Former New Hampshire governor and former White House chief of staff John Sununu says: “This may be the last convention, in my opinion.” The ever-quotable, irascible Sununu has become a sort of cult figure on the right, a take-no-prisoners critic of the media and a teller of blunt truths. In a brief sit-down with The Post in Tampa, he didn’t disappoint.
Conventions, he says, are from a bygone era when communication and travel were difficult. Now much of the business of conventions can be transacted by phone or e-mail. Sununu speculates that the GOP convention will cost $100 million. “I can do a lot of good with $100 million,” he says.
In a political era obsessed with likability, Sununu, the quintessential curmudgeon, says Mitt Romney shouldn’t be worried about charming the public. Instead, Sununu echoes the remarks of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday night: It is better to be respected than loved. As for Romney, Sununu vouches for his likability up close. “People who do know him get to like him. He is the most generous man I know.” But when it comes down to it, he thinks the likability fixation is overrated. “I think people underestimate the public,” he says. He makes the analogy to a broken pipe in the kitchen. Do you want to hire the likable guy who doesn’t know how to fix it, or the guy who is a little less likable but is certain he can fix it?
Sununu thinks the convention is helping Romney make the case that he can fix the broken economy. He suggests that Romney “redelineate his personal successes” and then proceeds to tick off his accomplishments at Bain and the Olympics and in Massachusetts.
He’s critical, bluntly so, as you would expect, about how the Obama team has run its campaign. “A presidential campaign is a lot like a basketball game,” he tells us. “It’s all about the last two minutes. In a presidential campaign it’s all about the last two months.” In that regard, he chides the Obama camp for spending $150 million “to drive up the president’s negatives.” He praises the Romney camp for keeping its powder dry and waiting to unload in the fall when undecided voters will tune in to the race.
He saves his most biting remarks for fact-checkers. Asked about those who accused Paul Ryan of lying in his speech, Sununu is plainly irritated. “Fact-checkers can’t fact-check.” He accuses them of being biased. On the closing of the Janesville plant, which critics said Ryan lied about, Sununu gives no ground. He says Ryan quoted the president accurately in promising to keep the plant open for “a hundred years.” He adds that the site finally closed in April 2011.
As to Romney’s welfare ad saying that Obama gutted the work requirement, he says of the fact-checkers who say Romney’s ad is inaccurate, “They’re wrong.” He recounts the history of welfare reform, noting that President Bill Clinton vetoed it twice because of the work requirements but that the final statute made clear the work requirement was not waivable.” He says that the Health and Human Services memo announcing the changes was “practically begging governors to solicit waivers.” He thinks that violates the law and undermines the effectiveness of the welfare reform.
But why do it if the politics are so bad? He jabs back with a Sununu-ism: “Because it’s the dumbest administration in our lifetimes.” He makes the case that Obama never learned how to govern. He recollects Obama voting to abstain 150 times in the Illinois legislature, saying that didn’t prepare him for the presidency. The former White House chief of staff lays into Obama for appointing a flock of czars. “You put so many czars in charge that no one is in charge,” he argues.
But his remarks aren’t limited to the governing smarts of the Obama team. “They confound me,” he says, pointing to easily rebutted assertions like Stephanie Cutter saying she never heard of the Joe Soptic ad (when she previously ran a conference call with him) or claiming that Obama created more jobs than Ronald Reagan or George Bush. “It takes 38 seconds to go on Google. . . . Do they not know that 7 million is more than 4.8 million?”
Sununu makes for good copy and must-see TV because in an era of phony warmth and evasive language, he doesn’t care about being warm and fuzzy. In fact, he’d rather not be and just tell you what he thinks and why critics are wrong. There is something to be said for that brand of politics.