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Sununu critical of Trump for failing to condemn white supremacy

  • Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at a Cops for Trump rally in Portsmouth on Feb. 10. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 10/2/2020 5:16:25 PM
Modified: 10/2/2020 5:16:14 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu says President Donald Trump’s response to white supremacy at Tuesday’s presidential debate “came up short,” arguing that the president should have clearly denounced the threat.

At a press conference Thursday, Sununu provided criticism of Trump’s response – which attracted a wave of negative reaction in the days following the debate – and offered condemnation of his own.

“There’s no place for that, no place for those individuals, there’s no place for that thought process,” he said of racism and white supremacy.

Still, when it comes to whether he would continue to support Trump, Sununu a fellow Republican, was also unequivocal. “Yes,” he said, without elaborating.

Trump was asked to condemn white supremacy during a debate moderated by Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Tuesday, in a face-off against former vice president Joe Biden. While initially saying “sure,” he declined to explicitly issue a condemnation, instead telling one extremist group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.”

The president then pivoted to talk about violence from leftist groups, calling out the “antifa” anti-facist movement that has been present in protests this summer, some of which have led to rioting and damaged property.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Sununu said the president had not gone far enough.

“I think you just have to be firm about it, and you have to set it there, and I think … that’s where he definitely fell short,” he said, agreeing that he was disappointed.

“I’d be disappointed if anybody wasn’t as forceful in their condemnation as (saying) ‘absolutely, there’s absolutely no place for that, not by any individual, not by any group, not in New Hampshire, not in the United States and frankly not in the world’,” Sununu said.

And Sununu appeared to push back at attempts by Trump to move onto left-wing violence, arguing “you cannot equivocate, those that are fighting for racial justice with white supremacy.”

Sununu attracted criticism of his own Thursday after declining to appear at a gubernatorial candidate forum hosted by the Greater Nashua Area Branch NAACP and the Nashua Black Lives Matter group. That forum, which took place at 6 p.m., featured Democratic candidate Dan Feltes and Libertarian candidate Darryl Perry instead.

In a letter sent to the NAACP group, Sununu’s campaign manager Paul Collins said that the campaign had received “such a number of invitations to debates and forums that with just weeks till the general election we, unfortunately, cannot accept them all.”

Collins added the governor would only participate in forums hosted by “respected media outlets with fair and impartial moderators.”

The governor said Thursday he takes white supremacy seriously, adding that he had been targeted by white supremacists in the past.

“There were some very negative comments made towards me and, my office,” he said. “I’ll leave it there; it actually went a little bit beyond that.”

Sununu said the comments had first been made in the aftermath of the deadly Charlottesville, Va. demonstrations in 2017, when white supremacist and alt-right groups rallied behind antisemitic and racist messages and provoked unrest that included a white supremacist driving his car into counter-protesters.

“You cannot equivocate those that are fighting for racial justice with white supremacy. Some of the white supremacists don’t like that? Well, tough. That’s the fact.”

But Feltes, a Concord Democrat and Sununu’s chief gubernatorial candidate, said the governor’s comments weren’t enough. “You can’t say that you’re leading on racial justice and support Donald Trump,” he said.

In seeking to burnish his civil rights record, Sununu has touted efforts made as governor to advance racial justice, including the creation in 2017 of the Civil Rights Unit within the Department of Justice, which investigates acts of violence motivated by race or other identifiers like age, gender and sexual orientation. That office also can bring legal actions against discrimination in housing and employment, and can help local law enforcement in pursuing hate crimes charges.

The governor has also pointed to this summer’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency, created in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. That commission produced 48 recommendations for changes to police training and records keeping that Sununu endorsed in September.

In an interview Friday, Feltes argued that Sununu’s record of vetoes against Democratic priority legislation – from minimum wage bills to a mandatory paid family and medical leave program – undermined his support for racial justice causes. Many of the people who would be helped by those Democratic bills are people of color, Feltes contended.

And the Democrat said that his background as an attorney for New Hampshire Legal Assistance has made him familiar with racial discrimination in housing. At NHLA, Feltes managed the Housing Justice Project, which helped fight for minorities and marginalized citizens during the foreclosure crisis of the Great Recession. As a state senator he has helped pass bail reform, he noted, which attempted to cut down on the amount of cash bail for low-income residents.

“I have experience in the trenches standing up for communities of color,” he said. “Done it my entire life, my entire career.”

Sununu’s comments on white supremacy Thursday came hours before Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had contracted COVID-19, throwing the political world into chaos.

On Friday morning, Sununu expressed support for the president and first lady, wishing them a quick recovery.

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