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Two days after he took some verbal jabs at former President Donald Trump as well as plenty of other political figures at a well-known and prestigious comedy-themed dinner in the nation’s capital, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire repeatedly emphasized on Monday that his comments that grabbed national attention were “all in fun” and just “jokes.”
But Sununu’s jokes that the former president’s “crazy” angered some in Trump’s political orbit. And the attention his comments garnered sparked further speculation that the popular governor of a crucial battleground state may have national ambitions in 2024 or further down the road.
Sununu set up his Trump jokes at Saturday evening’s Gridiron Dinner by mentioning the possibility that the former president would win the 2024 election and return to the White House, and noted Trump’s “experience,” “passion,” and “sense of integrity” in the former president exhibited in his tweets.
“Nah, I’m just kidding,” Sununu said. “He’s f***ing crazy.”
A few moments later, Sununu continued his edgy jokes, saying “The press often will ask me if I think Donald Trump is crazy. And I’ll say it this way: I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out!”
After Sununu’s jabs at the roast grabbed headlines on Sunday, the governor emphasized in two local radio appearances in New Hampshire on Monday morning that it was all in jest.
“It’s all a joke. Look. I don’t think he’s crazy,” Sununu said on “New Hampshire Today with Chris Ryan.” “It’s all in fun. It’s all a joke. And anyone who’s trying to make this more than it is either seriously doesn’t understand what the Gridiron Dinner is all about or just has to lighten up a bit.”
And the governor said on “Good Morning New Hampshire with Jack Heath” that “if anyone is taking any of those jokes seriously, lighten up.” And he emphasized that “It’s a roast. It’s fun… I made jokes about my own family and myself and Republicans as much as I made fun about Democrats and Joe Biden and AOC and Bernie Sanders and socialists.”
Sununu supported Trump during the 2016 general election and again as the then-president unsuccessfully ran for reelection in 2020. The governor had a strong working relationship with the Trump White House, including close ties with former Vice President Mike Pence.
But over the past year and a half, Sununu’s pushed back against Trump’s unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen.” He’s also stated more than once that the GOP is larger than any one person, which was perceived as a swipe at the former president, who remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party.
National Republicans heavily courted Sununu to run for the Senate this year against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, whom they consider vulnerable. And the governor disappointed plenty in the GOP when he announced last November that he would run for reelection in 2022 rather than challenge Hassan. And in announcing his decision – which he made without alerting Senate GOP leaders – he criticized Republicans in Congress for what he considered their inaction and lack of ideas, and for just being content to block President Biden’s agenda.
And last month Sununu upset state and national Republicans for vowing to veto a congressional redistricting map passed by the GOP controlled state legislature that would have made the state’s 1st Congressional District, which the GOP’s aiming to flip from blue to red this November, more competitive for Republicans. Sununu said the proposed map – which would have been a dramatic shift from the current split of the state’s two districts – didn’t “pass the smell test.”
Earlier this year Corey Lewandowski, the New Hampshire-based longtime Trump adviser, said that the former president asked him to potentially find someone to launch a credible primary challenge against Sununu, who’s running for reelection this year for a fourth two-year term. The governor said on Monday that his jokes directed at Trump has nothing to do with any potential effort to find a credible candidate to try and primary challenge the governor as he runs for reelection this year.
Trump’s team didn’t respond when asked about Sununu’s jokes, but Lewandowski said in a statement that “If Chris had any guts, he would have run for U.S. Senate, and instead took the easy way out. And if the right Republican were to run against him, I’d be willing to bet Donald Trump would endorse Sununu’s opponent.”
Former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath, a longtime GOP consultant, was at the Gridiron Dinner on Saturday night. He told Fox News that what Sununu “did and the way he said it was absolutely within the tradition of the Gridiron… you’re not up there to say nice things about folks. You’re up there to be a little bit outrageous.”
Rath added that the governor “was the talk of the evening.. the night was his.”
There is some speculation that Sununu may have national ambitions in 2024 or beyond. Sununu didn’t rule out any future White House run when asked by reporters as he announced his reelection plans last November. Rath, a veteran of numerous Republican presidential campaigns, said that the attention on Sununu’s Trump jokes may benefit the governor down the road should he decide to run for national office.
“There’s a lot of people that know of him from this night,” Rath said. “Folks in that room that matter down the road have a very interesting context to put him in and I think that will be very helpful for him if that what he wants to do.”