Seeking GOP primary votes, would-be Kentucky governors fall in line for Trump

Other Kentucky Republicans get a chance to begin returning to normal with presidential hopeful Asa Hutchinson’s upcoming visit to Bowling Green

April 7, 2023 5:40 am

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican in the anti-Trump lane, will bring his presidential campaign to Bowling Green April 14. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

This article is published with permission of the Northern Kentucky Tribune, a nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism.

Kentucky’s political system, largely run by Republicans these days, has thankfully avoided copying other red states’ mischief with their election systems, spawned largely by Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was taken from him by fraud. The legislature made voting a little easier in four ways, a little harder in three, and in the session just ended did no damage.

But the leading Republicans who want to replace Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear at the top of the state’s political pecking order quickly fell in line for the Trump parade when it was revealed that a Manhattan grand jury had indicted the former president on charges of falsifying business records — even though they didn’t know the specifics of the charges.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron
Attorney General Daniel Cameron (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Their self-serving political reactions made clear that Trump still polls well among Kentucky Republicans who vote in primary elections — specifically, those who are expected to vote on May 16.

The most objectionable candidate was Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who seems to forget that he is the state’s top law-enforcement officer when he hears the name of the scofflaw who has endorsed his candidacy.

“I’m appalled by the political weaponization of our justice system against President Trump,” Cameron said in a statement while the indictment was still sealed. He accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of “a politically motivated prosecution because it appeases the desires of the far left.” A poll a few days later found that 60 percent of Americans approved of the indictment; interestingly, 62 percent of independents did. They hadn’t read it, either, but the poll showed that the desire to hold Trump accountable for misdeeds isn’t a “far left” proposition.

Then-President Donald Trump and then-Ambassador Kelly Craft at the White House in 2019. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Trump’s legal troubles seem to have firmed up his base, and Cameron seems to think it will do likewise for him. Soon after the indictment was announced, Cameron doubled down and started running a TV commercial highlighting Trump’s endorsement of him.

Kelly Craft, whom Trump named ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations, sounded themes similar to Cameron’s: “Leftists will stop at nothing, including political prosecution.” (Craft’s campaign and/or super PAC recently spent huge sums attacking Cameron in TV ads, falsely blaming him for closure of a West Virginia coal-fired power plant in a utility grid that serves Kentucky.)

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (who has yet to start TV ads) repeated Cameron and Craft’s assertions that Bragg is shortchanging violent-crime prosecutions, but went a step further — asserting that “He spent his time openly campaigning for office with a plan to put President Trump behind bars.” I asked the Quarles campaign for evidence of that, but all it produced was a story showing that in running  for DA, Bragg cited his investigations of Trump for New York’s attorney general — far short of what Quarles tweeted.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles

It remains to be seen just how strong or weak Alvin Bragg and his case are, but Trump has bigger problems.

He is under threat of indictment on state election-interference charges in Georgia, federal charges in Florida over refusal to return classified documents, and in Washington, D.C., for the violent insurrection he sponsored to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

Stop. Go back. Read that paragraph again. No one would have imagined it eight years ago. This is the most popular figure in one of the two major parties in the world’s most important democratic republic.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that Trump is not a normal political or historical figure. He took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” then tried to thwart it on Jan. 6, 2021; and almost two years later called for “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” so there could be a new election.

Donald Trump is more than an egotistical autocrat. He’s an unhinged quasi-fascist who is a threat to our democracy, and the sooner Republicans realize that — and act on that realization — the better off our nation will be.

Kentucky Republicans, at least those not seeking votes right now, have a chance to start returning to normal Friday, April 14 in Bowling Green. That’s when Asa Hutchinson, who recently completed two honorable terms as governor of Arkansas and carries no brief for Trump, will speak to a Warren County Republican Party dinner. He said last weekend that he’s running for president, that Trump should step aside so he can deal with his legal problems, and “I’m convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts.”

Right now Hutchinson is the only GOP candidate in the anti-Trump lane, so he deserves a salute. It will be interesting to see how he plays in Bowling Green. For the sake of democracy, we should wish him an encouraging visit.

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Al Cross
Al Cross

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.