As the nation prepares to say goodbye to its longest living ex-president, it enters a presidential campaign where the two most likely contenders are also advanced in years.
The office of President Jimmy Carter, 98, announced last week that he was entering hospice care.
Carter is generally regarded as having a less-than-successful presidency and then a stellar post-presidency, although this will be a time to reconsider the former. His brokering of a peace deal between Israel and Egypt particularly has benefitted Israel for 44 years since. He also helped deregulate numerous industries, including trucking, one of the linchpins of today’s Arkansas economy.
Before Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act in 1980, trucking companies were required to obtain certificates of authority from the Interstate Commerce Commission limiting where they could drive and what they could haul. Thanks to that act, trucking companies of all sizes have since had the freedom to compete in the marketplace rather than through the bureaucracy.
Carter lost the presidential election in 1980 to President Ronald Reagan, and then as a private citizen became one of America’s greatest ex-presidents through his good works and goodness.
His final steps in his life’s journey come at a time when the nation is being led by its oldest chief executive, President Joe Biden, who is 80 and preparing another run. At this point, he doesn’t have serious Democratic Party opposition. If elected, he would be 86 when he left office.
Likewise, his most likely opponent – “by far,” Sen. Mitt Romney said, according to NBC News – is former President Donald Trump, who is four years younger at 76. If elected, he would leave office at age 82.
So far, only two Republicans have announced they will run against him: former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Rasmaswamy. The 51-year-old Haley made some news by proposing a mental competency test for politicians over the age of 75, which would cover a lot of people in Washington these days.
Others are gauging how much support they have, the most prominent being Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. They are also looking to see what happens with Trump, and whether he is indicted, implodes or drops out of the race, which there doesn’t seem to be any indication he will.
Romney argued that the only way Republicans can stop Trump is if the field at some point narrows to one opponent. If there’s an ongoing crowded field as there was in 2016, the other candidates will keep splitting the anti-Trump vote and allow Trump with his legions of supporters to waltz to the nomination again.
All of this brings us to former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has been talking about running for president for a while, although his timeline has expanded a little. He was saying he would decide after the first of the year. Then it became the first quarter. In a text Monday, he said he would announce his decision in April, explaining that “there is much to do before any decision is announced.”
Hutchinson would seem to be a long shot in this day and age. He is still a Reagan Republican – smaller government, strong defense, traditional values, global engagement, patriotic optimism – at a time when the party has increasingly been made in Trump’s populist image. While today’s environment rewards bombast and attention-getting, Hutchinson is stoic and statesmanlike. He is a serious person at a time when politics increasingly is a reality TV show.
Here’s an example of all that: He was quoted by Politico saying of Haley’s proposal that the Constitution already lays out qualifications for the presidency, and that a politician’s mental competency gets tested on the campaign trail.
Boring, huh? Who’s going to retweet that?
Despite those challenges, his name regularly appears on the list of likely Republican contenders. He’s typically nearer the bottom – several slots below Trump, DeSantis and Haley – but he’s not being ignored.
If he jumps into the race, it will be interesting to see if he reaches the point where Trump gives him a derisive nickname. If that happens, it will be because he’s on the short list to become the alternative Romney was talking about.
He’d be 73 when elected and 74 when he took office. That’s a young pup these days.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 18 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.
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