Jonathan Maloberti: Voters sent a strong message to Sununu

  • Gov. Chris Sununu celebrates his re-election victory Nov. 6 in Manchester. AP file

For the Monitor
Published: 12/5/2018 12:14:57 AM

In an op-ed published before Thanksgiving (Monitor Forum, Nov. 18), Jack Derwin argued that New Hampshire Republicans must follow Gov. Chris Sununu’s lead to win elections in the future. Here’s the problem with that: It was Sununu’s unpopular policy agenda and reluctance to distance himself from President Donald Trump that made him the cause of New Hampshire Republicans’ historic losses on Election Day.

Sununu’s victory was anything but comfortable despite the historic precedent that New Hampshire favors re-electing first-term governors. The Republican Governors Association had to spend nearly $1 million bailing out Sununu while his sluggish campaign played defense and watched helplessly as the Republican majorities in the House, Senate and Executive Council were swept away.

Despite the popular narrative, Sununu is not a moderate New England Republican. Sununu traveled to the Trump White House more than any other governor in the country over the past two years. Sununu has not once stood up to the administration on a policy position; on the contrary, he’s been a vocal supporter of some of the president’s most reckless decisions – like withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate accords. For his service, he earned himself a high-dollar political fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence. Clearly Sununu is finding some allies on the far right.

By contrast, Gov. Charlie Baker won re-election in deep blue Massachusetts by a margin of 33.8 points. This margin dwarfs Sununu’s seven-point margin here in New Hampshire, a state with a Republican registration advantage. Baker’s success in winning over Democrats and independents is rooted in his sincere rebukes of Trump and his administration, as well as his efforts to work with Massachusetts Democrats in pursuing renewable energy development and automatic voter registration. Perhaps Sununu could afford to learn some lessons about bipartisanship from his colleague to the south.

In the op-ed, Derwin used two examples of times when Sununu “opposed” Trump. Those don’t tell the full story. After Trump called New Hampshire a “drug-infested den,” Sununu noted that president often speaks in “hyperbole” while making sure to add that he was still a strong supporter of Trump. Not exactly a strong defense of New Hampshire.

Sununu’s refusal to send N.H. National Guard troops to help with Trump’s policy of separating families came after months of dodging questions and political calculation. When he finally announced that he wouldn’t send the troops, he was careful to not join Baker and Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in condemning Trump’s family separation policy.

As Derwin noted, Sununu tried to frame the Democratic message as exclusively about Trump, but that’s simply false. Democrats ran against Sununu’s unpopular state-level policies, like his costly school voucher bill, and the two student voter suppression laws he signed. New Hampshire Democrats painted a picture of progress and comprehensive problem-solving – running in support of paid family and medical leave, climate action, the protection of Social Security and Medicaid – and voters clearly responded.

The results on Election Day were nothing but a strong rebuke of Sununu’s partisan agenda and behavior from his first term. The message should be clear to him and to all New Hampshire Republicans: Voters want progress, not politics.

(Jonathan Maloberti of Plymouth is a student at Plymouth State University.)

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