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Trump dominated Super Tuesday. What can we expect from him down the road?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's continue our conversation now with the former Republican governor of Arkansas who was also a presidential candidate himself. Asa Hutchinson, welcome back to the program. Good morning, sir.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, thank you, Steve. It is great to be with you today.

INSKEEP: I know that you had been supportive of Nikki Haley up to now. What do you make of the announcement that we expect a little bit later on this morning?

HUTCHINSON: Well, she's a smart lady and obviously can read the tea leaves. Last night was not a good night for her. It was a very strong night for Donald Trump. And so, one, I'm very glad that she stayed in through Super Tuesday. It was important for a large number of states - what? - 16 last night - to be able to cast their vote and to have an alternative. And clearly, the Republican base is in Donald Trump's camp. But Nikki ran a good race, and she timed it well now to make a decision to suspend her campaign. There really wasn't any choice. And so now we'll see, just as the previous analysis went, exactly where her supporters go. And I think that remains up in the air exactly how - what she does, as well as others who supported her.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what you might do as one Nikki Haley supporter. There is the third-party option. There's the not voting option. The Wall Street Journal is characterizing Haley's message today as saying that Trump needs to earn the support of those Republicans who are still reluctant. What are you thinking?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it is important that the burden is on Donald Trump to unify the party and to reach out and to bring people together in the Republican column. That's hard for him to do, and he's not been very successful of that in the past.

So in terms of me, I fit in the column that I can't endorse Donald Trump. There's nothing I see that he reflects my views of the Republican Party, the role of the United States of America abroad, the importance of controlling spending in the federal government. All of these issues, I don't see Donald Trump being effective. And so I'm withholding my support from Donald Trump as well.

Now, as to what I do, that remains to be seen. But I want to see how Nikki Haley - what her comments are today. But I think I'll be with a lot of people that just say Donald Trump would be a risk for the United States of America.

INSKEEP: I - now, when you say a risk for the United States of America, there's two kinds of risks. And one is the idea that he would be substantively wrong on a lot of issues. You may feel, for example, that he's wrong about support for Ukraine, just to pick one of many issues that we could discuss. There's the larger question of his understanding of the democratic system. You could say we would be all right with a president who is wrong about some things, many things or everything, so long as they respected the democratic process and did not try to wreck the constitutional systems that we have. Do you have any faith that if elected, that former President Trump would respect the law and respect the democratic system that we have?

HUTCHINSON: I think there's a high risk that he would assume more powers than our Constitution gives the executive branch. In other words, I think there are risks there. Last night was a good example, and in some ways that he just won an incredible election across multiple states, and his victory speech included attacking the election system, saying it's a third-world country that we have. And so as a lawyer, a former federal prosecutor, I don't like him undermining the rule of law that we have, our institutions of democracy, but also, our system of law that we have in the courts. And so, yeah, there's risks to that.

I think there's a lot of unknown there. He plays very cagey in terms of what he says. He wants to be a dictator for one day. What does that mean? Does he really mean that? So, yes, there's risks that I'm concerned about. And that's where independent voters are going to be concerned. And Donald Trump, if he wants to win, has to be able to expand beyond the base to go after independent voters and to make sure that he has a message that makes them feel comfortable in supporting him.

INSKEEP: I'm sure that there is a list of issues a mile long where you disagree with President Biden or disagree with the way that he has conducted himself in office, but does he pose that same kind of danger to the system that you just described with Donald Trump?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's different. And I'm not going to support Joe Biden. I look at his failed policies from energy security to our foreign policy to particularly our border and spending too much, the economic side of it - all of those reasons. I think he has his own set of risk. And you can say that if we have a weak southern border, that's a risk to our democracy as well. So it's a different set of risk. So I have to look at it both in terms of, I'm a Republican; I've been historically supporting the party, and it's a big deal not to offer that endorsement to Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: Governor, thanks very much. It's always a pleasure talking with you. Really appreciate it.

HUTCHINSON: Steve, great to be with you today. Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: Asa Hutchinson was himself a Republican presidential candidate and before that was the Republican governor of Arkansas.

Now, our correspondent Don Gonyea has been listening along with us here. And, Don, let's think this through. Is this something that Republicans have struggled with a lot - Republicans who have public or, in many cases, private concerns about Donald Trump but seem to struggle with what exactly - what else to do?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Absolutely. And the conversation you just had with former Governor Hutchinson - sure, he's a former governor. He's a former presidential candidate. I've had that exact same conversation with so many voters across the country. People have been wrestling this - with this since the earliest days of Donald Trump as a political figure in the country. Obviously it is a settled question for Governor Hutchinson, but a lot of people are still wrestling with what they do come November.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks, as always, for your insights. Really appreciate it.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea on this morning after Super Tuesday, when we are learning that Nikki Haley is suspending her presidential campaign. She'll make a statement a little bit later on this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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