Asa Hutchinson on 'This Week': Extended interview full transcript

The former governor announced his 2024 presidential run.

ByABC News
April 2, 2023, 9:03 AM

ABC's "This Week" aired Asa Hutchinson's interview with co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday. Below is the extended version of the conversation. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.

JONATHAN KARL, “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Governor, thank you for taking time to talk to us.


KARL: When I spoke to you earlier this year, you said you were thinking about running for president. Have you made a decision? Are you running?

HUTCHINSON: I have made a decision. And my decision is, I'm going to run for president of the United States. While the formal announcement will be later in April, in Bentonville [Arkansas], I wanted to make clear that, to you, Jonathan, I am going to be running. And the reason, as I've traveled the country for six months, I hear people talk about the leadership of our country, and I'm convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts.

And that inspires me when I see everyday Americans just saying: Give us good leadership, give us common sense, consistent conservatism and optimism about our great country. And that inspires me. And I believe I can be that kind of leader for the people of America.

KARL: Now you've got a lot of experience. You've been a prosecutor, you've been a member of Congress, you've been a governor, you’ve been the director of the [US. Drug Enforcement Administration], but most people outside of Arkansas don't know who you are. How do you break through?

HUTCHINSON: Well, a lot of hard work and good messaging, but I’ve spent some time in Iowa and I love the response that I get there. And so, it's still about retail politics in many of these states. And also, this is one of the most unpredictable political environments that I've seen in my lifetime. And so my message of experience, of consistent conservatism, of hope for our future and solving problems that face Americans, I think that that resonates. And so I want to campaign and whenever I make the final announcement, I'll be everywhere, and I think it's a plan that can work in this environment.

KARL: And how does the indictment of Donald Trump by the Manhattan D.A. change this race?

HUTCHINSON: Well, that adds to the unpredictability of it. And I think it's a sad day for America that we have a former president that's indicted. And so it's a great distraction, but at the same time, we can't set aside what our constitution requires, which is electing a new leader for our country, just because we have this side controversy and criminal charges that are pending.

And so we've got to press on, and the American people are gonna have to separate what the ideas are for our future, gonna talk about border security and the economy. We have to talk about those. We have to talk about the leadership of America in the world whenever you have Russia and China, taking advantage of any weakness that America shows. So we can't be sidetracked for a year and a half.

KARL: You suggested recently that if Trump were to get indicted that he should drop out of the race. Do you believe that now that he's been indicted, should he drop out?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I do. And for a couple reasons. I mean, first of all, the office is more important than any individual person. And so for the sake of the office of the presidency, I do think that’s too much of a sideshow and distraction, and he needs to be able to concentrate on his due process, and there is a presumption of innocence.

But the second reason is, throughout my eight years as governor and as a political leader, I've always said that people don't have to step aside from public office if they’re under investigation, but if it reaches the point of criminal charges that have to be answered, the office is always more important than a person. And so there's some consistency there. I do believe if -- if we're looking at the presidency and the future of our country, then we don't need that distraction and he needs to be able to concentrate on the legal issues that he faces.

KARL: And he should step aside and no longer run?

HUTCHINSON: Well he should, but at the same time, we know he's not. And there's not any constitutional requirement. And so he's going to pursue and I understand that, but I stated my principles and belief and how I think it should be handled. But he's going to proceed on and so he's going to be a candidate. And I think ultimately the voters are going to have to decide this.

And I'm not supportive of Donald Trump. I want to provide an alternative, but I'm happy if the voters make that decision and choice. I don't support, I don't like the idea of the charges, from what I've seen coming out of New York. But the process has got to work, and we've got to have respect for our criminal justice system, but also for the office of presidency.

KARL: Do you trust this process in New York? Do you think he can get a fair trial, a fair hearing in New York?

HUTCHINSON: Well, the important thing is that the grand jury found probable cause and that's the standard for any criminal charges in our society and then the presumption of innocence follows you and then there's a trial and the determination of guilt or innocence. That's the American system. Thousands of people face that, some are found not guilty, some are found guilty, but it's the American system and so we don't -- while we might disagree with what's happening, we don't want to erode confidence in our entire criminal justice system, simply because we don't like the beginning parts of the case.

KARL: And what about the way Trump has talked about this? I mean, obviously, there are just some vicious personal attacks that he has made on [prosecutor] Alvin Bragg. He's called him an animal. He’s called him worse than that. And he has said that this will bring death and destruction to America.

HUTCHINSON: Well, let's rephrase this because we don't want the next 18 months to be focused simply on Donald Trump and his legal issues. And Donald Trump says a lot of things and they don't always appeal to the best of America. And so I'd rather focus on what our future is about, and how we can solve problems and how we can come together as Americans.

KARL: What about the fundamentals of the case? Put aside the legal issues here, the idea of hush money for a porn star to conceal an alleged affair? Does some of this end up making the evangelical voters who supported Trump so strongly in the past think twice about supporting him again?

HUTCHINSON: Well, let's look at the three different investigations. One is the hush money out of New York. Secondly, it is the request and pressure for votes out of Georgia. And the third one, of course, is the mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Those are three very serious investigations. You might say one of them doesn't showcase anything. But when you look at all three of them combined, it should give Americans pause. When you ask about the evangelical community, I’m part of that.

KARL: Yeah.

HUTCHINSON: And -- and I believe that the evangelical community understands that we need to have a leader that can distance themselves from some of the bad instincts that drive Mr. Trump. And I hope that we can do that in the future.

KARL: Why is it his support from that community been so resilient? Because this is not the first time we've seen bad behavior from Donald Trump.

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think you have to look at the evangelical community. And I think they understand that America needs to move in a direct -- in a different direction. And so I think that is the case. I'm very optimistic that the evangelicals, who will play a very key role in this election and the decision of who's gonna be our nominee, that they're going to look for alternatives to the former vice president -- former president. I think that is exactly the case. And so I'm optimistic that they're going to take a fresh look at all the candidates, and they're going to look at who can lead our country well, who's going to have an optimistic view of America and also who's going to meet their issues concerning the family and our pro-life values and -- and so I think it'll be a new contest this year, and it's not going to be tied to how they've supported candidates in the past.

KARL: You recently said that your lane is the non-Trump lane as opposed to the anti-Trump lane. What -- what do you mean by that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it means that I’m providing an alternative to the former president, Donald Trump, and I think we need an alternative and choices in that. Now when I say "non-Trump," I want -- I want to be able to speak to the Trump voters, I want to be able to speak to all of the party and say this is the leadership that I want to provide. And I think that we need to have border security. I think we need to have a strong America. I think we need to spend less at the federal level. These are the values that I represent.

KARL: So what is your pitch to that segment of the party, and it's a big one, that really likes Donald Trump, and they think that he's been unfairly attacked. And they want him back, a lot of them think he won the last time. What, what, what’s your pitch to those voters?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you speak to truth, you speak out of conviction and you speak about your own conservative record, and most of these people that you're speaking of are patriotic Americans that -- they want freedom in their lives. They want to have less government intrusion. They want to have a growing economy. They want to have an America that meets the needs of their families and provides the opportunities for the future.

Well, that's the message that resonates with me that I accomplished as governor of Arkansas, and that America can accomplish again. So I think that we have to take that message to them. And sure we're not going to win all of those. But I think there's many that want to have a future that is not filled with trauma, but is filled with optimism about America.

KARL: And you think you can get those hardcore Trump voters or at least some of them?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you’re gonna to compete for ‘em and whenever you look at winning a campaign, you got to find your slice, you got to find your votes, and I hope that we can take some of those and I think down the road that that support will diminish for Donald Trump as you look at the future and look at the challenges that he faces. And whenever you look at how we're going to be on the world stage and who's gonna lead us, it needs to be somebody different from President [Joe] Biden and his policies. So who's that gonna be? And I think my record, my consistent conservatism is one option I hope they'll look at.

KARL: Chris Christie speaking in New Hampshire recently said that the key is Republicans need to be fearless in taking on Donald Trump. That does not seem to be the case with -- with a lot of Republicans, including a lot of potential Republican presidential candidates, who are reluctant to criticize him almost at all.

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think that -- I think that sets me apart for one reason. While I want to present my positive image and view of America and our future, at the same time, I’m going to distinguish my views and how I would lead from the other candidates and that would include the former President Trump. And so Chris Christie’s voice is important. I hope he continues to hammer away at his view of America.

But I don't think you're going to find anybody bashful in the Republican primary. If you get in, you're going to fight for those votes and part of fighting for those votes is to distinguish yourself from the other candidates. I'll do that and others will as well.

KARL: I mean, look at how candidates and potential candidates have reacted to the indictment. I mean, they've rallied to Trump's defense effectively.

HUTCHINSON: Well, that sets me-

KARL: Not you. It sets you apart, not you.

HUTCHINSON: Well and that’s part of it. You set yourself apart, you say, "This is what I offer. This is who I am." And I hope that that resonates. I know there's going to be some that say I should be tougher on the prosecutor, I should be tougher on the unfairness of this. I've expressed my view that I wouldn't bring those charges if I was a prosecutor.

But let's let the system work. And what I don't want to do as a leader is undermine everything that is good about America, which is our criminal justice system. That's what sets us apart from China. That's what sets us apart from Mexico. Our system works and let's don't undermine that every day.

KARL: I mean, there are a lot of Republicans attacking that traditional system and in that legal system right now.

HUTCHINSON: And I'm different.

KARL: If Donald Trump manages to win the nomination again, becomes the Republican candidate for president, will you support him?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think the question comes up about the debates and what the rules of the debates are. But I'm running because I believe that I am the right time for America, the right candidate for our country and its future, and it shouldn’t hinge upon anything else.

KARL: But you couldn't see yourself supporting Trump again?

HUTCHINSON: I don't believe he should be the next leader of our country.

KARL: What do you make of Ron DeSantis? What do you make of him as a leader?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think he's done an effective job in Florida. Obviously, their economy is strong, people are moving there. So I love what our fellow governors have done and that includes Ron DeSantis.

KARL: What about the emphasis that he's put on divisive social issues?

HUTCHINSON: Well, there's a large segment of America that is concerned about the cultural direction of our country. And I share that concern. I've been engaged in these battles for, since the days of Ronald Reagan, and campaigning for him. And so our culture is important. I think the question is, how do you move our culture in the right direction?

And I believe that the greatest impact on our culture is through our communities, our individuals, our houses of worship and the impacts that they have. And so we've got to stop this repression of conservative viewpoints on our college campuses. We've got to make sure our federal government is not pushing a leftist social agenda down on the states and our businesses. Now how you resolve those issues is a -- is a debate. But I think there is a legitimate concern of the American people, and I share that concern.

KARL: And you've also said consistently government, under a conservative philosophy, should be restrained. DeSantis has been quite assertive.

HUTCHINSON: Well, I do believe in the limited role of government. And whenever you look at a concern you have to debate, is this something we need to pass a law and tell business what to do? Or should we stay out of and let business, as we have historically done in our country, run their place of business as long as they're not violating some fundamental principle of fairness and safety in the workplace?

And so there is some differences of view, absolutely. You know, the Legislature supported him in many instances. But I think we as conservatives need to stop and say, "Is this the role of government, to tell business what to do?" Because that's the tool of the left. The left wants to say, "Government needs to step in and tell you you’ve got to invest in ESG, you've got to invest in -- in green energy." Well, I don't like government telling them what they should do on the left, and I don't think we ought to use the same tool on the right.

KARL: OK, just a final question. Donald Trump has got his support in this party, no question, and we have several Republicans like you now the latest to get into this race. Is there a concern that the anti-Trump vote and the non-Trump vote will be divided and Trump will go ahead and be able to win?

HUTCHINSON: Well, let’s see how many-

KARL: Is there a concern of having too many candidates?

HUTCHINSON: Sure, and a lot of people express that. And I don't think it'll be like 2016 where you had 16 candidates in there. You know, the best guess is you might have eight, which is not too many. And I think it's really important that the American voters have options and see whose messages resonates with voters and the direction we're gonna go in our country.

So I don't think it's a problem, but it is important as we go along, that we all self-evaluate. Are we catching on? Are we winning? Are the voters responding to this? And -- and I think it will narrow naturally as you go through the course of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. So it's too early to tell, but I don't think we should fear candidates getting in. In fact, I hope that we do have candidates that will showcase what they've done. Let's have a debate. We can contrast our differences, and that's what American democracy is about, is letting people really make a decision and be part of the decision for our future.

KARL: All right, Gov. Hutchinson, you made some -- you made some big news here: You’re running for president. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about it.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Jon, great to be with you.