The future of Republican politics already has spoken at NHIOP



Governors Sununu and Hutchinson recently spoke at an enlightening NHIOP event

Three types of Republican governors have visited the Hilltop in recent weeks. Governors Christie, Hutchinson, and Sununu attended Politics and Eggs at the NHIOP. Christie, the former Governor of New Jersey, and Hutchinson, the term-limited Governor of Arkansas, each headlined an event. The two are obviously making plans to run for President in 2024. Governor Sununu attended Governor Asa Hutchinson’s event and delivered something very close to an endorsement for a friend who is not (yet) officially running. The three men are members of the same party, but each has their own style and politics.

Contrasting the trio provides insight into the future of Republican presidential politics. Christie is the most like President Trump: ample, socially liberal, brash, combative, and with a distinctly petty Northeastern style of politics. On the other hand, the disgraced former Governor and current media personality is a fantastic public speaker and is supremely likeable in the flesh. Just like 45, Christie is famous for his sparring with the press. Despite his personal similarities to Trump, Chris Christie has proudly positioned himself as the most Anti-Trump candidate to throw his hat in the Republican ring so far. In Christie’s defense, he has been married to the same woman since college. That is an essential point in any comparison between him and his former patron.

Asa Hutchinson is as far from Christie as one can get within conventional GOP personalities. The septuagenarian Arkansas Governor is staid to the point of stale. There is no anything-gate within his past, and his presidential affiliations are Reagan/Bush. During his speech, he studiously avoided the T-word, but one suspects that Arkansawyer must privately loath the flamboyant wrecking ball. It would probably take a blow-torch and pliers to get a statement to that effect from Governor Hutchinson. He remained upbeat, uncontroversial, and boring throughout his Politics and Eggs address. Does he know that presidential primaries require name recognition? He hit key Republican talking points like a classical pianist. Border security is good, overspending is bad, and we need to bring manufacturing jobs back. One could fault Hutchinson for lacking new ideas. He would likely respond with a comment about the imprudence of fixing something that ain’t broke.

The third governor didn’t sign any eggs, but he did speak. Chris Sununu is the Republican Governor of a nominally purple state which hasn’t voted for a GOP presidential candidate in over twenty years. Yet, like Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan, and Phil Scott, he is popular even in a state that doesn’t match his own politics. To put things indelicately, an idiot can succeed in a state where their party dominates. Politicians like Sununu must be pragmatic coalition builders. There is no room for the offensive or scandalous. Like Christie, Sununu commands the room whenever he speaks. But where Christie dwelled on past personality conflicts, Sununu valued policy and leadership. In his introduction for Governor Hutchinson, Governor Sununu talked about the type of man necessary for leading through the COVID-19 pandemic. He spoke about stability and bipartisanship, the dangers of ego. Sununu chose not to dwell on President Trump, but everyone in the room knew his stance. A month ago, Sununu stated that Trump is “f******g crazy. 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.” That language didn’t make its way into the Politics and Eggs event, but it certainly colored any interpretation of his address.

The three men represent three paths for the Republican party. Christie and Sununu are both vocally anti-Trump and emphasize their bipartisan deal-making skills. Hutchinson, the Governor of ruby-red Arkansas, has few Democrats to deal with. Instead, he highlighted his early career victories as state party chair. One could (and should) ask whether his success was more due to changing times in the Razorback State than any personal ability. Finally, the three men are at different lengths from President Trump, with none promoting their MAGA bona-fides (though Christie told some war stories from 2016). Christie represents a Republican party looking to the near past, while Hutchinson’s hindsight goes further back. Only Sununu seems to genuinely look towards the future.