From an Arkansas perspective, one the most noteworthy things about President Trump’s presidential candidacy announcement was the silence of the state’s Republican elected officials – except for the one who is thinking about running against him.
The members of the state’s congressional delegation said nothing about his entrance into the race. Even Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary, said nothing. No one even sent out a tweet.
Maybe they’re busy with other things.
History and the current political climate suggested this should have been a “red wave” election. The party that wins the presidency usually loses congressional seats – sometimes a lot of them – in the following midterms. President Biden is unpopular, and the economy is shaky. Instead, Republicans failed to gain control of the Senate and barely won control of the House.
Some Republicans are blaming Trump. He made himself an issue when the election could have been a referendum on Biden. His allies defeated more electable Republicans in the primaries but then lost to Democrats in November.
As a result, there was a noticeable shift after the election among some Republicans away from Trump, including among some of his former backers. The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch who also owns Fox News, pointedly belittled Trump’s entrance with a bottom-of-the-front-page headline, “Florida man makes announcement, page 26.”
Republican support shifted to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was re-elected last Tuesday in what once was a purple state with 59% of the vote. DeSantis had already emerged as Trump’s main rival before the election, and his landslide election accelerated his ascension.
In Arkansas, the exception to the silence was Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has repeatedly said he is considering running for president in 2020. After Trump’s speech, he tweeted, “Trump is correct on Biden’s failures, but his self-indulging message promoting anger has not changed. It didn’t work in 2022 and won’t work in 2024. There are better choices.”
Hutchinson has been saying for a while that he is considering running for president and will make his decision around January.
He’s sounding like he really wants to. After an announcement of a new Fiocchi ammunition plant in Little Rock Tuesday, he told reporters, “Obviously with midterm elections over, a lot of attention now will focus on 2024, and I think I have something to offer, and we’ll see where that leads.”
He said the results of Tuesday’s elections “reinforced my perspective. I said months ago that if we as candidates focus on the last election and the past, we’re not going to win, and that proved true with a number of candidates across the board on the Republican side. And so we’ve got to take that lesson, we’ve got to do better and get back to problem solving and fundamental values for our party, and we’ve got to focus on the future.”
On Thursday morning, he told CNN that he had been in Iowa, site of the first presidential caucus, the day before, and that there would be alternatives to Trump in 2024. Asked if he could be one of them, he said, “Absolutely. I’m looking at it, looking at it very seriously.”
The governor’s name doesn’t come up in polls much, so he’d be a long shot for sure.
He’s not flashy, and he’s a Reagan Republican at a time when the party is cast more in Trump’s image. DeSantis has risen to prominence by combining traditional Republican governance with Trump-lite culture war combativeness.
Some Republicans will want to make this a one-on-one contest between Trump and DeSantis to avoid a repeat of 2016, when Trump became the front runner while 16 other more traditional candidates were splitting the vote.
Hutchinson told CNN that 2024 would be different than 2016.
“He’s a known quantity now. We know the chaos that comes with him, and that’s really not the kind of leadership that’s good for America and really the future of our party,” he said.
Hutchinson would enter the race trying to be sort of the old-fashioned Republican alternative to Trump and DeSantis.
Are there enough old-fashioned Republicans left?
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 18 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.