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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson: Donald Trump's 'Words Are Frightening'


After Donald Trump's victory in last night's Nevada caucuses, the campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination now look ahead to Super Tuesday. March 1 is the single biggest day of primary voting and caucusing, and on the Republican side, we'll see results from 11 states, including Arkansas. Asa Hutchinson is the governor of Arkansas. He's a Republican, and he joins us now from the state capital in Little Rock. Welcome to the program once again.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Great to be with you.

SIEGEL: On Monday, you endorsed Senator Marco Rubio for president, but so far, Senator Rubio hasn't won a primary or a caucus. In light of that, why should he be the nominee, and does he really stand a chance?

HUTCHINSON: Well, we certainly hope Arkansas will be the first state that he outright wins, and it is important to win the primary states. But what has happened to Senator Rubio is that he has - came back from New Hampshire. He was a strong showing in South Carolina. Trump is a juggernaut that is difficult to unravel at this point, but I think Marco Rubio is the right one to do it. I think he can win Arkansas, and he can win in November.

SIEGEL: Well, there seems to be a coalescing of thought among Republican officeholders and state party chairs that there might be a problem with the Trump candidacy, but primary voters don't seem to see that. They seem to be drawn to this man, and he's doing remarkably well.

HUTCHINSON: He is, and he's getting better, you know, in terms of being more disciplined in his approach, but I'm not sure anybody is clear where he is philosophically.

SIEGEL: Are you clear that he's a Republican?

HUTCHINSON: Well, he's running as a Republican, and I intend to support the Republican nominee. But I'm concerned about trade policy, and I don't believe raising tariffs is the right direction to go. I think he would hurt us in Arkansas in terms of job creation. Whenever you look at promising positions that looks totally undoable and unwise, it's hard to figure where that goes in terms of leadership.

SIEGEL: What do you say to the argument that what Donald Trump has done in the primary season this year builds upon the success of the Tea Party, the role of Sarah Palin on the national ticket in 2008 that the Republican Party has been courting an angry electorate for quite a few years now and here's the payoff?

HUTCHINSON: Well, there's some merit to that (laughter). You know, the Republican base has been increasingly frustrated with progress in Washington. Everybody should be responding to that, but we have to respond with leadership, with good temperament. We have to also, as leaders, help educate the public as to what's the right ideas. What is the right thing that we're going to replace Obamacare with? What's the right direction for our country in terms of security? And these are serious discussions. They're not salesmanship. There's not - it's not a circus atmosphere. You know, these are serious discussions as to the direction of, really, the free world.

SIEGEL: You would - you find the Trump discussion of these things to be not serious. I mean, when you say a circus atmosphere, I'm assuming you're referring to the Trump campaign.

HUTCHINSON: I do not see his discussion of issues as serious. The words are frightening - how you're going to build a wall, how you're going to have Mexico pay for it. What does this mean? Let's be realistic in our discussions and how we discuss these issues with the American people.

SIEGEL: For most of last year, the read on the Republican primary season was that primary voters might have a summer fling in the polls with Donald Trump but they'd get serious come the fall or come the winter. You know, it's almost spring right now. Are you now reconciled to the fact that Trump is a very, very serious contender - the front-runner for the Republican nomination - and that the party isn't going to suddenly become disillusioned with him and get serious and say, oh, we need a governor instead?

HUTCHINSON: Oh, I think it's very serious, and the potential for him winning the nomination is more than just a possibility; it is a potential. And certainly, it was underestimated his strength. We underestimated the frustration of the American voters and his long-lasting candidacy. So we'll see if it's not too late to change. I want to add my voice to it. That's why I saw Marco Rubio as the right alternative and the right one that can win in November. I hope that voice makes a difference.

SIEGEL: Governor Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, thanks for talking with us today.

HUTCHINSON: Hey, thank you. Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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