Every year South Carolina has a deer season, turkey season, duck season, rabbit season and even a bear season. However, every four years the Palmetto State finds itself in the middle of a different kind of season – presidential candidate season.
Republican presidential candidates make a beeline to this state at this time of year because of South Carolina's important early presidential preference primary, which will take place next February.
Presidential campaigns can either gain momentum after February, depending upon their showing in that primary, or they can start to fizzle. No serious presidential candidate can afford to bypass visiting fellow Republicans here.
Greenville has already heard from two home-grown candidates – former Governor Nikki Haley and junior Senator Tim Scott. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stumped here last month and former president and current front-runner Donald Trump rallied his supporters recently in Pickens to a crowd estimated at around 50,000.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is the latest such candidate to put in an appearance here in the Upstate.
This past Thursday evening, the Fourth District Republican Club hosted a forum before a small gathering at the Commerce Club for Hutchinson with WORD radio show host Charlie James serving as the moderator. The next morning he addressed about 40 Republican activists at the Greenville County GOP's headquarters on Wade Hampton Boulevard.
At the Friday event, the two-term governor repeated much of what he said at the Commerce Club the previous evening, touting his accomplishments in public life over the last 40 years on both state and federal levels.
Hutchinson has a long list of Republican bonafides. A graduate of Bob Jones University and the University of Arkansas School of Law, he was appointed by then President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to serve as United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. Hutchinson said that Reagan served as his inspiration to help build the Republican Party in that state.
In 1986 he lost his first political race as he sought the US Senate seat then held by incumbent Dale Bumpers. In 1996, however, he won a seat in the House of Representatives, where he served two terms. “It took a while for them to warm to me,” he said, referring to the voters in the then heavily Democratic state.
In addition, Hutchinson has served as chairman of the state GOP as well as the National Governors Association. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the Drug Enforcement Agency as well as to serve as Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Border and Transportation Security.
In 2014 Hutchinson was elected governor and served for eight years. He said that, while governor, 100,000 jobs were created in the state, the state income tax was reduced and 3,000 state government jobs were eliminated.
Hutchinson also said that when he left office the state enjoyed a budget surplus. He said that when he was in Congress the federal budget was balanced. “We're long overdue to balance the budget again,” he said.
Hutchinson said that he would institute a hiring freeze in non-defense federal government jobs if elected president. He would also institute greater oversight of the administrative state and would give governors more flexibility to deal with such areas as Medicaid.
When asked by James why he was running for president, Hutchinson replied, “Because President Biden is bringing the country in the wrong direction.” He said that the GOP needs to win the White House in 2024 in order to save the country and that, in order to do so, the right person needs to be at the top of the ticket, no doubt referring to himself.
Hutchinson also decried the division that he sees in the country. “Sadly, on both sides of the aisle, we have leaders that capitalize on division, make money off division and increase the division. That's why I'm running for president, so we can change the direction of our politics and our party,” he said.
Hutchinson also asserts that the United States must retain a leadership position in the world. “We have to not abandon the leadership role, and we have people in our party today that want to bring back the old concept of isolationism,” he said, adding, “China wants to take our place . . . we cannot let China dictate the terms of world powers and how we relate to the world.”
The Biden administration has done a good job in Ukraine, said Hutchinson, but their problem is that they are too slow. He wants to send Abrams tanks and F-16's to the fight, although he is against sending any troops.
Hutchinson said that, even though he supported Trump's bids for the White House in 2016 and 2020, it is time to move on. “It's not about getting even, it's not about what happened on that day (January 6, 2021), it's about the future,” he said, adding that, even though he believes there were voting irregularities during the 2020 presidential election, that Joe Biden is the legitimate president.
He was also critical of Trump keeping classified documents at his Maralago estate. “There were serious violations of national security,” he said, although he doesn't like that Trump is being prosecuted for it.
Hutchinson touted his response as governor to the COVID pandemic in 2020. He said that he did not force his state to shelter in place, that such a policy didn't make sense to him. He also said that He opened schools back up for in-person learning in August of that year, despite the presence of protesters in front of the governor's mansion. He was also against any kind of mandates.
The two-term governor said that he signed 30 pro-life bills into law while in office and said that he believes in one exception to abortion – to save the life of the mother.
Hutchinson supports a pro-growth energy policy. “We need to produce,” he said. Speaking of the illegal immigrant crisis, he promised, “You're going to see a secure border if elected.” He further said that he would stop the “leftist, socialist agenda” if elected and that he is against ESG scores. “We're going to stop that.”