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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: The coronation nears

by John Brummett | April 20, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

That epic governor's race we had expected for 2022 seems close to premature conclusion.

Things always could change. Trumpism could lose currency deservedly in Arkansas. "White conservative Christian nationalism" could evolve by discovery of the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution. Arkansas Democrats might find a pulse. And the Crimson Tide could finish last in the SEC West in football next year.

We'd had in mind a three-way battle in the Republican primary, then a possibly strong independent bid in the general election to accompany the loyal if anemic Democratic opposition.

Instead we behold a puppet's march to coronation.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, by her polling strength, had already forced out Tim Griffin, the lieutenant governor once presumed to be ascendant. Now comes word that Sanders cashed in her soul-selling to Donald Trump and Trumpism for $4.8 million in campaign funds in the recent quarter. More than two-thirds came from out-of-state sources dominated by Trumpsters.

Meantime, Leslie Rutledge's soul went for only $197,000 during that time.

Trump and Trumpsters nationwide, seeing Arkansas as a cheap place to buy a governorship, plainly prefer the battle-worn White House propagandist in Sanders over a remote state attorney general in Rutledge who could do no more for Trump than join a bogus lawsuit from Texas trying in vain to steal an election.

We'd also begun to expect general-election vigor with Jim Hendren or Davy Carter mounting a credible independent campaign. Alas, that third-party notion has faded to somewhere between unlikely and fanciful.

Hendren's bipartisan appeal is limited in that the Republicans he fled can't stand him, seeing him as an ego-tripper and attention-seeker. Thus he'd be left to compete for Democratic votes with the Democratic nominee--to split 34 percent or so--and pick up whatever moderate and truly Trump-averse independents exist out there.

Carter is said to be disinclined both by that math and the matter of money, which would be hard to come by. Big in-state campaign dollars in a governor's race aren't spent adventurously but safely as investments in the likely winner. And we know who that is.

Now that she has performed shock-and-awe with that $4.8 million from out of state, Sanders can reap in-state investments from safe front-runners seeking ingratiation.

Sanders' message that the national liberals are coming for Arkansas unless she saves it, while nonsense, is the right message politically for a fearful and resentful people. It has 55 to 60 percent written all over it.

Remember that Sanders is not trained either in policy or government responsibility, but entirely as a hardened political operative. That's what Arkansas will get with her as governor.

So, look instead in this space for a steady quotient of columns lamenting the looming tragedy of Sanders, seasoned from time to time by an effort to reach beyond revulsion to engage in detached analysis.

In that regard, there are political insiders quoting me to myself and saying I was right before, but not now.

There was a recent time when I acknowledged finding Sanders a lesser evil than Griffin or Rutledge. She was competent and her dad's daughter. While a right-wing blowhard often then and always now, her dad governed the state pragmatically with a hint of progressivism when it counted.

It turned out, though, that I simply couldn't abide the revelation that Sanders' candidacy would be in no way a spinoff of her dad's governorship, but wholly a metastasis of the tumor that is Trump.

Insiders say Sanders will surprise because, day to day, state governing is more about managing provincial challenges than preening with Trumpian rhetoric. In office, they say, she will reveal herself as her own woman. Right now she's merely presenting the savvy political message, they tell me.

But I can't dismiss the utter dishonesty and cynicism of a poll-mandated lowest-denominator campaign about "owning the liberals" for the cause of Trump's resentment and ego.

If we're going to have to endure in Arkansas the Trump-devoted political culture that we've seen gaining strength each recent election cycle, and which we've seen take full control of this legislative session, then Arkansas' only hope for modernization and moderation is that the Republicans produce a backstop governor who is better than that culture and the Legislature.

They've done that with Asa Hutchinson.

Some people are trying to tell me Sanders can be that kind of Republican governor, or at least a version or increment, and to pay no mind to campaign blather.

Hutchinson is enough his own person to absorb the sneering ridicule of the insurrectionist madman. He's also term-limited, which helps.

Sanders, by casting herself as wholly a subsidiary of the insurrectionist madman, would melt like a water-splashed wicked witch if she ever displeased Trump, her master and creator.

P.S.--I'll reconsider if Sanders will say the simple truths that Trump rightfully lost the election, should have respected the courts, should not have incited insurrectionists and ought now to leave the scene.

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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