Asa Hutchinson, who recently completed two terms as Arkansas governor, said Sunday he will seek the Republican presidential nomination, positioning himself as an alternative to Donald Trump just days before the former president was arrested in New York.
Hutchinson said that Trump, his competitor, should drop out of the race.
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“I have made a decision, and my decision is that I am going to run for president of the United States,” Hutchinson told Jonathan Karl of ABC This Week. “The formal announcement will be later in April.”
The little-known Hutchinson tried to rationalize his decision to jump into a field alongside big names like Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden.
“I am going to be running. And the reason, as I’ve traveled the country for six months, I hear people talk about the leadership of our country, and I’m convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts,” Hutchinson continued. “I believe I can be that kind of leader for the people of America.”
Before Hutchinson’s announcement, the presidential race included only three Republicans: businessman-turned-author Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Trump himself.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to jump into the race in the summer after Florida’s legislature adjourns, while U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former Vice President Mike Pence are among those considering bids.
However, Hutchinson just became the first person to enter the race since Trump’s indictment.
Hutchinson is testing GOP’s appetite for those who speak out against Trump. Others who have criticized Trump, including former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have opted against a campaign, sensing the difficulty of prevailing in a primary.
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Many Republicans — even those considering challenging him for the nomination — have defended him against the New York indictment. DeSantis vowed not to cooperate with any attempt to extradite Trump from Florida, his current home.
But Hutchinson, a former prosecutor, has disagreed. He had said Friday that Trump should “step aside.” He described Trump’s legal woes as a “distraction” from other issues, and he also considers a criminal charge to be a stain on the office of the president.
“Got to talk about border security and the economy. We have to talk about those. We have to talk about the leadership of America in the world,” Hutchinson said. “We can’t be sidetracked for a year and a half.”
He added, “If it reaches the point of criminal charges that have to be answered, the office is more important than a person.”
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Hutchinson will be campaigning in the coming weeks in Iowa, Indiana and Kentucky. He told ABC News he could be very competitive in places like Iowa, where campaigning involves “retail politics” like chatting with potential voters in diners. We’ll see.
The former governor is known more for talking policy than for fiery speeches, often flanked by charts and graphs at his news conferences at the state Capitol. Instead of picking fights on Twitter, he tweets out Bible verses every Sunday morning.
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At 72, Hutchinson left office in January after eight years as governor. He has ramped up his criticism of the former president in recent months, calling another Trump presidential nomination the “worst scenario” for Republicans and saying it will likely benefit President Joe Biden’s chances in 2024.
The former governor, who was term-limited, has been a fixture in Arkansas politics since the 1980s, when the state was predominantly Democratic. A former congressman, he was one of the House managers prosecuting the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton.
Hutchinson served as President George W. Bush’s head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and was an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
However, Hutchinson has since earned the ire of Trump and social conservatives. Although he has supported Trump’s policies, Hutchinson has become increasingly critical of the former president’s rhetoric and his attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He said Trump’s call to terminate parts of the Constitution to overturn the election hurt the country.
“Our judicial system, that’s what sets us apart,” Hutchinson told ABC News.
Trump has called Hutchinson a “RINO,” a Republican In Name Only.
Hutchinson may be following in the footsteps of a predecessor: former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who dropped out of 2016’s presidential race after winning only 1.8 percent in the GOP’s Iowa caucus.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.