After making national headlines for calling former President Trump “f***ing crazy” at Saturday night’s Gridiron Club dinner, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu appeared to be in clean-up mode Monday morning, dismissing his comments as mere comedy.
“It’s a roast, it’s a comedy roast,” Sununu told WGIR radio. “I know some of my words got a bit of a headline yesterday, but I opened by making fun of my father and myself. I made fun of Republicans, I made fun of Joe Biden. And everyone takes it in [the spirit] of the fun that it is.”
While Sununu did crack wise at the expense of a wide range of political celebrities from Jen Psaki to Sen. Ted Cruz, the headlines came when he targeted Trump.
After predicting Trump will be the next president thanks to his “sense of integrity” and the intellectual heft of his Twitter feed, Sununu paused and yelled: “I’m just kidding. He’s f***ing crazy!” He added: “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!”
A case of the truest words oft spoke in jest? Monday morning Sununu said no.
“It’s all a joke. I don’t think he’s crazy,” he told WGIR.
Sununu made several New Hampshire radio appearances Monday morning, pushing the “just a joke” message hard. He told longtime Granite State radio personality Jack Heath, “There were jokes by everybody, on everybody. Anyone who’s taking this overly seriously doesn’t understand what the event is all about.”
Heath brought up Trump ally Corey Lewandowski’s recent claim that Trump had assigned him to find a primary opponent to take out Sununu this fall. Sununu quickly pushed back.
“Let’s be clear, Jack — Corey made that statement. The president didn’t make that statement, Corey Lewandowski did.”
“The former president has been to the Gridiron event, he’s been a part of it, he’s made the jokes himself,” Sununu added. “If anyone needs to understand the sense of humor there, it’s him.”
Sununu’s throwdown on the notoriously thin-skinned former president was noted by national media and Republican power players, D.C. GOP sources told NHJournal. “There’s a hunger in the party for someone who can say, ‘The Emporer has no clothes,'” one campaign veteran said. “And he did it with a smile.”
“I’d say it’s a win for the governor,” said Craig Stevens, who worked on the George W. Bush and Mitt Romney campaigns. “He took advantage of the moment and he showed people he’s not afraid of President Trump. And he did with charm, humor, and humility.”
“He was absolutely remarkable,” said veteran New Hampshire GOP strategist Tom Rath, who was in the crowd Saturday night. “He had them in the palm of his hand. He was genuinely funny, he showed his brash side which was very refreshing in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve attended seven or eight of these, and he received as good a response as any Republican. If he wanted to establish a national identity to the movers and shakers in national media and politics, it was ‘mission accomplished,'” Rath said.
Sununu has not been shy about suggesting he may run for president in 2024. He also has not been shy about criticizing his fellow Republicans, including Trump and GOP members of the U.S. Senate. His criticism of Senate Republicans was so sharp, President Joe Biden read parts of it verbatim during a January press conference. For some New Hampshire Republicans, it looks like political opportunism at the expense of the party.
“Yeah, it takes real guts to trash Republicans in front of a roomful of D.C. liberals,” one NHGOP source complained. “We [party activists] are the ones who have to try to keep everyone back together and win an election in November.”
Rath believes it was a big moment for Sununu. “We have two very good U.S. senators who keep very low profiles. After Saturday, the biggest name in New Hampshire politics at the national level is Chris Sununu.”