CONCORD, N.H. — Chris Sununu had just gotten off the phone with Mike Pence.
It was barely 27 hours after the New Hampshire governor had announced he was passing on a presidential bid. Pence, who is kicking off his own White House campaign Wednesday in Iowa, was checking in with Sununu before returning to New Hampshire later this week.
“Oh, he’s a friend,” Sununu said, shifting a bit in one of the two plush red armchairs in his state house office. “He was just kind of going over his agenda with me, and where he was going to be. I told him I’d try to catch up for a cup of coffee if I could.”
The scion of a powerful political family and a popular four-term governor in his own right, Sununu has deep connections in the first-in-the-nation primary state and a better handle on how to campaign here than most.
And Republican presidential contenders know it. They were seeking Sununu’s advice on how to run in the state even when it looked like they might be competing against him — trading texts and huddling in his state house headquarters under the colonial-era map of New Hampshire that Sununu sometimes uses to tell candidates where to go and who to see. Almost all of them have reached out since he opted not to run, he said. Except for Larry Elder.
“Apparently, Larry doesn’t have my cellphone number,” Sununu quipped.
Sununu said he skipped running for president out of concern that a crowded field could propel former President Donald Trump to the Republican nomination for the third consecutive cycle and doom the party in the 2024 general election. By staying out of the fray, Sununu claims, he can offer his unvarnished opinions. So I sat down with the governor in Concord on Tuesday to put that to the test.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Kashinsky: Which candidates have reached out to you in the past day looking for support or advice?
Sununu: All of them. Lit-er-ally all of them. You’d have to keep naming candidates so I can tell you who didn’t call me. But they were all very polite. They’re all friends, so they’re all acknowledging support. I talked to a few, I just texted with a whole bunch. Larry Elder didn’t. I don’t know Larry Elder very well. Apparently he doesn’t have my cellphone number.
Kashinsky: You’ve called a lot of these folks your friends. But you’ve also said you will be candid about if and when people should get out. How do you balance being friends with someone but also straight-talking them if they need to get out of the race?
Sununu: You don’t straight talk your friends?
Kashinsky: I do.
Sununu: That’s it. It actually makes it quite easy. Because I would have no personal gain in driving anybody out of the race. I want to be the sane, friendly advice from outside their bubbles that can give an honest perspective looking in and say, look, this is working, or there’s no path here.
Kashinsky: Chris Christie plans on running a very New Hampshire-focused campaign again. It didn’t work for him last time. Can it work for him this time?
Sununu: It can. Chris is, I think, he’s a lot more relaxed now than he was in 2016. In 2016 he was running for the first time and there was a lot of intensity and it was good. But you know, Chris, he comes off as very genuine, right? You know, he just tells it like it is. There’s something authentic about that that I think will connect really well with folks. He has a bit of a nothing-to-lose type of attitude, which I think is refreshing.
Kashinsky: Mike Pence will be here on Friday.
Sununu: I just got off the phone with him.
Kashinsky: He seems more suited for an Iowa-focused campaign. What’s your advice to him for New Hampshire?
Sununu: Treat it a little more like a governor’s race, if you will. Take the tie off. Don’t be afraid to lose the coat. You know, roll up the sleeves a little bit. It’s hard as a former vice president to do it, and it’s a lot to ask and even recommend, but as much as he can kind of get back to that down-home approach — Indiana’s not that different than New Hampshire, right? Treat New Hampshire like Indiana.
Kashinsky: Let’s tick through another couple candidates.
Sununu: I don’t want to say too, too much. Now I’ve got to eat a cookie because you’re going through candidates.
Kashinsky: Nikki Haley has been here a bunch. Tim Scott. Vivek Ramaswamy. They’re all kind of in that same pack of lower-single-digit polling right now —
Sununu: But they’re all very different individuals.
I’ve known Nikki the longest. She’s been here a lot. She was very helpful on my campaign, and I appreciate that. We text back and forth all the time. She connects with people in New Hampshire very, very well. Obviously, as a female candidate, she stands out from the crowd. She has great local understanding of how local government is done as a former governor but brings a great background in terms of the ambassadorship as well. She has the full package and the full deal. I’ve never heard anyone say anything ‘oh boy, I don’t like Nikki.’
Tim Scott’s been here a few times. I introduced him at an event. Great guy. Really sweet guy. He’s gonna have to spend a lot of money, do a little retail politics.
My message to Vivek, I don’t know him as well, you know, obviously he has a strong anti-woke message which resonates very well with a lot of folks. But he’s got to be sure that he’s talking about inflation and fiscal discipline and border security and all these other pieces that kind of wrap around the fight against cancel culture, and he already seems to be pivoting that way.
Kashinsky: You met with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for an hour or so late last month, right? What’s your advice to him?
Sununu: Yeah but I talk to Ron all the time. His advantage is that he seems to have a bit more money than most of the folks at this point. So his advantage would be to put his ground game together early, whereas other folks will have to slowly roll into the ground game. And by that we’re talking about knocking on the doors. As an active governor, he can talk very distinctively on active governing issues, on active leadership, on mental health issues, on opioid issues, on things that he’s dealing with in Florida like we’re dealing with here. And he’s one of the few candidates that can really do it. [North Dakota Gov. Doug] Burgum could do it.
If [DeSantis] puts that together with a ground game early, that can really pick up a lot of steam and I think carry a lot of weight here.
Kashinsky: Did it concern you at all that when Governor DeSantis came here last week that he didn’t really take any questions from voters?
Sununu: I don’t want to comment on those four events because those are probably the first four of like 104, you know what I mean? I think there will be a lot of opportunities to do that. I mean, you always want to allow folks to ask questions and get to know you a little bit. But I don’t want to — I’m not criticizing him because I don’t know how those were structured.
Kashinsky: You said you were going to endorse early and campaign hard if you didn’t run yourself.
Sununu: I didn’t say I would endorse early. I might endorse, but not necessarily early. Yeah. No, no one should expect an endorsement next week or something. I would wait to see how they do on the [debate] stage, and how they politick around the state.
Kashinsky: Do you think that your endorsement can put a candidate over the edge in New Hampshire?
Sununu: I don’t want to be so humble as to say my endorsement would be meaningless. Obviously, it would carry some weight. But I think it probably remains to be seen about what kind of weight it carries. I guess it depends when I endorse, which candidate and what their situation is. But I don’t overly play the strength of endorsements, even my endorsement. A candidate really has to be successful on their own.
Go To Source