On the trail: Sununu ups media blitz with HBO appearance

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 03-31-2023 5:30 PM

He’s arguably the most recognizable face in New Hampshire, but outside of the Granite State Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is hardly a household name.

But thanks to a months-long national media blitz – with slews of appearances on the cable news networks and the Sunday talk shows – Sununu has expanded his profile from coast to coast with viewers and voters plugged into the political scene. He was even the focus of a CNN special in December titled “Being…Chris Sununu.”

Now, the governor’s taking his media tour up a notch, as he joins comedian, satirist, and political pundit Bill Maher on “Real Time,” which is the most-watched program on HBO. Maher, a sharp critic of former president Donald Trump, predicted in early 2019 that Trump wouldn’t leave the White House peacefully if he lost.

Sununu’s media appearances have come as the governor for months has repeatedly noted that he’s considering a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

In the weeks after his comfortable double-digit re-election in November to a fourth two-year term steering New Hampshire, the governor started sharing that he was “having conversations” and “definitely thinking about” a run for the White House.

“I’ll make some kind of firm decision sometime in the summer,” Sununu said last week at his Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce state of the state address.

Even with no firm announcement, his actions and words sound more like a candidate who is running for president than not.

“I would love to debate. I would love to get on the debate stage with Donald Trump and DeSantis and the whole gang,” Sununu said at the chamber lunch, as he pointed towards the former president and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who are currently the two front-runners in the latest Republican presidential nomination polling.

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Those same national surveys indicate Sununu hovering in the very low single digits, along with most of the rest of the actual and potential contenders in the emerging field.

Besides his media appearances, Sununu’s been busy speaking at major GOP and conservative gatherings, from last November’s winter meeting of the Republican Governors Association and the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting to a trio of donor retreats the past two months.

And in February, he took another concrete step towards a White House run by launching a national public advocacy group titled the “Live Free or Die” committee. The nonprofit organization allows the governor to raise unlimited funds without having to disclose the names of the donors.

But it’s the media appearances that are grabbing the most attention, thanks to Sununu’s repeated full-throttled criticisms of Trump, who remains the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination as he runs a third time for the White House.

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,” said David Carney, a veteran national Republican consultant who’s based in New Hampshire.

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,” Carney added. “They’re different from your typical Republican, so he’s more newsworthy. And so, it’s just a perfect storm for him.”

Haley’s blueprint to defeat Trump

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley may be far behind Trump in the latest polls, but she says her emphasis is on candidate-to-voter, retail-style politics, which will her capture her party’s presidential nomination.

Haley, a former two-term South Carolina governor who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, launched her presidential campaign at a kickoff event in her home state early last month. To date, she remains the only major contender to join the former president as a declared candidate as the GOP presidential field slowly takes shape.

“When you look at the situation that we have, President Trump has 25% of Republicans. It’s a hard 25 percent. They are Trump or no one. There are 75% other Republicans there that are looking for a place to be,” Haley answered after being asked at a town hall Tuesday evening in Salem how she’ll defeat Trump.

“I am here and I’ve been here multiple times and I’ll keep coming back,” said Haley, who in the six weeks since she launched her campaign has held ten town halls in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the first three states to vote in the GOP presidential nominating calendar.

“You’ll get tired of seeing me. But it’s because I want you to go tell your friends and family, ‘I heard her at the next town hall you need to go.’ And let me tell them. And let me earn their support,” Haley continued. “We’re going touch hands over and over again. And I’m doing the same thing in Iowa and I’m doing the same thing in South Carolina.”

Small-scale candidate-to-voter retail politicking has long been a tradition in Iowa and New Hampshire, which for half a century have led off the primary and caucus schedule. But Trump, during his 2016 run for the GOP nomination, changed the playbook.

While Trump was known for his large rallies during his successful 2016 presidential campaign and his unsuccessful 2020 re-election bid, he rarely made small stops to talk with voters at restaurants, diners, coffee shops, fast-food joints, or town hall settings. But during trips so far this year to Iowa, Ohio, and South Carolina, the former president has set aside time to engage in some small-scale interactions.

Christie: ‘It’s not going to end nicely’ for Trump

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie predicts that “it’s not going to end nicely” for Trump.

The former two-term Republican governor and 2016 presidential contender who’s seriously mulling another White House run, argued that he’s got the debate chops to potentially take down Trump should he face off with the former president, who remains the clear front-runner in the early GOP nomination national polls.

Christie made his comments as he headlined a nearly two-hour-long town hall on Monday evening at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anslem College, which for over two decades has been a must-stop for presidential hopefuls and candidates of both parties.

“You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco,” as he referred to his heated exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at a nationally televised debate in New Hampshire days ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential primary – a face-off that pundits awarded as a knockout blow to Christie.

“Because that’s the only thing that’s going to defeat Donald Trump. And that means you have to have the skill to do it and that means you have to be fearless, because he will come back at you and right at you,” Christie continued. “So you need to think about who’s go the skill to do that and who’d got the guts to do it. Because it’s not going to end nicely, no matter what. His end will not be a calm and quiet conclusion.”

Christie, who is considered one of the best communicators in the GOP and was known during his tenure for the kind of in-your-face politics that Trump has also mastered. He placed all his chips in his campaign for president seven years ago in New Hampshire. However, his campaign crashed and burned after a disappointing and distant sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, far behind Trump, who crushed the competition in the primary, boosting him towards the nomination and eventually the White House.

Christie became the first among the other GOP 2016 contenders to endorse Trump and for years was a top outside adviser to the then-president and chaired Trump’s high-profile commission on opioids. However, the two had a falling out after Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Biden. The past two years Christie has become one of the most vocal Trump critics in the GOP.

“I don’t want to hear anybody in this room saying ‘ah you know you’re saying this because you’re a never-Trump,’” Christie told the audience. “I was the first one on the bus and I worked all the way through Election night 2020 for him.”

But Christie added to applause “I got off the train when he stood up in the West Wing of the White House behind the seal of the president and told us the election was stolen when he didn’t have one fact to back it up. I’m sorry. That’s when I get off. Because the truth matters.”

As for his 2024 timeline, Christie told the crowd at the town hall that a decision will be announced in the coming months.

“I think it’s June is probably the latest you can get in,” he said. “Because the first debate is in August and if you want to be a serious candidate in this race, you’ve got to be on that stage in August and start making your case.”

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