald Reagan's, or George W. Bush's, or certainly the real-estate tax-avoider and reality show host Trump.

Only George H.W. Bush could compare, or exceed, in resume depth. He entered the presidency as a former congressman, former CIA director, former U.N. ambassador, former ambassador to China, former national party chairman and former vice president.

That's not to say a resume makes a darn, considering that a young governor of Arkansas made Bush the First a former president before he could get to a second term.

Two recollections about Hutchinson keep occurring to me.

One is that I was talking to him about our joint heritages in Howard County and explaining to him that it can give one an inferiority complex. He said he didn't know what I meant, that it gave him no such thing. It turned out there is a difference in my coming from backwoods tenant farmers and his descending from a county sheriff.

The other was that I asked him why he was bothering to endorse Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primary in 2016. I wondered why he didn't just mind his own gubernatorial business and let that thing play out. He seemed genuinely perplexed by such provincial thinking. He said the whole point is to seek to have influence.

So, yes, I can see that he would look upon himself as a credible presidential prospect while I look on him and say, oh, come on, you're all right but a presidential race is a bigger league.

But, then, I didn't think Bill Clinton was up to the big leagues, and he turned out merely to be the globe's politician of his generation and quite a competent and accomplished president so long as the female interns were kept out of sight.

And, for that matter, Trump turned the American presidency from big league to bush league.


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 Twitter feed.

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