LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In an appearance on CNN, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said he is “strongly considering” a run for president. Political scientists and Conservative leaders said they think a potential bid would be unsuccessful.
When asked whether he was considering it, Hutchinson answered in the affirmative.
“I am,” Hutchinson said. “But you have got to get through, of course, this year, but that’s an option that’s on the table.”
Hutchinson, a self-styled moderate Republican who was instrumental in the party’s rise in the state leading back to the 1980s, could offer an alternative to modern Republican figureheads, particularly former President Donald Trump. Hutchinson continues to say he would not support Trump in a reelection bid, and he noted the former president’s decision on whether to run again would not impact his own.
“That’s not a factor in my decision-making process,” Hutchinson said.
Political scientists in Arkansas who have followed Hutchinson’s career said a presidential run has been in the cards for a while.
“No surprises,” said Dr. Janine Parry, a University of Arkansas political scientist. “We knew he was getting ready to run.”
Parry directs the yearly Arkansas Poll, which charts the state’s politics at a voter level to detect trends in how Arkansans will vote. Parry said Hutchinson was one of the main people to flip Arkansas from a Democratic stronghold to Republican, and he is uniquely able to counter any charges that he is a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only.”
“He’d like for the party to return to the one he knew and built in Arkansas starting in the 1980s,” Parry said.
Though Hutchinson’s party credentials are noted, the ultimate test would be whether he could convince modern Republican voters to check his name on a ballot. Dr. Robert Steinbuch, a Conservative law professor for UA Little Rock, said Hutchinson does not fit that mold.
“I don’t think he’ll actually have much traction if he runs for president,” Steinbuch said.
Steinbuch pointed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as the model for what Republican presidential hopefuls will likely have to embody, as the party has shifted to the right to match voters.
“Hutchinson’s positions are already known, so he could not pitch a newer, more-Conservative identity to voters,” Steinbuch said. “Doing so would come off as disingenuous.”
Self-described Conservative lawmakers agree it would be tough for Hutchinson to maneuver to the top of the food chain the modern Republican Party. State Sen. Bob Ballinger (R) said the governor is, “a good man,” but voters will be turned off by his hesitancy to support culturally-relevant legislation in the state or abroad, like Florida’s colloquially-known “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“The base is not looking for that,” Ballinger said. “They want somebody who is going to fight for them.”
State Sen. Jim Hendren (I) left the Republican Party following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, but he still considers himself Conservative. He often aligns politically with Hutchinson, his uncle, though the latter thinks his brand of Conservatism can thrive again in the party.
“He’s probably, with his resume, as well positioned as anybody to assume that mantle,” Hendren said.
Hendren said it would be tough for Hutchinson to run a successful campaign at this time, but the state senator thinks a large chunk of the population may agree with his political moderation.
“I tell him all the time to stick to his Conservatism and point out all the lies,” Hendren said. “That’s what is wrong with the Republican Party today. You can’t just lie to people.”
Parry has followed Hutchinson’s political career for decades. She said a possible run for president may be less about winning and more about, “fighting for the soul of his party.” It could be up to Republican voters to decide just how long that fight lasts.
“This is someone who’s not afraid to kind of stake a position and say, ‘This is the right one,'” Parry said.