By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday was in “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” mode, and seemed comfortable with it.
The day before, he and five other Republican governors had a private meeting with their party’s presumptive nominee in Trump Tower.
Donald Trump is not Hutchinson’s ideal choice. He endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Earlier this year, he told National Public Radio, “I do not see (Trump’s) discussion of issues as serious. The words are frightening – how you’re going to build a wall, how you’re going to have Mexico pay for it. What does this mean?” When Trump said a judge should step down from a lawsuit against Trump University partly because his parents are from Mexico, Hutchinson issued a statement saying, “Criticizing and trying to disqualify a judge because of the judge’s ethnic heritage is antithetical to everything that is true and good about America.”
But now he’s supporting him. Why? Because they’re both Republicans, and because he’s better than the alternative, Hutchinson said.
“The framework that will take place under Mr. Trump is totally different than the framework that will take place under a President Clinton,” he said. “Elections are team efforts, and just because you don’t agree with the last play called by a quarterback doesn’t mean you’re going to stop blocking. …
“I have no doubt but that the team that I’ve aligned myself with for multiple decades is the one that I feel most comfortable with and will provide the best direction and security for the United States of America.”
Hutchinson did not seem torn about supporting Trump. When he started in politics, Republicans in this state were rare breeds and, occasionally, odd ducks, so this is not the first time he’s had to cast a less than enthusiastic vote. Believing your party is best for the country is not putting party over country.
Still, there are limits. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said after the Trump Tower meeting that the governors would be “surrogates” for Trump.
“He was speaking for himself there,” Hutchinson said. Asked if he would campaign for Trump, he said, “In a serious vein, there’s a lot to be done here in Arkansas in the fall, but this election’s important, so we’re just going to take that a step at a time.”
Other Arkansas Republican officials? During the campaign, some legislators held a press conference endorsing Rubio, while others did the same for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. There was no group photo op for Trump. But, like Hutchinson, they’re part of a team, and they don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president, so, whether they like Trump or not, most will get in line.
But most is not all, and we still have a secret ballot. Most Republican officials picked that party because they want to shrink government and defend certain traditional values. Trump doesn’t talk much about shrinking government. He also once wrote in “The Art of the Comeback”: “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.”
So some members of the party of family values may leave that race blank in the voting booth. Or they might cast their secret ballot for the Libertarians, who have nominated two credible former Republican governors, New Mexico’s Gary Johnson for president and Massachusetts’ William Weld for vice president.
It’s not only Republicans who are divided. Clinton only recently clinched the Democratic nomination campaigning against Bernie Sanders. She must try to unite her party, too.
But Republicans have more to lose. Of the 34 U.S. Senate seats in play this year, 24 are occupied by Republicans. While both Trump and Clinton have historically high unfavorable numbers, Trump’s are in the stratosphere. In a recent ABC News poll, 71 percent don’t like him and 55 percent don’t like her. So one of two things seems most likely to happen. First, Trump inspires millions of new voters, and the math works out in his favor, just as it did in the primaries. Or, it’s possible that Republicans as a party suffer a historic defeat up and down the ballot.
Unless something weird happens – and, boy, this would be the year – Trump will win Arkansas. Hutchinson and most Republican elected officials will support him with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Whether they like him or not, they’ll decide they’ve gotta do what they’ve gotta do.