Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson made his 2024 White House bid official on Sunday in an exclusive sit-down interview with ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.
Ahead of his presidential announcement, Hutchinson, a Republican, spent several days in the first-in-the nation caucus state of Iowa, stirring speculation that he intended to enter into what he acknowledged is a tense national political landscape.
"I have made a decision, and my decision is I'm going to run for president of the United States," Hutchinson told Karl. "While the formal announcement will be later in April, in Bentonville [Arkansas], I want to make it clear to you, Jonathan, I am going to be running. And the reason is, I've traveled the country for six months, I hear people talk about the leadership of our country. I'm convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts."
The former governor told Karl he is inspired by his travels around the country over the last six months and acknowledged it would take "a lot of hard work and good messaging" to raise his national profile and break through a crowded primary field.
"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. So my message of experience, of consistent conservatism and hope for our future in solving problems that face Americans, I think that that resonates," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson joins a field of Republican presidential hopefuls that already includes former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Although more Republicans are expected to join the primary in the coming months, Trump's shadow looms large following his recent indictment by a Manhattan grand jury -- making him the first current or former president to face criminal charges.
In a statement issued shortly after news of the indictment broke on Thursday, Hutchinson expressed his belief that Trump should not be the next president, arguing the final decision should be made by voters at the ballot box. Asked by Karl how Trump's indictment affects the 2024 presidential race, Hutchinson said the development "adds to the unpredictability" of the political process.
"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," he said.
Karl pressed Hutchinson on whether he believes Trump should drop out of the race now that he's been indicted.
"I do," Hutchinson said, standing by the position he took before Trump was charged. "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."
"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. And I do believe if we're looking at the presidency and the future of our country, then we don't need that distraction," he added.
In contrast to GOP presidential candidates and potential candidates, Hutchinson did not blast the indictment as purely political, noting "the grand jury found probable cause and that's the standard for any criminal charges in our society."
"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," he added.
"There are a lot of Republicans attacking that judicial system and that legal system right now," Karl said.
"And I'm different," Hutchinson countered.
Despite his critique of Trump, the former Arkansas governor drew a distinction that his political position is in the "non-Trump lane" rather than the "anti-Trump lane."
"When I say 'non-Trump', 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; we need to spend less at the federal level.' These are the values that I represent," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson, who told Karl in a previous interview on "This Week" that Trump should be disqualified from the nomination due to Jan. 6, did not explicitly say whether he would support Trump if the former president were to win the Republican nomination, stating instead, "I don't believe he should be the next leader of our country."
So far in the campaign season, Trump's popularity among the Republican base appears to be rivaled only by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has yet to announce his candidacy. The former president receives 47% of support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, while DeSantis receives 33%, according to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University released prior to news of Trump's indictment.
Throughout President Joe Biden's time in office, DeSantis embraced being a political foil by implementing statewide policies largely centering on culture wars in a bid to challenge the federal authority.
Pressed by Karl about the Florida governor's executive style and focus on cultural issues, Hutchinson praised DeSantis for doing "an effective job in Florida" with respect to the state's economy. Hutchinson also said he shares the concerns expressed by "a large segment of America about the cultural direction of our country."
However, Hutchinson indicated that he differs with DeSantis on issues pertaining to how the government interacts with private businesses, advocating for "the limited role of government."
"There is some differences of view absolutely," Hutchinson said. "The [state] 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?'"
A term-limited Hutchinson concluded his second term as governor of Arkansas and was succeeded by former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year. The executive experience bookended decades of public service including three consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, service in the George W. Bush administration as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and later as the nation's first Undersecretary of Homeland Security for Border Protection.