On Monday The New York Times put Arkansas politics where it belonged. We were on the front page. We had national implications.
A national political correspondent named Jonathan Martin had parachuted into what he described--and it's the truth--as an uncommon place always peculiar, and still so, for playing above its weight limit in politics.
In 1992, we exported to the nation what Massachusetts couldn't produce, meaning a neo-electable Democratic president. Bill Clinton had honed his skills in our little laboratory of democracy. He'd necessarily found a way in our culture to finesse his unpopular liberal instincts. National Republicans didn't quite know what to do with a Southern Democrat who didn't give the game away.
Since then, people from Arkansas originally or partly--Mike Huckabee, Wes Clark and Hillary Clinton--have run semi-seriously or very seriously for president.
Now the players and party have changed dramatically, owing to an anti-Obama, pro-Trump wholesale Republican takeover occurring over a dozen wild years. But, as The Times said, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton may soon be running into each other more in Iowa, site of the first presidential caucuses of 2024, than Arkansas--Hutchinson to advance a less-angry, more center-leaning Republican Party leaving Trumpism behind, and Cotton scowling through his own mean-spirited right-wingness both tied to Donald Trump and independent of him.
For full Trumpism, as The Times explained, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is likely to be the next governor representing the insurrection.
The Times produced a detail and a couple of quotations I envied.
I had assumed but not known that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, also running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, had pleaded with Trump not to endorse Sanders, but to let her fight a fair fight of two competing Trump puppets. He paid her no mind. His bed with Sanders had been made.
Hutchinson, usually cautious, seemed to let his hair down a little to The Times' reporter. He said of the state's business behemoths who are worried about right-wing cultural warring by Republican state legislators: "They've [Walmart, Tyson] got to recruit people to this state, and this makes it harder for them. And there's many in the base of the state party that just don't care. They would rather fight the cultural war and pay the price in terms of growth."
Then, of Sanders having forced resume-rich Tim Griffin out of the Republican governor's race, Hutchinson said, perhaps dismissing much substance to Sanders, or at least to her campaign essence, "It shows you the power of media and personality."
Martin quoted Sanders only from a terse text. She's in coasting-to-victory mode, and live interviews with serious reporters are speed bumps best avoided. "I take nothing for granted," she texted.
The rest of us can take for granted that she'll speak in safe cliché.
Altogether, this was a splendid take on our politically rich little province, worthy of the nation's finest newspaper. I'd like to have read only three more paragraphs.
One would have been that Arkansas has long had an affinity for populist-seeming demagogues like Trump. Jeff Davis, Orval Faubus and Tommy Robinson come to mind. Clinton's greatest gift to the state was plying his skills to deny the governorship to Robinson in the late '80s and early '90s. Or maybe credit ought to go to left-leaners who crossed over into a small Republican primary to take out Robinson early in 1990. Either way, Trump is, in Arkansas, a mere imitation.
The second additional paragraph would have called attention to the fact that an exhaustive piece capturing the state's current political environment had not mentioned a Democrat or needed to do so. That's because the Democratic Party is comatose here, not on its own local account but because of the toxicity of national liberal positions. It is arguable that the state is pro-Trump only second and that its first instinct is to recoil against national Democrats on abortion, guns, "socialism," the "cancel culture" and the rest.
The third would have been to make the point that, for all the discussion of a Trump-loyal/Trump-resistant competition in Arkansas Republican politics, there isn't much of one. A recent poll of favorable-unfavorable ratings showed that the two most popular politicians in Arkansas by far are Trump and Sanders, and that Hutchinson has flipped upside down abruptly, from prevailing approval to prevailing disapproval, presumably for daring to cross Trumpism.
It all somehow reminds me of a renowned Church of Christ revivalist preacher who came through our family's little congregation in a summer of my childhood, quoting some scripture that included the words "no hope," then slowly repeating those words, droning over and over, until people were ready to walk the aisle and improve his marketing numbers just to get him to stop.
Maybe someday Arkansas will walk the aisle. As former Republican House Speaker Davy Carter told The Times, "I'm convinced that, even in Arkansas, Trump and Trumpism is a slow-sinking ship."
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.