Tag Archives: Asa Hutchinson

The Republican Predicament

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I have been warning for months, if not years, about the danger the Republican Party poses to the United States, referring to it as a “terrorist organization” and criticizing it for its willingness to do former President Donald Trump’s bidding. But, fairness demands that I point out the beginnings, perhaps, of some cracks in Republican subservience to Trump.

Do not get me wrong: The vast majority of Republicans still appear willing to kneel before the would-be autocrat of Mar-a-Lago. There appears to be no end of Republican politicians trekking to south Florida or willing to appear on stage with Trump to show their loyalty in hopes he does not turn on them and back a primary challenger. Trump still leads a cult-like movement that may well take America down the road to fascism in the near future.

But — but, there is some dissent among Republicans. This past Sunday two southern Republicans suggested that Trump may not be the best thing for the Republican Party. What is most interesting is that both these Republicans — Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — hail from states that are deeply Republican and from a region that overwhelmingly votes Red, and for Trump, in particular.

Cassidy told Mike Allen of Axios that he does not believe Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. “President Trump is the first president,” Cassidy said in the interview, “in the Republican side at least, to lose the House, the Senate, and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning.” When asked if he would vote for Trump for president, Cassidy offered a definitive, “I’m not.”

Cassidy was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, at his second impeachment trial, for inciting the January 6 insurrection. “Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a statement after the Louisiana’s Republican Party censured him for his vote.

Perhaps, more surprising was the position taken by Hutchinson in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which the Arkansas governor criticized the former president for endangering Republican prospects in next year’s midterm elections. “Re-litigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s talk about the future. The election is past, it’s been certified.… It’s about the future, it’s not about the last election.” 

Hutchinson was responding to a specific question from “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, who asked if Republicans should be worried by the statement Trump issued last week that Republicans may not vote in 2022 and 2024 because of alleged “fraud” in 2020. Many Republicans fear that Trump’s continuing demand of blind loyalty from his followers, including urging his voters to sit out future elections, will cost Republicans winnable elections. Hutchinson merely said out loud what many Republicans say quietly. 

We do not have to dig deep in history to find a precedent for Republicans to be concerned about Trump’s focus on his 2020 defeat. Many Republican strategists blame the loss of two Georgia Senate seats in that state’s January 5, 2021, runoff on Republican voters staying home because they believed Trump’s claims of fraud in the November 2020 presidential election. These Republicans fear Trump could cost them seats in the House and Senate in 2022 and may yet jeopardize the party’s chances in the Virginia governor’s race next month.

The New York Times reports that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who supports continued audits of the 2020 presidential vote and who echoes all of Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, was surprised to discover that almost 10 percent of Republican voters in her district might not vote in 2022. Greene apparently told supporters that an internal survey found that five percent of Republicans said they definitely would sit out the 2022 election and another four percent would consider not voting. Given the closeness of recent Georgia elections, the possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans would stay home seriously endangers Republican chances. 

Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. As Cassidy said, Trump lost them the White House and both chambers of Congress. His continued ranting about fraud and the possibility that Republicans will not vote endangers future elections. Yet, his followers dominate the party. According to a recent poll, 41 percent of Republicans say they consider themselves Trump followers, not Republicans. And, nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the GOP should punish elected officials who openly criticize Trump. 

Given those numbers, it is not surprising that most Republican polticians are unwilling to go on record saying anything negative about Trump. Most will only whisper what Cassidy and Hutchinson were willing to say out loud. Most are more like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who in February criticized Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection. Yet, earlier this month, Grassley stood next to Trump at a rally and welcomed the former president’s endorsement for another term in the Senate. But, even Grassley made it clear he wanted Trump’s backing not out of fondness for the former president but because of Trump’s popularity. “I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley told the rally goers. “So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”

So, which is it? Cassidy and Hutchinson warning the Republican Party to be careful who it heeds? Or, Grassley, who probably knows better, groveling before evil because it is politically wise to do so?

But, what is the politically wise thing to do? Is it wise to act in the short term to save a political career or to jettison political subservience to one man in the interest of the future of the Republican party and the Republic? That is the Republican predicament, and it appears we are going to have front row seats to watch the decision-making play out.

Posted October 19, 2021

Guns for Hire

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It may or may not be legal for Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to accept private funding to send the state’s National Guard to the Texas-Mexico border, but it is a bad idea and a terrible precedent. Noem announced recently that 50 soldiers were being sent to Texas thanks to the “generosity” of Willis Johnson, a wealthy Republican donor from Tennessee. Noem, who harbors presidential ambitions, subsequently announced that 125 additional National Guard troops would join about 3,000 other members of the Guard from other states in response to Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s request. 

Some of the states sending the Guard to the border — Iowa and Arkansas, in addition to South Dakota — do not even border Mexico. Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said he hoped sending troops from his state would “reduce the adverse impact of illegal immigration on Arkansas.” It is difficult to understand how adversely Arkansas is affected by unauthorized immigration. A more likely explanation is that Republican governors — like all elected Republican officials — need to lock down the Republican base, most of which remains loyal to former president Donald Trump, who made restricting immigration a top priority of his presidency.  

Even Hutchinson, who was not reluctant to engage in the shenanigans at the border, thought Noem set a “bad precedent.” Others, like Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington State, decried using the Guard as a “private militia.” A fellow South Dakota Republican lawmaker asked whether the Guard now “hired mercenaries.”

Noem’s spokesperson said the governor “welcomes any such donations to help alleviate the cost of South Dakota taxpayers” and that accepting donations is in the “best interests” of South Dakota. Of course, there would be no cost to South Dakota taxpayers if Noem kept the state’s Guard at home. For his part, Johnson, the donor, said the whole country is affected by immigration. “We are all one people, and we should protect our country,” Johnson said. At one point, Johnson mused, “I didn’t know it would build into a bonfire.” 

A spokesperson for the National Guard noted that the Guard noted that the federal government has no control over funding for local units. “It depends upon the state laws and fiscal policy of the state,” the spokesperson said. South Dakota law says the state “may accept” offers of financial aid from private donors. Steve Vladeck, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas, said the practice of accepting private donations appears technically legal, but, he added, it “shouldn’t be.”

Mandy Smithberger, a defense accountability expert, told The Washington Post, “You certainly don’t want our national security priorities up to the highest bidder.” The use of private donations for military or security purposes is at the core of the issue. Both the federal government and South Dakota accept private donations, and any individual who believes he or she does not pay enough in taxes can send money to the IRS. But, the Antideficiency Act prohibits the federal government from spending funds in excess of what Congress appropriates. This law is on the books to insure that the act of donating money to the federal government is not linked to how the funds are used. South Dakota apparently does not have a similar statute. 

Legality aside, the use of private donations sets a dangerous precedent. As The Washington Post pointed out, imagine a scenario in which wealthy Malibu residents donate to pay for the California National Guard to fight wildfires around their city while the rest of the state burns. What if, for example, a privately funded Guard unit is sent by a governor of a state to a protest against the governor’s policies. Or, what if the Guard were used to protect a governor’s supporters? Just because an act is legal does not mean it should be undertaken. The privatization of the National Guard — because that is what Noem is doing — falls into that category: A legal action that should be avoided. (Or, better yet, made illegal by state law.) 

Viewed from another angle, Noem’s use of private money to fund the Guard appeals to Republicans who favor the privatization of public functions. Republicans favor smaller government — at least they used to before Trump — so they shrink it, decrease its revenue through tax cuts, and then farm out many of its functions. Republicans often claim private entities can do a better job for less money than public agencies, but that claim rarely is borne out. After all,  a private company is interested in its bottom line, not necessarily the public good.

Erik Prince’s private security firm, Blackwater, was deployed in Iraq, where it caused a slew of ethical and legal problems. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary and Prince’s sister, used her term in office to push privatizing education to the detriment of public schooling. Many states have privatized prisons, employing for-profit companies. In the past, Republicans have talked about privatizing the Postal Service, Social Security, and Medicare.

The last years of the Roman Republic offer an example of the dangers of privatizing the state’s military power. Wealthy Romans recruited private armies more loyal to them than to Rome. Some of these oligarchs recruited landless poor citizens by offering them bounties and land. Two private armies clashed in the early years of the first century BCE, ushering in the first Civil War. Eventually, other generals used their private armies, or legions they privately funded, to undermine the state, contributing to the end of the Republic. 

American democracy is at a fragile point, stressed by four years of Trump’s presidency and by his refusal to accept the results of a legitimate election. Republicans are further eroding democratic norms by restricting, or trying to restrict, voting rights. In these unprecedented times, American democracy does not need to be further endangered by the privatization of military and security forces. Everyone, Republican as well as Democrat, should push back against Governor Noem’s risky and dangerous use of private donations to fund military forces.

Posted July 20, 2021