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Former Governor Hopes to Lead Republicans in New Direction Beyond Trump

Former Governor Hopes to Lead Republicans in New Direction Beyond Trump by: Austin Denean, The National Desk April 11, 2023

This article originally appeared on

WASHINGTON (TND) — The field vying for the Republican presidential nomination gained its first anti-Donald Trump figure with the addition of former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who will test his party’s appetite for new leadership after eight years under Trump.

Hutchinson is the only vocal critic of the former president to enter the race so far, as others such as former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have opted against entering what could be a crowded primary that will be difficult to build enough support to secure the nomination.

He is hoping he can position himself as the leader of a new direction for the Republican Party after some sections of the party have looked for a new face after disappointing showings in the 2020 and 2022 elections.

“Asa Hutchinson thinks that this is an opportunity for him to help the traditional conservative Republicans wrestle the party back from the identity brand that Trump has brought to it,” said Heather Yates, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Arkansas. “I don't think this is a bridge too far to say that he's maybe even trying to fashion himself off of like a (former Arizona Sen. and presidential nominee John) McCain-style candidate, being that maverick to stand up against Trump when others would not within the party.”

Hutchinson’s style of politics differs significantly from the frontrunners of former President Donald Trump and Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who are known for grabbing attention through fiery speeches and garnering headlines through policy decisions.

In an interview with ABC’s “This Week” where he announced he would seek the nomination, Hutchinson said his message could break through in early primary states.

"It's still about retail politics in many of these states, and also, this is one of the most unpredictable political environments that I've seen in my lifetime," Hutchinson said. "So my message of experience, of consistent conservatism, and hope for our future in solving problems that face Americans, I think that resonates."

“Positioning himself as a moderate will play well in retail politics, but the problem he has — the conflict, the obstacle — if you will, he is going to have to assert his message and his style and his characteristics in a way that garners attention and rustles that attention away from Trump and DeSantis,” Yates said.

Hutchinson is the only candidate to call on Trump to step out of the race over his indictment from the Manhattan district attorney’s office in a years-old hush money investigation. Other contenders and potential candidates have released statements in support of the former president and made accusations of political motivations behind the prosecution.

“The office is more important than any individual person, and so for the sake of the office of the presidency, I do think that's too much of a sideshow and distraction and he needs to be able to concentrate on his due process and there is a presumption of innocence,” Hutchinson told ABC.

It’s unclear how the New York charges, along with other pending legal cases against Trump like a probe in Georgia over the former president and his allies’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election and an inquiry from a special counsel at the Department of Justice over alleged mishandling of classified documents and the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, will change the 2024 primary.

So far, Republican voters have stuck by Trump and there is some evidence his legal troubles could be bolstering his case among the party’s voters. He is backed by 55% of Republican voters in Morning Consult polling, up 3% in the week since the grand jury voted to indict him. Trump’s 29% lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is his second-largest advantage this year.

Trump has also had a huge fundraising boost since the indictment was announced, pulling in millions in donations as his supporters rally around him.

For Hutchinson, trying to navigate the new developments with Trump and reaching a broad enough swath of voters to vote for someone new could be difficult, especially for a former governor of a middle-sized state that has tilted heavily Republican in recent elections.

“He's going to have to reassert his relevance nationally, and that's also really hard to do in this particular era with his new cycle with some really unprecedented developments of the American presidency unfolding,” Yates said.

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