And he's actually running against Trump
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced that he’s running for president.* That makes him just one of four Republican candidates who have announced, but still part of a field of more than a dozen who are actively running.
Right off the bat I’d think the odds are pretty long for Hutchinson to get the nomination. But he’s doing something right now that no other candidate is doing: He’s calling for Donald Trump to withdraw from the contest because of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s forthcoming criminal indictments.
You’d think that would be kind of a no-brainer. Like, if you are running in a crowded field with little chance of winning, and the poll-leader has just been indicted, you might want to use that as a way to rescramble the race, take a stance in the name of the rule of law, and draw some positive attention to yourself. But that is not what the field has done. Most of the candidates continue to run against Trump without actually running against him while squandering any opportunity to actually change the dynamics of the race.
So Hutchinson’s approach has the virtue of being novel. And in a crowded field, that can be useful. He’s gambling that there is a solid portion of the Republican primary electorate that is bothered that the front-runner is likely to be spending some of 2024 in a courtroom (no less that the front-runner may have committed numerous crimes). And at least so far, Hutchinson is the only one appealing to that group.
So the question is, does that group exist? According to a recent ABC News / Ipsos poll, it exists, but it’s not large:
While a majority, 62%, say that Trump should not have been charged, one in five Republicans say they "don't know" and 16% say he should have been charged.
It is possible the number of Republicans with problems with Trump will grow, especially if a) the Bragg indictments, once they are revealed, are perceived to be serious and meritorious, b) other indictments on January 6th, the Georgia election overturning case, and more are levied against Trump, and c) some prominent Republicans start criticizing Trump rather than the people investigating him. At the very least, at least some of the “don’t know” Republicans will end up joining the 16% sympathetic to the prosecution.
And even if that number doesn’t grow a lot past, say, 20%, that’s not a bad basis for running if the other 80% of Republicans are split among a dozen other candidates. Again, the odds are long, but he’s at least distinguishing himself among the field, which is more than many of his competitors are doing.
One other point to note: In his ABC News interview today, Hutchinson mentions his respect for Ronald Reagan. (Hutchinson was a Reagan appointee very early in his career.) I continue to think the Reagan-Trump divide is a useful way to think about factions within the Republican Party. To be clear, the Reagan faction is not the dominant faction at the moment, and it might never be again. But again, Hutchinson isn’t aiming for a majority, at least not right now. He’s aiming to be the champion of the minority faction while the majority faction is divided. There are worse strategies.
*Okay, technically, he announced that he’s going to announce later this month, but I’m treating this as the announcement.