Asa Hutchinson Unleashes His Inner John McCain as He Teases a 2024 Presidential Bid

(AP Photo/Kelly Kissel, File)

Last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed a lightning-rod bill that would outlaw the use of hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and surgery to “affirm” the transgender identity of minors in the state of Arkansas. The Arkansas legislature acted to override the veto setting up an inevitable court fight.

In what has become a disturbing tendency among GOP establishment politicians, Hutchinson immediately ran to the Washington Post to engage in virtue signaling, see Why I vetoed my party’s bill restricting health care for transgender youth.

These are some of the highlights.

I vetoed this bill because it creates new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters concerning our youths.

It is undisputed that the number of minors who struggle with gender incongruity or gender dysphoria is extremely small. But they, too, deserve the guiding hand of their parents and the counseling of medical specialists in making the best decisions for their individual needs.

H.B. 1570 puts the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health-care experts. While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be — and is — a vast government overreach.

Leadership is acting not just on your convictions but also on your compassion. Parents are doing their best to guide the young person God entrusted to them. As they seek medical help, it is important to understand the trauma, emotional challenge and love involved in making difficult decisions. The leading Arkansas medical associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical experts across the country all oppose this law. Their concern is that denying best practice medical care to transgender youth can lead to significant harm to the young person — from suicidal tendencies and social isolation to increased drug use. Given these risks, we have to ask whether the state action helps or unjustifiably interferes.

I am also hopeful that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through these issues again, and hopefully come up with a more measured approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding health care for children and teenagers who experience gender dysphoria before acting. Government, under a conservative philosophy, should be restrained. This is an example of where that approach is better than overbroad actions that interfere with important relationships in our society.

If we are going to be a party of a restrained and limited government, then we actually have to practice those values at some point. If Democrats won’t, I hope Republicans, at least, can resist the constant pressure from activists to use government as a means to change the culture. We must remind ourselves that a change in society is led from the heart, the church and from a greater understanding of each individual that forms the fabric of this great nation.

Personally, I think this position is nuts. We don’t show our love and compassion for children by helping them make irrevocable and life-altering decisions before they can legally drive or have a beer. I’m not going into all the arguments on the issue as it would probably get this post banned by Facebook, but Hutchinson or his staff could have acquainted themselves with the other side of the issue by reading the voluminous literature that details the long term and chronic health and psychiatric problems associated with using rather permanent medical procedures in response to a mental health problem. He could have read Ryan Anderson’s “When Harry Became Sally,” he wouldn’t be able to buy in on Amazon, but his buddies at Walmart carry it in their stores.

This past weekend, he followed up the op-ed by appearing on two of the most hyperpartisan of the Sunday shows. My colleague Kira Davis posted on his performance on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press, see Asa Hutchinson Keeps Digging, Tells Conservatives They’re Wrong to Look to the Law to Protect American Culture. I think the more revealing was his interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union.

Tapper sets it up by asking if this is still Hutchinson’s Republican Party.

In his new memoir, your former House colleague — you served in the House — John Boehner writes that the current Republican Party is unrecognizable to him.

He writes — quote — “I don’t even think I could get elected in today’s Republican Party anyway. I don’t think Ronald Reagan could either.”

You are not dissimilar from Boehner, in the fact that you’re a pro- business, small-government Reagan conservative. Is this still your Republican Party?

And this is

HUTCHINSON: Well, it is.

And you think about the Republican Party today, we do need to remind ourselves, let’s get back to our principles. Let’s stop the personality divisions that we have, and focus on really the historic role that we have played, which is a voice for smaller government, not bigger government, not government solutions, but free enterprise solutions.

And that’s — while I’m also a social conservative, I do believe we have to balance that with the important question, is this a fight that government needs to get in, or is this a role of the church, or is this — is this the restraint of government that we need to not only preach, but to practice as well?

And that led me to the veto that you described. It’s a conservative position to say, that’s not the role of government. It is compassionate to say, we care for all our young people. Whether they’re trans youth or otherwise, we care for them.

And that’s the message of compassion and conservatism that we need to have as a party.

TAPPER: Well, Trump targeted you for vetoing that bill that would have let the government into the office where a doctor is treating a transgender teen.

And Trump dismissed you as a lightweight RINO. He said — quote — “Bye, bye, Asa. That’s the end of him.”

You’re also under intense criticism from right-wing media. And Republican state legislators easily overturned your veto. What do you make of the blowback you have received from the Republican Party?

HUTCHINSON: Well, any time you go against the grain, you’re going to get that kind of blowback.

I think it’s healthy for our society, I think it’s helpful for our party to have that kind of vigorous debate about an important issue. And, to me, this is about the future of our party. Are we going to be a narrow party that expresses ourself in intolerant ways, or are we going to be a broad-based party that shows conservative principles, but also compassion in dealing with some of the most difficult issues that parents face, that individuals face?

And, at some point, I had to say I have got to remind my wonderful Republican colleagues that we are the party of Ronald Reagan that believes in a limited role of government.

And let’s just ask that question. Sure, I’m — I signed pro-life bills and I know that there’s a role for government even in the social issues, but we have to fundamentally ask ourselves, do we need to do this? Is there a better way? Is this something that we need to leave to the hand in the home or in the church, our faith leaders to handle? Is this calling out for a government solution?

We’re fighting that in Washington. Let’s fight it also in our state capitals and within — and fight for the principles of our party.

TAPPER: A lot of Arkansas Republicans are really focused on trans kids. And they’re targeting them with legislation.

They offered a bill that would ban trans kids from participating in girls and women’s sports. You signed that law, even though you have acknowledged there are no actual cases in Arkansas of trans kids causing any sort of problems on the athletic field.

If this is not an actual problem in Arkansas, if there are no female girl, women athletes in Arkansas objecting to this, then what is the end result of this, other than demonizing a bunch of already vulnerable kids?

HUTCHINSON: Well, any time you are passing laws to address a problem that currently doesn’t exist, but you worry about in the future, you have a potential of getting it wrong.

But, in this case, I did sign the protection for girls in sports, which says biological males cannot compete on a girls team. To me, that’s a fundamental way of making sure girls sports can prosper.

But, at the same time, you’re sending a signal that trans youth does not care. And so when that third bill came to me, I said, that’s too much, and this interferes with patient care. It interferes with parental decisions on an area that the science is continuing to learn more about.

These are tough areas, tough areas. And what we have to do is, we can debate them on conservative principles, but let’s show compassion and tolerance and understanding as we do that. And that’s the simple message that I think is important for our party.

And it’s more than about trans youth, because other people care. And so it’s symbol — it’s symbolic of our party and the direction we want to go. And I want to be broader, and not narrower.

TAPPER: You have said you want to see people look at Arkansas as a place of tolerance and diversity.

You think the legislation you signed is in keeping with that, signing a bill that would keep trans girls from participating in sports, even though there are no trans girls in Arkansas who are trying to participate in sports; this is not an issue?

Do you think that sends a signal of tolerance?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think it has a broad level of support. I think that it is a good bill for our state.

But, again, there are those that express concern that that limits opportunities for trans youth. We want to make sure that they can have opportunities in as many areas as they can.

This is the key part:

And there was this key point, too.

TAPPER: Governor, you’re a term-limited governor with deep political resume. And, in 2019, you said a presidential run was — quote — “on the table.”

Are you considering running for president in 2024?

HUTCHINSON: That’s too far off even to consider at this point.

We have got to get through the pandemic that we’re still dealing with. Here in Arkansas, the first thing that’s on my plate from a national perspective is making sure that we are going in the right direction for the Republican Party that I have fought for, for 40 years, as we built into a majority party in Arkansas.

And I don’t want to lose those historic roots that I believe are important for society.

TAPPER: With all due respect, if you’re going to run for president in 2024, 2021 is not too early to be thinking about it. Is it still on the table?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I don’t — I don’t know what I’m going to be doing after 2022. To me, that’s a long time in politics. I am pleased with running the state of Arkansas. And that’s my focus for now, Jake.

I’ve heard this argument for about 30 years, and it is as ridiculous and unconvincing now as it was the first time I heard it. It is constantly dredged up by the left, the media, and Vichy Republicans any time the opportunity presents itself to draw a firm line at what is considered acceptable. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any social aberration where the argument that we need to be tolerant and understanding if we are to be anything other than a fringe party, all the while observing conservative principles (the “blessings of liberty,” if you will), is not used. According to the guys conserving conservatism at The Bulwark and the loony tunes at The Dispatch, this means no mean tweets, and Jim Acosta’s feelings don’t get hurt, and we go along with every bad idea the left comes up with because compassion; because tolerance.

These are the people who have been counseling us for decades that “this is not the hill to die on,” and now there are no hills left. We find ourselves in the position of French at Dien Bien Phu…in a valley with the enemy on all the high ground and with a lot of dying yet to be done.

In the show, Hutchinson is coy about his plans after he’s term-limited out of office in 2022 and whether he’s planning a run for the presidency. The way that he’s setting his state party up as the enemy leads one to believe he’s not going to enter the 2024 primary. The GOP and conservative voters are not in the mood to turn out for someone angling to wrap up all of the Chris Christie voters. Taking a page from John McCain’s playbook, he sold out the voters in Arkansas and made the state GOP into the villain to get positive press coverage. I think this is more of a job interview for his corporate masters (“You have said you want to see people look at Arkansas as a place of tolerance and diversity”). But if he does surface in 2024, we need to make it a priority to send him packing because we don’t need leadership that is more worried about Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper than they are about doing the right thing.