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Asa Hutchinson drops out of race for Republican presidential nomination

In World
January 16, 2024

The former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, a stalwart conservative willing to sharply criticize Donald Trump, has suspended his beleaguered bid for the White House the day after the Iowa caucuses.

“My message of being a principled Republican with experience and telling the truth about the current front runner did not sell in Iowa,” he said in a statement. “I stand by the campaign I ran. I answered every question, sounded the warning to the GOP about the risks in 2024 and presented hope for our country’s future.”

A long shot from the start, Hutchinson launched his campaign in the spring with a pledge to “bring out the best of America”. But with opinion polls showing Trump far ahead of his Republican rivals in the early voting states and the scrap for second place increasingly a contest between Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Hutchinson’s decision to exit the race was hardly surprising.

Related: Democrats seize on Iowa results to campaign on threats posed by Trump

The 72-year-old former governor had struggled to gain traction among Republican voters, hovering below 1% in an average of public opinion polls. Though he competed in the first presidential primary debate, he failed to qualify for each subsequent debate.

In September, after failing to meet the Republican National Committee’s debate qualifications, which included fundraising and polling requirements, Hutchinson said his goal was to improve his polling numbers to 4% in at least one early state before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hutchinson’s exit further winnows the Republican presidential primary field, following recent departures by Mike Pence, the former vice-president and Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator. The former Texas congressman Will Hurd, Miami mayor Francis Suarez, businessman Perry Johnson and conservative talk radio host Larry Elder also ended their bids.

Even before launching his bid, Hutchinson stood apart from most Republicans by calling on Trump to drop out “for the sake of the office of the presidency” instead of seeking another White House term.

Hutchinson kept up his sharp criticism of Trump, drawing boos from the crowd at a conservative conference in Florida when he said there was a “significant likelihood that Donald Trump will be found guilty by a jury on a felony offense next year”.

Over the jeering, Hutchinson warned that continuing to support Trump would hurt Republicans in 2024 and “weaken the GOP for decades to come”.

“While some will ignore the destructive behavior of the former president, I assure you we ignore it at our own peril,” he said. His campaign highlighted the speech on his social media accounts, asking Republicans who shared his fears to donate.

It was not enough to sustain his candidacy, particularly as his rivals began sharpening their attacks on Trump after an initial hesitancy to do so. In late October, his campaign manager left, but Hutchinson vowed to stay in the race.

As the primary season neared, Hutchinson, along with other stalled candidates like the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, faced pressure from anti-Trump strategists and donors to drop out and coalesce behind a viable alternative. But he had, until now, resisted, arguing that there was still time for candidates like himself to break out and dent Trump’s lead.

Hutchinson announced his bid for the White House shortly after Joe Biden launched his re-election campaign, arguing that both Biden, 80, and Trump, 77, were focused on the past rather than the future.

On the campaign trail, he often highlighted his long career in public service to draw a contrast with Trump. A former congressman from Arkansas and a US attorney, he served as the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as the undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security under president George Bush.

As governor, he amassed a conservative record on taxes, guns and abortion. During his term, he signed into law a “trigger” ban on abortions at every stage of pregnancy, which took effect when the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade in 2022. It includes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Hutchinson now says he regrets that the law does not allow for those exemptions.

Hutchinson left office in 2023. Succeeding him as governor is Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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