Here’s another reason why Trump shouldn’t run in 2024. It would clear the way for Chris Sununu to stand on a presidential primary debate stage and call Greg Abbott a communist to his face.
Seriously, though, watching this gives you an insight into why, despite being arguably the GOP’s top Senate recruit for 2022, Sununu ultimately decided to pass. As governor of a small New England state, he can get away with saying stuff like this. As a senator, he’d be a national figure expected to do battle for his party in the great vaccine mandate culture war. And his party, unfortunately, has concluded that a business owner’s right to run his shop as he sees fit must bend to a worker’s right to maximize his or her risk from COVID. That’s what happens when your base decides that anti-vaxxism is the exciting new frontier in populism.
This exchange happened a month ago but caught fire on conservative Twitter this morning. “The heck with the Senate. @GovChrisSununu should think about 2024,” tweeted Hugh Hewitt after watching it. “Every question should begin with: What does the Constitution say, if anything, about the proposition before us.” That’s a nice thought, but what Sununu said here could and would be used against him in a national primary. The idea that government should stay out of a business’s affairs to the greatest extent possible is a traditional, and frankly antiquated, conservative view. The modern populist view is that government is entitled or even obliged to meddle with businesses when those businesses take a position hostile to right-wing culture. If they mandate vaccines for their staff then a Republican official is duty-bound to mandate them into un-mandating that policy or else he’s not “fighting” for his own side.
🚨🚨 #PrinciplesFirst alert:@GovChrisSununu (R-NH) doesn’t mince words: “You can’t say that the Biden Administration is instituting a mandate here and we have to stop it, but then say the state government should enforce a mandate here.”
Listen to this! pic.twitter.com/XnuTIihUYv
— Principles First (@Principles_1st) October 18, 2021
“They’re getting all emotional, and they’re listening to social media nonsense and misinformation and repeating it as elected officials,” said Sununu a few weeks ago when asked about his opponents’ view in the clip. Just as he opposes state mandates, though, he also opposes Biden’s federal vaccine mandate. His position is laissez faire: Let each business owner set the rules for their own workplace and let each worker walk away if the policy is intolerable to them. No government interference at any level.
Glenn Youngkin appears to share that perspective. He and Sununu are one end of the GOP spectrum. On the far other end sits Abbott, whose zeal to be known nationally as the GOP’s supreme COVID culture warrior led him to ban all vaccine mandates in Texas last month, including ones issued by private businesses. As far as I know, that’s the most restrictive anti-mandate mandate in the country. Ron DeSantis has tiptoed up to Abbott’s position but has yet to issue the same sort of blanket prohibition on mandates by private actors. Instead, the new suite of COVID legislation passed by Florida’s legislature permits private employer mandates but requires businesses to grant generous exemptions, including a testing alternative:
‣ Employees can choose from numerous exemptions, including but not limited to, health or religious concerns; pregnancy or anticipated future pregnancy; and past recovery from COVID-19.
‣ Employees can choose to opt for periodic testing or PPE as an exemption.
‣ Employers must cover the costs of testing and PPE exemptions for employees.
Disney responded to that new law by immediately pausing its company mandate. The White House was irate in response, or at least pretended to be irate knowing that flogging DeSantis is a cheap way to earn brownie points with the Democratic base. “They’re based in Florida, and obviously the governor there has consistently taken steps to take steps backwards as it relates to fighting the pandemic, not forward,” said Jen Psaki of Disney’s decision.
As for Sununu, I’m not sure what he’s thinking. He’s been touted as a potential presidential candidate but some of his pronouncements lately cut against that. For instance, he slammed populist House Republicans last weekend for opposing Paul Gosar’s censure and condoning punishment for the GOPers who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That’s not the sort of thing a man eyeing national office in a post-Trump landscape does. Neither is this, frankly:
Gov. Chris Sununu encouraged parents to log on to the state website vaccines.nh.gov as soon as possible to get their kids vaccinated with holiday gatherings coming and the winter surge he predicted here already…
There is a wait right now of about a week to find an appointment for a child’s vaccination, Sununu said, but the state definitely has a new tool on hand to fight COVID-19 with FDA approval last week of a smaller dose Pfizer vaccine for those ages 5 to 11…
Sununu said he is getting his booster shot on Friday and urged others to do the same.
Nothing he said there strictly contradicts Republican orthodoxy but his enthusiasm for the vaccine, particularly for young children, is another way in which he’s badly out of step with the party’s base. The dynamics of the culture war over vaccination require GOP pols to treat the shots as overhyped at best, potentially dangerous at worst, and certainly not something that five-year-olds should be asked to endure given the low risk they face from COVID. And yet here’s Sununu telling New Hampshire parents that the state is doing its best to make those shots available for their little ones ASAP. That’s the responsible thing to do, but it’s also the sort of thing that’ll make him a three-percent candidate in a national primary, unfortunately.