Donald Trump is a “four-time loser” who will not necessarily be the Republican presidential nominee despite dominating primary polling, the New Hampshire governor said on Sunday.
“Donald Trump is positioning himself to be a four-time loser in 2024,” Chris Sununu said. “We need candidates that can win.”
A Republican governor in a Democratic part of the country – and of a key early voting state – Sununu is seen as a potential candidate in the moderate lane, should such a lane still exist in a party dominated by Trump.
Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Sununu was confronted by comments to the same network just two months ago, when he said Trump was “not going to be the nominee”.
“We’re just moving on as a party, as a country,” Sununu said in February. “He’s not going to be the nominee. That’s just not going to happen. Here’s the good news … Ready? … You’re dead wrong. He’s not going to be the nominee.”
Since then, particularly since Trump was this month arraigned on criminal charges in New York, relating to his hush money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, the primary paradigm has shifted.
Trump dominates polling, expanding his lead over Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who has not declared a run, and other actual or likely candidates.
Trump also faces legal jeopardy over his election subversion and incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress, his handling of classified material, his business and tax affairs and a civil rape case due to go to trial in New York next week.
He denies wrongdoing and claims victimisation by Democrats. On Sunday, NBC released a poll in which a fraction under 70% of Republicans agreed.
Sununu told NBC there had “definitely [been] a shift” but insisted: “I still don’t think he’s necessarily going to be the nominee.
“Look, I think your poll is spot on in all these areas. I think that’s actually a great poll. I hope folks listen to it.
“I’ll say this. Republicans are rallying. They’re supporting former president Trump over these indictments, right? … Now, does it actually translate into a vote? We will see, I mean, most folks don’t decide who they’re voting for until about three weeks before the election.
“… There’s not even a single debate has been had. Other candidates are going to get in the race. I just think it’s so far away.
“And at the end of the day, we want a winner, right? Republicans want someone who can win in November of ’24. Donald Trump is a loser. He has not just lost once. He lost us our House seats in 2018. He lost everything in ’20. We should have 54 US senators right now and we don’t because of his message.
“So, Donald Trump is positioning himself to be a four-time loser in 2024. We need candidates that can win.”
Many within and without Republican ranks are questioning whether DeSantis is that sort of candidate. The Florida governor has fallen away in polling, experiencing problems including a pause by a major donor who said he was turned off by hard-right policies including school book bans and a six-week abortion ban.
Thomas Peterffy, an online trader, did not say he would not support DeSantis at all. But he also gave $1m to the Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has not declared a run.
On Sunday, Rolling Stone quoted a source formerly allied to DeSantis but now “in the Trump orbit” as saying: “If Ron thinks the last couple months have been bumpy, he’s in for a painful ride.”
As Florida Republicans in Congress have endorsed Trump, so DeSantis has come under fire for an alleged lack of personal warmth. Rolling Stone described an evolving attempt by Trump to trash his rival personally as well as politically.
The unnamed source said: “The nature of the conversations among the people who used to work for Ron is just so frequently, ‘OK, how can we destroy this guy?’ It is not at all at a level that is normal for people who hold the usual grudges against horrible bosses. It’s a pure hatred that is much, much purer than that.
“People who were traveling with Ron every day, who worked with him very closely over the years, to this day joke about how it was always an open question whether or not Ron knew their names … And that’s just the start of it.”
Unlike DeSantis, Sununu barely registers in polling. On NBC, he was asked for his timetable for deciding on whether to run.
“Probably by lunch,” he joked.
“I think everybody will have to make a decision by 4 July … There’s a lot of opportunity here … a lot of folks want to get on that stage. I think the threshold for the debate are going to be very low to start in terms of polling numbers and donors, so I think we’re going to have a very crowded stage early on.”
That stage may yet include Trump’s former vice-president, Mike Pence. In Iowa on Saturday, at a Faith & Freedom Coalition event which Trump addressed by video, the former Indiana governor flirted with confirming a run.
“I think if we have an announcement to make, it’ll be well before late June,” Pence told CBS’s Face the Nation, adding: “Anyone that would be serious about seeking the Republican nomination would need to be in this contest by June.
“If we have an announcement to make it will be well before then.”