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New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu says Trump can't win in November 2024: "We just have to find another candidate"

Chris Sununu says Trump can't win in 2024: "We just have to find another candidate" 24:55

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, the top Republican in the state holding his party's first presidential primary election, told CBS News he does not believe former President Donald Trump can win the White House in 2024, should he be the GOP nominee.

"I don't think he can win in November of '24," Sununu said in a wide-ranging interview on Dec. 20. "He could be the nominee. But I do not believe, and I think most people would agree, he's just going to — not going to be able to close the deal in November of '24."

"We just have to find another candidate at this point," he said.

Sununu, 48, won his reelection campaign this year by more than 15 percentage points and is being approached by some donors and officials about considering his own 2024 presidential bid.

While Sununu's decision on his future is months away, "I'm not ruling anything out," he said.

Sununu framed his view that Republicans should move on from Trump, now 76 years old, as part of his belief in generational change and in his hope for a pivot away from the combative politics of recent years — not as a personal or moral judgment of Trump's character.

"I'm not pro-Trump, I'm not anti-Trump. I'm like most of America. We're just moving on," Sununu said.

"I think just naturally we're moving on because that's what we do," he said. "Thank you for your service. I appreciate what you did. Maybe we agreed. Maybe we disagreed. But we're just moving on, and I think that's what you're going to find in the 2024 election." 

Sununu's comments come as Trump, who announced his third and latest presidential run in November, is facing legal challenges and as his GOP rivals are mapping out possible candidacies.

In the interview, Sununu cast Trump's early jump into the 2024 presidential race, just a week after the November midterm elections, as an "announcement of defense" — an attempt to solidify his standing with the GOP's core voters.

"It hasn't gone great since then," Sununu observed of Trump's campaign since the announcement, which was followed weeks later by Trump's much-hyped unveiling of "Trump digital trading cards," a move that befuddled even his closest allies. "He keeps [having] problem after problem after problem. He keeps making his problems even worse. So, I just don't see how this gets any better for the former president."

New Hampshire has long treasured its role as the "first-in-the-nation primary." For Republicans, it remains the first presidential primary election, but Democrats have recently moved to hand South Carolina the first primary election in their party's 2024 campaign. 

Sununu, who holds an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is no stranger to high-level Republican presidential politics. His father, John H. Sununu, is a former governor and White House chief of staff for President George H.W. Bush. His brother, John E. Sununu, is a retired senator and former House member. 

When asked if he is thinking of running for president, Sununu told CBS News, "Not today."

But he also said he's received offers from some to raise money and help build the infrastructure for a campaign.  

"It's very flattering conversations — I'm not ruling anything out by any means," Sununu said. "But I really do have an obligation to New Hampshire first."

Still, he said, he is "absolutely" willing to listen to Republicans about how he can help the party. 

In 2023, Sununu said he plans to travel nationwide to meet with voters and likeminded leaders, with a 2024 run "not in my wheelhouse right now — but we'll see what the future brings."

Sununu's political operation is quietly laying the groundwork for the governor should he choose to move forward with a campaign, including an digital-ad effort this month "targeting voters in the early nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina" that focuses on his message of generational change and leaving "negativity behind."

"I don't think anyone needs to truly decide whether they're running for president until probably this summer," Sununu said in the interview. "I think you'll see a lot of folks wait until then because they can — they'll have other advocacy groups and everything about talking nationally, kind of feeling out those waters. You don't really do the exploratory committee stuff anymore. But as you get into the next fall, I think you'll start seeing everybody really decide, right, whether it's [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis or [Mike] Pompeo or [former] Vice President [Mike] Pence. Everyone will have their own timeline for different reasons. But I think people can wait."

When asked about how DeSantis has clashed with some companies in Florida over social issues, Sununu said he has a "very different approach" to dealing with private companies. 

"Private businesses are private businesses," Sununu said. "We have the live-free'or-die attitude when it comes to things like that… I don't believe in battling corporations at all. I believe in empowering them because they hire America. They drive the economy."

Earlier this year, DeSantis sparred with Walt Disney Co. over Disney executives' concerns about DeSantis' policies affecting education and LGBTQ protections. That confrontation included DeSantis' opposition to Disney's special tax status in the state and its classification as an "independent special district."

"Having [culture] war battles, I'll just say, is definitely something we don't do here in New Hampshire," he said. "I don't think it should be done. And I don't think it's a very Republican value."

If Sununu entered the 2024 presidential race, several strategists say he could find ample support in his home state and draw notice from traditional Republicans and business-friendly independents. But they also believe he would likely face challenges not only from Trump, but also from more socially conservative Republican contenders. 

Sununu has often described himself as a supporter of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case protecting abortion rights that was overturned earlier this year. He has also signed into law a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of gestation with exceptions including a fetus diagnosed with "abnormalities incompatible with life."

Sununu called another Republican governor frequently mentioned by donors and activists as a possible 2024 candidate, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a "great governor in Virginia."

"He got elected when he said parents matter. And those two words really translated even beyond schools and said individuals matter." 

Sununu criticized California Gov. Gavin Newsom for his position on abortion, claiming Newsom supports abortions "up to the moment of birth." 

The Associated Press last month concluded such claims about Newsom's abortion position, specifically his support for an abortion-rights proposal known as Proposition 1, are "missing context."

"Existing state-subsidized health programs cover abortion services for qualifying patients and these would not be modified by Proposition 1," the Associated Press wrote in its fact-checking article about related claims. "The amendment does not mention prohibiting or allowing abortions late in pregnancy. But state law already restricts third-trimester abortions, and California legal experts told The Associated Press they don't expect courts would interpret the amendment as expressly permitting them."

You can watch the full interview with Sununu here or in the player above.

Fernando Suarez, Aaron Navarro, and Grace Kazarian contributed to this report.

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