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OPINION

New Hampshire, please consider Asa Hutchinson

The former Arkansas governor may need Granite State help to make the stage for the second GOP debate.

Asa Hutchinson is a serious, principled conservative, one whose focus is economic and fiscal issues, smaller government, and a traditional internationalist foreign policy.Scott Eisen/Getty

Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, stopped by the Globe this week to meet with Opinion writers and editors, where he offered a half-joking suggestion: This newspaper should do a poll of the Republican primary race in New Hampshire.

Why? Because Hutchinson needs one more survey showing him with at least 3 percent nationally or at that same threshold in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada to be included in the GOP’s next debate on Sept. 27.

Actually, though the Republican race in New Hampshire is clearly in a state of flux, it’s far from clear a Granite State poll would put Hutchinson where he needs to be.

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If he doesn’t make the debate stage, it will be not just the GOP’s loss but the country’s as well.

Hutchinson is a serious, principled conservative, one whose focus is economic and fiscal issues, smaller government, and a traditional internationalist foreign policy. That is, the type of Republican New Hampshire has traditionally gravitated toward.

He makes a strong case that as a former US attorney under President Reagan, a fiscally conservative US House member during President Clinton’s second term, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration and a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary for border protection for President George W. Bush, and two terms as governor of Arkansas, his experience uniquely meets the moment.

“You look at the challenges we face in America, whether it is the fentanyl crisis we see in our cities, whether it is the challenge of smash-and-grab and the disrespect for the law, or whether it’s border security … or whether it is balancing a budget, I have done all that,” he said. “I believe in government as being problem-solving, and … I have something to offer for each one of those things.”

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I noted that though his undergraduate degree is from Bob Jones University, a Christian college, he is not a culture-wars type intent on dividing the country along social issues fault lines.

“I don’t believe the solutions to the cultural issues in our society are through government mandates,” he said. “And so I want the government to take a hand off. … Communities, families, places of worship, our fundamental beliefs should guide our culture.”

The unappealing alternative, he said, is for one side or the other to pass a law imposing its view whenever there is disagreement on social issues.

You can see some of that philosophy in the way Hutchinson handled two matters related to transgender care in Arkansas. As governor he vetoed — and was overridden on — legislation forbidding the provision of such care to minors. He saw that as “an intrusion of government action into an area where parents should be making the decisions.” But he signed a bill allowing doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to refuse to provide nonemergency medical care if doing so violates their conscience.

That demarcation is hardly airtight, however, as one can see on Hutchinson’s attempt to finesse the abortion issue.

Before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, he signed a near-total abortion ban in Arkansas. Hutchinson said he doubts national legislation, such as a ban after 15 weeks, would ever pass Congress, and that, he said, would leave the matter to the states. On the other hand, he said he would sign such a bill if given the opportunity.

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He sees abortion as unique but acknowledges that “you can’t be in politics very long without having some inconsistencies.”

Proud of having helped make Arkansas a red state, he now sees his type of Reaganesque conservatism being hijacked by the demagogic populism of Donald Trump and his imitators.

Hutchinson backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 but says his breaking point came when Trump began lying to the country about a stolen election — and when that deception culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol.

So what does it say about this country that so many Republicans are willing to support a man who not only tried to overturn legitimate election results but puts himself above the Constitution?

“It simply says that Donald Trump misled his supporters on Jan. 6 and he continues to mislead them today,” Hutchinson replied. Actually, it reflects a deep and worrisome authoritarian tendency in the GOP electorate — but his is a formulation that avoids blaming GOP voters.

Hutchinson said that what he hears on the campaign trail is very different from the daunting Trump lead that polls show. “It’s like a default position: ‘We’re with Trump until we know exactly where we’re going to go,’ ” he said. Let’s hope he’s right.

New Hampshire Republicans, please lend Hutchinson your ears. And the 3 percent he needs to be on the debate stage later this month.

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Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.