Asa Hutchinson sat Thursday under the fluorescent lights of a windowless conference room just off the main convention hall at the Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel in Altoona, Iowa, explaining why there was a mission in the madness of her campaign presidential election of 2024.
Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey had dropped out of the race the day before, trailing other big names like Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Vice President Mike Pence, as well as lesser names like the North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and conservative commentator Larry Elder.
But as Mr. Hutchinson, a former Arkansas governor, waited his turn to speak at a summit on renewable fuels, he said he found only more motivation in those other departures.
“My voice makes a difference,” he said. “I am the only one in the presidential campaign in Iowa who declared that I was not going to promise a pardon to Donald Trump. And if my voice is not there, then no one will hear the other point of view.”
“How the hell are you going to beat Donald Trump,” he added, “if someone isn’t there to sound the alarm and tell us that we can all go up in flames if we have the wrong candidate ?”
Mr. Hutchinson, one of the founding leaders of the Department of Homeland Security, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and former member of Congress, has one more thing to add to his extensive resume: the Don Quixote of the 2024 Republican primaries .
The windmill he leaned against, Mr. Trump, was no more interested in him than the inanimate behemoths of Miguel de Cervantes were interested in that other cantankerous knight. But Mr. Trump’s leisurely march toward the Republican nomination is what keeps Mr. Hutchinson going, on long drives with his two staffers, through snowstorms that have grounded others candidates, at events where only a handful of people showed up, each of whom could caucuse on Monday for Mr. Hutchinson, he believes, if he can only make his pitch.
“I am not blind to the challenges and the fact that it is an arduous task,” he said seriously. “I know where I am today and I know what my goals are for next Monday. Then, when it’s finished, we’ll evaluate it.
The money he raised helped pay application filing fees in Colorado, Michigan, Texas and Oklahoma. He’s leaving South Carolina — there’s no point in competing there, he said — but he’s willing to run in Florida, because by his March 19 primary, Mr. Trump could well be on trial in Washington on criminal charges stemming from his efforts to overturn the law. 2020 presidential election.
“Voters will have a lot more information after March 4 about the risk of a Trump candidacy,” he said, referring to Mr. Trump’s trial, which is scheduled to begin a day before Super Tuesday, even whether Mr Hutchinson admitted the trial date was likely to slip.
For now, Mr. Hutchinson’s campaign defines life on the land. He had raised the entire $1.2 million through September and spent $924,015 of it, a pittance compared to other candidates’ portfolios. He cut a television commercial, he said. It wasn’t widely distributed.
Where others fly, he drives long distances. Aides say he has been known to drive more than eight hours to Des Moines from Arkansas in his own car. Trips are made in the cheapest SUVs offered at rental counters. Last fall, when a flight from Chicago to Des Moines was canceled, he rounded up three strangers, pooled their money to rent a car and drove to Iowa for his scheduled events.
But he has a flight booked to New Hampshire on Tuesday, after what he hopes will be a better-than-expected performance in Iowa on Monday.
“You are the media, so tell me what the expectations are of me,” he said.
“One, 2 percent? » dared his interlocutor.
“Okay,” he said. “So those are the expectations I have to exceed.”
For a man determined to sound the alarm and save the republic, his expectations are remarkably low.
Although he says his voice matters, the story he tells to illustrate the impact he’s had doesn’t really drive home the point: Last June, he said, he ventured to Columbus, Georgia, for that state’s Republican convention, so packed with Trump-supporting delegates was shunned by Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, still feeling the wrath of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters who were angry at Mr. Kemp for refusing to overturn President Biden’s narrow victory in 2020.
Mr. Hutchinson tore into Mr. Trump in his quiet way, happy to brave the crowd. Then a man in a red MAGA hat ran up to him “and he said, ‘You haven’t completely convinced me, but at least I like you now,'” Mr. Hutchinson recalled, smiling.
With that, he left for his speech, walking down the trade show corridor, with its industrial booths promoting ethanol production and carbon dioxide pipelines, candy bars in bowls to attract conventioneers, and Fleetwood Mac passing through the audio system.
The audience, perhaps three-quarters full, listened respectfully. When he told the crowd that he was the only Republican candidate to refuse to pardon Mr. Trump, only one applause rang out.
That fighter, William Sherman, a retiree from the Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines, was more than happy to share his feelings.
“What he said made sense,” Mr. Sherman said. But he wouldn’t caucus for Mr. Hutchinson: “I’m a Democrat.”