Talk about a lesson in unself-awareness.
The other day, New Hampshire’s “Republican” governor, Chris Sununu, came to The Swamp and was the “Republican” speaker at a Washington elite favorite — the Gridiron Dinner.
All off the record, don’t you know. Yet somehow, someway, the governor’s speech calling former President Donald Trump “crazy” made its way into the media — shocker! — as here at the Daily Beast. The article was written by longtime liberal media figure Eleanor Clift. The headline:
Here’s How the GOP Can Move Beyond Trumpism
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu did what so many Republicans claim privately they’d like to do — he publicly mocked Trump.
“I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out!”
The utterly predictable response: roars of laughter amidst the rattle of jewelry.
The Daily Beast piece goes on to quote pollster Frank Luntz as saying that Republicans are laughing at Trump behind his back.
Really? Really? Clearly, Luntz needs to get out more. As I noted a couple of months ago after I moderated debates for Pennsylvania GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, Trump supporters swarmed the debates. They were both passionate and made it plain in my conversations with them that they weren’t going anywhere. So too were enthusiastic Trump supporters flooding the recent Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, a state version of CPAC filled with hundreds of conservative activists. As I noted after attending the conference:
So too was it impossible to miss the presence of supporters of former President Donald Trump. The iconic “Make America Great” red hats were everywhere, and notably, the candidates who took the stage for the debates were very supportive of the former president.
In a blink, wonderfully unself-aware, Sununu exhibited at the Gridiron Dinner exactly what has been the bane of the Republican Party’s existence for decades.
The GOP establishment, as noted here countless times, is endlessly elitist. The “Country Club” Republican Party is their ideal. And they look down on the working men and women that were brought into the party by former President Ronald Reagan and, later, Trump. In this day and age, Trump supporters, like their Reaganite predecessors, are viewed by sniffy establishment noses as rubes, hayseeds, and vulgarians — all of whom are “crazy.”
What is remarkable here is that the governor — in this case — has absolutely no clue how that kind of snarky snootiness about the GOP base looks to that base.
Donald Trump, like Ronald Reagan before him, was specifically nominated by Republican voters because they had had it with the establishment GOP. And to understand again how this elitism plays out in GOP establishment circles, let’s go back to a moment in the Reagan presidency.
The tale revolves around Reagan’s famous speech at the Berlin Wall in June of 1987 in which he called for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Reagan biographer Steven F. Hayward recounts the story this way in his book The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980-1989.
Hayward writes this:
Most of his senior aides didn’t want him to say it. Indeed, they tried repeatedly to talk him out of it.
They said he would embarrass the West German chancellor. He would “anger and provoke” Gorbachev while stirring “false hope among East Germans.” And there was this:
“The ultimate reason: You’ll look naive and foolish, Mr. President.”
Reagan overrode all the objections and said the fateful words anyway. Today the “tear down this wall” speech symbolizes just why Reagan is revered as the great American president who won the Cold War. But Hayward observes this of that moment:
The Berlin Wall speech is a perfect microcosm of Ronald Reagan’s entire political career….
The ruckus over the Berlin Wall speech… [over] his staff’s opposition to the Berlin Wall line, and many similar episodes throughout his presidency, is the extent to which Reagan battled not only with the Democratic opposition but also against the conventional reflexes of much of his own party and staff. Often, in fact, Reagan’s fights with members of his own party were fiercer than his fights with Democrats.
This description of Reagan’s career and his battle with establishment-minded members of his own staff and the larger Republican Party is perfectly represented in Sununu’s remarks about Trump.
Sununu’s speech matches exactly Hayward’s description of the pre-Reagan GOP:
By 1980 many Republicans in Washington could be considered victims of the political equivalent of the Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages come to sympathize with their captors, [absorbing the] premises of establishment liberals.
To oppose this problem, to stand up for ideas deemed out of step with the establishment, was deemed by GOP elites in Reagan’s day as — borrowing from Sununu — “crazy.”
And without doubt, as it was with Reagan, so will this battle between the establishment GOP and the outsider Trump continue if Trump runs again in 2024, as many expect and Trump routinely hints at his rallies.
The elemental fact here is that there is yet another battle royal shaping up between an outsider Republican president and the Republican establishment elites. The elites indeed think Trump is crazy — just as they thought of Reagan in the day.
Not to be left out of the tale of establishment opposition to both Reagan and Trump is the role of the media. Hayward says this of the media’s Reagan coverage:
The conformist mentality of the media on stories large and small meant that objectively, as the Marxists used to say, the media served the interests of Reagan’s opposition.
In the Trump era, this would be a perfect illustration of Trump’s famous description of the liberal media as “fake news.” Again: Catch the Hayward line that “the media served the interests of Reagan’s opposition.”
There could not possibly be a better illustration of how this works today than the handling by today’s media of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. As is well documented now, the New York Post’s thoroughly investigated tale of the existence of the Hunter laptop and its contents, which are devastating to Joe Biden, was silenced in 2020 by Big Tech and deliberately ignored by the liberal Big Media — all in an effort to protect Joe Biden.
All of which is to say, clearly unaware of just how his Gridiron speech could be seen by millions in the GOP base, Sununu stepped up to one of the most elitist institutions in Washington to paint a perfect picture of the anti-Trump GOP establishment at work.
And more to the point, it won’t work.