A pro-growth energy policy, federal spending reductions, and getting the GOP back on course were among the goals Republican presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson outlined last night during a talk and Q&A at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy.
But the former two-term Arkansas governor’s remarks began and ended with the U.S. system of justice—the “foundation of our democracy”—which, he said, is under attack by former President Donald Trump.
Hutchinson was the second speaker in Dartmouth’s Path to the Presidency series, co-sponsored by the Rockefeller Center and the student-run Dartmouth Political Union. The candidate drew upon his experience as a U.S. attorney in Arkansas, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration under former President George W. Bush, and a House impeachment manager in the case against former President Bill Clinton to make his point.
Clinton was acquitted in the Senate, but the Constitution and the justice system worked, and rather than “blaming everybody in the world for what was happening,” the former president understood that the process reflected a constitution at work, Hutchinson said.
Today, however, “we see attacks upon our justice system and judges,” said Hutchinson, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2001, and is among a few Republican presidential candidates to criticize Trump, who is facing three federal criminal indictments.
“No matter what view you have on the current pending charges, let’s do not throw our criminal justice system under the bus and pretend that it is second, or that it is not worth fighting for, and preserving and making strong for the future,” he told the crowd of more than 50 people in Hinman Forum and another 40 who watched via live broadcast.
Also with an eye on the future, Hutchinson said he would take aim at the federal debt, which is larger than it has been at any time since World War II.
Soon the interest payments will be bigger than the defense budget, he said. “We want to be able to reduce federal spending so we’re not leaving the next generation a $32 trillion debt.”
Hutchinson’s goals for Republican Party interconnect with his economic plan.
“We need to get it back to its fundamentals of a limited role of government, individual responsibility, a strong America, and one that provides opportunity for everyone economically,” he said.
Moderator Mia Costa, an assistant professor in the Department of Government and Program in Quantitative Social Science, asked about the role party leadership might play in defining the GOP.
If Trump doesn’t step aside, “would you support a party rule preventing someone who is convicted of those sorts of crimes from becoming the nominee?”
Hutchinson said he would, noting that he challenged the requirement that Republican candidates participating in the first primary debate sign a pledge to support the party nominee, regardless of who it is.
“I raised a simple question: Does that mean we have to support someone if they’re convicted of a serious felony?”
Responding to another question from Costa, Hutchinson said he would support a federal restriction on abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, although said he expects the issue will remain at a state level, due to the unlikelihood that Congress could reach consensus on a bill.
In response to a student’s question about whether, if elected, he would halt new fossil fuel exploitation and exploration, Hutchinson said that growing up on a farm, he had learned about conservation and good land management.
“We have a responsibility to be a good steward of the land and our air,” said Hutchinson, whose energy policy would include producing energy from fossil fuels “in the most environmentally sensitive way possible.”
“We can also move toward more alternative fuel sources,” he said, adding that individuals can take steps at home to address climate change, such as recycling. “We’re probably on a different timetable, but it’s a serious issue and I take it seriously.”
‘A good example of civil discourse’
During his time on campus, Hutchinson attended a meet-and-greet for students, faculty, staff, and community members and talked with students over dinner.
Jason Barabas ’93, director of the Rockefeller Center, says visiting Dartmouth is a great way for candidates to interact with students and New Hampshire primary voters in a meaningful way.
“The Rockefeller Center has a long history of hosting policy-driven discussions and debates that are even more vital now given the scope of the challenges we face,” Barabas said.
Hutchinson said he appreciated being able to talk with students about the issues that concern them the most—and the tone of those conversations.
“The students have been respectful, they have been inquisitive, and I think it’s a good example of civil discourse in America,” he said.
Empowering students to take part in the process
The Rockefeller Center and the nonpartisan, student-run Dartmouth Political Union are inviting the major 2024 presidential candidates to campus to discuss their vision for the presidency, reflecting the university’s ongoing commitment to providing students with access to candidates during the campaign process.
Undergraduate admissions tour guide Maddie Shaw ’25 says she talks to prospective applicants and their families about Dartmouth as a place where students get to hear from “a ton” of different political candidates, and as a great space for political activism and free speech.
“Even if you disagree with a person, it’s really important to listen and learn, and hear about the status of the political debate in the country,” the government major said.
Costa, whose research focuses on political representation, psychology, and participation in American politics, said there’s no better place to be during primary season.
“Dartmouth offers a pretty unique opportunity for the community to meet what could be the next president,” she said. “For students, it brings what they learn in our social science classrooms to life.”
And being able to speak with candidates directly, “it becomes more than just a news story, too. We want to empower students to engage in the process and feel part of their civic community.”
The unfolding path to the presidency
The Path to The Presidency series opened last month with GOP hopeful Will Hurd. Last week, Republican candidate Ryan Binkley, a Texas-based pastor and CEO of a wealth advisory company, was on campus for a meet-and-greet with students. And on Oct. 2, Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson, an author and spiritual adviser, will speak at a Path to The Presidency event.
Dylan Griffith ’25, vice president of the DPU, says the organization is excited to see names being added to the series as the presidential primary season ramps up.
“Dartmouth plays the essential role as an academic institution of upholding the free exchange of ideas and ensuring the opportunity to challenge ideas when they are presented,” Griffith said. “Only when ideas can be challenged are we able to question our own preconceptions and to ultimately come away with a nuanced understanding.”