Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) is putting his party’s appetite for an alternative to former President Trump to the test as he pursues a long-shot bid for the White House.
Most polls show Trump with a clear lead advantage over the rest of the Republican field. Additionally, the former president has seen a bump in financial support and publicity following his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury in a 2016 hush money case.
But Hutchinson argues the campaign cycle is in its early stages and the GOP primary field is far from formed. Furthermore, he insists that enough of the party is put off by the former president to elevate a different candidate to be the party’s standard-bearer.
“You’ve got to carve your own lane,” Hutchinson told The Hill in an interview earlier this week.
“The last thing that we need is another Joe Biden-Donald Trump race in 2024, so if you don’t accept that proposition that you have to yield, then you have to get in there and fight,” he continued.
“I fight for my convictions. I fight for the country that I believe needs new leadership and to find the differences not just with Donald Trump but more importantly with Joe Biden,” he said.
But Hutchinson, who has called on Trump to drop out of the race, will likely face an uphill climb in the primary as he seeks to build his own name recognition. Recent polling shows him coming in with less than 1 percent support nationally, though the former Arkansas governor is brushing those concerns aside.
“There’s a large number of [voters], a large percentage of them that does want different leadership and is ready to consider alternatives,” he told The Hill.
Still, many political observers inside and outside the GOP are skeptical he will garner the traction needed to win a primary.
“The media likes him, I think, but eventually that fades and brings one back to the reality of the two most important parts of a presidential campaign — money and people,” said one veteran GOP political strategist familiar with Arkansas. “My assessment is he fails on both of those. Asa doesn’t have any money and he hates asking for it. It’s a handicap that will haunt this effort, regardless of how long it lasts.”
But Hutchinson’s allies argue that Hutchinson getting into the race early will allow him to build up name ID in early caucus and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Donald Trump is going to have more money, Ron DeSantis is going to have more money, but at the end of the day I think that the thing that Asa Hutchinson has is time and not being afraid of hard work,” said Jon Gilmore, chairman of the pro-Hutchinson America Strong and Free PAC.
Hutchinson’s entrance into the 2024 primary field comes as the political world has been taken over by news of Trump’s indictment by a New York City grand jury. Most of the announced and potential Republican primary contenders have slammed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the decision to indict Trump, calling it a political move.
But Hutchinson has taken a slightly different approach by toeing the line between personally disagreeing with the decision and calling for the facts of the case to be heard.
“I’m not saying it is political, I’m saying that prosecutors should have used discretion not to bring the case for a number of reasons and I would not have done it based on my experience as a federal prosecutor,” Hutchinson told The Hill.
Trump’s presidential bid has arguably benefited from the indictment, which has resulted in wall-to-wall coverage for him. The former president’s senior adviser tweeted that Trump’s campaign raised a record $7 million in the three days since his indictment.
“The most recent indictment has given Donald Trump a bump of fundraising and poll numbers and it’s because people believe he’s been mistreated and that there’s a political indictment that’s been filed against him,” Hutchinson told The Hill. “Time will tell how that plays and I’ve said we ought to see how the facts develop. Even though I wouldn’t have brought that case under the facts I understand it, they’re filed and he’s got a bump out of it, This is very early in the season and you’ll just have to see whether that short-term benefit goes long-term.”
Hutchinson and his allies also argue that Trump’s baggage will prove to be a distraction in a general election against President Biden.
And polls indicate that while Trump is a strong primary candidate, he usually falls behind Biden in a head-to-head match-up. Trump leads DeSantis by roughly 26 points and the rest of the field came in with single digits, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. However, the average also shows that in a match-up against Biden, Trump trails by 1 point. DeSantis, on the other hand, narrowly leads by 0.2 points.
“I’m the first one to say that President Trump had good policies and he did good policy leadership for our country, but it was accompanied with rhetoric that was harmful and hateful at times and I am hopeful that our party can move beyond a personality and look back at what the qualifications are,” Gilmore said.
Hutchinson has also sought to distance himself from DeSantis and his rhetoric, which is often described as Trumpian. Over the weekend DeSantis attacked Bragg, calling him a “menace to society.”
The former Arkansas governor condemned DeSantis’s comments during an interview with NewsNation’s “Elizabeth Vargas Reports” on Monday, accusing DeSantis of “appealing to the worst instincts of America.”
“Whether successful or not, I think it’s important to have voices like his out there from the standpoint of he may not have the most name ID in the room, he may not have the most money in the room, but he has the most credibility in the room,” Gilmore said.