Gov. Chris Sununu has made no secret of his belief that former President Donald Trump will go down to defeat if he is the GOP’s nominee in November 2024. But now he is warning Trump will take Granite State Republicans down with him.
“We don’t just lose the presidency. We lose everything,” Sununu told WFEA radio host Drew Cline Wednesday.
“We lose the Senate, the House, the governorship. Trump costs us on our ballot. He costs us school board seats, for goodness sake. So at least if we’re going to have a candidate who ‘may win-may lose’ in November, let’s at least have someone who can stand on their own and not drag everybody else down with them.”
It is a sentiment shared by many Granite State GOP legislators who, regardless of their feelings about Trump, fear his presence at the top of the ticket would depress turnout among Republicans. They also believe the anti-Trump sentiment would make Democratic turnout soar.
“There are House Republicans saying they won’t even run again if it’s Trump,” one House GOP insider told NHJournal.
UNH political science professor Dante Scala said there is another challenge for the New Hampshire GOP next fall, perhaps even bigger than a Republican ticket with Donald Trump: A GOP ticket without Chris Sununu.
“Sununu has served as a counterweight to Trump here in New Hampshire since 2016. His strong brand name gave voters a means of differentiation — they could reject Trump, yet still feel comfortable voting for Republicans at the state level.”
Trump supporters have heard the “electability” argument before and rejected it. They point to polls showing Trump neck-and-neck with Biden in a theoretical matchup. And as far as Trump hurting the ticket in purple New Hampshire, they quickly remind critics that Republicans flipped both the House and Senate red in 2020.
Asked about his comments after the interview, Sununu appeared to walk them back a bit.
“While every race is unique, anyone who runs in New Hampshire as Trump-like or Trump-lite is dead on arrival. From the school board to the corner office, candidate quality matters,” Sununu told NHJournal.
The issue, Scala said, isn’t candidate quality; it is what Trump’s presence on the ticket does to turnout.
“I think it’s easier for New Hampshire Democrats to run against Trump for all offices, state and federal. On top of that, abortion remains a front-burner issue, more likely than not, also driving up Democratic turnout.”
But what about the Biden factor? Biden’s tried to kill New Hampshire’s First in the Nation primary, he is refusing to campaign here, and he finished fifth in the 2020 primary. Some Republicans may be unwilling to vote for Trump (Sununu received 150,ooo more votes than Trump in 2020), but won’t some Granite State Democrats be reluctant to vote for Biden?
“Yes, New Hampshire Democrats are ‘meh’ about Biden,” Scala acknowledged. “But running against Trump has juiced Democratic turnout in the past, and I don’t know why that wouldn’t continue.”
It is hard to argue with the numbers.
In 2016, 348,526 voters turned out to back the Democrat for president, Hillary Clinton, while 345,790 turned out for the GOP’s Trump.
Four years later, Trump’s turnout was 365,654, up 19,864 votes (5.7 percent). But the vote for the Democratic nominee, Biden, surged to 424,921, up 76,395, a 22 percent increase.
And while New Hampshire voter turnout for presidential elections is always high, typically around 68 percent of the voting-age population, turnout blew the doors off in 2020 when more than 72 percent showed up — a record.
Another sign that Trump drives Democratic turnout: In the hotly-contested 2014 U.S. Senate race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, 251,184 Granite Staters voted for the Democrat. The top Democratic vote-getter was Gov. Maggie Hassan, with 254,666 in that midterm election.
In the 2022 midterm, 332,193 Granite Staters turned out to vote for Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan in a race against a relatively weak challenger. Adding another 77,000 or so Democratic voters is a gift from Donald Trump, many political professionals say.
And, Sununu said, it could happen again.
“The biggest fundamental problem I have with [Trump] is he drags everybody else down,” Sununu told Cline.
“We lost in ’20, and we got crushed in ’22 — whether people want to accept it or not. We should have wiped the floor with Biden and the Democrats in 2022. We lost because of Trump.
“So let’s just not think that we’re going to do the same thing, and somehow it’s going to work out this time.”