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Former New Hampshire Governor Talks Primary Candidates


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A wise Paul once said the people of Iowa pick corn. The people of New Hampshire pick presidents. That was uttered by the former New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff, John Sununu. He joins us on the line right now from New Hampshire. Governor, thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN SUNUNU: How are you today?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you, sir.

SUNUNU: Happy Saturday.

SIMON: And happy - it's always a happy Saturday here. Happy Saturday to you just a couple days before the primary. Who do like on Tuesday?

SUNUNU: New Hampshire voters are going to make a tough decision. And I'm not predicting anybody nor am I endorsing anybody, but I do think that - that this time, in addition to our voters looking at the qualifications of candidates and having been overwhelmed a little bit with the emotional side of campaigning - the noisy side of campaigning - they're now going back and trying to decide what a good strategic vote for the country and the party would be. I think they really want to make sure there's a nominee that can fix the problems when they get to the White House and can beat Mrs. Clinton in the general election.

SIMON: And that would lead to...

SUNUNU: That would lead to some of them perhaps casting a vote for their second or third choice.

SIMON: Now, this week you (laughter) you called attention to some history that Donald Trump has had - bankruptcies, enterprises that went - that tanked. And you said, quote, "this guy has a history of failure and losing. He's a perpetual loser." Now, were you trying to get under his skin by using that term loser that he kind of likes to hang around other people?

SUNUNU: Well, I just wanted Donald to acknowledge his - really he's trying to give everybody the impression that anything he touches turns to gold, and usually it turns to mush. His airline failed, his mortgage company failed, his four major resorts failed, his vodka failed, his fragrances - Trump fragrances - failed, three magazines failed - I mean, this guy is a whole host of failures down the line. And I think he's been trying to gain votes under false pretenses.

SIMON: So what's your estimation of his appeal?

SUNUNU: I think the country is angry after seven years - seven disastrous years - under Obama. And he was cunning enough, not necessarily smart enough, but cunning enough to take advantage of that anger, and his hot rhetoric in the early days hit a nerve. But I think now, now that we're into New Hampshire where politics is a very serious game, I think people are taking a second look.

SIMON: What's your view of Ted Cruz, senator from Texas?

SUNUNU: Ted's, you know, obviously a talented speaker, but my concern is is if you can't get one of your 54 colleagues in Washington to support you then you've got something wrong in terms of being able to put together a coalition that will fix problems. And so I think - I think Ted's got some problems there on that issue. So I move beyond them and I look at what I call the four traditional candidates, the three governors - Christie, Bush and Kasich - and then Rubio, who was speaker of the House in Washington - in Florida and a senator in Washington. And these four guys have some experience in making things happen. And the country needs a president that can make things happen. So I'm urging people to take a good hard look at those four and decide which one of those can overcome any momentum that the Trump-Cruz pair have and go on to win.

SIMON: Governor Sununu, would you support any Republican who wins the presidential nomination?

SUNUNU: I probably would. And I've said I would, but that doesn't mean I have to be foolish during the process.

SIMON: How do you - you're an - I'm sorry. You're an establishment Republican, and I don't insult you when I say that. How do you feel about that? I mean, you were White House chief of staff, you were governor of a state.

SUNUNU: Yeah, sure, you know, establishment has become a pejorative word, but people have to remember what establishment usually means. It means somebody who has - knows how to win elections, knows how to get policy done. I'm very proud of the policy changes I made as governor in New Hampshire and the great legislation I helped George Herbert Walker Bush pass - a clean air bill, a budget that produced this surpluses in the next administration, child care - child voucher legislation...

SIMON: We can only afford about another 10 seconds of your accomplishments.

SUNUNU: Yeah, I'm sorry.

SIMON: That's all right.

SUNUNU: But my point is is that establishment usually means that you have performed. And that's what we need, someone who can perform.

SIMON: John Sununu is the former governor of New Hampshire, was also chief of staff to President George H. W. Bush. Thanks so much for being back with us, Governor. Take care, bye-bye.

SUNUNU: Thanks, Scott, yeah, thank you, bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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