On the trail: Sununu jabs at Trump; doesn’t ‘rule anything out’ in 2024

  • Governor Chris Sununu, R-N.H., smiles prior to the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Loudon, N.H. Sununu faces New Hampshire State Sen. Tom Sherman, a Democrat, in his re-election bid. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

For the Monitor
Published: 11/18/2022 1:58:07 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu, fresh off his very comfortable double-digit victory on Election Day, spent much of this week on the road, speaking at two major Republican Party conferences.

Sununu, re-elected to a fourth two-year term in the Corner Office, was in Orlando, Florida, on Monday through Wednesday attending the Republican Governors Association’s annual winter meeting. At the end of the week he was in Las Vegas, Nevada, as one of the invited speakers at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, which is seen as the first major GOP cattle call in the burgeoning 2024 White House race.

While Sununu enjoyed another re-election victory, Republicans overall are still licking their wounds after a less-than-impressive showing in the midterms, when an expected “red wave” failed to materialize. The GOP suffered a net loss of two governorships, lost control of a handful of state legislative chambers, failed to win back the U.S. Senate, and while it captured the U.S. House, it won fewer seats than hoped for and the Republican majority in the chamber will be razor thin.

“We’ve gotta be positive. We’ve gotta be inspirational,” the governor emphasized as he took part in a panel discussion on what the GOP needs to learn from the 2022 elections. And he stressed that the party should focus on “inspiring that next generation of Republicans, of independents.”

Pointing to some of the far-right MAGA-style Republican nominees endorsed by former President Donald Trump who went down to defeat, Sununu told this reporter that some GOP candidates turned off the electorate, arguing that some voters, “said we want these policies of inflation and bad fiscal management fixed, but we’re going to need the right people to do it. We need people who are going to work across the aisle to actually get something done. So America really stood up and said, ‘Let’s fix crazy before we worry about the policy.”

And the governor highlighted that “the Democrat Party, to their credit, did a good job pre-defining a lot of our candidates as extreme…the Democrats spent a lot of money on that.”

Sununu spoke a couple of hours before Trump on Tuesday announced the launch of his third White House campaign.

The former president, two years removed from his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, remains the most influential and popular politician in the GOP, and the most ferocious fundraiser when it comes to hauling in grassroots donations.

But voices of discontent are growing inside the GOP as a rising chorus of insiders blame Trump for setbacks in the 2018 midterms, when the GOP lost the House majority; the 2020 election, when Republicans lost the White House and the Senate majority; and the 2022 midterms, when an expected red wave failed to materialize. Moreover, Trump’s standing among party leaders appears to be at its weakest point since the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to upend congressional certification of Biden’s 2020 election victory.

However, Trump has survived rocky political times before and proved those who counted him out wrong. The latest public opinion polling indicates Trump remains the front-runner for the GOP nomination, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis surging and everyone else in the potential field of contenders — including former Vice President Mike Pence — in the single digits.

But an increasing number of Republican politicians, strategists, and pollsters say the former president’s early entry into the 2024 race won’t clear the field of potential nomination rivals.

Sununu argued that the former president is “really making an announcement at one of his weakest political points. We just got crushed in this election. You could make the argument that he’s never been weaker politically.

“It’s really an announcement from a defensive position, and, therefore, I think it’s going to make a little bit of news, and we’re all going to move on. There’s still going to be a lot of folks that enter this race, probably not until late ‘23. And a lot of things are going to change politically between now and then. We still have a long way to go before anything really serious starts moving in terms of 2024.”

Sununu supported Trump during the 2016 general election and again as the then-president unsuccessfully ran for reelection in 2020. The governor had a strong working relationship with the Trump White House, including close ties with Pence.

But Sununu has long pushed back against Trump’s unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen.” He also started stating in early 2021 that the GOP is larger than any one person, which was perceived as a swipe at the former president.

And in recent weeks, Sununu’s amped up his criticism of the former president during numerous Sunday talk show interviews and national interviews.

Asked about a potential 2024 run of his own, the governor told this reporter on Tuesday that “I don’t rule anything out, any time.”

But he quickly emphasized that “my priority is New Hampshire, is getting stuff for the state.”

Pushing back against Sununu, longtime Trump leading political adviser and New Hampshire resident Corey Lewandowski pointed to Sununu’s less than stellar endorsement record in this year’s primaries in top U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial nomination races in the Granite State and neighboring Massachusetts.

“The candidates that Chris Sununu endorsed in the primary, they all lost,” Lewandowski stressed.

Speculation still swirls around whether Sununu may launch a long-shot presidential bid of his own in 2024.




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