Asa Hutchinson’s Radical Traditionalism

IRVINE, California – The most radical thing about Asa Hutchinson is how traditional he sounds.

On foreign policy in particular, the former Arkansas governor and future 2024 candidate pleads for a compassionate internationalism—with a harsh edge—that former President George W. Bush might have emphasized before 9/11, but which today is outside the mainstream of his party lies .

He’s a longshot for the nomination, but he’s practically alone with his worldview in the broader field of 2024. That might give him a chance to have a debate on why the party abandoned its globally-minded principles — and smuggle a little more Ronald Reagan and a little less MAGA into the GOP.

Speaking to an audience of 70 at the Nixon Presidential Library last week, Hutchinson made his point: It’s important to welcome refugees to the United States because they “love liberty and love America.” The US should “assert global leadership”. Working with allies is key to solving global problems. America cannot abandon international organizations or leave China and Russia to fill the vacuum. And the future of US foreign policy points not only to Asia but also south to Latin America.

At the end of his prepared speech, delivered in front of a painting of the former president and two American flags, a senior library docent turned to her neighbor and said, “It makes a lot of sense.”

Hutchinson’s views stand in sharp contrast to his rivals for the Republican nomination, who unabashedly talk about prioritizing home front concerns and safeguarding US interests worldwide – regardless of what others want or with whom America is working with. For many of them, it’s America First or America Only.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis openly scrapped the idea of ​​supporting Small-D Democrats abroad: “Does the survival of American liberty depend on liberty succeeding in Djibouti?” He wrote in his book, The courage to be free. And in his first major statement on the war in Ukraine, DeSantis described it as a “territorial dispute” that was not in “vital” American interests, though he has since retracted the comments, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal. “

Nikki Haley, citing her experience as UN ambassador, has said the US will “take names” by countries, including allies, that are not aligned with America’s foreign policy goals. Former President Donald Trump swam openly an “overhaul” of the US national security bureaucracy; and a reassessment of “NATO purpose and NATO’s mission.”

The concept of America doing what it wants, even in a neo-isolationist cohort, has been growing within the Republican Party for years. It became clear with the race for the 2024 nomination. Hutchinson argues that he may be the one to get the GOP back to caring about the rules-based international order. Instead, he could represent the dying breath of a republican internationalism that is finding less and less support in his party.

In short, there is little room for a presidential candidate to hold mediocre foreign policy views and expect triumph.

Voters are not usually encouraged to pull the lever on a candidate based on their foreign policy views. But they choose someone who reflects them, and so far Hutchinson has found no resonance.

The Arkansan does not feature in polls of the top 11 Republican candidates for the nomination. His notoriety is nowhere near the level of Trump, DeSantis, Haley, Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo. Even in heavily Republican areas, Hutchinson attracts small groups of like-minded people, usually older, and some say they came to see him out of curiosity. During his speech at the Nixon Library when he said he would decide on a run for the presidency in April, most of the room erupted in surprise — not appreciation — before clapping at the news.

Hutchinson’s foreign policy vision is also losing out. That’s according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ latest survey, conducted last year 55 percent of Republicans want the US to play an active role in the world — the lowest total in the survey’s 50-year history. Only 9 percent of Republicans said the top foreign policy priority was “leading international cooperation on global issues.” In contrast, 48 percent of GOP respondents said “ensuring our country’s physical defenses” was the top issue.

Hutchinson believes if he gets his message across, he can move Republicans away from Trump’s vision and toward a Reagan-cum-Bush-2 worldview. The hope is that his affable Southern charm will endear him to people longing for the era he represents — and encourage those yearning for political compassion to join his campaign.

“It’s really a post-Trump phenomenon that you have this wing of the party that’s more isolated and that’s dangerous to America, dangerous to our liberties, and dangerous to world stability and peace,” he said, munching on cereal during an interview in a hotel lobby in front of his library address.

“To me, it makes sense for America to be part of a global discussion and information-sharing on matters that affect us,” Hutchinson added, suggesting that the US remain in the World Health Organization and learn lessons from the global response to Covid-19 would pandemic. “And we want to continue investing in regions of the world that influence us.”

At this time, its old-schoolness feels like a creative solution in a field full of conservative internationalists and nationalists.

Whenever Hutchinson makes foreign policy proclamations, the governor claims that the audience he’s attracting is targeting them. “We need to have multiple voices in a race for ideas in 2024, but also so we can better define what the GOP is, what it stands for and how we’re going to solve problems for our country,” he said.

One of Hutchinson’s strengths in his yet-to-be-announced campaign is that he’s mostly alone in his foreign policy lane — and he knows it. But the problem for him is that others who are likely to be vying for the nomination might try to dig into it.

“Isolationist policies will not do it,” said former House Intelligence Secretary Mike Rogers in an interview. “History has punished us for this policy.”

“If we surrender to the siren song of those in this country who argue that America has no interest in the cause of liberty, history teaches that we shall soon endanger our own for our liberty and the liberties of the nations in ours defend the alliance,” Pence said told an audience at the University of Texas in February.

Hutchinson argues that his experience will see him climb the ranks, pointing out that he is the only one with any inclination to run who actually served in the Reagan administration. Later, under the younger Bush, he ran the Drug Enforcement Administration and was top border patrol agent in the Department of Homeland Security — qualifications he expects will resonate with voters who care about immigration and fentanyl.

But where his views align with the Republican mainstream, Hutchinson’s policies are no different from other candidates.

China is the big threat, he said, telling the Nixon Library audience that the US may have no choice but to engage in a cold war with the Asian power. US should help Ukraine ‘win fast’ And it’s up to every government to designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations so that more resources can be devoted to fighting them.

Hutchinson is less concerned with specificity than with strategic orientation. Unless his party returns to its Reaganesque roots with a cooperative global perspective, the United States will be less secure and the world less stable.

At breakfast, he explained, “I don’t think what I’m sketching takes the party back. I think it gets the party going.”

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