Two weeks after comfortably winning his fourth two-year term as governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu opened up about the current state of the Republican Party, its current leadership, and whether he’d ever run for the U.S. Senate or even seek his party’s nomination for president.
But first, he wanted to talk about his success, a success he attributes to focusing on the issues, the people, and staying drama-free. “I tried to keep it as uneventful as possible,” he said, “but I guess the Senate race was pretty eventful.” Sununu handily defeated Democratic challenger state Sen. Tom Sherman to return to manage the state of under 2 million.
The governor is the son of former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu and brother of seven siblings, including former Sen. John E. Sununu. An MIT graduate, he is an engineer by trade, a married father of three, and an avid outdoorsman and sportsman who completed a five-month through-hike of the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia 24 years ago.
Sununu said he ran his reelection campaign on addressing and recognizing his constituents’ deepest concerns. “The No. 1 issue you always heard about was inflation,” he said. “In New England, it’s really about electricity, electricity prices, lack of natural gas because all across New England, we’re in real trouble when it comes to energy. The really dumb policies of many of the states around me have shut down power plants that we really need, and if we hit a cold snap, we’re going to be in trouble. You combine that with Biden not producing enough fossil fuels and natural gas, and all the things we need to stay warm in the winter. That’s a scare, especially if you’re a lower-income family or fixed-income. That’s very, very scary stuff, so that was the No. 1 issue.”
The office of governor is held for two-year terms in only two states — the other is Vermont. There are no term limits for the office; former Democratic Gov. John Lynch is the only other governor in the state’s history to win four terms in office.
As for why his party was far less successful than anyone had anticipated, Sununu was candid. “People just didn’t have any faith that the Republicans running for the federal seats were going to be the ones to fix the policies like inflation concerns that were important to them because of some extremism and some partisanship,” he said. “To the Democrats’ credit, they did a good job pre-defining our candidates very early on while they were still in primaries as crazy or extreme. And when you get pre-defined like that, before you even get a chance to truly introduce yourself to the more mainstream independent voters, you’re now coming from a defensive position as opposed to, ‘Here I am, and this is what I’m about.'”
Sununu, in typical fashion, spent part of his election night at a bowling and ax-throwing venue in Portsmouth rather than the traditional hotel ballroom.
Sununu said he believes it is time for new leadership in the party, beginning at the Republican National Committee. “Did they achieve on the level of results that we all thought we were going to get?” he asked. “No. So, why would we stick with the same team assuming we’re going to get a better result?”
Which led to Sununu’s blunt assessment of his party and issues he said that need to be addressed, including former President Donald Trump’s decision to start teasing that he was going to run for president just before Election Day, when many voters were trying to assess whether to take a gamble on some of the people he hand-picked to run.
“The first question I have is, what moronic political consultants said, ‘Yeah, we’re only a few days away from the general election, let’s bring Trump in’?” he said. “Well, what are you possibly going to gain by that? There’s nothing to be had; you’re going after independent undecided voters. Those people have nothing to do with Trump, unless there was some bizarre poll that told me that there’s a lot of Trump voters sitting on the sidelines, but that was not the case.”
Also, according to the exit polling, Trump’s negative ratings were even worse than President Joe Biden’s among those who voted.
“This early voting stuff, I think it’s a disaster,” said Sununu. “We have absentee voting in New Hampshire if you’re sick or something, but we do not have early voting. We don’t have vote-by-mail. Those systems are terrible. And the Fetterman issue is a great example of that. I mean, you should never be voting before you’ve even really seen your candidates in a legitimate way.”
Presidential elections have always run through New Hampshire — the state is traditionally home to the first primary in the country — which means that in January, Sununu’s state will be flooded with candidates from his own party, testing the waters and meeting with voters as they consider runs for the Republican nomination.
Sununu said he expects to see a robust number of candidates on both sides of the aisle vying for their respective parties’ nominations, despite Trump and Biden both running for the office.
“It’ll be an open race on both sides,” said Sununu. “I think you’ll have upwards of a dozen candidates early on. I think on the Republican side, no one is going to not run. If they want to run, they’re going to run. It’s just that simple. And same on the Democrat side, and I think you’re going to have at least a half a dozen candidates on the Democrat side.”
Sununu said that New Hampshire is always the most important for Republicans, and not just because it is the first-in-nation primary. “I think we’re also important just in terms of the messaging of the Republican Party: getting back to basics of local control, limited government, low taxes, individual responsibility,” he said. “These are not extreme issues that folks have been talking about. These are very mainstream, good policies. And frankly, we do it really well in New Hampshire.”
Sununu said New Hampshire is the perfect model for the Republican Party to get back to the core of messaging that really resonates with independents. “We’re a very independent state — 40% of our voters are registered independent, so as a candidate, you’ve got to connect with them on their issue, at their speed, and at their level,” he said. “Because it’s not about us. It’s about them. And when you do that, when you allow that accessibility, that transparency, that builds public trust. I think that approach really represents a lot of what the Republican Party has to get back to.”
Sununu said he knows that he, along with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, will be courted early on for their endorsements — something he does not take lightly. “People and elected officials that I tend to gravitate toward are folks that are genuine, that are real, that aren’t phonies, and that, first and foremost, show gratitude and understand that the job is bigger than themselves,” he said. “I tell elected officials all the time you got to messy yourself up a little bit. You got to be a little more genuine. You’ve got to talk to people at a more gut, real level.”
Sununu said that was something Trump excelled at in 2016 and has since lost in the never-ending list of grievances that has become his new platform.
“As soon as you start becoming self-serving in your endeavor, voters are smart — they see it a mile away, and they’re going to move on,” he said. “I mean, there’s a reason why Trump made his big announcement and it fell completely flat. Because it was about him. It wasn’t aspirational.”
Sununu, who was courted heavily by Mitch McConnell to run for the U.S. Senate this cycle instead of governor, said that office is one he will never run for.
“No, no,” he said. “I can’t, no. I got to tell you, the U.S. Congress and the Senate are the most disappointing political bodies that I can imagine right now. They have done so little, and they’ve set the bar so low for success that if they pass one bill, we all give them a big cheer. It’s like our 4-year-old finally brought home a finger painting or something, and we’re so proud, and we’re going to put it on the … It’s ridiculous.”
Any plans to run for president? “Not that I’m thinking about,” Sununu hedged. “I’m focused on New Hampshire. Look, it’s an executive-level position. Look, I’ll put it this way. I think only governors should be president. Right? There’s no one in the Senate or Congress that has executive-level experience and leadership that really should be doing anything like that. So no, I think only governors should be president, because that’s the skillset, first and foremost.”