A winter storm was about to roll through the Omaha metro area when Asa Hutchinson came to Council Bluffs. The former Arkansas governor had just finished a radio interview with Emery Songer on KFAB, and now he was about to do a meet and greet at Barley’s Bar. Two people were there when I arrived, followed by two more a few minutes later. A reporter from the Omaha World-Herald arrived later to make a total of six guests, including me. While the weather likely kept some people away, the turnout was not much different from Hutchinson’s visit to the Hy-Vee Café in June of 2023.
Hutchinson seemed well aware of his “underdog” status in the race. “I’ve worked very hard for the last year to keep my expectations low so I could exceed those, and I think I’ve done a good job,” Hutchinson said. “If we can move up to 10% or 5%, we’re going to surprise some folks. We’ll probably come in fourth maybe third in this race [in the Iowa Caucuses].”
Hutchinson highlighted his resume as Congressman and Governor from Arkansas, which included cutting state income taxes as governor, balancing the federal budget, and his working relationships with Presidents Reagan and Bush.
Hutchinson’s Presidential campaign was titled, the “Return to Normal” tour, a slogan hearkening back to Republican President Warren G. Harding over a hundred years ago. These are certainly not normal times.
I asked the candidate about division in America today, with Democrats working to have Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, unilaterally removed from the ballot, and labeling him and his followers “Nazis.”
“The answer is leadership,” Hutchinson said. “Nixon, during the Vietnam war, during the Civil Rights era, we’ve been divided many times in our country. But what we are missing now, is back then, we had leaders that tried to get over the divide to bring our country together. And today it’s just the opposite we have leaders that capitalize on the divide.”
Hutchinson has openly criticized Donald Trump on the campaign trail, particularly over issues relating to the protests on January 6, 2021. “I am the only candidate campaigning in Iowa that has not promised a pardon to Donald Trump,” Hutchinson said. “It is totally unseemly to do it during a political campaign,. to make those promises to curry votes, but secondly, it undermines every aspect of our justice system in America to hold the fig leaf of a pardon out before it goes to a fact-finding, and whether it’s guilty or not guilty.”
I asked Hutchinson if he thought Gerald Ford had made a mistake by pardoning Richard Nixon after Watergate. The question seemed to catch him off guard, as he fumbled briefly for an answer. “It was a very unpopular decision that might have cost him the next election, but he did what he thought was important to heal the country,” Hutchinson eventually said. “So I’m not going to complain about that. But what’s important, though, is that he did it when he was president. He didn’t promise it in advance.”
Another guest asked Hutchinson about what “day one” would look like in his administration. Hutchinson said he’d implement a “flexible hiring freeze” with a goal of a 10% reduction of federal work non-defense workforce, as well as issuing an executive order to repeal much of Biden’s policies that pertain to social agendas.
Hutchinson concluded his event after an hour to travel to Des Moines ahead of the winter storm, but not before getting a Manhattan from the bar, which he took with him in a to-go cup on the way out.