The Day

A candidate to fill the NeverTrump lane

- JENNIFER RUBIN The Washington Post Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. She covers politics and policy, foreign and domestic, and provides insight into the conservati­ve movement, the Republican and Democratic parties, and threa

Let’s face it: The chances of a NeverTrump Republican winning the GOP 2024 nomination are slim to none. The party remains in the grip of MAGA conspiraci­es, election denial, fake culture wars and performanc­e politics, leaving the most likely alternativ­e to defeated former president Donald Trump to one of his mini-me imitators. However, there is a narrow opening for someone who rejects all that — and one candidate who might meet the bill is New Hampshire’s GOP governor, Chris Sununu.

Neither Liz Cheney nor Adam Kinzinger — both former members of the Jan. 6 committee — is likely to be the solution to what ails the GOP. Such brave and principled figures, who distinguis­hed themselves by standing up to a “clear and present danger” to democracy, are in all likelihood a bridge too far for primary voters, many of whom are still seething with resentment over the two lawmakers who most vividly exposed the cowardice of their fellow Republican­s.

The best opportunit­y, then, for someone who rejects MAGA politics would come from a less controvers­ial figure with a solid record, preferably from an early primary state where he could take the wind out of Trump’s and other MAGA candidates’ sails. In other words, someone such as Sununu, an actual fiscal conservati­ve with a tax-cutting record that pleases his constituen­cy.

Sununu was reelected to a fourth term in November. He has rejected election denial, pushed a school-voucher system instead of a war on mythical critical race theory and adeptly managed GOP expectatio­ns without losing the political center. He supported a limited third-trimester abortion ban, but then “convinced the Republican-led Legislatur­e to exempt from the ban fatal fetal anomalies and to eliminate a mandatory ultrasound before an abortion unless a doctor believed the fetus to be at least 24 weeks old,” Yahoo News reported. “Sununu said he would continue to ask lawmakers to tweak the law further, exempting cases of rape and incest and removing a criminal penalty for doctors who violate the ban.”

Sununu also threatened a veto to knock down a MAGA state bill that would have mandated schools promptly inform parents about developmen­ts in their children’s “gender expression or identity.”

At his fourth inaugural address, he boasted that he oversaw a fast vaccine rollout, but also said, “When other states closed down businesses, we kept their lights on — and invested in their success.”

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Sununu exhibited poise and humanity in his reaction to the horrifying Tyre Nichols video. “It’s not just training, of course. I mean, what you saw there was beyond a training failure,” he said. Rather than simply repeat the trite mantra about better training, he pointed a finger to a larger culprit: “What is inherent within our system?”

He’s also remarkably skilled at needling Trump in a way that doesn’t make him seem to be taking Democrats’ side. “He comes to New

Hampshire, and, frankly, he gives a very mundane speech. The response we have received is, he read his teleprompt­er, he stuck to the talking points, he went away. So he’s not really bringing that fire, that energy.” (Translatio­n: Sleepy!) At a Gridiron dinner last year, Sununu wisecracke­d, “I don’t think he’s so crazy he should be in a mental institutio­n, but if he were in one, he ain’t getting out!” (His remarks went viral.)

He shows similar finesse in slapping down Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, infamous for his heavy-handed bullying and race-baiting. “It’s not right to tell a private business what they can or cannot do,” Sununu said. “It is not the New Hampshire way to force locally elected and accountabl­e school districts or town councils to bend to the statehouse’s will.” He added, “That’s not leadership, and it’s not conservati­ve, and it is certainly not freedom.”

Sununu throws a bone to the right, but posits government cannot solve cultural issues. “A lot of conservati­ve, a lot of Americans, independen­ts are frustrated, because they see this woke culture, this woke cancel culture invading our societies and in our communitie­s. And we need to fight.” Still, he argues, “My argument is, the government is not the solution to cultural issues, and we have a cultural problem.”

Sununu also sets himself apart from the angry, apocalypti­c tone that pervades the GOP. “I think we have a lot of hope and optimism . ... It’s not just about the negativity that you see in the media and the press and that they have kind of been inundated with. It really is about good government.”

It’s probably too much to hope that Republican­s would pick a Trump antagonist, a throwback to New England Republican­s of old (socially moderate, fiscally conservati­ve). However, if NeverTrump Republican­s are savvy, they’ll quickly decide on a single standard-bearer who might prevail in a divided field. They could do a lot worse than Sununu — and probably will.

 ?? AP FILE PHOTO ?? New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu
AP FILE PHOTO New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu

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