>> A midterm wake-up call for Republicans.
But are they getting the message?
This week on "Firing Line."
>> All in?
[ Crowd cheering ] All in?
>> It was supposed to be a red wave.
>> Hello, hello, hello, hello!
>> With voters concerned about inflation and the economy, pundits predicted strong midterm gains for the GOP.
>> Are you ready to turn things around?
>> Instead, Democrats bucked historic trends... >> And I never thought I'd be so happy about Fox News, but I'm glad they called this election, too.
>> ...then defied expectations.
>> I'll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
[ Crowd cheering ] >> Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said even before the midterms, the GOP needs to move away from Donald Trump.
>> If we're going to win, we have to have common-sense conservatives.
We need to have a post-Trump future of the Republican Party.
>> The governor has also made it no secret he's considering his own run for president in 2024.
What does Governor Asa Hutchinson say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Governor Asa Hutchinson, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> It's good to be with you today.
It's great to be on "Firing Line."
>> Well, you're joining me from Little Rock, Arkansas, where you're winding up your second term as governor.
And you're also the former head of the National Governors Association.
Now, this week's midterms were not quite the red wave that was predicted.
To what do you attribute the rather lackluster performance by the GOP?
>> Well, you're absolutely right.
It was not a red wave.
And even though I'm disappointed in that outcome, it's refreshing that democracy really demonstrated it's alive and well and working.
And the people spoke loud and clear as to their direction that they wanted to go in their state.
And so it wasn't a big GOP wave.
I think there's a couple lessons from it.
First of all, candidates matter.
You know, you have candidates that were not able to pick up independents and could not win in a general election.
And if the GOP learns anything, let's have those that we support in a primary capable of winning a general election, capable of winning the suburban vote and attracting independents.
And we have to expand our base and not contract our base.
And in this election, I think you contracted our base too much.
And so, that's a key point.
>> Well, on that point, I mean, there were some Republicans who simply were not electable in competitive states, For example, Pennsylvania, where you had a Trump-endorsed -- and Michigan -- Trump-endorsed election deniers.
To what extent do you think losses in those states and in other states like Maryland and Massachusetts were a rebuke of Trumpism and of Donald Trump?
>> Well, the underlying point is that Trump's endorsement comes with a cost, and the cost is that it minimizes your ability to attract independents and to win in November.
You know, in terms of Pennsylvania, you mentioned, Mastriano not only was an election denier, but he really didn't campaign effectively either.
You have to move from a primary context to a broader base, and he didn't do that.
And we lost a race we shouldn't have.
>> This is the first election that we've had since the Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade.
And that was an issue in some key states.
Do you see that issue as part of the explanation for why Republican momentum was blunted?
>> Well, it clearly was a motivating factor for many to go to the polls.
And so it increased the intensity on the Democratic side, and that had an impact on the election.
And I think if that -- you know, it'll be an intense state-by-state issue, but it does not necessarily mean it should be an intense national issue unless Republicans and Democrats want to nationalize the debate and pass laws on a national level in Congress.
The Democrats want to legislate and protect Roe vs Wade.
Republicans -- it's a mixed bag there, but some want to pass legislation that will prohibit abortion on a national level.
And that's a treacherous path because that's going to make abortion a very, very hot issue for the next coming elections versus it just simply being a state-by-state issue.
In Arkansas, it was not a driving factor in the polls.
>> It wasn't a driving factor in Arkansas.
But, you know, in the Republican Party, there's a diversity of -- of opinions on this issue.
And even you have expressed a certain viewpoint that would -- you know, personally, it sounds like you have supported the idea that exceptions should be placed around cases of rape and incest, even though when you had the opportunity as governor to sign a bill that would prevent it, you did that.
You signed a snapback bill that went into effect after Roe was overturned.
How do you look back at that decision now, especially given how mobilizing this issue seems to be, you know, broadly?
>> It is challenging, and the debate will be state-by-state on what the exceptions are.
In Arkansas, it's the life of the mother is the exception.
That does not include rape and incest as exceptions.
I disagree with that.
I think that rape and incest are appropriate to be accepted from abortion prohibitions.
>> And I did sign the law because I sign pro-life laws.
And Arkansas is one of those unique states that a governor's veto can be overridden by a simple majority.
And so it passed overwhelmingly, I signed it into law.
It does protect the unborn.
But in the future, I think that's going to continue to be a debate, even among conservative states as to the exceptions.
>> It was heartening to hear dignified concession speeches from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday night.
But several races, as you know, haven't been called yet, including Arizona's governor's race.
The Republican candidate, Kari Lake, who has called for the imprisonment of 2020 election officials and raised questions about whether she would accept the results in her race if she lost, said this on Tuesday night.
>> We had a big day today, and don't let those cheaters and crooks think anything different.
If we have to fight through the B.S.
and the garbage, then we will fight through the B.S.
and the garbage.
[ Crowd cheering ] But how do you get fair and free elections?
You have to fight and win to make them fair and free.
>> Governor, as the chair of the Governors Association, is that the kind of rhetoric we ought to be hearing from governors?
>> No, I don't think it is helpful to our democracy, to what really is a hallmark of American politics, which is you fight it out on Election Day, you accept the results of it.
Now, obviously, Arizona's got some challenges whenever they've had a long period of time afterwards to count the votes.
They've got some challenges that they have not addressed effectively there.
And that leads to suspicions.
Now, a candidate should not be feeding on those suspicions, but should be supporting and encouraging the democracy to work and to have confidence in our elections, not undermine it.
That's really, really important for us.
>> Do you think she'll concede if she does lose?
>> I can't speak to that.
I don't know what she will do.
She's unpredictable in her tone.
I hope she wins.
But I also hope that the results are something everybody can accept.
>> I know it's your position as a Republican governor to support the election of other Republican governors, but do you want to support other Republican governors that exhibit that kind of rhetoric and that undermining of the rule of law and the confidence that we have in our elections, as you just described?
>> No, I -- that doesn't raise to any level of excitement on my behalf.
And, you know, we generally lose those races whenever you have somebody that is so populist that they cannot expand their vote count to the independents and moderates in the general election.
You know, I want to win.
You know, I have a nephew that left the Republican Party because he was frustrated with the direction of it.
>> I fight within the party.
I want to help save the Republican Party to have more common-sense conservatism.
We're two major parties in this country and they're going to compete with each other and we're going to compete within those parties for the right set of values, and that's what I want to do.
>> Well, I want to talk about that, because you've distinguished yourself from President Trump and the populist wave that has been ascendant in the Republican Party for some time now.
You've streamlined the size of government in Arkansas.
You made it smaller.
You made it more efficient.
You lowered taxes to a historic 4% low for the income taxes in your state.
And you're leaving the state with about a $2 billion budget surplus.
So make the case for traditional conservative economic policies against the backdrop of what has been an ascendant populism within the conservative movement.
>> Well, you're right, my record is very, very conservative.
But I've also focused on the economic issues.
And the cultural battle is what really stimulates the populism part of our party and our candidates.
And I think the cultural issues have to be taken seriously, but as a conservative, the first place you look is your family and individuals and in churches to impact the cultural values of our society.
And it's not always a government response.
And that's where I probably differ, is that I don't want to use the rule of law always to enforce the cultural issues that I'm fighting for.
And that's how we distinguish ourselves as conservatives, is let's believe in a restraint of government and let's utilize the changes that we want to impact.
First, let's look at our churches, our communities and individuals and ask for responsibility there.
And let's withhold using the power of the state to accomplish those objectives.
That's the debate today, and I want to hopefully impact it.
>> Well, that is the debate.
And it's funny, you mentioned the, you know, conservatives or Republicans using the power of the state.
I was going to ask you about one of your fellow governors who just won a sweeping reelection in the state of Florida.
>> Thank you very much.
Thank you for a historic landslide victory.
>> Ron DeSantis won by 20% and is considered a favorite in the 2024 sweepstakes for the presidency and for the presidential nomination on the Republican side.
Now, it seems to me there's a real contrast between your approach to being a governor and to the relationship between the private sector and government, and his approach.
And that really came to light during the debacle that Governor DeSantis had with Disney in his state.
To remind viewers, the governor, DeSantis, of course, signed a law revoking Disney's special privilege within the state of Florida because he didn't like some of their actions.
You said at the time, quote, "I don't believe that government should be punitive against private businesses because we disagree with them.
And so, to me, that's the old Republican principle, having restrained government.
Let's not go after businesses and punish them because we disagree with what they said."
What's the right approach, Governor?
>> Well, what you just quoted me saying is the right approach.
You know, again, as a conservative, I don't want government telling businesses what they can and cannot say in the workplace and what their healthcare policy should and should not be.
We have to be careful about that.
But it's a populist thing to say, "Hey, we've got a problem out here.
We don't like this.
Let's pass a law."
And I think we should just be hesitant because someday we might not be in power and the left might be passing laws telling businesses what they have to do in the workplace.
And we wouldn't like that.
>> How do you understand, Governor, this push and pull and tug-of-war in the Republican Party around populism versus traditional conservatism?
>> You know, there's a balance in the political world of listening to the population and identifying with their issues, which we have to, but also coming up with reasonable solutions to address those.
So, that's what leadership is about, is not just identifying with the need and the heartache that's out there in society, but also leading them through what is the best solution for it.
And it's amazing, whenever you do that, people respond in saying, "Yes, you might be right there."
Or they might persuade and say, "Hey, we got a better idea," and you might lose the election, but stand for something and stand for the principles.
And that's the kind of leadership that I think it's very important right now in our society not to yield to the loudest voice in the room, but to help educate as well as identify with the issues that they're concerned about.
>> Kevin McCarthy has said the House will launch a barrage of investigations into the Biden administration, and there are even some Republicans who are raising the prospect of launching impeachment hearings very early.
Now, I know you've warned against this path.
What is your concern if Republicans come out of the gate guns blazing, so to speak?
>> Well, retribution is never a good policy to follow in politics.
And so, you know, we just had an election that said inflation and the economy are number one concerns, border security.
And so that should be the focus of a Republican majority in Congress.
Now, they can do multiple things at the same time.
You've got oversight committees that can engage in oversight.
And I think there's appropriate questions that can be asked about the Department of Justice and their decision making in reference to the searches of the former president.
And you have to be sensitive there and not overplay it, but I think there's some appropriate areas to inquire in.
That's legitimate oversight in the politicization of the Department of Justice, very legitimate questions.
But in terms of impeachment... You know, nobody's told me what exactly somebody should be impeached for, and that should not be the response of someone -- of a party just because they're out of power.
That's not a good path that's healthy for America.
>> Well, in 1974, when Republicans were heading into midterms in the shadow of another scandal-plagued GOP president, Richard Nixon, then Republican National Committee Chair George Herbert Walker Bush appeared on the original "Firing Line" with William F. Buckley Jr. Take a look at this clip, Governor.
>> As head of the Republican Party, is it -- is it uncomfortable for you to cooperate with people running for Congress on an "I have nothing to do with Nixon" ticket?
>> Well, I -- it's not...
I think we've got room in our party for diversity.
It's not uncomfortable for me to cooperate with them.
And my advice to them, and very few people seek it these days, but when they -- if they do, I'll say, look, emphasize the good things that the administration has done and jump up and down and say, you don't like Watergate that you're against it.
Be against the bad things, be for the good things.
>> You heard him there, Governor.
You heard him say, "Be against the bad things and be for the good things."
So, why does that seem so hard for many Republicans today when it comes to Donald Trump?
>> Well, first of all, I love the clip that you played.
I miss William Buckley and I miss President Bush, as well.
And I love when the question was asked, the first thing that President Bush did was shift in his chair.
[ Both laugh ] And that's what we do when we get asked a tough question.
But, you know, in terms of today, I mean, President Trump did a lot of good things whenever he was in office that we support, and we want many of those policies to continue, from having a pro-Israel position to economic growth, you know, with a tough policy toward China.
Good things, and we can talk about those and build on them.
But we have to be realistic, and as former President Bush just said, jump up and down when you disagree with it.
And I think January 6th probably crossed every line, and we need to jump up and down a little bit more about how that, in my judgment, disqualifies him from the presidency again.
>> Governor, you just said Republicans ought to be jumping up and down a little more about January 6th.
What more should Republicans be doing?
>> I think the Republicans just need to be realistic about it.
The worst thing you can do is to try to defend the indefensible.
And what happened on January 6th is indefensible.
And so, one, stop defending it.
And secondly, be clear about it.
That doesn't mean -- and I don't mention it in every speech I make, but when I get asked, it's an honest answer about the harm that it did for our country.
And it's -- you know, whenever I try to bring the party together, I go out and I will speak to election deniers.
I'll speak to those that think differently than me.
I'll speak honestly to them and I'll find things that unite us together.
That's what building coalitions is about.
And it's also about bringing along those that... went a different direction than my thinking in reference to January 6th.
We're together on 80% of the issues.
We disagree about the approach to Donald Trump.
But if we're going to win in 2024, somehow we got to bring all of that together.
>> Well, Governor, I know you are considering launching your own presidential campaign for 2024, and I know you're not going to talk about it until you finish your second term as governor of Arkansas.
But I'm curious whether the outcomes of these midterm elections have given you pause or contributed to your thinking about how to approach 2024.
>> Well, the election reinforced my thinking that if we're going to win, we have to have common-sense conservatives.
We have to have those that can appeal to independents, that can actually bring people together and that can win in November and not just in a primary election.
So, everything that happened this last midterm elections reinforced that view and the urgency of the moment for candidates who have that common-sense conservative approach.
In terms of -- of President Trump's influence, you know, he will always have some influence as a former president.
I believe it has diminished because of the -- some of the disastrous races and the outcomes in the midterm election.
We're going to have a runoff in Georgia.
>> I hope that he is wise enough to stay out of that so we have a chance of winning that race.
We will have to wait and see.
But we're learning these lessons over and over again, and it's time that we move beyond that and said we need to have a post-Trump future of the Republican Party.
>> I want to ask you about something a longtime McConnell adviser has said, which is that he pointed out that even after January 6th, Trump was able to rehabilitate his reputation within the party and the base of the party quite quickly.
And so there's some urgency right now for the Republican Party to lock arms and find some candidates quickly that can counter him.
Do you agree there's some urgency?
>> Well, if he announces for president, there's some urgency to provide alternatives to it.
And it's different than it was eight years ago when we had a large field and you had President Trump there and he picked him off one by one and he was strengthened.
Then, he was a little bit of an unknown.
He was -- he was an exciting figure.
He captured the anger of the voters and the imagination of the voters, and they saw him as a fighter.
Today, it's different.
While he has enormous advantages and he's got a huge popular following, I think that you start to see that diminished as a result of the last election.
But also, our country just does not need to go through that again.
And that's why I expect to have a number of options out there.
>> It's true.
Donald Trump has actually a lower approval rating and lower favorability ratings than even Joe Biden's poor favorability ratings right now.
But in the context of a closed Republican presidential primary, if there are many options and President Trump, Governor, how do we prevent the scenario from 2016 from playing out all over again, where Trump gets 30% of the base or 40% of the base and the other 60% doesn't focus around one candidate but splits, and then we deliver Donald Trump as the Republican nominee once again.
How do we prevent that scenario?
>> Well, I think you prevent it by trusting the common sense of voters.
And while he might have a solid 25%, 30% of the vote, I think that whenever somebody comes in second or third and they grow in momentum and it's gradually winnowed down, I think that you see the alternative shaping up.
It's going to be, if he runs, Donald Trump versus a few others.
I think it will be narrowed simply because if he is in there, there's going to be some that won't run.
They don't want to go through that.
And we'll see.
I mean, a common-sense conservative message might not be able to compete against populism of the Republican Party.
Well, we'll learn that very quickly.
But you've got to make sure that we have those alternatives for the people to consider.
And there's too much at stake otherwise.
>> Governor, you call yourself a Reagan Republican and you talk about common-sense conservatism.
You value the principles of American global leadership, limited government, fairness, and economic opportunity and criminal justice reform.
Are the midterm results an indication to you that there is still room for your kind of Republican in the Republican primary process?
First of all, the midterm election reinforced that if we want to win, you've got to have that kind of a Republican, Reagan Republican leadership.
There's a spirit in America that we want Washington to work better, whether it takes better leadership or whether it takes institutional reform.
And so you need somebody not just with the right principles, but with the passion and with the fighting spirit that's needed to accomplish those objectives.
But I absolutely believe that there's room for a traditional Reagan Republican that understands the heart of the Republican Party and the goodness of America to prevail.
>> Well, with that, Governor Asa Hutchinson, thank you for your time.
Thank you for joining me here on "Firing Line."
>> Great to be with you today.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ >> You're watching PBS.