Asa Hutchinson wasted no time warming up his audience Tuesday night before addressing the day’s news.
“This is a serious day for our democracy,” Hutchison began, acknowledging the indictment of Donald Trump hours before on charges the former president attempted to overturn the 2020 election.
Hutchinson then read a statement he had just relayed to a reporter. “This is another sad day for America with a former president being charged criminally for obstructing the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. January 6 is a day that calls for accountability for those responsible. I have always said that Donald Trump is morally responsible for the attack on our democracy. Now, our system of justice will determine whether he is criminally responsible.”
And then Hutchinson moved on, choosing not to press the case against renominating Trump, which is the raison d’etre of his campaign. The closest he came to returning to the subject was to say he was running partly because “We need to have a course correction within the Republican Party.”
Hutchinson was in Rye Tuesday for the latest “No B.S. Backyard BBQ” event hosted by former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and 2022 congressional candidate Gail Brown. At the same time, 400 people had gathered in the same spot Sunday to hear Ron DeSantis, a more modest group of just over 50 people turned out to hear Hutchinson.
What the audience heard was a pragmatic Reagan Republican and experienced pol with a resume of achievement: Youngest U.S. Attorney in the nation during the Reagan administration, congressman, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and two-term governor of Arkansas.
What the group didn’t hear during Hutchinson’s 24-minute stump speech was any mention of social issues. If you’re looking for a culture warrior, Hutchinson is not your candidate. Nor did Hutchinson mention other candidates. When an attendee gave Hutchinson an opportunity to criticize Mike Pence for how the former Vice President equivocated in the days before January 6, Hutchinson let the opportunity to critique Pence pass.
“We didn’t all make perfect decisions” in response to COVID, Hutchinson said, but he pointed to his efforts to keep businesses open and to reopen schools in the fall of 2020 to suggest he got the lockdowns mostly right. He recounted how the Arkansas teachers’ unions had opposed him on reopening, protesting outside his residence with coffins. In contrast, New Hampshire schools remained closed in most communities until as late as the following April, when an exasperated Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order requiring schools to open for in-person instruction.
During the Q&A, the candidate repeatedly cited examples from his eight years as governor to indicate how he would approach national issues. He took 10 questions over 21 minutes, avoiding the filibustering responses other candidates sometimes offer in such settings. In response to a question about education that revealed Hutchinson to be a mainstream traditional Republican, he talked about requiring computer science classes but didn’t bring up the Parents Bill of Rights.
Touching briefly on political realities, Hutchinson said his path follows Iowa, New Hampshire – and the debates. The candidate said he had met the national polling threshold needed for inclusion in the debates but needed more donors to meet the 40,000 individuals test. Hutchinson said the campaign received contributions from 900 new donors yesterday – an indication of how much meeting those arbitrary thresholds is on his mind, as it must be for several other candidates as well.
Throughout the event, host Scott Brown was doing it all: Handing out hotdogs, offering soda and water, emceeing the Q&A, and even working the soundboard. Brown said Hutchinson was the only candidate who had bothered to call the Browns to thank them for hosting similar events.