Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is doing something other Republican candidates so far haven’t: aiming his criticism directly at former President Donald Trump.

Hutchinson’s approach to hitting Trump has so far included calling on the former president to drop out of the race, and saying Trump has a “moral responsibility for what happened on January 6th.”

“We do not want to have a repeat of 2020 with a Trump/Biden race,” Hutchinson said during an interview Sunday with “Meet the Press.” “We want something different that we can win, and that’s the case that we make.”

Republican candidates hoping to replace Trump as their party’s nominee face the challenge of criticizing him without alienating his supporters. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s taken a dig by calling on Republicans to support her if they’re tired of losing, and she attempted to hit two birds with one stone when she floated a mandatory competency test for politicians over the age of 75, which cover both Trump, 76, and Biden, 80.

But Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney who served in the George W. Bush administration and three terms in the U.S. House, hasn’t beat around the bush. Earlier this year, Hutchinson said Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, should disqualify him from seeking the White House, and after a federal jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation Tuesday, Hutchinson said in a statement to the Hill that it was “another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump.”

“Over the course of my over 25 years of experience in the courtroom, I have seen firsthand how a cavalier and arrogant contempt for the rule of law can backfire,” he said. “The jury verdict should be treated with seriousness.”

Why voters aren’t enthused about a 2024 Biden-Trump rematch

Hutchinson avoided talking about Trump in his announcement speech and told “Meet the Press” he wanted to focus on “persuading Americans that we need to go a different direction.” Polling, however, shows he faces an uphill battle as Trump grows his lead over his nearest potential competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found Hutchinson trailing behind behind Trump, DeSantis, former President Mike Pence, Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Hutchinson said he expects to make it to the debate stage where he could potentially square off against Trump face-to-face. The first Republican debate is scheduled to be held in August in Milwaukee and candidates may need to reach a minimum threshold in polling and donors to be eligible to debate. Trump has not yet committed to attending.

View Comments

While Republican voters have increasingly rallied behind Trump in recent months, Hutchinson said he believes Trump’s record at the ballot box shows his “true numbers.”

Will a moderate Republican run for president in 2024?

“You look back to the true numbers, which is after the last midterm elections, and his numbers were down,” Hutchinson told “Meet the Press.” “He was responsible for a lot of the failure in growth that we expected and wins in a number of different states, and so his numbers were down. Since then, his numbers have gone up because he’s played the victim.”

He said some people believe Trump has been “picked on because of some prosecutions” and said he jokes that Trump’s campaign manager is Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who brought the case that indicted Trump.

“That indictment caused those numbers to go up because they don’t believe they’re fair,” Hutchinson said. “This will settle out over time. And so let’s judge it, understanding that we’re early in the campaign. We’ve got a lot of, lot of room to grow.”

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.