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Arkansas Governor Weighs In On State Of The GOP Ahead Of Convention


Since February I've been checking in with Asa Hutchinson about the Republican presidential race. Hutchinson is the Republican governor of Arkansas. He used to be a congressman and was later head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Governor, thanks for joining us once again.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Over the months, we've heard you express support first for your fellow Arkansan Mike Huckabee when he dropped out for Marco Rubio. But each time you expressed some real reservations about Donald Trump, but since then, you've made your peace with supporting Mr. Trump. Why? What happened?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I always said that I would support the nominee of the party. And just because my quarterback didn't get selected by the coach, I'm not going to stop blocking for the team. And I think it is important whenever you look at the contrast of Hillary Clinton and the - what she offers our country versus a Republican leadership team. The nominee of our party, which at this - is presumed to be Donald Trump - I think that's the right team to support. That's what I've always said I would.

SIEGEL: In previous interviews, you've told me you had real misgivings about Trump's trade policy, his lack of seriousness in discussing issues, his divisiveness, what you called his frightening words about building a wall that Mexico will pay for. Are you now satisfied on all those counts?

HUTCHINSON: No. In fact, when I visited with Mr. Trump, I told him there are things I disagree with you, and I will continue to articulate differences as needed. But I'm convinced that this is the best opportunity to take our country in the right direction. I hope to use my influence to shape his policies and the direction he goes.

I hope, in terms of trade - and we do have some disagreements there - that this is a good negotiating position that he has, that he'll - he's reflecting - really what America's concerned about is a tougher stance on trade. I don't want to stop and build protectionism out there, but I certainly don't mind tough negotiation with our trade partners.

SIEGEL: Let me pick up on divisiveness, though, which is something that you raised with me in a previous interview. This week Trump's social media staff took down an image of a six-pointed star over a bed of hundred dollar bills after it was cited as an anti-Semitic image. He came back this week and said they shouldn't have taken it down. They shouldn't have given in to what he called partisan political correctness. Was that an instance of diminishing division in our country, or was that an instance of increasing division?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think it's just a instance where we're getting distracted from the important issues that we ought to be talking about.

SIEGEL: But he returned to it. He returned to the issue, himself. Is he...


SIEGEL: ...Distracting the party from things that might - it might find stronger issues to talk about?

HUTCHINSON: Well, he has a style that is not my style. And that is fine. That's Donald Trump. And guess what? That's exactly who the base of the Republican Party supported and said that's who we want to carry the banner.

And so if you talk about divisiveness, I think you also have to talk about Hillary Clinton and the fact that, you know, whenever she has her own controversies with the FBI report that comes out, whenever you have the fact that she will really be carrying on the third term of the Obama administration. This is the difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, and I have no question but that a Trump presidency would take us in the right direction.

SIEGEL: But before you go, can you just tell me, in a nutshell, if it's a successful Republican convention in Cleveland, which I assume you'll be at in the Arkansas delegation...


SIEGEL: ...What, in a word, will be achieved?

HUTCHINSON: Oh, that the American people will see a Trump presidency as to how it is different from a Clinton presidency, a difference in direction where there's a stark choice, and secondly that they will see the strength of not just Donald Trump but the Republican team that would lead our country.

SIEGEL: Do the stay-at-home Republicans undermine that very argument by not showing up and not showing we are one party and we're all together on this?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's actually disappointing. Obviously everybody can't go to the convention, but if you're staying away from the convention because you disagree with a style or some substance of Donald Trump, that's a mistake because we've got our country at stake. And I fully believe that this is a time where you shape the direction of how Republican leadership would take this country and not to abandon ship and say we're not going to have anything to do with it.

SIEGEL: Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas, thanks for talking with us once again.

HUTCHINSON: Great to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.