After months of high-profile media interviews and insider speculation, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Monday he won’t be entering the 2024 GOP presidential primary. Instead, his focus will be preventing his party from nominating Donald Trump for a third time.
“I will not be seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024,” Sununu wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Monday. “Our party is on a collision course toward electoral irrelevance without significant corrective action. The stakes are too high for a crowded field to hand the nomination to a candidate who earns just 35 percent of the vote, and I will help ensure this does not happen.”
“If [Trump] is the nominee, Republicans will lose again,” Sununu added. “Just as we did in 2018, 2020, and 2022. This is indisputable, and I am not willing to let it happen without a fight.”
Sununu, 48, has consistently ranked as one of the most popular governors in the country, with approval ratings at or above 60 percent. And his recent media appearances on outlets like CNN and The View have generated a positive reaction from pundits and the political press.
At the same time, running as a pro-choice, anti-Trump Republican always presented a challenge in the current GOP. Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash about his repeated claims he could win primaries in places like Iowa, Sununu talked about a strategy of bringing independents and younger voters into the GOP primaries. It was the same strategy other moderate Republicans like Sen. John McCain and Gov. John Kasich relied on in their presidential primary races, with varying levels of success.
What makes Sununu different is his ability to influence the all-important New Hampshire primary, either as a candidate or as the four-term incumbent governor.
“His potential endorsement of a non-Trump candidate, and the active support that he pledges will go along with it, now becomes one of the most coveted in America with the balance of power in our FITN primary at stake,” said veteran GOP strategist Jim Merrill.
Bedford Republican Craig Stevens had been boosting a Sununu bid for months. He has mixed feelings about the decision.
“Personally, I’m disappointed. Gov. Sununu has a proven track record of success for the people of New Hampshire, and I think his positive, optimistic perspective would have been a welcome presence in the Republican primary.
“Having said that, it’s critical that Republicans put forward a candidate that can win in November 2024. That means flipping four states. It will not be easy. So I understand why he would focus on narrowing the field and identifying a viable candidate as quickly as possible.”
Trump fans are less than thrilled. Polls showed Sununu performing well in his home state, though not close to defeating Trump. Republicans hoping to move past Trump feared — and Team Trump hoped — Sununu would be strong enough to take votes from other challengers, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, but not strong enough to beat Trump in his home state. Sununu can use his standing in the Granite State to encourage GOP voters to consider the Trump alternatives.
“When you are in as a candidate, it’s ‘Vote for Chris Sununu! Get on my team. My team,” Sununu told Bash, “I think there’s a responsibility to think a little bigger than that.”
New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley released a statement claiming “there’s not a dime’s with of difference” between Trump and the rest of the GOP field, which will include former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as of Tuesday.
Buckley also accused Sununu of “spending months teasing a presidential run to build his national profile while trying to hide from his disastrous record.”
Sununu has defeated four New Hampshire Democratic gubernatorial candidates in a row and by an average of 14 points.
On the GOP side, the top question becomes, “What’s next?” In particular, supporters of potential gubernatorial candidates like former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, and former state Senate President Chuck Morse want to know if he’s running for a record fifth term as governor or does he use his remaining time in office to sherpa a promising GOP presidential candidate through the FITN primary?
“The governor has a host of opportunities,” said GOP consultant Pat Griffin. “He remains the GOP gatekeeper in the Granite State, and anyone who wants to be the nominee has to go through him. He has raised his national profile and will likely be on the eventual nominee’s shortlist for any number of high-profile jobs in a new GOP administration. He could make some money in the private sector, or he may just decide one more term is a distinct possibility. He has plenty of options.”
Granite State GOP strategist Michael Dennehy thinks he knows which option it will be.
“I fully expect Chris Sununu will run for reelection as governor, which is good news for New Hampshire Republicans. The governor would make history by winning a fifth term, and he could help the GOP grow and succeed by recruiting more people and candidates into our party across the country, but especially here at home in New Hampshire.”
Based on his comments Monday, Sununu’s current concern is the state of the national GOP.
“The math has shown Donald Trump has no chance of winning in November of ’24. He wouldn’t even win Georgia. If you’re a Republican that can’t win Georgia of November ’24, you have no shot, and he’s proven that,” Sununu told Bash. “Not only has he proven it, but the candidates he gets behind in a good conservative state like Georgia lose the race. His messaging doesn’t translate,” he added.
“If Republicans nominate him, then we’re saying a vote for him in the primary is effectively a vote for Joe Biden. I mean, that’s ultimately how the math will play out.”