In an era when social media dictates political decision-making and open contests are vulnerable to capture by fervent ideologues, the call for “boring politics” might seem like a non-starter. Yet to write it off is to write off history. Some of America’s most prosperous and stable periods — the “Era of Good Feelings” under James Monroe; the post-war “Eisenhower Boom”; the dotcom-fuelled prosperity of the Nineties — were under the stewardship of national leaders who were, by all accounts, quite dull.
The modern Republican Party, aiming to re-establish itself in the aftermath of Trump’s shambolic administration, should pay close attention. The path to a successful future may not lie with the likes of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin or South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, as competent and capable as they appear to be. These figures, though skilled, often appear hesitant to challenge the MAGA base on divisive issues such as immigration, foreign policy and LGBT rights — yet offer the base far less red meat than leading contenders like Trump or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is strongly courting this contingent. Instead, the party’s future might be best served by the extraordinarily unassuming figure of New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. This leader, far less contentious, embodies a less polarised approach that might resonate with a broader spectrum of voters — particularly the Independents who swing the crucial elections in America’s toss-up “purple” states.
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Born and raised in Salem, Sununu is firmly part of the state’s premier political lineage: his father, known for his terrifyingly high IQ, also served as New Hampshire’s Governor, while one of his seven siblings was elected as the state’s Senator. Yet despite hailing from arguably the most “boring” political dynasty in American history, Sununu may well be the steady hand the Republican party needs. Of course, his candidacy is rightly considered a long shot — but the allure of his pragmatic approach to politics is increasingly compelling.
Consider the striking figures of former North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn and New York Congressman George Santos, both of whom have made headlines for less than desirable reasons. Cawthorn, the youngest elected official in Washington D.C. and a wheelchair user, made claims about his Paralympic aspirations, academic background, drug use and even his sexuality that were subsequently debunked or exposed during a primary campaign that he lost to a boring Chamber of Commerce-style Republican rival. And Santos, an openly-gay representative seen as a symbol of the party’s diversification as well as a habitual liar, is now facing a litany of serious charges including wire fraud and money laundering. Then, of course, there is the inescapable Trump: the bright orange sun, recently found liable in a civil proceeding for battery and defamation, and immersed in a half-dozen other legal proceedings.
Amid such turbulent times for the party, Chris Sununu’s steadfastly fiscally-conservative approach and well-grounded governance stand in stark contrast. His political journey over four terms in office exhibits a balance between maintaining personal convictions and adapting to evolving societal demands. His record on abortion rights, for example, shows a clear progression. Starting from a vote while serving in New Hampshire’s legislative assembly to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015, he reversed his stance and has repeatedly endorsed contracts with the organisation, even declaring himself a “pro-choice governor” in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Furthermore, Sununu has demonstrated allyship to the LGBT community during a period when even Trump, who once declared “the gays, they love me”, has seemingly disappeared from that scene. He has enacted legislation to protect LGBT rights, such as laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and banning conversion therapy for minors. He has also supported the inclusion of a non-binary gender option on driver’s licences and vetoed a bill that could have resulted in trans children being inadvertently outed to their parents in schools. Admittedly, this could be viewed as excessively progressive or perhaps something a “Republican in name only” governing in a Northeastern state might be compelled to do. It may, however, serve as an effective strategy to pacify the GOP base and shift focus towards major economic issues. This strategy, of course, could be precarious during the primaries, as MAGA voters may oppose him. Yet, there’s a slim possibility that figures such as Trump and DeSantis could split the hard-Right vote, allowing Sununu to eke out a victory with the support of centre-Right voters.
There, Sununu has maintained conservative stances, supporting state-funded school choice vouchers for disadvantaged and low-income students — critical at a time when more and more parents are pulling their kids out of failing public schools — and vetoing a bill for a paid family leave policy which entailed a state-wide payroll tax. In essence, Sununu’s record presents a unique blend of principled conservatism, fiscal responsibility and an understanding of social shifts. While the spectre of scandal or stupid sloganeering looms large over other figures in the party, Sununu’s comparatively mundane, yet effective, political career offers a refreshing divergence that could represent the Republicans’ saving grace in this politically tumultuous era.
Consider how this has worked for the Democrats. President Joe Biden, a centrist Democrat for as long as he belonged to the party, has somehow made good on four decades of blustery “Middle-Class Joe” and “Amtrak Joe” rhetoric. From the perspective of his conservative critics, he’s an aged figurehead manipulated by “woke” elites, while to some progressives, he’s perceived as a detached incumbent under the sway of corporate interests. An objective analysis, however, shows that Biden is handling the complex challenges of presidency in a more nuanced way than he’s often given credit for.
Initially, expectations were tempered for the elder statesman: could he merely get out of bed each day, mumble a few words to the camera, and avoid wetting himself on television? Yet Biden’s administration has spearheaded significant policies — from the withdrawal from Afghanistan to the bipartisan $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — which, if associated with a more vivacious ideologue, might have sparked significant enthusiasm across the political spectrum. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Democrats fared remarkably well in the 2022 midterm elections — a success that can partly be attributed to the party’s capacity to resist ultra-conservative contenders backed by influential figures such as Trump.
Who knows, perhaps Biden’s centrist approach might offer a blueprint for a novel style of leadership that could reshape America’s political landscape — a style of leadership that the much younger and much sharper Chris Sununu, who lacks only national name recognition despite a fairly well-known political surname, could emulate for the Republicans. Certainly, as we look towards the 2024 elections, it’s worth considering the importance of a calm, steady contender against President Biden.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the prospect of a tranquil political landscape seems improbable. The potential return of Trump to the Republican ticket will be good news for media outlets and social media platforms that thrive on conflict, but less so for the functioning of a society we call home. Indeed, in the coming months, the likely reality is that we’ll be inundated with Trump-centric media coverage, reminiscent of the intense attention he received during a recent CNN town hall in which he used the hapless former Daily Caller listicle writer Kaitlan Collins to dust off his greatest hits. Potential contenders like Sununu, in comparison, may remain relatively unknown, much like former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in the 2016 Democratic race, or Ohio Governor John Kasich on the Republican side. We’re all set to lose from this situation, becoming the victims of content algorithms designed to prioritise engagement over quality discussion.
The resulting indifference towards a “mundane” Sununu candidacy reveals a profound predicament: a political landscape that undervalues stability and practical policymaking. Addressing this is not merely a matter of preferring dull personalities over dynamic ones, but electing leaders committed to the collective welfare, rather than those who thrive on division and disharmony. In this context, Sununu emerges not just as a quiet politician, but as a soothing balm to the heated partisanship that has marked recent years. His calm demeanour could be just what we need to restore tranquillity in the turbulent sea of American politics. As Sununu said earlier this month: “If you can’t assure the Republican Party that you can cross the line in November of 2024 — and it’s pretty clear [Trump] can’t — then we have to find somebody else. That’s it. It’s nothing personal. We’re moving on as a party.”
The party does indeed need to move on: it’s time to allow reasoned dialogue and pragmatic policy to echo within the not-so-hallowed halls of our fraying democracy. It’s time to make America boring again.
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