The other night in Milwaukee, hard as I tried, I still couldn’t discover a reason that several of the 2024 Republican presidential candidates even bothered to mount a campaign.
The first debate of the 2024 nomination cycle took place last Wednesday evening and everyone in America had the opportunity to digest (or reject in other bodily ways) what the attending candidates said – or did not say. Two hours’ worth of airtime on Fox News means that most viewers likely forgot about 95 percent of what was uttered within an hour or two of the final sign-off, the responses of most of the hopefuls blending together as they always do and folks resorting to their default opinions while trying to sift through likes and dislikes.
I can just hear it now: “I liked that Ramaswamy guy. He seemed smart, well-prepared and brimming with ideas… but how old is he again?” Or, “I didn’t know anything about Doug Burgum prior to the debate, but he kind of reminded me of my parents from the Midwest, and I think he’d do a good job if he ever got to be president. But what chance does he have against Trump?”
Or, “I was very impressed by Nikki Haley. I had such low expectations for her and she exceeded them. By how much?” If asked, this nameless, faceless person would probably comment that Haley moved into the top three or four candidates they were considering, but would this still be true after next month’s debate? Succeeding debates have a tendency to rub the luster off of most second tier or lower candidates. After their initial “surprise” on debate night, the candidates almost always fade back into the conglomerate mush of presidential preference-speak.
That’s why there hardly ever is a “breakout” candidate in any presidential primary campaign. The only two that seemed to have staying power within memory are Barack Obama and Donald Trump. If you don’t believe it, ask Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson what they’ve been up to lately.
What about Asa Hutchinson this year? The former Arkansas governor just barely crawled into the debate at the proverbial last moment, finally achieving the minimum threshold of 40,000 donors as time was ticking down. I myself received a text – from someone -- asking if I was willing to contribute a dollar to Asa’s campaign so he could qualify for inclusion. (I didn’t.) This means Hutchinson’s campaign likely paid tens of thousands of dollars to use someone’s contact list so he could raise a few token bucks. Smart, right? And this man wants to manage the nation’s budget?
At any rate, in the days before August 23rd, Mr. Hutchinson expressed wonderment at the fact that so many Trump supporters still follow their man despite his apparent multitude of troubles. It’s an argument echoed in the words of Chris Christie, Mike Pence (to some extent) and a modest-sized swatch of puzzled conservative voters from coast-to-coast.
“Three months into [Hutchinson’s] presidential campaign, the proud Reagan conservative is facing the harsh reality that primary voters are so enamored with Mr. Trump that they won’t even listen to the message Mr. Hutchinson has honed over four decades of fighting for the Republican Party.
“’That is the big surprise,’ Mr. Hutchinson told The Washington Times. ‘It is one thing to have Donald Trump high in the polls. It is another thing for his every word to influence the voters and how they think, and when there has been misinformation in the past, there have been other leaders that would counter that message. But now you have many leaders who are just continuing down that path and backing up Donald Trump whatever he says. So that is a surprise as to the depth of the influence over the Republican base, and it’s going to take time to change that.’
“That was a rude awakening for Mr. Hutchinson, 72, who has been living in the trenches of Republican politics since 1982 when President Reagan made him the youngest U.S. attorney at age 31.”
To paraphrase legendary folk rock singer Don Maclean, that was a “Long, long time ago, but I can still remember how that [politician Hutchinson] used to make me smile… And I knew if [he] got his chance that he could make some people [rich] and maybe they’d be happy for a while.”
1982? Heck, by then, senile Joe Biden had only been in the senate for a little less than a decade! Hutchinson’s been in the swamp for that long? There’s a couple strikes against him right there!
More recently Hutchinson made national headlines by vetoing Arkansas legislation that would have made his state the first in the nation to ban sex-change treatments or surgeries for minors. Can you say, “Out of Touch”? Or, “clueless”? This episode is what Newt Gingrich would point out as a strong majority issue – one where a majority supports it by a wide margin – yet Hutchinson, for whatever reason, chickened out.
It was gutless career politicians like Asa Hutchinson that created the conditions for a Donald Trump to come from nowhere to build a following in the first place. Trump instantly appealed to millions of “forgotten Americans” who felt that politicians and leaders had left them stranded by the side of life’s road due to a lack of action on immigration enforcement, trade policy and sending their sons to serve as cannon fodder in useless and unwinnable foreign wars.
Some of these issues may have been partially solved or simply moved to the rear in the public’s attention spans, but they’re still there – and that’s the reason why Trump retains his immense popularity because he alone ran on a platform of restoring America’s greatness (Make America Great Again) and didn’t back down one iota from battling the Washington establishment. Even when Trump was unsuccessful, his backers still gave him credit for the effort.
And, I certainly don’t see “leaders” backing up Trump no matter what he says. Republicans foolish enough to paint Trump’s backers as mindless robots who seek to do his bidding no matter what the man says are no better than Democrats who depict the same citizens as “deplorables” (you know, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. – Crooked Hillary) or “MAGA Fascists” (Senile Joe Biden) are dumbing it down to make themselves appear above the fray and “with it” at the same time.
Liz Cheney belongs in this group. And her views aren’t popular.
Granted I don’t know much about Hutchinson’s lengthy record, but he’s spent decades in the political arena and hasn’t stuck his neck out to advance conservatism very often, if at all. If it were so, we would’ve heard about him for something other than cowering whenever there’s a liberal “woke” issue that needs a so-called right-leaning defender. Was Hutchinson out front helping the former president when he was in the thick of the fight against the Democrats? Did he go on the Sunday morning shows to boost the political effort?
Though I wouldn’t exactly say Hutchinson completely bombed the two-hour program last week, he didn’t stand out, either. His attempts to sell himself as a longtime principled conservative and friend of limited government weren’t bolstered by any particular “moments” that would vastly improve his one-percent-in-national-polls standing, and his ability to gripe about Trump was far exceeded by Chris Christie’s. Hutchinson came off as a kindly grandfather type (with red eyes – pink eye?) who was there simply because he’d promised someone that he’d run for president someday and he was keeping his vow no matter how improbable it would be that he’d win.
So it’s not clear why Hutchinson would openly question why many conservatives still find themselves attached to Trump. Unlike Hutchinson, Trump is, was, and always will be unique to the American political system. Rather than a retirement-aged, silver-haired plain-speaking Republican suit, Trump offers the one thing that many, many Americans want these days: a little fighting spirit.
No doubt Trump’s impressive legal problems will scare off many Republican voters and motivate legions of Democrats to vote for whomever the liberal party nominates – even if it’s Joe Biden again – but conservatives aren’t doing themselves a favor if candidates wander too far away from the issues that got Trump to where he is today.
The 2020 election is over – yes, it is – but the problems of election integrity still remain very much in evidence. If Republicans aren’t working overtime to ensure that the vote count is fair in 2024, the results may very well be the same. Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to eliminate every voter security measure and “The Stupid Party” isn’t doing enough to gear up for the challenge of a lifetime. This includes most of its presidential candidates who find the subject too uncomfortable to address on the record.
State victories beyond the margin of fraud must be ensured. Ditto for protecting the Electoral College against forces working to change the system to a national popular vote. Talk about a nightmare.
Is Asa Hutchinson worried about such things? Doesn’t seem to be. He’s too busy criticizing Trump for continuing to dwell on 2020. Well, one of the reasons Trump still talks about 2020 is to keep elections integrity in the forefront of Americans’ minds. Would Chris Christie insist on it as well?
As I’ve often stated, winning in 2024 isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Some people say Trump can’t win, that he’s too damaged. Yet many of the ones claiming Trump can’t win aren’t daring to touch the universal mail-in vote movement or preparing the legal challenges to Democrat supporters who are already planning to cheat. Until that happens, Asa Hutchinson and his kind won’t understand why Trump keeps the loyalty of his voters.
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