BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Asa Hutchinson, the former two-term Republican governor of Arkansas, will formally launch his campaign for president Wednesday with a kickoff in his hometown of Bentonville.
The stalwart conservative, who announced in a television interview earlier this month that he intended to run, is a former congressman and official in President George W. Bush’s administration.
Hutchinson has been a rare figure among announced or expected GOP presidential hopefuls in his willingness to criticize former President Donald Trump, calling for him to drop out of the 2024 race instead of seeking another term in the White House.
The 72-year-old has said Trump should step aside because his legal troubles, including criminal charges in New York, are a distraction. And while Trump has fixated his campaign messages around his false claims about the 2020 election he lost, Hutchinson has said voters need a candidate who is not focused on the past.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur and “Woke, Inc.” author Vivek Ramaswamy and radio host Larry Elder are also in the Republican race. They, along with expected and potential candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, have largely avoided criticizing Trump and have at times defended him.
While some of the other contenders who served in Trump’s administration struggled to carve out distance from Trump, Hutchinson has been able to draw from his lengthy resume in government and roots in America’s heartland.
His announcement Wednesday will be in the tree-lined town square of Bentonville, the birthplace of Walmart. The city of nearly 57,000 people in the northwest part of the state is where Hutchinson first served as a city attorney starting in 1977 and where he first ran for office with an unsuccessful bid for local prosecutor.
The former governor told The Associated Press that he plans to introduce himself to the country on Wednesday and announce some policy initiatives. Hutchinson, the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and former undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he will emphasize his background in law enforcement.
“Law enforcement experience is very important in addressing the needs of our country and saving lives,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson is launching his bid a day after President Joe Biden formally announced his reelection campaign with a video portraying the race as one against “MAGA extremists,” a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Hutchinson said both the former and current presidents aren’t focused on the future.
“It seems to me we’ve got two candidates in the race who are focused on the past,” he said.
Hutchinson’s second term as governor ended in January, but he’s been a defining figure of Arkansas politics for more than four decades.
He was elected to the U.S. House in 1996, winning election to a seat his older brother, Tim, had held for two terms.
Asa Hutchinson was one of the House managers prosecuting the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton starting in 1998. He stayed in the House until 2001, when he resigned to serve in the Bush administration.
After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Hutchinson was selected by the National Rifle Association to lead a task force to study school safety and recommended putting armed guards at every school in the country.
He was elected governor in 2014 and while in office signed a series of income tax cuts and restrictions on abortion, including an outright ban on the procedure that became effective when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Hutchinson later said he wished that the measure had included exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, but didn’t push for lawmakers to add those exemptions after the court ruling.
He drew criticism from conservatives and Trump in 2021 when he vetoed a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for children. Hutchinson signed other restrictions regarding transgender children but said the ban went too far and should have focused on surgeries. The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature overrode his veto, though the ban has been temporarily blocked by a judge.
Hutchinson supported many of Trump’s policies but began to break with him over his lies about the 2020 presidential election. Hutchinson, who prosecuted white supremacists as a U.S. attorney, has also criticized Trump for dining with white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, who has praised Adolf Hitler and spread anti-semitic conspiracy theories.
Hutchinson said his disagreements with the former president go further than that. He criticized Trump for the peace deal he negotiated with the Taliban in 2020 and for high government spending in his administration.
“He was a big spender,” Hutchinson said. “He’s one of the reasons that we added to our national debt and our deficit.”
Hutchinson has also shown a willingness to criticize some of his other rivals, telling the AP that he disagrees with the way DeSantis has sparred with Disney after the company opposed legislation DeSantis signed in Florida barring school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It seems very Trumpian to me as to how he’s approached it,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t think government ought to be punishing the private sector because we don’t like what they say.”
Hutchinson said that he doesn’t like the positions Disney has taken, but that DeSantis’ approach sets a bad precedent.
“If a business takes a conservative position, do you want a left-leaning government punishing them? That’s not conservative policy,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson’s successor in Arkansas is Trump’s former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
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