On the trail: Media blitz expands Sununu’s national footprint

For the Monitor
Published: 12/17/2022 12:41:00 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu is one of New Hampshire’s most recognizable people, but outside of Granite State, the Republican governor is hardly a household name.

But not anymore, at least for those around the country who watch the cable news networks and the Sunday talk shows.

The governor, long an occasional guest on the cable news and business news programs, has become a staple in recent months, which has expanded his footprint and name recognition far outside of New England.

In his latest appearance in the media spotlight, the governor stars in a CNN special titled “Being….Chris Sununu,” which ran Friday evening at 10 p.m. on the cable news network.

“He’s accessible talking to people at Market Basket and on ‘Meet the Press.’ It’s just one of his strengths and he enjoys it and I think he’s just having the time of his life,” said David Carney, a veteran national Republican consultant who’s based in New Hampshire.

In his media interviews – and in appearances at recent high profile GOP gatherings such as the Republican Governors Association’s winter meeting in Orlando, Florida and the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, Sununu highlighted his prognosis for a GOP stung by a very disappointing performance in last month’s midterm elections. Many in the party were expecting a red wave amid record inflation, sky-high pessimism by voters on the direction of the country, and an unpopular Democratic president in the White House.

But the victories never materialized. The party failed to recapture control of the U.S. Senate. It was only able to secure a fragile majority in the House of Representatives, and lost several gubernatorial elections and control of a handful of state legislative chambers across the country.

Sununu’s been one of a small but growing number of Republican leaders who’ve criticized former President Donald Trump for contributing to the GOP’s lackluster results in the midterms, due to the former president’s endorsement and heavy support of GOP nominees who backed his false claims he never lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden. Across the country, and here in New Hampshire, those candidates were defeated in the midterms.

“I got a great policy for the Republican Party,” Sununu emphasized in his speech in Las Vegas last month. “Let’s stop supporting crazy, unelectable candidates in our primaries and start getting behind winners that can close the deal in November.”

Sununu argued that some GOP candidates turned off the electorate, telling this reporter in Orlando 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.’”

The governor stressed, “We’ve gotta be positive. We’ve gotta be inspirational,” and focus on “inspiring that next generation of Republicans, of independents.”

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

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

In recent weeks, Sununu has amped up his criticism of the former president.

Hours before Trump launched his third White House campaign last month, 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,” he added.

In Friday night’s CNN special, Sununu highlighted that Trump’s “done his time. He’s done his service. We’re moving on.”

Carney noted that Sununu’s “unafraid to tell it like he thinks it is. There aren’t a lot of Republicans out there willing to talk about President Trump, and he doesn’t have any hesitation saying what he thinks, both the good and not so good.”

Carney added that all the media appearances of late are “increasing his political gravitas.”

“It’s clear he’s comfortable with the media and he’s able to get his points out there. They’re different from your typical Republican, so he’s more newsworthy. And so, it’s just a perfect storm for him,” Carney added.

That’s a net positive for a politician who likes to be part of the conversation and isn’t pushing back when pundits and reporters include Sununu on the large list of Republicans mulling a presidential run in 2024.

Asked about a potential White House bid, the governor told this reporter last month 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.”

Political prognosticators point out that fundraising has never been in Sununu’s wheelhouse, which would present serious problems if he ran for national office. Another challenge the governor would face if he launched a presidential campaign is his support for abortion rights.

While a presidential run remains a possibility, some Republican strategists say Sununu’s more likely play in 2024 would be a run for a fifth two-year term steering New Hampshire, which would be unprecedented in modern times.

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