fb-pixel Skip to main content

Sununu says he’s considering a run for president. But that might not be his real plan.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu during a panel discussion at a Republican Governors Association conference in November last year in Orlando.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu continued his two-month national media campaign on Sunday when he told CNN that “yes,” he is considering a run for president.

It’s not a totally crazy idea. But if he were to run it would be a uniquely complicated proposition, pretty much unlike that of any other politician in America.

Sununu, a Republican, was just elected to his fourth, two-year term in November. For years he has been one of the most popular governors in America, and unlike many other popular politicians, he’s done it in a swing state.

New Hampshire Democrats have never found a way to dent him, and for good reason: he’s good at this politics thing.


Politically, he’s hard to put in a box. Sununu has endorsed Donald Trump twice for president, but he isn’t a Trumper. He has, in fact, repeatedly criticized and even mocked Trump, but he’s never faced Trump’s wrath or been considered a never-Trumper.

At heart, Sununu might be the most successful libertarian-rooted politician in America at the moment. That said, his right flank isn’t populated by MAGA Republicans or social conservatives, but an extreme group of Libertarians called Free Staters, who moved to New Hampshire to further a political agenda and have a disproportionate say in the Legislature.

At a time when cultural battles from abortion to critical race theory in public schools (to the absurd matter of M&M spokescandies “going woke”), Sununu isn’t trying to score points for either side. The truth is that on these issues he hews to his state’s “Live Free or Die” motto, and thinks people should be able to do what they want.

His father, John Sununu, is a former New Hampshire governor and was White House chief of staff to George H. W. Bush. His mother was a state Republican Party chair. His brother is a former US senator. Chris Sununu has political contacts all over the nation and the world.


So, sure, he could run for president. After all, a lot of people run for president these days. In 2016, 17 Republicans ran. In 2020, 23 Democrats ran. Heck, in 2020, even former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, a Republican, ran for president. (It didn’t go well.)

But in Sununu’s situation, running for president is complicated in ways it’s not for others contemplating a run, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, or even Trump, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley or Mike Pompeo.

Sununu’s premise when he speaks around the country is about Republicans winning elections, as he has in New Hampshire. So what would happen to his presidential campaign should he lose the primary in his home state?

A University of New Hampshire poll released last week suggests that’s exactly what would happen. It found that among likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, DeSantis received 42 percent support, followed by Trump at 30 percent and Haley at 8 percent. Sununu, meanwhile, only got 4 percent, tied with former Wyoming representative Liz Cheney and former Maryland governor Larry Hogan.

Losing the New Hampshire primary doesn’t mean someone can’t get elected president. Four out of the last five presidents lost the New Hampshire primary on the way to the White House.

But for Sununu, it would take a lot of heavy lifting just to win his home state — and it would be a death sentence for his campaign if he didn’t.


Further, actually running for president means giving up a lot. He could be positioning himself, if he eventually bypasses a run, to be the biggest endorsement in Republican politics in 2024. He would be more important than Jim Clyburn ever was to Joe Biden in 2020.

This is, after all, what Sununu’s own father did when he endorsed George H.W. Bush for president in 1988 and then got a power position in Washington after Bush was elected.

In the same Sunday interview on CNN, Sununu had a tell on his future plans. He spent more time talking about how it’s his job to be a “referee” for New Hampshire among all other Republicans actually running, implying he would be an impartial governor until it was time to be a kingmaker.

This is not an option that others, like Trump or DeSantis, even have.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.