Yesterday, I wrote about the Republican governor of Alabama who just released a campaign ad in which she joins in the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. That kind of thinking pervades a far-too-large chunk of the GOP, but thankfully it has not extended to all Republicans. New Hampshire’s governor may be emerging as an unlikely voice of truth in the party.
Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu addressed the Gridiron Club in Washington, DC. The setting was a gathering of members of both parties and journalists that features skits and speeches that gently skewer, “singe but not burn” in the words of NBC Boston, the elites of Foggy Bottom.
The Washington Post describes the setup for the moment, saying that Sununu cited “the possibility that Trump would return to the presidency after the 2024 election. He cited the ‘experience,’ ‘passion’ and ‘sense of integrity’ Trump demonstrated in his tweets.”
“Nah, I’m just kidding,” Sununu said. “He’s f—ing crazy.”
I’m sure that there was a collective gasp from many in the room to go along with the laughter, but Sununu wasn’t done.
“The press often will ask me if I think Donald Trump is crazy,” the governor continued. “And I’ll say it this way: I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out!”
And Sununu didn’t stop there. Politico reported that the governor told a story in which Trump visited New Hampshire. As the pair rode past flag-waving people lining the streets, the president pointed at the crowds and remarked, “They love me,” not realizing that he was pointing at a flag that said “F- Trump.”
Sununu also poked fun at other Trump supporters as well some Democrats. The Politico writeup has the most complete roundup of the remarks, including a laugh-out-loud swipe at Mike Lindell’s My Pillow, which Sununu said was “absolute crap. You only find that kind of stuff in the Trump Hotel.”
For a sitting Republican, Sununu’s words are the equivalent of heresy. Given the level of deference and admiration that Trump generally gets in the GOP, many may well view it as literal heresy.
That isn’t to say that what Sununu said was untrue. Donald Trump really is what is referred to in technical terms as “bat-poop crazy.” Most Republican elected officials know this, even if, like Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, they won’t admit it to the voters.
The present-day GOP is a lot like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. Everyone feels the need to show deference to The Donald and pretend that he is a wise elder statesman, but Trump himself shatters that illusion every time he opens his mouth. Everyone outside the party and many within know that Donald Trump is, in reality, stark naked and a raving loon.
It is true that Gov. Sununu said the next day that his remarks were “all in fun” and just “jokes,” but it’s also true that Trump is someone that Republicans don’t joke about. It takes moral courage to go in front of a crowd and tell jokes about the most powerful man in the Republican Party, a narcissistic man who famously has no sense of self-deprecating humor. It especially takes courage when the jokes are kidding on the square. Sununu may be playing off his remarks as jokes, but the speech was a calculated attack on Trump and MAGA.
Chris Sununu typically keeps a low profile. If it wasn’t for The Racket News’s Jay Berman, I probably wouldn’t know who he was. Over the past few months, Jay has discussed how Sununu took a common-sense approach to the pandemic and then took on radical election deniers and secessionists in the New Hampshire statehouse. Back in January, he openly opposed Trump’s idea of pardoning the Capitol rioters.
Chris Sununu may have kept a low profile, but he’s quietly been one of the most conservative (in the traditional sense rather than the Trump yes-man sense) Republicans in the country for the past few years. And he’s done so without drawing much fire from MAGA, unlike Washington politicians such as Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney. Even other anti-Trump governors like Maryland’s Larry Hogan, who was recently seen shotgunning a beer at an Orioles game (I am not making this up), seem hesitant to speak too loudly against The Former Guy.
That may be changing because Sununu got Trumpworld’s attention at the Gridiron dinner. Al Baldasaro, Trump’s 2020 New Hampshire campaign co-chair, told NBC Boston he was “disgusted” by Sununu’s jokes and said, “I thought the governor was the real joke.”
New Hampshire’s WMUR reported that Julian Acciard, a pro-Trump Republican running for Congress this year, is considering opposing Sununu when he runs for re-election in 2024. Apparently, Acciard doesn’t expect to be working in Washington two years from now.
Sununu is in his third term as governor and currently has 86 percent approval. New Hampshire has no term limits so he can seek re-election again, but there is already talk that he might present a sane, conservative alternative for Republicans in 2024. He was even included on a Washington Post list of prospective presidential candidates back in February.
NBC’s Chuck Todd doesn’t think that Sununu hurt his standing with his Trump jokes.
“There’s a whole bunch of elected Republicans that want [Trump] to go away,” Todd said. “I think Chris Sununu was giving voice to that.”
The problem is that Trump loves the limelight and Republicans love them some Trump. Trump is ready to go and a large number of Republicans are not ready for him to ride off into the sunset.
I’m pretty sure that Chris Sununu made an enemy with his comedy routine. Donald Trump does not take insults and mockery lightly. As one of the first sitting Republicans to openly ridicule The Former Guy, Sununu is now a target for MAGA, who will feel the need to destroy him to prevent more Republicans from speaking the truth.
But the fact that some few Republicans are starting to openly mock Donald Trump is an encouraging sign. Sununu’s jokes were important because they hit the mark and signal that he, unlike most other elected Republicans, is not afraid of Donald Trump. That, plus his actual conservative principles, could make him a leader in the post-Trump GOP.
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