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New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu believes Trump will not be the GOP's 2024 nominee

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A popular Republican leader is not seeking a fifth term as governor. He is also not running for president. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is trying to ensure that former President Donald Trump is not his party's next nominee for president. Governor Sununu joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRIS SUNUNU: You bet, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: I don't even know if you saw the debates, but did any of the two candidates on stage in Milwaukee especially impress you?

SUNUNU: Yeah. Look, a couple big takeaways were - No. 1, it was a fiery debate, right? It wasn't flat. That would have played right into former President Trump's hand. They didn't really talk about him. They talked about themselves and where they saw America going in the future. And for the first time in six years - think of this - America got to see Republican leadership without Donald Trump, a future of the Republican Party without Donald Trump. And it looked pretty good to a lot of folks.

SIMON: You see this as a chance for Republican leaders not named Trump to be seen, but it should be noted, when they were asked if they would support Donald Trump if he was the nominee and if he was convicted in a court of law, almost every hand went up. What do you make of that?

SUNUNU: Yeah, well, that shouldn't surprise anybody at this point. It - look, that question is a great question about a year from now, right? I don't think he's going to be the nominee. I think there's a lot of things that are going to happen. Who knows what actually happens with all the indictments and the court drama and all that sort of thing. Trump loves it. He loves every minute of it. Every minute we say his name, he's winning, right? Every minute national media is talking about former President Donald Trump is a minute they're not talking about other candidates and other folks that can bring a better future to the Republican Party. So in that sense, he'll take any and all attention he can get because it keeps the others off of the table.

SIMON: Let me ask you about an issue - abortion rights - which you support with some exceptions. Many who are running for president - Republicans - support national abortion restrictions, even a ban. Governor Haley at the debate said, look, 60 Senate votes are needed and a majority of the House. That's not there. And she urged consensus. Do you see the position that many Republican candidates have on abortion as a political liability?

SUNUNU: Yes, in that any time you're talking about big national bans, it's scary, right? It is. It's just a scary prospect, and we don't do well with it politically. I'm a governor. I'm a state's rights guy. I think all the best government is had at the state and local level. And we have to accept that California is going to be very different than Mississippi and very different than New Hampshire or Texas or Illinois. And so you got to let the states figure it out. That's where voters have the most say. If folks don't like something, they can make a change. At the national level, it's very hard to make that change, but locally they can. I just think a one-size-fits-all out of Washington, regardless of whether you're talking about abortion or education or most policies, is rarely the right answer. Let the locals, let the states really decide.

SIMON: What do you think of the No Labels movement?

SUNUNU: Well, I tell you, No Labels is very interesting. I've talked to them a couple times because the conversation is happening in New Hampshire. They've been up in New Hampshire. My understanding, I don't want to speak completely for them, is that if it's a Trump-Biden ticket, which pretty much no one in America wants, right? Seventy percent of America does not want a Trump-Biden ticket - they'll put a third-party alternative up.

SIMON: You mean a Trump-Biden race.

SUNUNU: Race, yeah. Trump-Biden - yeah. They're the two ones on the ballot. The Democrats don't want Joe Biden. The Republicans don't want Donald Trump. But unfortunately, that might be what we get. That means that if that were the ticket, 70% of America will be politically homeless. Think of it that way. They'll be politically homeless. And then this third-party opportunity might come to bear. It's very interesting. I think it has a better shot at being successful this year than ever before. Still a very high hurdle and a lot that we'd have to figure out. But, you know, we'll see where it all goes.

SIMON: Governor, you're outspoken and expressive. Why aren't you running for president?

SUNUNU: (Laughter) I'm very outspoken, sometimes too outspoken. Look, I love what I do. I love good government. But I'm an engineer. I'm a business guy. I'm a CEO. And I'm just a business guy that has come in as governor for about eight years now. And it should not be a public career. It should be public service, right? That's what we want. If somebody could get that memo to the folks in Washington, I think that'd be pretty helpful 'cause I think most of them should all be fired as well. You know, I'm the governor of the first-in-the-nation state. I'm trying to be helpful to all the candidates. I do believe that there's an opportunity to show the republic the best version of the Republican Party, which is not Donald Trump, obviously. Republicans are trying to save America. Donald Trump's trying to save himself.

SIMON: I mean, I will note that for whatever they mean, current opinion polls show that former President Trump and President Biden would be, as we say, neck and neck.

SUNUNU: For whoever decided to come out and vote. I mean, can you imagine the number of people who would throw up their hands and say, enough? My gosh, I mean, it's just the same old thing, these out-of-touch folks that have been there, done that and not done it well. And now we're just stuck with them because the system allows that to happen. That's just - that doesn't tap into the DNA of America, right? What's America built on? It's built on ideas and capitalism and innovation, the fact that folks just have opportunity to be the best of themselves. And we always move forward. We always want the 2.0, the update, whatever it is, the next generation thing. That's the best part of America. Why would we settle for yesterday's leadership when we're talking about the opportunities of tomorrow? I just don't think that's in our DNA as American. I think, if anything, just depressing for a lot of folks.

SIMON: Whatever happens, is a movement that, for lack of a better phrase, we'll call Trumpism going to be part of the future of the Republican Party and America?

SUNUNU: I hope not. No. I mean, I don't - I mean, Trumpism. My goodness, what does that mean? You know, leaders that get indicted multiple times and destroy - I mean, look, how can you be a sitting former president and not - barely even have 50% of your own party's support? I mean, that's awful. (Laughter) That's so bad.

SIMON: He has 60% in national polls, doesn't he?

SUNUNU: Nationally, but not for long. I mean, in New Hampshire and in Iowa, it's 42%, right? So, again, where the conversation is happening, where I think a lot of the candidates are having more opportunity to get themselves out there - and that's what we're going to see in the next few months - more on a national stage, all these candidates having more of an opportunity to be out there, to show themselves, to not be defined by him and to show a future not just of the Republican Party, for the entire country.

SIMON: If he is the Republican nominee, what do you do publicly?

SUNUNU: Well, look, my focus is I want to help candidates, right? I have nothing in it for me. I'm not running for anything. I want to make sure my governor's race is secured. I want to make sure senators and school board races - see, Trump hurts the ticket all the way up and down. He doesn't just potentially lose the presidency for Republicans. I mean, look at 2022 and 2020 and 2018. We kept losing races we should have won because of him and his brand and his types of candidates. So I'm going to do everything I can, specifically in New Hampshire, but nationally, as much as I can, just to get the message out there that, OK, Trump defines himself. Republicans are over here.

SIMON: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, thanks so much for being with us.

SUNUNU: This was a lot of fun, man. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.