A snarky comment and presidential apology show that our politics don’t always have to be bad


A snarky comment and presidential apology show that our politics don’t always have to be bad

Election 2024

Mark Z. Barabak

January 21, 2024

Asa Hutchinson was never going to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, let alone the nation’s 47th president.

In another time, before Donald Trump became the blob that swallowed up the Republican Party, the former Arkansas governor would have been at least a serious factor in the fight.

His experience

like a

The Reagan-appointed U.S. attorney, former member of the House of Representatives and senior member of the George W. Bush administration was the kind of check-the-box climb that marked the resumes of many successful presidential candidates. Hutchinson even acted as a prosecutor in Congress during the impeachment trial of President Clinton, burning his bona fides as a partisan warrior.

What is striking is not the predictable failure of Hutchinson’s campaign, which ended Wednesday after finishing light years behind Trump in the Iowa caucuses. Rather, it was the Democratic National Committee’s response.

This news comes as a shock to those of us who could have sworn he had already quit, DNC

National Press Secretary Sarafina Chitika

said in a statement dripping with snark and condescension.

Even more striking was the reaction that followed the mean-spirited takedown.

A presidential apology.

“The president knows [Hutchinson] to be a principled man who cares about the country and has a strong record of public service,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.


Jeff Zients


Jean-Pierre called on the ex-governor “to convey this and apologized for the statement that did not represent the views of the president.”

Other Democrats also joined in.

“It is disrespectful, mean-spirited, unnecessary and obnoxious,” said Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who is waging an insurgent campaign to take the Democratic nomination from Biden.

Hutchinson was grateful for the presidential apology. “It meant a lot to me,” he told CNN.

It was also a rare moment of grace in today’s sludge- and sewage-filled political climate. You don’t have to love your opponent. But you don’t have to be an asshole either.

What set Hutchinson apart in his often overlooked campaign was his willingness to loudly and repeatedly proclaim the threat Trump poses to the country and his 247-year experiment with representative democracy. Hutchinson showed the courage of his convictions by making his case even before a hostile audience.

“While some will ignore the former president’s destructive behavior,” he said


after boos and shouts at a conservative conference in Florida: “I assure you we ignore it at our peril.”

Notably, during an August debate, Hutchinson and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were the only two of eight Republicans to do so

they said

would not support Trump’s return to the White House if

He is

convicted of criminal charges. (Christie, Trump’s other main antagonist in the Republican Party, dropped out of the race less than a week before the caucuses.)

That radical idea that our next president should have no criminal record made Hutchinson a pariah in today’s Republican Party, which appears to have traded its traditional reverence for law and order for a more flexible moral relativism. (Of course, shredding the constitution is sub

optimal, but at least interest rates were lower when Trump was in power!)

Hutchinson “is a man … with all kinds of credentials” who “ran a completely honorable campaign,” said Norman Ornstein, a scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute who has observed presidential politics for decades. “But the bigger point here is that in this sect, no one who attacks the sect leader can gain the upper hand.”

If nothing else, Ornstein suggested, there are basic decency arguments for a heartier response to Hutchinson’s inevitable exit from the race.


“Why would you kick someone when he’s down?”

But he believes Democrats also missed a political opportunity and should have instead said, “Thank you, Asa Hutchinson, for being honest and standing up to a narcissistic sociopath, an autocrat, an insurrectionist and a sex offender.”

As you might expect, there have been calls for Chitika to be fired from the DNC. But that seems overly harsh to me. Washington is awash with an army of young, enthusiastic and ambitious staffers who have more swagger and attitude than common sense. Many grow out of it.

Better to view the occasion as one of those teachable moments and appreciate the presidential act of cross-party kindness for how rare it is.

“You fight hard, but at the end of the day you want to make sure you treat each other with respect,” said Hutchinson, who suggested Biden’s unsolicited apology “reflected the good aspects of American politics.”

Those good parts exist.

Nowadays you only have to squint hard to see them.


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